Japan in December (part 4) - 5 Days in Nara, Okunoshima, Hiroshima, Miyajima & Kinosaki Onsen

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As you have may have heard about it from many other travellers before, Japan has this JR railway pass catered for tourists to help them save on their transportation while they are touring around the different prefectures in Japan.
The railway pass is a little something like a concession, except that it's meant for the JR lines and Shinkansen, otherwise known as the speed bullet trains in Japan. Basically, you can get from city to city in just a an hour or two on their bullet trains when it would normally take you half a day by bus.

I am typically more of a fan of the highway buses in Japan simply because they are way more affordable. I wrote a little about these buses in this article — Japan on a Budget: 5 Money-Saving Tips that Most Tourists Don’t Know About. If you're a budget traveller like myself, consider giving it a read. :)

But sometimes, buses just don't cut it if you have a tight itinerary. So that's when the JR Passes come into play. There are many different types of JR Passes available, all of which covers different parts and prefectures of Japan and at different prices.
The one that most people are familiar with would be the 7 Day JR Pass, which covers the whole of Japan at a relatively steep price of S$347. It's only recently that Japan came up with more regional passes, and they are also much more affordable.

It's important for you to plan your itinerary before you decide which JR Pass suits your needs best. For us, because we had plans to go to Hiroshima from Osaka, the only regional pass that covers that route was the JR Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass. At S$167, we have 5 days to take unlimited rides on the JR lines and shinkansen within these specified lines.

Looking at the different stations on the pass, we then decided to add in Kinosaki Onsen into the itinerary. We also had plans to include the Ine boathouses (also known as the Venice of Japan), but that day turned out to be gloomy so we scraped it.

Here's what we covered in the 5 Days of using our pass:
Osaka  Nara - Hiroshima (Miyajima & Okunoshima) - Kinosaki Onsen - Kyoto

In this itinerary, all of our train and ferries are covered by the JR Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass. The only ride that isn't included is the 10 minutes ferry ride from a port to the rabbit island.

Day 1: Nara

We decided to take a day trip to Nara for one sole reason: to feed the deers at the Nara Deer Park. The Deer Park became quite the hot spot in Japan over the recent few years.

So we went there knowing that the deers are cute and all, because they'll bow back to you to get their treats. We also knew that animals could get a little aggressive when food comes into the picture (I mean, Han owns two dogs and one of them happens to be a crazy girl) but. The male deers. They are on another level.

I don't even know how many times Han got headbutt by them while he was holding those biscuits LOL. It's not painful since they don't have their sharp horns but still. It was pretty intimidating??

Lucky for me, I got the gentle deers so no trauma for me haha. The key is to hide your biscuits out of plain sight and not parade them in full view of the deers. Then, they'll tend to be more gentle when they approach you. They have a horrible sense of smell anyway so they won't know you're hiding the treats.

You can get a stack of deer biscuits at ¥150 to feed them.

Aside from the Deer Park, we also had lunch at this quaint little restaurant while en route to the park. I knew about it because my cousin has been there and it looked amazing, so I thought to pay it a visit too.

Hands down one of the best meals I've had in my life so far! Terakawa is run by one chef who had his training in fine dining. We got the omakase platter which was a feast to our eyes and our tummies. The prices are also pretty affordable at about ¥2000+ per person.

Because his place sits only about 10 to 14 guests at one go, we were super lucky to have gotten seats without reservations! A perfect stop for lunch if you're planning to head to the Nara Deer Park.

We kept Nara as a day trip because we felt that it was easier to get to our next location from Osaka. But with the JR pass, the round trip was worth it!

Route to NaraOsaka - Tsuruhashi - Kintetsu-Nara (via local JR lines)
Time Taken: 50mins
Cost (without JR Pass): ¥1,480 (round trip from Osaka)

Day 2: Hiroshima 

On Days 2 and 3 of the JR Pass, we headed to our next stop — Hiroshima! So much time and money was saved for us to travel from Osaka to Hiroshima when we used the JR Pass, which allowed us to take the Shinkansen to our next destination.

Our initial plan was to cover two islands in two days. But heavy rain welcomed us on our first day in Hiroshima, so we had no choice but to squeeze two island trips in the next day. On that rainy day, we went to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum for a trip back in time.

Although we both learnt about the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima from our textbooks, watching interviews with bomb survivors, seeing live exhibits and reading about it in the museum was a different experience altogether. As someone who is familiar with the brutality of the Japanese occupation back in those years (I mean... just how many history and social studies field trips did we have in secondary school...), hearing the story from the flip side of the innocent Japanese civilians was quite the eye opener.

It's worth the visit if you're in Hiroshima!

Route to Hiroshima: Shin-Osaka - Hiroshima (via Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen)
Time Taken: 1h 30mins
Cost (without JR Pass): ¥10,820

Day 3: Okunoshima & Miyajima

On our second day, the two islands we wanted to cover were Okunoshima (Rabbit Island) and Miyajima! They are actually located quite a distance away from each other, so to cover them both in a day would mean that we have to start the day early.

We set off for Okunoshima at about 7AM that day. Both of us are hardly morning people so it was a torture, but when we arrived at the island, our lethargic souls were immediately rejuvenated by the cute bunnies!! There's just so many of them on the island, and as long as you have food with you, they'll all gather around. It also seems like they are used to human presence, so they are hardly shy or afraid when you try to play with or pet them.

We bought a bag of carrots and a whole cabbage from the supermarket a day before to feed them. The island does not sell any rabbit feed, so you'll have to get them beforehand.

Although the journey from Hiroshima to the ferry port is covered by the JR pass, the ferry that takes you the island is not included. The round-trip costs ¥660, and it would be best to check the ferry departing timing while planning your visit.

Route to OkunoshimaHiroshima - Mihara (via Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen) - Tadano-Umo (via local JR line)
Time Taken: 1h 30mins
Cost (without JR Pass): ¥3,940

After the morning in Okunoshima, we headed back to Hiroshima to catch another ferry to the Miyajima! The ferry ride to Miyajima is included in the JR Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass, so no extra costs there.

The island is considered as one of the most scenic spots in Japan, and its also celebrated as the island of Gods. The famous red "floating" Torii gate is also believed to be the boundary and gateway between the spiritual and human world. This is something I learnt through the several supernatural/fantasy animes I've watched that depicted Itsukushima Shrine together with kamis and ayakashis so... LOL #otaku #sorrynotsorry.
Anyway, those two facts are proven by the Miyajima tourism site so I am not wrong!!

Sadly, it wasn't high tide while we were there so we didn't get to see the red torii gate or shrine submerged in water. That would have made it a beautiful shot.

Route to MiyajimaTadano-Umi - Mihara - Miyajimaguchi (via local JR line) - Miyajima Island (via JR ferry)
Time Taken: 2h 10mins
Cost (without JR Pass): ¥1,940 + ¥590 (return trip to Hiroshima)

This is the route we took since we wanted to cover two islands in a day. However, if you're going to Miyajima from Hiroshima, the journey including the ferry ride will take you an hour.

If you have more time, you should spilt up the islands for a more relaxing itinerary. The travelling did take a toll on us this day. I mean, we did take four ferry trips after all...

Day 4: Kinosaki Onsen

After an island-hopping day, we couldn't wait for our next stop at the hotspring town! There are a couple of different onsen towns dotting different prefectures in Japan, but I picked Kinosaki Onsen simply because 1) it's covered by the JR Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass and 2) it's less touristy with this old-fashioned feel to it.

While we were there, we realised that it's more of a local favourite than a tourist attraction, which makes it perfect! Well, that also means that language can be a bit of a barrier but if you know a little Japanese (or maybe Google Translate), you should be fine.

We stayed at Kawaguchiya Honkan for a night, and that ryokan was definitiely the best stay we had during our entire trip. The room was extremely spacious for two people, and they also provided a yukata (casual kimono), haori (kimono-style jacket) and wooden sandals.
Agoda had some deal during my time of booking so I got the room at about S$160! Minus the Agoda credits I had from a previous booking, my stay was S$120. Throughout the trip, Han and I always stayed at budget places like hostels and internet cafes, so this night was like a one-time splurge.

Most of the ryokans and minshukus would also provide their guests with an onsen pass that allows them to visit 7 different hot springs around Kinosaki Onsen. If you have tattoos, you can rest assured cause the onsens here are also tattoo friendly.
That evening, we donned our yukata, haori and sandals and began our onsen hopping rounds!! There's just something so alluring about walking along the canals lined with willow trees as you visit the different hot springs.

Aside from the hot springs, seafood items like the snow crab are also popular items here! I had my first taste of the snow crab and also, some pudding slow boiled in the hotspring waters at Kinosaki Onsen.

It was Han's first time at the hotsprings, so he K.O-ed at like the second hot spring during our onsen-shopping round that evening. He said it was boiling and the only reason why he didn't get out right away was because he felt like the locals there will judge him and think he's weak HAHA.

The temperature of their springs here are on another level, but it's bearable! I actually loved it a lot, especially since it's winter. The outdoor onsen is the best when you get to feel the winter chill while soaking in the springs!!

I loved the retreat here and would definitely return. 10/10 would recommend to everyone. A day trip from Kyoto (there is a direct train) also works fine!

Route to Kinosaki OnsenHiroshima - Himeji (via Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen) - Kinosakionsen (via Hamakaze limited express train)
Time Taken: 3h 20mins
Cost (without JR Pass): ¥11,590

Day 5: Kyoto

On the fifth and last day of our JR Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass, we made our way to Kyoto. Initially, we had plans to stop at the Boathouses of Ine (also known as the Venice of Kyoto) since the station is also covered by the pass. But due to time constraints, we gave it up and gone to Kyoto right away.

Route to KyotoKinosakionsen - Kyoto (via Hashidate limited express train)
Time Taken: 2h 30mins
Cost (without JR Pass): ¥5,040

By now, you should have seen just how costly it is to take the Shinkansen or limited express trains without the JR Pass. The journey from Osaka to Hiroshima itself is already close to S$140 one-way.

So for easy comparison sake, here is the breakdown of this itinerary's transportation cost if we have not purchased the Hiroshima Kansai Area Pass. Yes, I went out of the way to jot all the prices down and use the calculator to tabulate it all... Please give me some credit. :')

¥1,480 + ¥10,820 + ¥3,940 + ¥1,940 + ¥590 + ¥11,590 +¥5,040 = ¥35,400 (approx. S$440)

The 5 Day JR Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass is priced at S$167. For our itinerary, we saved about S$250 by utilising the pass!

Even if you don't plan on visiting all of the places we did above (which I think is understandable because the journeys can be kinda long and taxing), this pass it worth it for those who already have their sights set on visiting Hiroshima and Miyajima. If you're planning to head to those destinations from Osaka/Kyoto and back, then it would already be worth it since the pass covers the Shinkansen and the ferry!
But of course, if you have 5 consecutive days to utilise the pass, why not just add more locations right? Some other popular locations which other travellers visit while using this pass includes Kobe, Himeji, Okayama and Tottori. We didn't include them because well, time constraints.

Prior to purchasing the pass, I honestly did a lot of research trying to compare the prices and how much I would be able to save if I were to take the highway buses instead. Some highway buses have overnight bus options, so that means I could possibly save on accommodation as well.
But I settled on the pass because it's so much more hassle free. I don't have to stress out about which buses I have to book and chase for it at the stipulated times. So yes, in terms of value and convenience, the JR pass wins!

If you're planning to get a JR Pass, just make sure to check if the passes cover the locations you want to go! For my 23 days in Japan, I only got this one pass and took highway buses for the remaining locations.

Oh and, the JR pass simply means that it covers only JR railways and buses. In Japan, all Shinkansen is under the JR company. But not all of their local subways and metros are under JR. So while you're travelling within the city of say, Kyoto, you can still use the pass on JR lines. For metros that are not JR, you just have to pay.
To give a very bad Singapore-based analogy, it's like a limited pass you can use only on SMRT, but not SBS transports. Yes I know it's a bad example. I gave a disclaimer.

I thought I'll just explain this a little since I was SO lost about this whole JR line and local line thing. Hopefully it clears the confusion!

Sometimes I wonder why I bother elaborating this much on my travel researches when I'm not even paid or sponsored to do so. This post alone already took me like three hours to compose...?

Well, passion. That's right. Writing is a passion of mine that feeds my soul. Maybe years down, it will start to feed my bank too. But until then, I'll just keep writing. The full 23 day itinerary will be up next!!

Check out my other travel posts:
▶ 33 Days Around Japan, Korea and Taiwan
 Japan in December (part 1) - Christmas in Hakone 
▶ Japan in December (part 2) - Winter Wonderland in Shirakawa-go
▶ Japan in December (part 3) - Borderless Digital Art Museum
▶ Japan in December (part 4) - 5 Day Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass
▶ Japan in December (part 5) - 11 Towns and Cities in 23 Days

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