Experiences in The Land of The Rising Sun
My name is Gian Ortiz. I am a 19-year old Esports athlete from the Philippines. I have been traveling around Asia and been to the United States twice for the past eight years. Since I was 11 years old, my family would travel for at least once a year. So I must say, I really love traveling and immersing myself with the culture and way of life of other nationalities. It feels like I’m getting to know them not by the books or any tangible thing, but from first-hard experience and immersion. Today, I will be sharing my experiences and some of the places I’ve been to in Japan, or popularly known as The Land of The Rising Sun.
Actually, I have been to twice already. I will try to be very detailed on my journey for you to follow it easily and clearly. I am lucky enough to experience summer and winter seasons in Japan and experience it differently, each time I went there.
First off, as I said awhile ago, I am an Esports athlete, one of the conferences that the league I am participating into is held in Japan. It lasted from June 14, 2018 to June 20, 2018 so it was a total of 7 days; but 3 of which are competition days so I wasn’t really able to roam around as much.
June 14, 2018
Our flight was from Taipei, Taiwan to Narita Airport. If my memory serves me right, our flight lasted for 3 hours. We arrived at about 7 o’clock in the evening. Just a little trivia that Japan is an hour ahead of time compared to Japan. Upon arriving, we had to redeem the sim cards that we bought from klook app that costs about 1000php(2000yen, 20usd). I suggest you but it from klook if you are traveling alone since it is cheaper. My data pack was I chose was unlimited for 8 days. There are a lot more options there if you want other packs. Redeeming was hassle free and it only took me 5 minutes to complete the needed procedures to activate it. The internet connection was really reliable and I did not have a hard time connecting anywhere I went.
After which, we directly went to our hotel which took us roughly two hours from Narita Airport since Tokyo proper is not really near Narita. Our hotel is APA Hotel – Higashi Nihombashi. The hotel itself is very near to a lot of convenience stores and the metro railway/subway is very accessible. You can find the way to the subway just after you go out from the hotel. I think the accessibility from the subway is on the most important things you should consider when planning where to book a hotel, more over if you are planning to roam around a lot. As for the hotel room, it is good for 1 person, and is not that spacious; but if you are a frequent traveler, you already know that hotels are just for sleeping purposes and you do not actually spend a lot of time in there. If you have a tight budget when traveling to Japan, consider having these kinds of hotel; but if you have a little extra, there are a lot more hotels that is more spacious and comfortable.
It was already almost 10 o’clock in the evening when we arrived in our hotel and very tired from the flight so we just decided to scoot around the area to find some food. Luckily, just a few meters away from the hotel, there was a small pub that serves pork katsudon. We were very happy to try an authentic Japanese food for the first time. It was very flavorful and something you would expect from a restaurant.
June 15, 2018
We were not really able to roam around since it was our competition day and it lasted for the whole day. However, we were able to see the beauty of the Tokyo Sky Tree Tower from a far. For those who don’t know, this observation tower is a broadcasting tower that erects 634m high.
June 16, 2018
It is our third day on our 7 day trip; from 10 AM to 3 PM, my teammates and I had a practice since tomorrow will be our last day of competition and we wanted to prepare for our games. There after, we decided to go to Tokyo Disney Sea. I really persuaded them to go to Disney Sea instead of Disney Land due to the fact that Japan is the sole country that has a Disney Sea; moreover, I have been to Hong Kong Disneyland twice already, and from what I have seen from pictures and reviews from other people, the vibes and ambience of Hong Kong Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland is almost similar, while Tokyo Disney Sea will give a more different side and a new thrill to dive yourself into. Even though it was already 5pm when we arrived there, we still had fun and got to experience a few bunch of rides such as The Rolling Thunder, Tower of Terror, Indiana Jones, and many more. Going there after 3pm has a different rate on the price of the ticket. It is called “After 3pm pass” and costs 5400yen(2800php, 50usd) than a regular 7400yen(70usd, 3600php) ticket. The food inside the park is more expensive inside than those outside, like most parks usually sell, but I really suggest you try the steamed turkey legs and popcorn. The steamed turkey legs gets a lot of queue but it is really worth the time of waiting because it is very delicious and savory. As they say, you can’t leave a Disney park without eating a turkey leg, and I pretty much agree. As for the popcorn, the interesting thing about it is that, every town or part of the Disney Sea offers a different flavor. The park offers wide array of flavors that goes from the basic such as butter flavor and to the most interesting like curry, shrimp and many more. We tried the curry and it was surprisingly good. If you are into asian flavors, you will definitely love it. If you are wondering how we were able to ride even though we went late, the answer is that, some rides offer a single rider option. If you are saving time and want to experience more rides, this is the way where you do not spend money. The downside is that, there is a big possibility that you will not go with your friends. Another way is by collecting fast passes, this is actually done when you arrived in the park early, but since we got there late, this was not possible.
June 17, 2018
I got up at 7 o’clock in the morning to see my childhood friend in Ikibukuro. The train ride from Higashi-Nihombashi was about 45 minutes. Ikibukuro gets really crowded but if you are into shopping, this is the place for you. It is surrounded by many high class brands such Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Hermes but stores like H&M, Uniqlo are also present. We just had breakfast together and tried Purikura. Purikura is not just like any other photo booths you see in arcades, but it lets you edit it in a cute way or as Japanese people say, “Kawaii”. I went back to our hotel before lunch since it was the last day of our tournament and just like two days ago, we were not able to roam around since the event lasted for the whole afternoon up to evening.
June 18, 2018
My teammates and I decided to go to Akihabara, the Anime district of Tokyo. If you are into Anime and mangga (Japanese comics), then this is the right place for you. The area is surrounded by people in their cosplay attires. The stores around are selling figurines, costumes, toys, and a whole bunch of stuff that is related to anime. Sega arcades are also present in this area. Arcades in Akihabara are enormous. It ranges from 5 to 7 floors. Most games cost 100yen(1usd, 52php) each time you play, but the prizes are really worth it.
After strolling around Akihabara, we decided to go in the famous Shibuya Crossing. It is said that almost 3000 people wall across here making it the most busiest crossing in the whole world. Shibuya is not only famous for its crossing, but the shopping area is also what brings people here. Famous stores like, Forever 21, H&M, Uniqlo, Matsumoto, and Don Quixote are also present here. We were able to buy clothes and kitkat chocolates that are way cheaper than usual.
Just beside the Shibuya Crossing, the statue of the one of the famous and loyal dogs ever known to man is located. If you have seen the movie Hachiko, and it rings a bell for you when I described him, then you are right. People who knows Hachiko must not miss the chance of
taking a picture with him. Grab yourself a photo opportunity with him but make sure to make it quick since people there are a lot of people who wants one too!
June 19, 2018
This is the last full day that we have and our team managers let us have our free will and explore the city with our own prerogatives and itinerary. With that being said, I prepared my schedule for this day and made the most out of it.
I started the day by visiting the Tokyo Sky Tree at a closer view. You can access this tower from Higashi-Nihombashi by riding the metro by Ginza Line and getting off at Asakusa Station. From there, directions to the tower will be very visible and is accessible by walking. As explained at the first part, Tokyo Sky Tree has two levels, the entrance rate inside the first level of the tower is, 2000yen(20usd, 1000php) while the access of the upper level will cost you 1000yen(10usd, 500php) more, but the view will definitely be higher and more spectacular. This tower lets you see the Tokyo from 350 and 450 floors above; but make sure the sky is clear and not cloudy before going up or you will just waste your money not seeing anything.
My second destination is an observation tower too, it is the Tokyo tower. It is relevantly smaller and cheaper than the Skytree. I just really wanted to see it at close, but never really went inside. It was cool seeing it right before my eyes. This observation tower is also famous, and as a matter of fact, many movies and television series were filmed at this location
I left the Tokyo Tower at around 11am so that means lunch time is already approaching. The friend that I met in Ikibukuro, works in a famous ramen shop – Ichiran. There are a lot of Ichiran around Tokyo, but I went to the Shimbashi store. The Ramen costs about 1200yen(12usd, 600php) for a complete set. It was pricey compared to other ramen shops I have been to but the taste and firmness of the noodles speaks for what it is worth. This shop lets you decide on the consistency level of the broth, firmness of the noodles, and spicyness level which goes from 0 to 10x of their red chili powder. The line gets really long after it opens, so I suggest you line up early if you do not want to waste your time queueing. They also offer instant noodles that costs 2000yen for 5 packs if you want to make your own ramen at home. They offer 2 styles of noodles; one that goes to the usual curly type of noodles, and one that is straight which has more Japanese vibe in it.
The next stop I went to was Oedo Onsen Monogatari in Odaiba. From Shimbashi Station, you just have to ride the JR Yamanote line, and get off at Telecom Center Station and will cost you 360 yen(3usd, 140php) for one way. As I have said awhile ago, I like to immerse myself with the culture and way of life of different nationalities when I visit theid country and I think going to an Onsen is one of the things to do when I want it to conquer. For those who don’t know, Onsens are Japanese style of bath houses in which they offer wide array of hot pools with different temperature. It is said that the water used in Onsens came from 2000meters down and is said to be very rich in vitamins and minerals. With that being said, water from these pools are very precious so before submerging yourself into these waters, you must clean yourself first thoroughly. Although onsens are very healthy for our skin, there is a rule that we need to follow upon entering the wet area. You need to take off all your clothes and get naked. As a Filipino, we are not used to this kind of culture. Bathing naked with other people is seen as against the norm, buy I really admire Japanese people, they really do not mind. Moreover, I have heard that going to onsens are one of the ways that Japanese people to spend time with their peers and family. Hence, do not get nervous, relax, and enjoy. The entrance fee for the onsen is about 2200 yen(22usd, 1200php). Inside, they immitate the setting of a traditional Japanese festival, food and arcade games are available. Need not to bring cash inside, since all of the expenses will be paid through your bracelet, and will be paid by cash after you go out.
Oedo Onsen offers free shuttle services to different routes but I decided to go to …… to see Odaiba more. I walked to the Multimedia Tower, and again it an observation area which costs 550 yen(6usd, 270php) to go up. I really wanted to go up since it is the only observation tower that lets you see Mt. Fuji, Tokyo Tower, and Tokyo Skytree in one frame.
Afterwhich, I took a 10-minute walk towards the replica of Statue of Liberty and Statue of a large Gundam. From there you can see the famous rainbow bridge in Odaiba. Around the area, Joypolis is also near which is an indoor theme park. Shopping area is also present since it is also near malls.
June 20, 2018
It is already the last day of my first experience in Japan. We head back to Narita Airport by train which costed us about 1200 yen(12usd, 600php).
For the the first timers, I really suggest on going to these places and stroll around Tokyo first. Get yourself used on how Japanese subway works, it really is hard, but once you are used to it, it is just a piece of cake afterall.
Amazing experience in Japan.
Now, I am going to talk about my second time in Japan. It was just last January 16-20, 2019. This time, I went there for leisure and sightseeing purposes. I planned this for 2 weeks since my Itinerary is very ambitious. I really did my research to make the most out of my 5-day trip. I will share my experience on how I completed my Tokyo-Kyoto–Osaka–Kobe journey.
January 16, 2019
This time around, I went to Japan alone and flew from Manila, Philippines. I arrived at Narita Airport at around 11am, and just like Taiwan, Philippines is one hour behind in time compared to Japan. The flight went about 4 hours. Just like the last time, I redeemed my sim card that I bought from Klook app.
My first destination was Ueno. From Narita Airport, I took an Arex directly to Ueno that costs 1200yen (12usd, 600php). I ate an authentic Yakiniku in the area. Shopping and other landmarks are near the area. The meat was very flavorful and it was my first time to try wagyu in Japan. It was pricey but really worth it.
After eating, I went to the famous and oldest temple in tokyo, the Sensoji Temple. From Ueno ride the subway and get off at Asakusa Station. The place was really astounding, a lot of tourists go to this place and try their luck in finding what has 2019 caters for them. Near the temple is the Nakamise street. Many souvenirs and Japanese items are seen here. From chopsticks, fans, magnets, masks, and the likes can be bought here.
From Asakusa Station, I went to Akihabara. This is my second time in Akihabara and this is the place where I will ride the bus that I booked online that will give me a ride to Kyoto. The bus ride costs 3000yen(30usd, 1500php) and will go from Akihabara to Kyoto Station without stops. There a lot of ways to go to Kyoto from Tokyo, but night buses are the cheapest way possible. Other options include shinkansen and plane which will relatively be more expensive.
January 17, 2019
I arrived in Kyoto Station by 6am. I had breakfast and went straight to Sanjo Station where I redeemed my Kyoto-Osaka pass that costs 332php( 650yen, 6.5usd) that gives me access to Keihan Main Line and gives discounts to tourists attractions.
After receiving my pass, I went to Arashiyama. This is truly a must if you are a nature lover. From Sanjo Station ride the subway to Saga-Arashiyama Station. Arashiyama is a bamboo grove located in Kyoto. Tall bamboo trees will surround you everywhere. Upon entering the grove, shops are open and offers a lot of food. You can’t miss trying matcha-flavored treats when you are traveling in Kyoto.
After scooting around Arashiyama, I went to the most famous temple in Kyoto, the Fushimi-Inari. Here you can found a thousand of toril gates that leads you to a path. Before entering the main temple, foods stalls can be found wherein I tried the yakisoba that was worth 500yen(5usd, 250php) it was very good and aunthentic.
From Fushimi Inari, I rode the Keihan Main Line that brought me to Yodoyabashi, Osaka. Thanks to the pass I bought from Klook, traveling to Osaka was hassle free. It only took me an hour to get to Osaka from Kyoto by train. I head straight to my hotel, Hotel Toyo in Shin-Inamiya, to drop off my things. I immediately went to Osaka Castle which had a night illumination every winter season. If you are traveling to Osaka, you must not take this off in your itinerary. It speaks a lot about Osaka. The view is very amazing and stunning.
January 18, 2019
For me this is the most tiring yet most thrilling day. I went to Universal Studios Japan. I went there at around 10am since you need to be very early to make sure you can enter the Harry Potter World. The entrance fee was 3500php(7100yen, 70usd). I bought it in Klook app so I will save some time queueing to buy tickets. I was very happy to experience Jaws, Flying Dinosaur, Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, and many other rides. I was too lucky that there is not much people around and I was able to ride almost all of the rides viable. Harry Potter world was very beautiful, if you are a fan the series, you would not want to miss this and especially trying the non-alcoholic butter beer. There are a lot of souvenirs to buy including wands from Olivander’s that you can use inside the park! How amazing is that!
Around 6pm, I decided to leave the park and go to Harukas 300, which is the tallest observation deck in Osaka! It was very near my hotel and I can reach it by walking. The entrance fee costs 600yen(6usd, 300php) it was very worth it! You can see the beauty of Osaka from above.
January 19, 2019
This time, I went to Kobe prefecture by bus. I booked a day tour to Kobe from Osaka in Klook app that costs 3560php (7100yen, 70usd) that will take me to Rokko Snow Park, and Arima Onsen and back to Osaka. I had fun trying to ski in the park. It was my first time and I had a hard time but it was very fun to experience it. It’s a new thrill for me. The ski equipments costs 3000yen(1500php, 30usd) for rental. After, they took us to the Arima Onsen which only costs 1000yen to enter it. As usual, onsens are very relaxing most especially if just went out from a ski trip. It was a nice combination I must say!
After the tour, they head us back to Namba station. There after, I walked towards the shopping destination in Osaka, the Dotonburi area! I ate some authentic Takoyaki which was said to be originated in Osaka. The place was full of clothing shops and food stalls. I bought souvenirs at Don Quixote and rode the ferriswheel! They also offer a boat ride that will roam you around the district but I did not go since it was too cold.
After strolling around, I walked towards to VIP Namba, it is where I will catch a bus that I booked online at kosokubus.com that will take me back to Tokyo. It costed me 3000yen(1500php, 30usd) for a one way ride.
January 2019, 2018.
From VIP Namba, the bus dropped me off at Tokyo Station at around 6am. Good thing for me, tokyo station has a bus terminal that will take me directly to Narita International Airport for 1000yen(500php, 10usd). The bus ride takes around 1 hour and is very hassle-free.
For the most part of my trip, I was really dependent with google maps in terms of directions and ways. There were a few times that I reached out to some locals, do not be afraid because they are very hospitable.
I hope you had fun reading my experiences and how I immersed myself in the Japanese culture.