Japan Trip Report – Part 1


Hi folks!  The Tako family is currently traveling around Japan for the entire month of October.  We’re exploring the Land of the Rising Sun once again (it’s not our first trip to Japan), and I’ll be blogging about our travels for the entire month.  So keep watching for all the latest updates!

Without further ado, let’s get right down to the interesting stuff.

 

Where Are We?

Most tourists who visit Japan land at Narita Airport in Tokyo.  The tourist path is pretty well beaten in Japan.  They follow the guidebooks, stay at Western hotels, and follow the tourist script to a ‘T’.  If they’re adventurous tourists, they might even hop on a Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto for a day to see the temples.  Then, they head right back to the safety and ease of Tokyo.

Boooring!

Tokyo is a giant concrete jungle that’s easy for tourists, but honestly I’m not a huge fan — It’s too big, too expensive, and way too crowded!  Frankly, once you’ve done all the standard tourist stuff in Tokyo, that sea of concrete isn’t all that interesting.

Tokyo concrete
Tokyo. It’s a sea of concrete as far as the eye can see.

For this trip, we decided to fly into the Kansai region of Japan (near Osaka) instead.  Where Tokyo is grey and boring in its uniformity, the Kansai region is colorful, alive, and filled with variety.

Our flights consisted of a free flight (paid with miles) from Seattle to Los Angeles (LAX), and then another flight from L.A. to Kansai Airport (KIX).

From KIX we took a train to Osaka, and transferred to another train to reach our “base of operations” for the trip — a small town halfway between Osaka and Nara.

Japan Map1
We are here!  This is (roughly) the location of the small town where the Tako family is staying.

Our trip to Japan took 24 hours of traveling (including layovers).  Everyone was exhausted by the time we arrived.  We passed-out as soon as our heads hit the pillows.

 

Where We’re Staying

One of the best reasons to stay in the Kansai region is its incredible affordability.  For around $50/night via AirBnb  (use this affiliate link for a free $31 travel credit) you can cheaply rent a clean apartment with a kitchen, bathroom, and two beds in a convenient location.

For families with children this is an excellent way to see Japan, and this would normally be our modus operandi… but we actually have a cheaper option!

We have family that lives in the area, so we’re staying in a (mostly) unoccupied family home in a suburban town for absolutely free.

suburb house
The house where we are staying is a typical family home in the suburbs.  Yes, those are my kids peaking through the gate.

This really cuts down on our travel costs in Japan, but it’s a little different than a typical Western-style hotel room.  For one, it has a typical Japanese-style bathroom.

ofuro
This is our Japanese style bathroom with washing area and soaking tub. The toilet is located in it’s own separate room in Japanese homes.

While this isn’t a new house (it’s 30 years old), it still has all the modern amenities a family could want — air conditioning, wifi, sit-down toilets (as opposed to squat toilets), a kitchen, and a new clothes washing machine.

washer
This hard-working Hitachi washing machine is cleaning all our clothes. They don’t use clothes dryers in Japan so we hang dry all of our clothes.  Good thing the weather is warm!

Another interesting difference — we don’t have Western-style beds at this place.  We’re sleeping on Japanese style futons (which are very different from American-style futons).  A Japanese style futon is a series of thin mattresses on the floor, with a comforter-type blanket on top.

futon beds
Our bedroom has a typical Japanese futon bedding setup.  It takes a bit of getting used to!

For most Westerners, sleeping on the floor is a very foreign proposition — filled with visions of back pain and extreme discomfort… but you actually get used to it after a couple of days.  It’s really not all that bad.

I consider it a more “authentic” Japanese experience, and frankly most nights I’ve been too tired to care if my bed was 0 inches from the ground or 12 inches!

The house sits in a very typical quiet Japanese suburb, less than 30 minutes (by rail) from the cities of Osaka, and Nara.

typical suburban neighborhood
We’re located in a typical Japanese neighborhood.  It’s super quiet and most nights I can hear the crickets chirping peacefully outside as if we were in the countryside.

 

How We’re Getting Around

Getting around Japan is not hard.  Trains are by far the easiest way to get around, and getting to the nearest train station is a short (10 minute) walk from where we’re staying.

train station
Being within walking distance of this train station means it’s extremely easy to move around the country.

It’s also worth mentioning, that kids under 6 years old can travel on the local trains (those without reserved seating) for free when accompanied by an adult.  This makes traveling via trains very affordable for families!

local train
The local JR trains quickly shuttle us around to the different cities for a couple hundred yen (about $2-$3) a trip.

When you’re not a local, navigating a major city can be tricky.  Back in the States, I would normally use Google Maps’ offline mapping to help navigate a strange town or city.  That WAS my original plan, but when I got to Japan I discovered Google’s offline maps are not available in Japan.

Darn!

As a work-around, I found an alternative app called Osmand for offline maps.  I have no affiliation with the app or it’s maker, but the offline mapping feature and GPS seem to work OK for me.  It has all the major roads and railway lines, and that’s mostly what I need it for.

For anyone who’s new to Japan, I also recommend keeping a copy of the local railway map on your phone.  In addition to the dozens of railway lines, large cities like Osaka have a bunch of additional subway lines that add to the complexity.

rail way map
Japan’s railways are very extensive. I find it handy to keep this English railway map pdf on my phone.

Besides visiting the major cities in the area (Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, and Kobe), we will be taking several ‘mini-trips’ to different regions of Japan while we’re here.  I’ll do separate write-ups on some of those trips very soon.

This is why I called our small town location the “base of operations”, because we can easily catch a train to Osaka, board a flight to other parts of Japan, or transfer to buses that will go anywhere in the countryside.

local bus
When trains aren’t available, local buses get us within a couple blocks of anywhere we want to go for a few hundred yen.

 

What We’re Eating

Of course, no trip to Japan could complete without mentioning the food.  The food in Japan is absolutely incredible!

That doesn’t mean it has to be expensive however — there’s a huge variety of restaurants, noodle shops, and street vendors selling very affordable food.

maguro sushi
Sushi is cheap and plentiful in Japan. This plate of maguro sushi only cost us 100 yen (about $0.89).

I plan to do an entire post on how to eat-out affordably in Japan for very little money, so look for that one soon!  You really don’t need to break the bank to eat well here!

Another great way we’re saving money in Japan, is the same way we do at home — by cooking our own food.  Grocery stores are abundant, and very easy to find.  In our case, the nearest grocery store is right next to the train station.

Japanese Grocery store
The local grocery store is right next door to our local train station — a quick walk from where we’re staying.

While “western” ingredients might not be as readily available, if you’re at all comfortable cooking different cuisines it’s a piece of cake to cook an affordable meal.

soup and salad
A simple meal of soup and salad is a breeze to put together from cheap ingredients. This meal was the equivalent of only a couple dollars.

While most of the world seems to think Japan is this incredibly expensive place, that’s not actually my experience.  It can be incredibly affordable for frugal folks who don’t mind living like the locals.  Take for example this incredible tofu deal I found at the grocery store yesterday:

tofu sale
Tofu was on sale for 39 yen.  That’s $0.35 in USD.  That’s less than half the price we pay back home for a block of tofu.  Talk about a loss leader!

With prices like that, I don’t mind making a tofu dish for dinner one night.  Sure, it’s not Kobe beef, but we’re still getting some of that too…

kobe beef
Normally I’m not a big beef eater, but when in Rome… (eat the decadently tender Japanese beef)

Most grocery stores have a huge variety of prepared food items at very affordable prices.  If you’re not into cooking (and don’t want to deal with the fuss of trying to order in a restaraunt), prepared meal items in Japanese grocery stores are an easy way to eat.

chirashi zushi
Prepared food items can be very affordable.  For example — these chirashi zushi bento boxes were only 498 yen (about $4.45).  That’s less than $5 for a fresh sushi bento box!

 

What We’re Doing

Whoa… hold on!  This post is getting way too long!

Instead of trying to squeeze all the cool stuff we’re doing in Japan down into one post, I’m going to break-up all the details into multiple posts about our trip.  There’s just way too much fun stuff going on here to summarize it!

I’ll be attempting to post on my regular schedule while we’re in Japan, but please allow for a little disruption in the upcoming weeks.  There could be times and places where I’m not able to get access to the internet easily!

Until next time!

32 thoughts on “Japan Trip Report – Part 1

  • October 11, 2017 at 3:36 AM
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    Eat some sushi for me please! Awesome you are able to stay at a small town. That’s something I’ll have to try in the future.

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    • October 11, 2017 at 5:45 AM
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      I definitely recommend it. You really get to experience more of the culture this way. It’s quiet, and a great environment for kids.

      We’re right across the street from a park too!

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  • October 11, 2017 at 4:22 AM
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    How are you finding getting around in Japan off the beaten path in terms of language. I’ve heard horror stories about train stations with nothing in English where you end up on a bullet train by accident. This was from seasoned German travellers but I can’t validate myself as I’ve never been out of Narita airport.
    FullTimeFinance recently posted…The Financial Impact of Kids, 12 PF bloggers weigh in

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    • October 11, 2017 at 6:00 AM
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      It’s really not that difficult to get around if you don’t speak Japanese. There’s English signs everywhere these days.

      I would say that a good 80% of stations have some English signs and many ticket machines can be run in English. The station master is almost always available to assist travelers. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met a Japanese person that wouldn’t stop and help a lost traveler.

      Most Japanese people under the age of 40 speak some English (even if they won’t admit it). It’s required in their school system.

      In a pinch, there’s always Google translate too, which has offline translation ability for text, images, and audio. I’ve used it a couple times when I didn’t already know the Japanese word for something.

      Reply
  • October 11, 2017 at 4:39 AM
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    The post starts with delicious-looking sashimi and ends with more delicious-looking Japanese food. That’s my type of travel posts hehe.

    I have never been to Tokyo, but I would love to see Kyoto one day. I heard the city has a lot of historical places. I’ll def need to try an authentic bento and the beautiful dessert I only see in movies or on Youtube. I’m glad your family is having a great trip!

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    • October 11, 2017 at 6:10 AM
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      You should visit Japan sometimes Ms. FAF! It’s a great country for people who love food!

      Kyoto and Nara have most of the old “historical” stuff, but after a couple days of seeing temple after temple it gets a little repetitive. The parks and gardens are not to be missed though. When the Japanese do a garden, they do it really well.

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  • October 11, 2017 at 4:57 AM
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    Have a wonderful trip!! It’s so nice when you can stay with family. And I’m sure speaking the language doesn’t hurt! 🙂

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  • October 11, 2017 at 5:50 AM
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    THE FOOOOOOOOD. 🙂 Oh man, I am having serious jealousy right now. I’ve been to Korea, but I’ve never been to Japan. I think it would be so much fun, especially since it’s very different from how we live in the West. Love reading about your adventures!

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    • October 11, 2017 at 6:12 AM
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      There’s lots more to come Mrs. PP! … and OMG the food! It’s foodie heaven here!

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  • October 11, 2017 at 6:05 AM
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    I also had problems with the sea of concrete that is Tokyo. You get spoiled by the vast tracts of wilderness we have in the US.

    We enjoyed Ayashiyama and the bamboo forest in Kyoto as well as hiking up in the hills behind Kobe. You may want to check out seeds to plant when you get back. I had fun planting micro tomato, cucumber and shiso seeds in my garden this summer.

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  • October 11, 2017 at 6:18 AM
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    Oh man, I am so jealous. I’ve been curious about the Kansai region so it’s great that you’re staying there. We’ll probably visit that region next time. Last time we didn’t get that far south. Please write more about the Kansai attractions.
    The prepared lunch (bento?) in Japan are great deals. I’m looking forward to more food pictures.
    I like the Japanese bathroom. The tub is deeper and you can get a much nicer soak. The tub in the us is way too shallow.
    Enjoy!

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  • October 11, 2017 at 7:20 AM
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    Wow, these are so cool! Japan is on my hit-list. I’d love to experience it. The pictures remind me of Poland, funnily enough. My Babcia has a tiny little washing machine like that in her tiny bathroom in the tiny apartment she lives in. No room or need for a tiny dryer there either! Looking forward to more updates 🙂

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  • October 11, 2017 at 7:32 AM
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    The food looks so fresh!! The last time I’ve been to Japan was a few years ago and it was a stop over and I just checked out Narita (boring I know!). Thanks for sharing how affordable Japan can be- I am amazed you can get a place for $40-50 a night on Airbnb. Tofu for $0.35 who would have thought!
    GYM recently posted…Traveling to Hawaii for 5 Weeks with an Infant

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    • October 12, 2017 at 1:19 AM
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      If you’re willing to stay in slightly older places it can get even cheaper.

      There’s a block of condo’s not far from our train station (5 minutes) that rent for $250 per month.

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  • October 11, 2017 at 9:51 AM
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    mr. tako
    like you i don’t find japan that expensive. i have been there 3 times so i should know.
    i have been to tokyo, kyoto & ohara. kansai/osaka will be next on my list!

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  • October 11, 2017 at 2:33 PM
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    Looks like a fun trip! Agreed that food (even in Tokyo) isn’t as pricey as you’d think. You can find cheap eats, for sure. And while I didn’t mind sleeping on the floor, it took us a while to figure out how to turn on the gas water heater for the tub/shower in our AirBNB though. One cold shower was all the motivation I needed to learn…

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    • October 12, 2017 at 1:17 AM
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      Haha, that’s funny! It always takes me a few minutes to figure it out myself.

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  • October 11, 2017 at 2:40 PM
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    Looks like an awesome and delicious trip, Mr. Tako! I’ll definitely be looking forward to your eating in Japan affordably post soon and packing it along with me to Japan someday (along with the offline maps…heh). Your accommodations look rather comfortable as well. Enjoy the rest of your trip!
    Michael @ Financially Alert recently posted…Early Retirement is Worthless if You’re Dead!

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  • October 11, 2017 at 3:53 PM
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    Jesus those prices on food. I’m so bitter right now!! $1 for maguro that looks like that? In Seattle it’s like $4-5 for nigiri.

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    • October 12, 2017 at 1:15 AM
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      You’ll hate me for saying this, but the quality over here for $1 is better than anything you can get in Seattle for $4-5. Way fresher!

      Only the really expensive sushi joints in the states come anywhere close.

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  • October 11, 2017 at 6:50 PM
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    Nice trip report! My wife and I are big fans of Japan and have made many trips up there. Staying in the AirBNB’s or even in a Ryokan isn’t that expensive. We’ve been up all around Hokkaido, Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo.

    I’m a vegan so sometimes the food can be a challenge. However there are a small handful of wonderful vegan restaurants in the country. Hitting the grocery stores for the fresh produce is really all I need to stay happy.

    Have a good rest of the month up there!

    -Mike

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  • October 12, 2017 at 10:19 AM
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    Oh my gosh, 35 cents for tofu! And sushi under a buck! Japan sounds like heaven!! <3 <3 <3
    I'm sure you're having a blast, can't wait to read more updates! Eat a plate of sushi for me 🙂

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  • October 13, 2017 at 4:17 AM
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    It’s all about the food…well, I guess the scenery is nice too! 🙂 I think Go Curry Cracker is in Tokyo right now as well. With all this Japan talk I am getting closer to pulling the trigger on the Shikoku temple pilgrimage. Looking forward to Part 2!!
    Miss Mazuma recently posted…Early Retirement: Roadblocks & Contemplations

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  • October 13, 2017 at 7:08 AM
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    Loved being in Osaka while we were there! All my friends were telling us we need to go to Kyoto but I enjoyed Osaka way more. So much more laid back and less touristy.

    Looks like you are having a wonderful time and eating delicious food! I’m drooling just looking at the pictures. Can’t wait for part 2!

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    • October 13, 2017 at 9:47 AM
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      I just scheduled Part 2 for posting… it’s a food extravaganza!

      Reply
  • October 13, 2017 at 9:06 PM
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    I am just here for the food. Great update!

    When hubs and I travel we also like to cycle. Any intel on cycling in Kyoto?

    Can’t wait for more food posts!

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    • October 14, 2017 at 6:03 AM
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      I saw tourists cycling there today, so it’s definitely a thing. Be forewarned though, Kyoto is a very busy city and there’s lots of traffic.

      The place was mobbed with tourists today, and we weren’t even at any of the famous attractions.

      Reply
  • October 17, 2017 at 9:43 AM
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    Man what a cool vacation, and an entire month to relax and enjoy. Very nice. I especially like that you eat healthy and cheap. Everything is so compact in the house.
    Looking forward to future Japan posts!

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  • October 17, 2017 at 11:06 AM
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    Enjoy Mr. Tako, the sushi looks delicious and a nice long vacation. Eat a lot of sushi for your readers :). We were in Japan in April this year and the food prices were much cheaper than I thought they would be.

    Reply

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