Japan in December (part 5) - 11 Towns and Cities in 23 Days

12:46 AM

You know what they say — once you've been to Japan, you'll always go back. So far, this statement holds true for me and many of my friends/acquaintances. There's just something about the land of the rising sun that people can't get enough of. I believe many Singaporeans like myself would agree. Japan is just... Unforgettable.

My last trips to Japan were in 2015 and 2016. So it's been about two years since I've last been there. This time, I spent 23 days in different parts of Japan!

The itinerary is as follows:
Osaka (4 days) Nara (day trip) - Hiroshima (2 days) - Kinosaki Onsen (1 day) - Kyoto (3 days) - Shirakawa-go (1 day) - Takayama (1 day) - Azumino (2 days) - Tokyo (6 days) - Odaiba (day trip) - Hakone (1 day)



It was relatively easy to cover different places in Japan because there are many tourist passes available — like the JR Rail Pass, which is like a concession pass that allows travellers to use the bullet train, Shinkansen, to cover different prefectures in Japan. The passes are more value-for-money when you plan to cover multiple prefectures, and that explains why we went to so many places whilst in Japan.

Given our itinerary, Han and I got ourselves the JR Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass that allowed us to cover 4 locations (Nara - Hiroshima - Kinosaki Onsen - Kyoto) in 5 days. You can read about how we maximised the our pass here.

If you're on a budget, I've wrote an article on some tips to save in Japan. Do give it a read!

Now onto the activities and attractions!!


Osaka

Ah, the food capital of Japan. Nothing brings a smile to my faces more than the street food stalls and comfort fare that Osaka is famous for. This is my third time here, and the takoyaki alone is enough reason for me to return to Osaka everytime.

I revisited the places that I have been to before — Dotonbori, Namba, Shinsaibashi, Shinseikai, Osaka Castle and USJ. You can read about my past experiences here and here. I didn't take pictures of any of the above attractions in Osaka this time round because I was too preoccupied with the food, theme park rides (USJ) and claw machines there. So, don't forsake any of the above six spots because they're the best Osaka has to offer.




Okay I guess I got a couple of pictures of the Osaka Castle and the park this time. The autumn foliages were stunning!! It's our first time catching the autumn foliages nearing the end of its peak! The last time I tried I was a month too early haha.

On another note!! I did visit the Mameshiba Cafe located in the heart of Dotonbori! Initially, I thought that they only had an outlet in Kyoto but we chanced upon them in Osaka too. So yeap. Cute doggos were all I took while in Osaka. Worth it.







The entry fee to the Mameshiba Cafe is ¥800 per person, and you're allowed a maximum of 30 minutes with the dogs.


Nara

While making use of our 5 Day JR Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass, we took a day trip to Nara! The pass covers the next few cities/towns we went. To avoid overlapping content, I separated our itinerary for the JR pass in another post. You can read how we maximised the pass and what we did in Nara, Hiroshima and Kinosaki Onsen here.



Hiroshima





On an abandoned island full of stray bunnies, we fed them some goodies we got from the supermarket and that turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. We also went the Miyajima island, one of the most beautiful locations in Japan. The islands we visited in Hiroshima are covered in this post.

Kinosaki Onsen



An onsen town retreat after the previous exhausting day of island hopping! Also in the JR Pass post.

Kyoto

On the fifth and last day of our JR Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass, we made our way to Kyoto. It's my second time at Kyoto, and just like I did in Osaka, I covered some of the locations that I did before since Han has not seen or been there before. Mainly the Nishiki Market, Gion and Arashiyama. You can read my previous extensive itinerary of Kyoto here and here.









Still can never get enough of the beauty of Arashiyama. For those who are fans of tranquil spots, this is it! It's so chill that this Japanese lady even brought her Koto (something like a Japanese Guzheng) out to play in the setting sun hahaha.

Another picturesque spot of Kyoto that I love is definitely Gion. The Nishiki Market is also located not too far away from the scenic parts of Gion so it's perfect for foodstops! The only downside is that the things are a bit pricier here. It seems like the prices for many food items have gone up since the last time (four years ago) I've been here.







Japan is also well-known for its quality knives, and for a chef like Han, it's also a dream come true for him to be able to get his hands on one of these treasures. After some research, Han decided to make a stop at Shigeharu to get himself one of those artisan knives. He also got his name engraved on it in Hatakana!

I'm clueless about knives and its features but this old man is definitely a passionate craftsman and blacksmith. Just look at his hands and all the knives handmade by him.





And playing with hedgehogs just because :')




Shirakawa-go

Our time at Shirakawa-go (joined in by Trisha and her boyfriend) was definitely one of the biggest highlights during our time in Japan. If you're planning your Japan itinerary and have been considering whether or not to visit Shirakawa-go, this is me telling you that you shouldn't miss this beautiful village. I mean, it's listed as one of the UNESCO heritage sites for a reason. It's rustic charm is unrivalled.



There's so much to write about the winter wonderland when we visited in mid December so I have done so in another post. You can read it here.

Takayama

From Shirakawa-go, we took an hour long bus to Takayama from the bus terminal. You can find out more about how we travelled to the Gifu Prefecture in the Shirakawa-go post!

Also, Takayama happens to be one of the places were we splurged quite a bit on a ryokan stay. It's probably our third ryokan stay throughout the trip thus far, but the first time we got to try how grand and spectular a ryokan dinner (served to you in your room) is actually like. Two of us couples also decided to stay together because it's cheaper when the room is spilt four-ways.





Oh and they provide yukatas too!! So you get to dress a little fancy. :')

While in Takayama, the one thing not to miss is definitely the Hida beef!! It's unique to the Gifu prefecture, and omg I swear it's one of the best beefs I had the luxury to have. Four of us even agree that it's comparable to Kobe beef.




Many of the streets and stalls here will have Hida Beef on their menu, whether its beef sushi, beef ramen or just the grilled ones on skewers. They were all good.

Azumino 

Azumino is also another off the beaten track destination that we randomly chanced upon. We had plans to hike and trek here, but we underestimated the cold in the winter (it was always around zero degrees and extremely windy) so we didn't get to get anywhere close to the alps or the mountains.

Still, we got to visit the glass museum and the wasabi farm.





This farm below in Azumino actually happens to be where we are staying at! We got a farm stay here via Airbnb, and met a very passionate local who grows coriander and radishes amongst other crops. He is soooo enthusiastic about his farm that he even owns coriander hats, coriander printed shirts and pillows (which we slept on).

It was a humbling experience when we got to have dinner with him too! Despite my limited Japanese conversational skills, we somehow got by with the help of Google translate, sake and beers LOL. In the end, the time we spent with our Japanese host and his family was the main highlight of our stay in Azumino.



Also, just look at the view!! The Japanese Northern alps is just in the background.



Tokyo

While in Tokyo, I also covered the places I did previously such as Shinjuku, Harajuku, Asakusa, Shibuya and Akihabara. If you're keen in these places, you can read about my past trips in Western Tokyo and Northern/Central Tokyo.

This time though, Han and I went to Disneysea together with the other couple! It's my first time to Disney, and because I heard that there is only one Disneysea in the world (Japan), I thought I'd tick that place off first!













There's just so much to do in Tokyo, but I really do think it's quite similar to Singapore since it's just city life and all. We did however, cover their kitchen streets, art museums and bookshops because what they have in Tokyo is far better than what's in Singapore. We were just basically looking at stuff that's more relevant to our careers and areas of interests heh. Han got another knife in Tokyo, while I managed to get my hands on some photo books by Japanese photographers!

Odaiba

From Tokyo, we also made a day trip to Odaiba just to catch the teamLab light exhibition held at the Mori Building Digital Art Museum.

When I bought the tickets, I honestly expecting a lot from the exhibition because well, it is just an exhibition. But this is an interactive one, and it left all four of us pretty amazed by the whole experience!




Hakone


You can read more what we did and how we got around with the 2 Day Hakone Pass here.


I'd say that our itinerary is more suited for those who are into sightseeing, food and local experiences. Oh and feeding animals lol. Both of us always preferred exploring the road less travelled, and away from the city. But of course, we are still city kids down to the core of our bones so we will never be able to stay away from civilisation too long without getting bored.

So yes, that's our 23 Days in 11 towns and cities around Japan! We got to cover some unique and less popular places, which became one of the most fulfilling experiences (at least for Han and myself) ever. To think that we still spent another 10 days in Taiwan and South Korea prior to this long venture hahaha.

That's pretty much it for the Japan itinerary! It's been a super looong post and I hope that it has been helpful to other travellers, especially for those who have already been to Japan before, and are not too sure what other destinations in Japan they could visit on to spruce up their next trip.

Onto the next destination: Korea!!


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 Days in Nara, Okunoshima, Hiroshima, Miyajima & Kinosaki Onsen
▶ Japan in December (part 5) - 11 Towns and Cities in 23 Days

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