I’d intended to write a kind of summary of my trip about a week after my return, with the kind of profound-thoughts-and-lessons-learnt format from my last trip. Trouble is, a week passed without any profound thoughts occurring to me, and then a month, and now it’s been three months, almost to the day…
It was a pretty good trip, in any case. Only one single activity cancelled due to inclement weather, though admittedly many plans were truncated due to insufficient light. Someday perhaps I’ll get a handle on exactly how much I can fit into a day. That said, I honestly can’t think of anything that went disastrously wrong, or that I could have done better. And now I’ve managed to put a chip in the tip of the iceberg of the list of stuff I’d like to do in Japan.
When I made this post after our first trip, I commented “Absolute fluency in Japanese would help, but isn’t exactly vital.” My response now? Fluency in Japanese absolutely helped. I could ask some directions, for example, and actually understand the answer. I confess I still ran into some issues – my listening ability is still not great. For example, when I was ordering from the concession stand at the cinema in Yamagata, I could not understand the worker’s response at all (though in hindsight, it may have been “would you like anything to drink”, i.e. exactly what they always ask in the same situation here).
On a minor side note, I had a snack in my ryokan in Kyoto on day 11 that I couldn’t identify at the time – I’ve since discovered it’s a Kyoto specialty called “yatsuhashi”, a confectionary made of rice flour, sugar and cinnamon that can be wrapped around red bean paste, or (as in this case) baked into a cracker. Just thought you’d like to know.
- Smart phone with data. Oh boy. I had that thing in my hand pretty much all day every day, and not just to play Pokémon Go. Getting directions, checking train timetables, searching for tips on places to visit (or not visit), rearranging the day’s planned itinerary on the go; it was insanely useful. On our last trip, James and I both had dumb phones – I had a Nokia, and I think James had an Ericsson, and mine wouldn’t even charge on Japan’s 110V mains, much less connect to the network – so when we ran into an issue (as we did on our first night), it was ask someone else or improvise. (Or, of course, pull out the Kindle and use its rudimentary web browser, which for some reason never once occurred to me.)
- Further to this, I bought a pre-paid data-only SIM card from https://www.japan-rail-pass.com/ – the same place I ordered my rail pass this time, because they offered it as a side extra, and cost-wise it actually compares quite favorably to other options on the market. Only down side was that the specific one I ordered runs for fourteen days, and I was there for sixteen, so I had to activate it on the second day and pay for an extra day at the end. (This website’s JR Pass costs also compare quite favourably – given current exchange rates, it actually cost me less than the pass’ face value to purchase.) Voice-capable SIM cards require a Japanese residential address, sadly, though I purchased a Skype VoIP phone number to write on forms and in case I needed to make calls (though I never did in the end).
- On the subject of the JR Pass, the Japan Guide website has put out a JR Pass Calculator – stick in your intended itinerary, and it’ll give you a rough ballpark figure on whether or not it’s worth the cost of a JR Pass for you.
- Still on the subject of trains, I want to re-emphasize my advice to get a Suica Card or other pre-paid travel card. It was extremely useful for me – as I commented on Day 5, I could even use it to purchase entry tickets at Hase-dera. It’s also fully interchangeable with the passes of other cities (that is, I can still use the Suica card in Kyoto, which is an Icoca Card area) – we has issues with this on our last trip, but I discovered on later research that they didn’t actually become interchangeable until about two or three months after our visit.
- I also want to re-emphasize my advice to research one- and multi-day value tickets, because these things are everywhere. Here’s a sampling, not all of which I used personally: Tokyo Metro Day Pass, Seishun 18 (JR), Keihan Sightseeing Tickets (in Kyoto), Ise-Kumano-Wakayama Area Pass
- I didn’t go in with any cash at all this time – unlike last time when I bought a handful in Australia, and had some travellers’ cheques my grandparents had given me, this time I had only my Qantas Cash Card. Basically it’s a pre-paid debit Mastercard, but it earns me Qantas frequent flier points every time I use it. I could get cash out at any Seven Bank ATM, and as the bank is owned by Seven-Eleven, one of these was in every Seven-Eleven convenience store, and those are everywhere. (Or almost everywhere. Turns out there’s none in Wakayama Prefecture.) They’ve also got a handy option where you can withdraw 10,000 yen in 1,000 yen notes, and that’s what I wound up using most of the time.
- I used pretty much the same host of websites I did last time – Hyperdia, Google Maps, Japanese Guest Houses and so forth (all of those linked in the right-hand sidebar), but for anyone intending to travel around the Kumano Kodo, Kumano Travel was extremely useful. It’s got maps, tips, bus timetables, suggested itineraries, and even lets you book accommodation in the area (it’s what I used to book my minshuku in Yunomine). Tokyo Wan Ferry is how I travelled to the Boso Peninsula for my aborted attempt at Nokogiriyama. And Tokyo Metro Underground Mysteries was my activity on Day 3 – that link is the 2017 edition page, though, so if you want to try the 2018 edition you’ll need to re-google it closer to the date, and this link may even not function if you view it more than a few months after I post this.
Some sums and totals:
- Total length: 66 A4 pages; 40,928 words; 224,724 characters
- Average per post: 4.125 pages; 2558 words; 14,045.25 characters. (By comparison, my America blog in 2010, the last travel blog I did these kinds of stats for, averaged just 3.62 pages per post, and 2042.85 words.)
- Longest post: Day 16, which included the flight home. 7 pages; 4320 words; 19,529 characters)
- I added about 246,000 yen on my Qantas card (i.e. 3000 AUD), and when I got back I discovered I had just 17,000 remaining, or a bit under 7% of what I’d started with. That was scarily close to running out, and will hopefully teach me to check more often in future. So basically I spent 229,341 yen, which (like the last trip) doesn’t include airfares or the JR Pass, but which (unlike the last trip) does include hotels.
- Hotels account for 121,616 yen, or about 8100 per night, though more than half of this total went towards the ryokan in Kyoto and Yunomine, which account for fewer than half the nights – the average of just my Toyoko Inn stays is 6800 yen per night.
- Spending money and souvenirs total 107,725 yen, or 6732 yen per day. A bit more than I spent last trip (that was 4500 yen per day), but I think I was a bit more extravagant when it came to souvenirs this time. And also I wasn’t spending money on goshuin last time – those average about 600 yen per day.
- Total: 12,322
- Average: 770 per day
- Most photographic day: Day 14, with 1200 (which, perhaps not coincidentally, was also my longest day, with sightseeing pretty much from 6am to midnight)
- Total: 257,394, or 185km. A fair stroll. (Fun fact, that’s an average of 71.5cm per step)
- Average: 17,159, or 12.33 km, per day
- Most steppish day: Day 5, with 26,592 or 19.4km – remember, this is the day I strolled up one side of Kamakura and back down the other.
- Bonus fun fact: The step counts on Day 9 and Day 16 differ by just one step, with 22,367 for the former and 22,368 for the latter.
- Total: 30
- Average: 2 per day (once I’d bought the book)
- Most goshuinicious day: a tie between Day 5 and Day 14, with 6 each
- Total: 57
- Average: 3.6 stamps per day
- Most stampinominal day: Day 5, with 13. Guess I did a lot on Day 5, huh?
So, the second half of plan “why not visit Japan both this year and next year” is well and truly in motion. James and I have already booked our tickets, accommodation, JR Passes and SIM cards for our next trip, which will be in the second half of April. Sadly, we’ll be too late for cherry blossom season in the Tokyo-to-Kyoto region, which we’ll be focusing on, but we ought to get some other nice springtime flowers all the same.
Stuff I gotta work on for the next trip: being more concise in my posts. More information with fewer words. Which is kind of ironic, considering the length of this post…
Any pointers from the popcorn gallery? =)