Kohkufuji in Nara

Nara is Japan’s first permanent capital and houses Japan’s largest and oldest Buddhist temples. It is also famous for the deer park where deer freely roam and mingle with locals and tourists.

To get to Nara from Osaka we used the Kintetsu Railway at Namba.
(Note: From Shinsaibashi, take Midsouji line to Namba, transfer to Kintetsu Railway to Nara). It takes about 45 [Read more...]

Todaiji in Nara

I appreciated the architecture of Todaiji Temple. It is the world’s largest wooden building and it is remarkable how the wood withstood time. It was originally constructed in 784 and was reconstructed to 2/3 of it’s original size come 1692. The pillars and of course the Buddha and his fierce looking temple guards are simply massive. Having the cherry blossoms around made Todaiji look even better. It is another 25 minute walk from Kohkufuji Temple.

The Nandaimon Gate that serves as entrance to Todaiji Temple.

The gate is guarded by the gigantic figure of the Nio Kings.

You then get to the main Todaiji Temple. The largest Buddha in the whole of Japan is here.

The gardens of Todaiji. It also has a lot of deer on loose.

Best Links to Plan Your Japan Trip

Winner links that helped me plan our Japan trip better. Without them there will be lots of wasted time and stress level will be on red alert.

It has a complete listing of the tourist spots in Japan categorized by area. Example for Hakone, it will list down all the tourist spots within and a brief description of the site. It also includes a map and directions of how to get there. This is my one true guide to it all. I printed out all points of interest to me and also the maps. It is very important to print out map, so if you are lost, you just point to the map. Remember, this is Japan so English is quite sparse.

This site will help you find the best route for your destination by inputting your entry station and end station. For example, my hotel is nearest Shinsaibashi station in Osaka and I want to get to Nara. I just type Shinsaibashi and Nara and several route options will appear. It also has the total commute expense and estimated time you will spend on commute including walk time during transfers! Galing! The key here is you have to know the train or bus station you are getting in and off at.

If you are not sure if the tourist site is worth your time it would be good visiting trip advisor for reviews of the site and hotels. It has lots of reviews and pictures too.

This has a good listing of the ryokans (traditional Japanese Inns) from the high end at Y50,000 to budget ones as low as Y7,000. You also reserve the ryokan through this site. They don’t give real time reservation instead they will get back to you in a few days to confirm your reservation. But they are reliable. We booked our Fuji-Hakone Guest House through them. The site will ask for your credit card but that's only for verification and cancellation purposes. You will be billed at the ryokan upon check out. Book in advance to ensure you get your preferred ryokan. They fill up quite easily especially the budget ones.

To navigate the site, click on the prefecture and you will see a list of prefectures (prefectures cover an area larger than a city). Hakone belongs to the prefecture of Kanagawa. We stayed in Hakone at Fuji-Hakone Guest House which is in the budget category and had a perfectly pleasant stay. And we liked the ring of a guest house it’s more homey and has an exchange student feel to it - and that’s exactly what we got. Plus Japan is generally fastidious about cleanliness and the Fuji-Hakone Guest House fit the genre. See my Fuji-Hakone Guest House Blog.

Book your inter-city buses from this site. We booked our Osaka-Tokyo-Osaka through Willer. See separate blog on Japanese Buses.

Book your city hotels through this site. We booked our Hearton Hotel, Osaka through this site. They give instant confirmation and have the cheapest rates. Unlike the japaneseguesthouses, agoda will bill your credit card right away. So what is left to settle with the hotel is your incidentals and extended stay if ever.

Fuji-Hakone Guesthouse

To add local flavor to our stay in Hakone, we stayed at the Fuji-Hakone Guesthouse. It is a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) complete with an onsen (hot spring). We were pleasantly received, like old friends, by an English speaking Japanese girl. Most of the guests are backpackers and it has a college dorm feel to it. So you can just chat with anyone at the common living room while sipping your on the house tea.

The location is perfect and is just around 20 minutes away from tourist spots in Hakone. A 5 minute walk from the guesthouse will bring you to the Senkyoro-Mae Bus Stop and a Lawson Convenience store is just across it. You can get your cup noodle and other food here (I love the curry cup noodles). The price is also affordable at Y13,000 per night.

We had a tatami matted room with 2 large picture windows flanked by lush greeneries. The room and the communal bath, toilet are clean and well maintained. I didn’t feel icky at any moment.

They have an outdoor and indoor onsen (hot spring bath) which you have to book upon arrival at the guesthouse. The yutaka I'm wearing in the picture is provided and has to be worn going to and from onsen. You are allowed 30 minutes inside the hot spring. Please be considerate of the time and do not overstay. The group who went prior to us overstayed for 15 minutes and left us with just 15 minutes. Grrr! And of course, we didn’t want to overstay because, well, we were more considerate.

I didn’t get to take pictures too much of the guesthouse. So if you do stay there, hope you can share some of your pics. Please visit www.tripadvisor.com for pictures and more reviews. We booked the guesthouse through www.japaneseguesthouses.com. Please read my horrifying and hilarious onsen experience blog.

Hakone in a Day

If you are in the Tokyo area already. Hakone is a place worth visiting. It's just 3.5 hours away from Tokyo and the town of Hakone is warm (figuratively) and idyllic, with lots of interesting places to see.

We bought a Y5,000 2 day Hakone FreePass from the Shinjuku station in Tokyo. It includes a 2 hour train ride from Shinjuku to Odawara, and another almost 1.5 hour bus ride from Odawara to Hotel area (yes, traffic can also be bad in Japan). It also includes unlimited bus rides within Hakone, cable car, Hakone ropeway and a 2 way cruise ride on board a full size Pirate Ship! It's really a good deal and it takes away the hassle of counting your yen for every ride. To purchase the Hakone Free Pass, go to the g/f concourse, West Exit of Odakyu Shijnuku Staion.

For our hotel , we opted for the traditional ryokan (see my blog on Fuji-Hakone Guest House). It's not your typical hotel instead it uses tatami matted rooms, communal baths and usually comes with an an onsen (hot spring). Japan is a volcanically active country so onsens are scattered all over, particularly here in the Hakone area.

From Togendai, you will board this Pirate Ship which will cruise Lake Ashi. You will also return back to Togendai to catch your Hakone Ropeway from here. The cruise is only 30 minutes so stay out and enjoy the cool wind:)

Lake Ashi is a crater lake that lies along the caldera of Mount Hakone. The really lucky ones can see a glimpse of Mt. Fuji - we were part of the unlucky ones.

Your cruise starts at Togendai and docks at Hakone-Machi. The houses are traditional Japanese style. You start your walk from here. We walked along the highway going to the Palace and coming back we used the lake route to see 2 scenes.

A reconstruction of the Hakone Checkpoint from the feudal Edo Period. Just a 5 minute walk from cruise drop off at Hakone-Machi station.

Pass the exit of Hakone Checkpoint and walk along the path of the Lake. You will get to a parking lot which has a walk way up to the Hakone Detached Palace.

A good view of Lake Ashi and, if it's a clear day, Mt. Fuji can be seen from here. It used to serve as a summer palace for the Imperial Family. Now, you can take tea from here and enjoy the view of Lake Ashi.

The trail to and going down the Palace.

Once, down you may want to carefully cross the highway to see the Ancient Cedar Avenue. It is a 2km cedar stretch that dates back from Edo Shongunate period of 1618.

After the trip back to Togendai, head for the Hakone Ropeway (20 minutes) which will bring you to the volcanic valley of Owakudani.

Owakudani is an active volcanic zone of Mount Hakone. The white fumes on the picture are sulfrous fumes. I think it's amazing to see that a volcano that erupted 3000 years ago is still showing this much activity.

Black eggs that are said to prolong one's life by 7 years are a must buy. The egg's shell is blackened by the sulfur from the natural hot water it was boiled in. It has a little bit stronger taste than the normal egg. We bought 5 eggs for Y500 in the souvenir shop. If you just one to try one, the first entrance to Owakudani also sells the eggs at Y100 for 1 piece. 35 years to your life is just too much;)

After Owakudani take the Hakone Tozan Cablecar which will bring you back to Gora. Along the 10 minute ride are jump off museum points. We didn't have time for this. When you reach Gora, there will be buses to take you to your hotel.

You can break this down to 2 days if you have time. We did it in one day because the first day was pouring so we just went back to our ryokan for our Japanese beer and tried the onsen (see my horrifying and hilarious onsen experience).

Hearton Hotel, Osaka, Japan

Pronounced as Heart-ton not hear-ton, the hotel is as what the reviews state it to be. Good location and good value for money. Well situated 5 minutes away from the Shinsaibashi Train Station and 3 minutes from the Shinsaibashi 1km shopping strip. It is a haven for shoppers as the strip is lined with stores like Takashimaya, Zara, Loft, Uniqlo and the much sought after second hand / pre-owned luxury bag stores like Daikokuya. I counted around at least 7 second hand stores in that strip.

Hearton is very cheap at $100 per night for 2 persons already. The room is a bit cramped and not for lounging around in. But it is clean and has the standard amenities for budget travelers like hot water boiler, mini ref, free Wi-fi access and Shisheido bathroom essentials. All TV channels are in Japanese though. We stayed at a semi double room, the bed is a bit small for 2 so I suggest you get at least a twin room. Hearton allows you to leave your luggage at the front desk in case check-in/check-out waiting time is long. Do request for a non-smoking floor upon check-in – we didn’t get one which was a bummer for a non-smoker like me.

To get there, use exit 5 north in Shinsaibashi station, cross the big street so Loft and Zara should be at your back. Walk a little bit inside Shinsaibashi strip and turn right on the first corner (less than a minute walk) – it is a side street with Key Coffee on the left. Walk straight ahead – you should pass a huge bowling pin statue on your left, an AM-PM convenience store on your left. Hearton Hotel is the corner hotel on your right – sign is a bit small but you will see their logo. Staff can speak a little bit of English, enough to complete check-in and check-out transaction smoothly.

I booked the hotel through Agoda.com. At first it was fully booked but we waited a few days and some rooms opened up so was able to get a room. I would highly recommend it for shoestring travelers.

Hotel Name: Hearton Hotel Minami Senba
Address: 2-12-22 Minumisenba Chuo-ku,
Osaka, Japan