First Time in Japan – Travel Itinerary

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Ginza, Tokyo, Japan

There is a lot to do in Japan and planning your very first trip could seem daunting. For our own maiden trip to Japan, our initial thoughts were to cover Tokyo and nearby cities and then fly to Hokkaido and spend a few days there. Later though, we decided that for a 11 days trip it will be a lot of running around so we changed our plans and decided to soak in the places at a slower, more relaxed pace. Here is what we covered overall.

  • Tokyo (Day 1-4) – Explore this sprawling metropolis
  • Hakuba (Day 5-6) – Relax and enjoy some peace, quiet and natural beauty at this little ski village. We took our very first ski lessons ever πŸ™‚
  • Hakone (Day 7-8) – Enjoy the slow pace in this small town and take a day tour to enjoy beautiful landscapes
  • Kyoto (Day 9-11) – Soak in the historic side of Japan in this former capital

Here is some useful information, before you start planning your own trips.

Getting to Japan – Wherever you are in the world, chances are that you will land in Tokyo most likely. There are two airports you can fly into – Narita and Haneda. Haneda is closer to the city and to get to the city you can take buses. Narita is further away and best option is to take the Narita Express that runs every 30 mins

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A boat cruise on Lake Ashi, Hakone, Japan

Getting around in Japan – Public transport is great and very efficient so just get subway passes in places like Tokyo and Kyoto. For intercity travel on the Shinkansen (bullet trains) invest in the Japan Rail Pass. Do note that the JR pass also works on certain lines in the city subways, so check before you plan your day. Make sure to collect your JR passes at the airport. We purchased the passes online and collected the passes at Narita.

To get to Hakuba, we boarded the Shinkansen from Tokyo station to Nagano. And from Nagano took a one hour bus ride to Hakuba. From Nagano to Hakone, we took the Shinkansen again first to Tokyo and from there to Hakone. From Hakone to Kyoto was another Shinkansen ride. And then to fly out, Shinkansen from Kyoto to Tokyo and then from Tokyo station to Narita by Narita Express. It may seem like a lot but the journeys are quite seamless and convenient in Japan

Understanding the Shinkansen? Read this very helpful guide, link here.

When to visit – We visited in late winter as it’s the non-peak season. It was a welcome change for us and we enjoyed the winter days. Cherry Blossom is obviously the peak tourist season but that also means loads of crowds, high prices and advance bookings for everything. The other popular season to visit is autumn. With the changing hues, the landscapes look beautiful

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Beautiful day in Hakuba, Japan

Where to stay – We stayed in AirbnbsΒ in Tokyo and Kyoto which were cozy, clean and pocket friendly. In Hakuba and Hakone, we stayed in hostels. K’s House in Hakone was a great hostel stay where we slept on tatamis. And almost everywhere, you get the heated toilet seats which were so awesome in the winters! πŸ˜€

Get SGD $45 off (approx. USD $35) on your very first Airbnb stay using this link, click here.

Other things to note – As taxis are quite pricey you will be hauling your luggage quite a bit. So try to travel light. Other thing would be to download a translation app as english doesn’t take you too far. Labels in supermarkets and shops are often in Japanese

For things to do in each of these places, jump to our travel vlogs. Subscribe to Travel Keede on YouTube if you enjoyed them πŸ™‚

  1. Things to do in Tokyovlog link
  2. Winter Wonderland in Hakubavlog link
  3. One day in Hakonevlog link
  4. Things to do in Kyotovlog link
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Fushimi Inari Shirine, Kyoto, Japan

Japan first impressions

Blossoms in Tokyo, Japan

There is the rest of the world and then there is Japan. More than the man-made structures and nature’s beauty, we were struck by the culture in this unique nation.

People are considerate and polite even during the mad rush. The entire country (not just one city) is squeaky clean even though there are hardly any dustbins in public spaces. There are designated areas for smoking and people actually go there for a smoke instead of indiscriminately lighting up anywhere in a public zone. It’s so safe, children are encouraged to commute to school all by themselves. The houses are neat despite the space crunch.

Ginza, Tokyo, Japan

Their Shinkansen (bullet trains) never run late, ever. They play bird chirping sounds at train stations, just before the escalators to forewarn those who cannot see. You hear ‘Arigatou gozaimashita’ (thank you so much) about 1000 times a day.Β And the best part, their toilet seats warm up which was great because in Feb when we visited it was still winters πŸ˜€

Shinkansen, Tokyo station, Japan

Only if they could maintain better work-life balance, people will not die of over-work!

Other than that, their architecture and buildings suggest a minimalistic way of life. The architecture did not ‘wow’ us but then isn’t minimalism better than over the top, jewel studded structures which costed a fortune. Only to be plundered and looted by power hungry men? I guess there is a reason why you can equate optimisation and efficiency to this country.

More on our Japan trip soon. To keep you busy till then, watch our Japan Vlogs at the YouTube link below:

Travel Keede’s Japan Travel Vlogs

The Year That Was – 2017

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Sunset over Agra, first time ever witnessing such a beautiful sunset in our own backyard

We’re at work, winding things down and even though it’s the end of the year, things still feel a bit crazy. Last working day before the holidays is finally over and we start feeling just a tinge of excitement. Back home, last minute packing and cleaning up the house has been accomplished. Next day early morning at 5:00am,Β  we are off in a Grab taxi to Changi airport. After the usual drill of checking in, immigration and security, we warm up at the sight of a beautiful sunrise while waiting at the gate. We take off and a couple of movies and a hot indian breakfast later, the plane has landed.

Every year for the last 5 years we have celebrated new year in India. It has become a custom of sorts. Every year we look forward to experiencing north indian winters and welcoming the next 365 days surrounded by family. The days between Christmas and New Year are spent meeting friends and family, gorging over home made meals, sipping endless cups of adrak chai, mom’s tomato soup and shelling peas.

2017 was no different. While, it takes a couple of days to get used to India and its ways, by the end of the trip we know we’ll be homesick.

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Mustard fields in bloom, a common sight during North Indian winters

What made this trip special? Well it was a lot of things, as it usually is. In the 10 days we were there, we managed :

  • 1 road trip – from Delhi – Agra – Delhi via the Yamuna Expressway
  • 5 family get togethers – 1 breakfast, 2 dinners, 1 evening tea and 1 BBQ on NYE. And oh the home made food was just so comforting. And there is just something special about BBQ-ing in winters that you’ll never experience in tropical weather
  • 2 friends get togethers – both on roop top terrace cafes. Winters and open air cafes? Add to the list of winter experiences we look forward to
  • 1 indian wedding – where we dressed up, clicked more than necessary amount of photographs, enjoyed the indian wedding scenes and needless to say – the food
  • 1 excursion to Wildlife SOS elephant sanctuary – an NGO which runs centers for rescued animals which you can visit, volunteer at and also make donations to. Check out their website here
  • Ate out on several occasions – from breaking the fast with Agra’s favourite breakfast, Bedhai Jalebi to enjoying South Indian food at Dasaprakash. From relishing north indian dhaba food to the popular indian street food … it was all a gastronomical adventure
  • Getting important stuff done – adult stuff like managing our finances and investment πŸ˜€
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Foggy morning in Agra, -8 degrees centigrade

We’ve come to realise how fortunate we have been – for friends, family and their love in our lives. Every time we leave from our house in India, we feel overwhelmed by how loving and selfless so many people around us are especially, our parents. Beyond that, we have travelled. As much as our working lives allowed us to. And it has been great!

Here is a recap of the Year That Was – 2017. Thanks for stopping by and hope you enjoyed the video

Happy Twenty Eighteen folks. Here’s wishing you the best of everything πŸ™‚

Here is the Year That Was – 2016, just in case.