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13 days ,  Dec'11




Kind of travel:
Me and my wife Elisa in an independent travel

27th Dec'11- 08th Jan'12

Do I need a visa:
no, just the passport to get a medium size sticker on it together with a piece of the immigration form stapled (and then removed)

How many km:

How I moved:
Given the fact we had the railway JR pass we almost never took a bus, hence we moved always by train and in particular on the high speed 'Shinkhansen' rocketing on the super efficient Japanese train network. While all the cities were visited on foot and by metro (unfortunately JR pass not valid for urban transport) and around Naoshima Island by bike.

Freezing or baking:
It was colder than we expected and in the Alps (Takayama, Magome, Tsumago) we found the snow. Consider a temperature range between 0C and 6C, windy in few cases. In the hostel there's always a heating system so no need to have a sleeping bag, but pack your rugsack with warm outfit.

Where I slept:
The cheapest accommodation are in the spotless hostels (i.e.: the popular chains as K'house or Khaosan), costing from 28€ pp for a double. Then typical wooden Japanese houses where you can sleep in the Futon are the Minshuku or Ryokan from 50€ pp. A possibile choice in the cities might be the capsule hotel but convenient only if you are alone (30€ pp) or if you want to try something really different go to the one in Kyoto (http://9hours.jp)

What I liked:
Food, in particular the cold noodles (Zaru Soba) and the rice balls (Onigiri); the efficiency and cleanness everywhere especially in the transports; sleeping in the futon and staying in the HiTech capsule hotels in Kyoto (http://9hours.jp)

What I disliked:
wildlife is quite dead in winter time so you miss the real beauty of the Japanese gardens; the excessive costs (a coffee and a tea standing 8€!); having to book the accommodations beforehand limited our degrees of freedom

How much daily:
in Dec'11 Yen was strong like hell: 1€=97Yen while one year ago 30% less! However we spent 75€pp/day (+ JR pass + inbound flight): accommodation 30-50€ pp, dinner 15-25€ pp, 7 days JR pass 280€ pp, entrance to the temples: 3-5€ each (consider 3 temples per day). The great thing is we paid the flight from Italy 420€!

What you do need:
JR pass before leaving your country (you can buy only abroad), plug adaptor (two parallel flat pins). The last but not the least you need to know what's Tatami, Futon, Ryokan and Onsen.



First of all Japan is a unique world and this makes the trip worth regardless your real curiosity for the country and take into consideration that China, Thailand, Malaysia... are not even far relative of Japan.
Having said that, what impressed me more has been the discipline and respect of any single person; it sounds obvious when it comes to Japan, but living it, it’s astonishing. One example for all, when the ticket-manr on the train enters the wagon, first of all he bows greeting all passengers and the same when leaving the wagon: he does it every time he passes through without ever hesitating.
On the other hand Japan future might not be so bright: one of the main reason is the isolation that the country has historically had; till 1865 every foreigner found in the country (even castaways) was killed, nowadays nobody get killed but isolation continues and it's evident by an almost non existent immigration: every job, even the most humble, is done by a Japanese.
From one side this helps to keep the discipline in the country but it's a weak point as concerns the self confidence and the maturity of the population. Managing the social conflicts of a multiethnic culture (like the one we are living in Europe with the Islam) is hard but it lets to people grow and create awareness about what's beside syour own country.
In fact Japan in the last decades is not growing (is one of the few country in the world with deflation) and it doesn't seem to open them up.





Day Transport Night Price Duration
1 Milan- Rome- Tokyo Flight

420€ (back and forth) 1h + 11.5h
1,2,3 Tokyo On foot + metro
1,2,3 night Tokyo Kaosan Samurai Hostel 30€ pp for a twin
4 Tokyo- Shin Fuji Shinkansen Train JR pass (73€) 70min
4 Shin Fuji- Nagoya- Nakatsugawa Train JR pass (90€) 1.5h + 80min
4 Nakatsugawa- Magome Bus 6€ 30min
4 night Magome Chaya Magome Minshukhu 80€ pp (japanese room with futon) (breakfast & dinner included)
5 Magome- Tsumago- Nagiso
on foot 3.5h (11km)
5 Nagiso- Nagoya Train JR pass (20€) 1.5h
5 night Nagoya
B-Nagoya hotel 60€ per double room
6 Nagoya- Takayama
Train JR pass (60€) 2h 20min
6 Takayama- Nagoya- Kyoto
Train JR pass (100€) 2.3h + 40min
6,7 night Kyoto K'house hostel 28€ pp for a twin
7 Kyoto- Nara- Kyoto
Train JR pass 40min
8 Kyoto- Okayama-Chayamachi- Uno Train JR pass (87€) 1.5h+15min +15min
8 Uno- Miyanoura (Naoshima)
Boat 10€ (back and forth) 20min
8 Naoshima roundtour Bike bike rental: 7€ pp for full day 4h
8 Miyanoura (Naoshima)- Uno Boat 10€ (back and forth) 20min
8 Uno- Chayamachi- Okayama- Hiroshima Train JR pass (68€) 15min+15min + 50min
8,9 night Hiroshima J Hoppers Hostel 30€ pp (japanese room with futon)
9 Hiroshima- Miyajima- Iwakuni Hiroshima Train JR pass 25min +25min + 50min
10 Hiroshima- Kyoto Train JR pass (110€) 2.5h
10 night Kyoto 9 hours capsule hotel 49€ pp
11 Kyoto On foot + metro 28€ pp for a twin
11 nigth Kyoto K'house hostel 30€ pp 1.5h
12 Kyoto- Osaka Kansai airport Train 420€ (back and forth) 13h + 1h
12 Osaka K. airport- Rome- Milan Flight


Landed in Tokyo after a 12h haul from Rome we settled in the Khaosan Samurai Guesthouse in the convenient area of Akusaka (read: 'Asaksa'). We spent 3 days in Tokyo moving on foot and by the extensive (and expensive: one ticket: 2- 2.7€!) metro, getting the first shock with the Japanese Manga obsession. Considering the first day we were jet lagged (hence counts as half), they have been enough to have a look at the capital without miss too much or getting bored. We decided not to visit Nikko or Kamakura since we would have had enough of temples later on.
The last day at the Tokyo Station we changed our 'Exchange Order', we got in Italy by the HIS agency, in the JR pass (read for details).
Our first destination leaving the capital has been Shin Fuji; the place itself has nothing worth, besides the view of the Fuji mountain from the station platform. However unfortunately we didn't enjoy any panorama since the Fuji was capped by the clouds as it often happens .Proceeding by train at first to Nagoya, then to Nakatsugawa and finally by bus we found ourselves in the hearth of the Japanese Alps in the authentic village of Magome. We stayed in a typical wooden Japanese guesthouse (a ryokan called Chaya Magome) where in line with the Japanese style we slept on the futon(thin mattress) laid on the tatami (mats). It was the New Years Eve and after having had an abundant dinner at the guesthouse restaurant, at midnight we celebrated the New Year hitting the bell (108 hits according to the tradition) in the temple and drinking sake; it has one of the best memory of the whole trip!
The following morning with walked to Tsumago and then to the train station of Nagiso covering 11km in 3.5h. It has been a nice easy walk, with few cm's of snow and on the way we even met a samurai, he had the sword! I guess a guy who dressed up to celebrate the New Year. I recommend the walk for those who want to have an insight of the Japanese Alps but I found Magome more charming than Tsumago, even if the latter is still a typical village. To enjoy even more the walk my advice is to use the locker at the Nakatsugawa station at the arrival leaving there most of your stuffs and retrieve them on the way back (train from Nagiso stops at Nakatusgawa) or in summer there's a service of luggage delivery from Magome to Tsumago.
In Nagiso we took the train reaching Kyoto in few hours: the former capital of Japan is the highlight of the whole country and with the nearby town of Nara (don't miss it!), you'll have so many temples to visit that for sure you'll have enough. Anyway Kyoto is not just temples, but it's the typical town recalling in most of his areas what is the international imagine of Japan. For instance having the chance to see some Geisha sneaking along the cobblestone narrow streets of the Gijon quarter. We stayed at the K'house hostel, it's the most convenient place to stay if you are travelling with a tight budget.
The following day by train we reached the harbor of Uno from where we took a 20min ferry to the Island of Naoshima; the place is renowned for its collection of contemporary art galleries and exhibits: there are 2 museums (Bennesse House, Chichu Museum) and a number of houses in this town have been radically reformed in the Art House Project.You can visit the all places renting a bike in 4hours; although tickets are expensive (40€) and some works are far from being artistic, I recommend it even if for non fan of contemporary art, but the all stuffs in such location are quite unique. If you want to enjoy it but limiting the expense visit just the Chichu Museum (20€). Hiroshima is 1.5h from Uno by train (with few changes though), and needless to say the highlight here is the A-Bomb park and the impressive memorial museum.We stayed at the J Hopper hostel (30€ pp per double room) sleeping in a Japanese room, namely laying on the floor with the futon (thin mattress) over the tatami (mats). We visited Miyajima island (25km from Hiroshima) where is located the most photographed spot of Japan: the Torii (wooden red arch) in the water. Such Torii built on the sea shore and when there's the high tide it seems floating on the water. The same day we saw the Iwakuni bridge. Consider one day enough visiting Hiroshima, Miyajima and Iwakuni, theoretically you can do it even in a one day trip from Kyoto but it's going to be a looong day.
Back to Kyoto we enjoyed the last two days wandering around the town and visiting the several temples, also because our JR pass expired and moving would have been not affordable! We slept in a capsule hotel, or better in the coolest of the capsule hotel you can find in Japan: http://9hours.jp/systems/index
Our budget got the final strike with the train from Kyoto to the Osaka Kansai Airport: 1h travel for 30€!


Japan travel tip




EU citizens staying less than 90 days don't require anything more than their passport to get a medium size sticker on it together with a piece of the immigration form stapled (and then removed)



The currency is the Yen, at the time of writing he was amazilngly strong vs euro(1€= 97Yen, Dec2011), however few years ago it happen to have 1€= 150Yen, I hope you'll be luckier them me!!



I had Japan Lonley Planet (in italian 11th version), generally a good support, but I wonder why there's am estensive coloured chapter on 'Japanese architecure' instead of more practical. For instance pictures of the food? It's impossibile to understand what is a zaru soba untill you don't see a picture. What about a map of the Nagoya metro line or Hiroshima tram network?



In Japan you can lick the floor on the streets:-) maybe avoid to do it 50km from Fukushima Nuclear Power station!



  • Costs
    Finally we spent 75€ per day per person (JR pass and the inbound flight excluded), that is the highest cost I've ever had in any travel, anyway for being in Japan it's not too high,
    I'd say 10-20% higher of what could be the budget travelling in Western Europe

    Here is the split of the costs:

    - double or twin room in a hostel: 28-38€ pp
    - Japanese room (with tatami and futon, namely sleeping on the floor) in a Ryokan (typical Japanese guesthouse): 60€ pp
    - capsule hotel: 30€ pp (9hours capsule hotel in Kyoto where we stayed was 49€, but it's really a cool place! (http://9hours.jp)

    Dinner total: 15-25€ pp
    - noodles soup: 5-8€
    - sushi in Sushi bar: 1.5-3€ per each plate
    - beer: 5-7€
    - tempura: 8-10€

    JR pass, 7 days in 2nd class: 280€ pp, http:///japan_rail_pass

    Entrance to the temples: 3-5€ each (consider 3 temples per day).

    Naoshima: entrance to Museum: 40€!

    Renting a bike for one day: 7€

  • Trains (JR Pass)

    Our 7 days JR pass

    the JR Pass front page

    the JR pass with the validity:
    - 24 is the year (2012) (they count years since the last Emperor (Akhihito) settlement 1989)
    -1 is the month (Jan)
    - the rightmost simbol is the day (6)

The efficiency of the train network in Japan is amazing, but I'm sure you already know it.

A great website to check all the schedules is
: http://japan train schedule

However don't be too concerned on schedules since trains are so frequent that if you are not interested in reserved seats and most of the times you won't, you can just wait on the platform and jump on the first train. You won't wait likely more than 30min for Shinkansen (high speed train) or 1h for any other train.
For a detailed report about Japanese train check: http://japan-train

What's a JR pass?
It's a ticket letting you to travel almost without any limit throughout the train network of Japan for 7, 14 or 21 days
You have to buy the JR pass abroad!! (I took at H.I.S. travel agency that is the official Japansed travel agency)

This is steps to do:

1) Buy the JR pass online : http:///japan_rail_pass
Type GREEN (1st class) GREEN (1st class) ORDINARY(2nd class) ORDINARY (2nd class)
  Adult Kid Adult Kid
7 days 390€ 195€ 292€ 146€
14 days 631€ 315€ 465€ 232€
21 days 821€ 410€ 595€ 297€

2) Get the Exchange Order from the agency abroad (they can deliver to you via courrier or you can pick it up)

3) Change your Exchange Order in JR pass once you are in Japan (at the main stations)

- You can take all the Shinkansen except the Nozomi (the very fast ones but it'll not limit your travel at all)
- With JR Pass you can jump on the non-reserved cars or booked a seat on the reserved ones without extra!
- To travel in couchette you have to pay an extra
- With Nozomi train you have to pay the full amount
- The activating day will be communicated by you at the moment you get the JR Pass from the 'Exchange Order' in Japan
- You cannot use the Urban Network as the Metro or the trains even if they belong to JR company
- Watch out that in Japan there are several private railway company and you cannot use JR on them
- JR pass is valid on the ferry to Miyajima island (near Hiroshima)
- If you are staying in Japan few days and you are wondering if the JR pass it's worth take into consideration that one way ticket Tokyo- Kyoto is >120€!!, hence in most of the cases buying the JR pass is worth