When my good friend Kenix invited me to visit her in Japan this year, I jumped at the chance! Like (almost) everyone else, I enjoy travelling for leisure a lot. Read: HOLIDAY! 🙂 Japan was never on my list of must-go places simply because I never thought it was possible due to its reputation of being one of the most expensive holiday destinations in the world. Free accommodation was a bonus *wink* but the company of a close and localised friend sealed the deal for me. From impossible Japan to “why not?” Japan! I discovered travelling to the Land of the Rising Sun does not necessarily need to put a hole in your pocket, you just have to do some homework and fish for bargain deals which are exclusive to foreign tourists like me (and you!). Probably I’ll cover my preparations prior to arriving to Japan in another post. For now, this will be the first of a series of posts documenting the places I’ve seen during my unforgettable 10-day stay in this amazing country.
I arrived at the Tokyo Narita Airport about 7pm local time and by the time I made it to Kenix’s apartment by train, it was already after 10pm. So I figured I wouldn’t count this as Day 1. I couldn’t sleep the first night, jet lag probably and I had to be up and ready by 5.30am to catch the earliest train to Kyoto, my first destination. I spent the night alone because Kenix would be catching the overnight bus to Kyoto with 2 of her friends joining us, and I’d take the Shinkansen bullet train which would cut the journey down to about 2 hours! Of course, the Shinkansen fare is a few times more expensive than regular highway buses and therefore, its more economical for Kenix to not choose this route. As for me, well….what did I tell ya about cheap bargains for foreign tourists in Japan?? 😉
I was very nervous about taking the train all by myself initially. Kenix was really helpful planning the train transfer routes and times beforehand and giving me clear instructions and directions to the train station from her place. So, armed with all the printouts of the train routes and zero Japanese language skills, I braved myself to catch the train, make 1 transfer and finally board the Shinkansen to Kyoto to meet Kenix and her friends, my very first adventure in Japan!
I am very proud to report that I arrived in Kyoto as planned the next day, in one piece. And may I say, I was very very very impressed with the Japanese railway system! Even if I cannot read or speak a word of Japanese, getting around the train stations and platforms was very straightforward and clear. All I needed was the train route plan in my hands and just follow the departure times of trains to make sure which train to take at each platform. All trains arrive on the dot…..like the DOT! One minute late and you’ll miss the train. In addition, the transfer times of trains are very well organised and you do not need to wait longer than 10 mins for your next train to arrive. If the platform of your next train is quite a walk away (some stations are huge!), be assured the arrival time is more than 10-15 minutes away. By the time you get to the right platform, the train is always less than 10 minutes away……WOW!
The Shinkansen bullet train line is the pride of Japanese transport system. The Japanese are the pioneers of this technology which now are adopted in Shanghai, Taiwan and some European countries. I felt privileged to have an opportunity to ride this high-speed train. The built and look of the Shinkansen is very modern and futuristic. The journey to Kyoto was fast and surprisingly smooth, literally. I think it was travelling at speeds over 300 km/hour. I rode the Kotomi Shinkansen which stops at a few major stations before arriving in Kyoto. I hardly felt the train stopping or speeding up after stops, that’s how smooth the Shinkansen was. Clean, comfy and spacious seats made my 2-hour ride to Kyoto very pleasant indeed!
- Autumn in Japan (I): Kyoto
- Autumn in Japan (II): Kyoto and Nara
- Autumn in Japan (III): Hiroshima
- Autumn in Japan (IV): Tokyo
- Autumn in Japan (V): Kawaguchiko (Mt Fuji)
- Autumn in Japan (VI): Disneyland
- Autumn in Japan (VII): Shinjuku and Shibuya & Okutama and Machida
- Autumn in Japan (VIII): Harajuku