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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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…
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.
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!