Express Japan in 5 days

Finally back from my first vacation in 9 months and gosh I am really tired. It’s been 3 days since I last got back and I finally had the chance to sleep a little more last night – 7 hours. In Japan, I slept on an average of 3 to 6 hours every night. Well, the agenda for this trip was not for healing and relaxation; it was for an adventure and to provide content for my blog.

Although my entire itinerary is 7 days, I spent 75% of the first and last day on the plane. 5 days would be a more accurate count of the number of full days i had in Japan.

Alright, the numbers are in and here’s the breakdown of my expenses. Unlike my other trips, I was not diligent in recording my expenses as I was simply too tired everyday. As a result, I kept all my receipts (which includes the date and time of expense), which allowed me to come out with a somewhat accurate expense report. Sadly, I still have an unaccounted expense of approximately $40.

Details Price (Yen)  Price 
Airfare (SIN – Shanghai – Osaka) via China Eastern $704.00
Travel Insurance (MSIG – Group) $29.00
Data Sim Card bought from Taobao
Docomo 7 days 4G capped at 200MB/day
$18.00
Accommodation – airbnb near JR Namba (triple sharing) $299.72
Accommodation – Night at Onsen (Tokyo) 2180Y + 2000Y (after 2AM surcharge) 4,180 $47.99
Transportation – Japan Rail Pass from Pricebreaker $335.00
Transportation – to and from kansai airport 2,180 $25.03
Transportation – in Tokyo 1,830 $21.01
Transportation – Kyoto/Osaka (without JR Pass) 690 $7.92
Food
Includes Kobe Beef Set Meal – 5,808Y
Matsusaka Beef – 6,366Y
Endo Sushi – 4,300Y
38,412 $441.01
Universal Studios Japan (with express 5 pass) 12,900 $151.33
Osaka Aquarium + 1 day transport 2,550 $29.28
Shopping & the rest 73,004 $838.16
Unaccounted expenses 3,447 $39.58
Total $2,987.02

Thankfully, I was able to keep within my budget of $3,000. About $130 was spent on purchases that I bought for others.. So effectively it was about $2,800, I guess it’s not too bad after all. Initially, I thought that this figure was quite reasonable but in comparison to my other trips, it does sound a little on a steep side, given that it was effectively only a 5 day trip. Gosh, I just realised that I spent about the same amount for my 10 day korea trip 2 years ago. So much for trying to be budget. *face-palm*

This is gonna be a long entry so..

Scroll down for: My express 7-day itinerary, China Eastern Flight Review, Using Social Media in China with VPN, Airport transfer from Kansai Airport to Osaka, Accommodation in Osaka via airbnb (2 mins walk from JR Namba).

The other articles (to be update with links when the article is ready):

Express Japan Itinerary (not recommended)

Day 1: Depart Singapore at 10am, transit in Shanghai for 2 hours+, reached Osaka (Kansai Airport) at 9:30PM. Nankai Train to Namba. Walked to airbnb accommodation.

Day 2: Left the accommodation at 6:05am, Took the 7:26am train from Shin-Osaka. Arrived at Shinagawa Station in Tokyo at 10:33am. Went to Tsukiji Fish Market for Sushi lunch. 20-30 minutes walk to Ginza for my Sakura-macaron (out of stock) & drink (no take-away option) but end up not getting any. Took a train to Suidobashi (Tokyo Dome) and met a friend and watched a concert which lasted for 4 hours. Missed my Tokyo Skytree as it was too late. Headed over to Odaiba for my overnight stay in Ooedo Onsen Monotgatari.

Day 3: Left the Onsen, went back to Shinagawa for the 9:10 train which arrived at Kyoto at 11:47. Bought the delicious Malebranche (Cha no Ka), Kyoto-exclusive green tea biscuits. Took a bus (It was packed like crazy, but at least they drive more cautiously than Korea) to eat the famous Tonkatsu shop – Katsukura at the main outlet as the branch outlet at Kyoto terminal was under renovation. After lunch, we walked 20+minutes to eat this famous Tsujiri dessert. However, our first choice was packed with a more than 20 people queue. We went to another shop few doors down and ate the soft-serve. Then, we walked to Yasaka Shrine. After prayers and fortune telling, we went to Gion and walked down the Geisha lane, failing to spot any Geisha. Then, we proceeded to Kiyomizu-dera even though it could be closed since it was getting dark. We had to walk up steep paths lined with many souvenir shops. To our surprise, the temple was having a special night event and we could enter! We took a bus back to Kyoto Station and had dinner before taking the train back to our accommodation in Osaka.

Day 4: Left our accommodation at about 9:30 and took the JR trains to Universal City Station. Since we bought express tickets, we had breakfast at Mc Donalds before entering #likeaboss at 11am. Entire day in USJ, sat 5 rides with express queue, the queue line for everything else is just.. insane. Harry Potter timed entrance ticket at 18:30. Left USJ only at 21:30. (Spent 3 hours in Harry Potter Wizarding World, and to be honest, IT IS NOT ENOUGH!)

Day 5: Took the 9:55 train from Osaka. Arrived Himeji at 11:02. Went over to their tourist information centre and registered for the free bicycle rental. Walked to the bicycle rental place, approximately 15 minutes walk away. Cycled to Himeji castle and went around its moat and circling along random paths (just to make my free bicycle rental worth it). Entered Himeji Castle compounds (main castle was not open) at 12:20. Took about 1 hour inside. Cycled back to return the bicycle. From Himeji, took the Shinkansen (which was the wrong train) as it stopped at Shin-Kobe (walking distance was nearer if I stopped at Sannomiya). Ended up eating Kobe Beef at Wakkoqu, instead of Steakland as it was nearer to Shin-Kobe Station. Was planning on eating Steakland initially. After a 4-course set lunch, I took the train from Sannomiya Station and went back to Osaka Station. Bought the Aquarium Kaiyun pass and entered Osaka Aquarium at 17:00. Apart from seeing that 1 whale shark and 1 mola mola, it was slightly disappointing but I guess I should have done more research. Left the aquarium close to 19:00 and took a long bus ride which was about 50 minutes (as I was really too tired to walk) back to Osaka/Umeda. Taking the train would be 20-30 minutes. Went to Pierre Herme to buy a box of macarons. Walked to Kiddyland and there was only a disappointingly small rilakkuma collection 🙁 Decided to chiong back to Dotonburi to make reservations for the Matsusaka Beef the next day. Ate ramen for dinner, bought White Strawberries aka Pineberry at a random supermarket and went back to the accommodation to rest my poor feet at about 10+.

Day 6: Final FULL day in Japan but the truth is my energy level has been drained to 50%. Left our accommodation slightly later and only reached Endo Sushi at 11am. It was a blessing in disguise as there was no queue when we reached. Went back to Osaka Station and I think we spent more than an hour in Tokyu Hands alone D: It felt like heaven. I <3 Tokyu Hands. We only had lunch at 4PM – curry omurice at Piccolo. It started raining at about 3PM and the rain didn’t stop, even after reaching the airport the following morning. After which, we proceeded back to Dotonburi (Namba) for last minute shopping + Matsusaka Beef (8PM reservation). After dinner, though I was a little hungry as the beef serving was really small, we were just too tired to do anything and the shops were pretty much closed. Went back to the supermarket near our place and ate our remaining strawberries and pineberries. It was followed by my display of shopping loot and a barely 3 hours sleep.

Day 7: Woke up at 6:30am (if I’m not wrong) and by 8am, we were waiting for our bus at NAMBA OCAT which brings us to Kansai Airport. The first thing I did at the airport was to locate a Lawsons to find a Loppi machine to purchase the (always sold-out) Ghibli Museum tickets for my friend who was traveling in April. Then, I ate my last meal in Japan – another curry omurice before checking-in at the super long and slow China-Eastern queue. It took me more than an hour. Honestly speaking, I can’t recall when was the last time I had to queue so so so long.. Went inside the departure hall and went crazy at the food souvenoir shop. Bought Royce, mochi and Kit Kat at no-GST prices (8% cheaper); emptied my wallet at the cashier and paid the difference using my credit card =p Came back to Singapore and found most of my purchases in ion at a 30 to 50% higher pricing. right. Transit at Shanghai was shorter and availability of free wifi and unblocked firewall made time past faster and before I know it, I was back in super hot Singapore with my entire box of macarons and cheesecake still intact.

Reflections of trip: Really, really, really tiring and I kind of regretted going to work the next day despite landing at 10PM the night before. Express itinerary was made possible as there were periods of time when I traveled alone. I knew this was a super packed trip but I wanted it this way because I wanted to have more things to blog about and I know my next vacation wouldn’t come so soon 🙁 Also, I do know that Japan would be a country where I would repeatedly visit.. Thus, I can always go back again to fill up the gaps!

Flight Review for China Eastern (Singapore – Shanghai – Osaka)

My flight tickets cost $704, not the cheapest and most convenient option. If only I bought the SIA 2 to go promotion a lot earlier..

I really dislike the airline food that was served. Chicken Noodles equates to the dish on the left which was essentially just macaroni (penne) with mushrooms and minimal amount of minced chicken. The chicken noodles i envisioned was supposed to be shredded chicken with wonton mee noodles.. #yearight

This plane itinerary sets you back at a 9 to 10 hours travel journey (including transit timing) and you have to bum around Shanghai airport (looks pretty dull and err. kind of hot because they didn’t turn on the air-conditioning as it was Spring). In all comfort, there’s a starbucks at one end of the gates and I bought a 30 Yuan Green Tea Frappe and stoned my hours away.

Transiting in Shanghai was a quiet affair for me. After alighting the aircraft, you will have to find this counter whereby you have to register your transit, before proceeding to the bag scan area, and up to the departure hall. I guess it was spring and they were totally saving on the air-conditioning. The skies were gloomy and hazy and the sunset can barely be seen due to the thick fog/most/smog?

THERE’S FREE WIFI in Shanghai Airport but some people just can’t seem to connect to it. I had two phones, 1 worked, the other didn’t. It will require you to key in your local phone number to get a SMS pin, before accessing the internet.

Before you get all ecstatic on the success of your wifi connection, you will soon realise that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and even Google search is not functional in China – the “un”breakable firewall of China.

USING FACEBOOK AND SOCIAL MEDIA IN CHINA

So.. I spent the next hour, trying to “google”, urm I used Bing and Yahoo search which was not blocked, a solution which allows uses VPN or something, and only then will Facebook work in China. After scrolling through forums, reviews, q&a, I attempted to download every free app that I could find but guess what, none of the “solutions” worked. Then, I started whatsapp-ing friends that have worked/stayed in China before. (Yes Whatsapp works) Some gave me paid options, some gave me laptop options and finally the solution that worked – This awesome app called ONOVO EXTEND.

How it works

To compress your data, Onavo Extend runs continuously in the background and directs all data downloaded over 3G, EDGE and LTE through Onavo’s servers and compression technology.

Seriously, after reading the above, you must be wondering how does that lift the great firewall of china? Well, (I’m not the expert here and this is my assumed explanation) the internet that you are using will be downloaded through Onavo’s servers (US) and then compressed to what is displayed on your screen. Virtual Private Network (VPN) is the way to go if you need to break down that firewall. To be honest, I did felt a little insecure using this VPN as I don’t know who can do what to the information on my phone.. but for that 20 minutes remaining time on social media, I risked it all. I don’t know about all the technical crap but all I know is that I am able to use social media in china after installing the VPN profile by Onavo; and that makes me happy. Traveling alone can be boring at times but social media allows me to connect with everyone, anywhere.

Transportation to and from Kansai International Airport

(Kansai Airport to Namba Station) Options available:
(1) Train: Directions from airport to train station
(1A) JR West (change at Tennoji Station) – 35 minutes
(1B) Nankai Line – 34 minutes (Rapid – 1430Y), 43 minutes (Express – 920Y)
Rapid is faster and more expensive than express trains. right.

(2) Bus: Namba OCAT (1050Y)

If you are taking the train, you just have to locate for the signage which will bring you up to the second floor whereby you will have to walk over to the railway station at the other side.

** We took the Nankai Rapid train from the airport to Namba Station and walked approximately 10 to 15 minutes to our accommodation. We paid only 1130Y for our tickets, not 1430Y as shown on the website now. It comes with a reserved seat.

The train is really beautiful and it has a really clean toilet within the cabin! Had to use the train toilet because I was running out of the terminal to meet my friends who landed 10 minutes. The ride was smooth and quick. We arrived at our destination faster than expected.

Do note that Japan trains are extremely on time. Do not attempt to run after any train because they will not wait for you. It would be good to allow yourself 5 to 10 minutes of buffer time every time you board a train with reserved seating.

DON’T FORGET TO EXCHANGE FOR YOUR JR PASS at the room with the green banner!
All you have to do is to provide them the entire envelope that you have received from the travel agency. They will ask you for your start date and a ticket will be printed and it cannot be changed! So do plan and think properly on the day that you wish to start your pass. For me, I was only in Japan for 7 days, so I didn’t have the trouble of selecting a start date.

Photo Cr: http://arnaudgody.free.fr/pays/japon/1er_jour.php

Accommodation – 4 Level Loft Apartment 2 minutes walk from JR Namba

Airbnb link

From the photos, we were largely attracted to this interesting 4-level loft apartment. It is located on the 9th floor, the highest floor in the building. We took the key from a number-locked mailbox at the entrance of the lift lobby. The lift lobby is locked (increased security) and the apartment unit is only accessible by one key, which could be inconvenient if you are traveling separately. Eventually, we discovered the solution of having the last person to leave to drop the key into the mailbox. Thus the first person to return can just get the key from the mailbox.

This apartment looks as pretty as the pictures posted online (well it is a 3-4 month old unit). The first floor (entrance) is the kitchen/shoes area. They provided us home slippers which we slipped on happily on the first day and forgot about it the remaining days.. There are times whereby the un-carpeted areas of the floor is too cold for comfort..

IMG_9167

Second floor was the “living room” which comes with a smaller than 20 inch TV (with the apple tv which connects to your iphone via icloud. We used it to play youtube videos on a bigger screen. The sofa (as seen below) can be converted to a bed using all the quilts and covers that we dug out. Yea – everything was DIY. Including washing the covers on your last day.

Third floor was like the common room area with the toilet. We used the area for our supper, the luggage area, and a “chill out” corner. It has one chair and one bean bag. The toilet, looks small but already bigger than expected, comes with the heated/bidet toilet seat and a smaller than average bathtub. Shampoo, soap, towels are provided. By the way, the washing machine (which we didn’t use at all except for the last day) is also inside the toilet. For me, I felt that the sink is very short and I often have to stoop really low to rinse my mouth while brushing my teeth..

The last floor which feels like the attic is low-ceiling and it comes with a bed (which my friend felt was rather hard). There are two air-conditioning/heater units in the apartment. One at the living room (with the sofa bed) and the other at the common room.

This room can accommodate up to 4 people but you have to pay a surcharge for the 3rd & 4th guest. We paid an average of $180/night for 3 people. The price seemed to have increased now that I’m checking it again. Probably due to increasing demand or appreciating japanese yen?

Review: Contrary to all the positive reviews that exist on airbnb, i’m only giving this accommodation a 3/5. When we entered the room, it felt kind of dusty and my friends’ nose kind of got runny pretty quickly. Furthermore, when we open up the sofa bed, i could see remnants of hair strands probably from the previous person. Also, the house rules requires us to wash the sheets and towels before we checkout. and on the last day, we opened the washing machine to find that the sheets/towels of the previous person was still in the machine. Which means that they were left in the machine for at least 6 days and yes they stink a bit. blah. but we were rushing for our flight early in the morning. so all we did was to remove the stuff and wash our own sheets and towels. I’m starting to suspect on the thoroughness of cleaning done between the customers. Do they even vacuum or wash the carpets? Or perhaps change the aircon filters because the air felt so dusty? I know I might be a little picky on the fine details but I’ve stayed at better managed and cleaner airbnb. Or perhaps the japanese culture require things be self-service?

As to what gives it a 3-stars: the location was really excellent! JR Namba station was just 2 minutes walk away and the underground tunnels bring you to the other Namba Station (not JR Lines) but the walk is close to 10 minutes. Dotonburi (the main shopping/food area) was also accessible by foot. The apartment was a pretty one too with an interesting 4-storey loft concept. Bed and Sofa bed was slightly hard but I guess we can’t really be picky since we were not in a hotel. It comes with a tiger-brand hot water boiler (800ml) which is very handy to cook cup noodles, a 2-door fridge, free soap & shampoo & detergent & apple tv,

Read next: JR Pass – To buy or not to buy & other train tips

Other posts you may be interested in:

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