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"Japan & Singapore: A First Glimpse Backpacking Adventure - May 2024"

What is covered in this blog:


1. Introduction


Here we capture our journey through the Land of the Rising Sun as we traverse the vibrant tapestry of Japan's culture, history, and natural wonders. From the bustling streets of Tokyo to the serene landscapes of Kawaguchiko, and the ancient temples of Kyoto to the resilient city of Hiroshima, unravelling essence of Japan through our 9 day trip. Then, a day discovering the island nation of Singapore in a day before heading back home.


More details on planning Visa, bookings, and beyond is available here: Click here to navigate


Near Tokyo Station

Singapore view from River Cruise


2. How Japan Became Our Ultimate Bucket List Destination

This year, our travel plans took an unexpected turn. Originally, we had our hearts set on exploring the Middle East, envisioning an adventure through the historic lands of Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey. However, due to ongoing conflicts in the region, we had to rethink our destination. Considering Russia as an alternative, we hoped to experience its vibrant cities while taking advantage of e-visa options. Yet, after careful research, we realized that uncertainty clouded our potential excursions. Drawing from our previous challenges obtaining Schengen visas, we grew hesitant to risk another unpredictable process. With time running short and May approaching, we turned our attention to Japan, intrigued by its rich culture and famed punctuality. Despite the steep cost and limited flexibility of pre-packaged tours, we decided to plan our own itinerary. Hoping for a smoother visa experience, we delved into organizing our Japanese adventure. Despite our initial concerns, our decision to explore Japan proved to be a wise one. Looking back on our journey, we're grateful for the spontaneity that led us to discover the enchanting beauty of Japan.


Our Travel Dates were between May 24th - June 3, 2024.


Note: Details provided in the blogs are dated during our Travel dates and not Up to Date as per the reader's date & time.


 

 

3. Brief Day-wise Itinerary: 24th May to 3rd June 2024


  • Day-1: Arrive in Tokyo | Explore Tokyo

  • Day-2: Explore Tokyo City and attractions

  • Day-3: Day Trip to Kawaguchiko - Mount Fuji Area

  • Day-4: Travel to Kyoto - Cultural Capital of Japan | Explore Kyoto

  • Day-5: Day Trip to Nara | Explore Nara & Travel back to Kyoto to explore further

  • Day-6: Travel to Osaka | Explore Osaka

  • Day-7: Travel to Hiroshima | Explore Hiroshima & Itsukushima

  • Day-8: Travel back to Osaka | Explore Osaka

  • Day-9: Explore Osaka | Travel to Our Next Destination Singapore

  • Day-10: Explore Singapore

  • Day-11: Return flight to Home - Bengaluru, India


4. Detailed Itinerary

We toured Japan from May 24th to June 1st, then visited Singapore on June 2nd before flying back home from Singapore on June 3rd. Since it was our first time visiting these places, we chose the popular destinations for this trip. Check out the following itinerary blog to learn about the places we visited and our overall experience traveling through Japan and spending a day in Singapore.


Day #1: Arrive in Tokyo | Explore Tokyo


Our journey commenced with a lengthy flight from Bengaluru to Tokyo, including a layover in Hong Kong. The excitement escalated as we caught our first glimpse of Japan's bustling capital city. Upon arrival, we were provided with an 'Immigration Clearance and Custom Declaration Form', which could be completed either online (Instruction Manual | Visit Japan Web (digital.go.jp)) or on a paper form. Given the queue's length at immigration, we utilized our time to fill out the form while awaiting our turn.


 

The immigration process was swift and efficient. After collecting our checked in baggage, we acquired a SIM card and embarked on our Tokyo adventure, acquainting ourselves with the city's renowned public transport system. Navigating the Tokyo Metro proved to be an exhilarating introduction.

 

We reached Ueno station by Narita Skyliner and consulting Google Maps for directions and using 72-hour Tokyo Metro pass we successfully navigated our way to the station closest to our first accommodation in Tokyo. Despite the fatigue from our long flight, a quick rest revived our energy.

 

In Japan, many hotels offer self-check-in and check-out services, minimizing human interactions. However, staff were available should we require assistance. Utilizing the self-check-in kiosk, we scanned our passports and inputted the necessary details, receiving our room keys promptly. Our cozy room at the APA Asakusa Tawaramachi Hotel in the vibrant Tawaramachi area provided the perfect respite. After freshening up, we ventured out for dinner and an evening stroll, immersing ourselves in the bustling atmosphere of the city.

 

Finding vegetarian food proved to be a challenge right from our flight, but we were delighted to enjoy delicious Kerala cuisine at the South Park Hotel. Late into the night, we explored the city streets, relishing the thrill of discovering Tokyo on our first day.

 

Restaurants visited: South Park Restaurant, Asakusa, Tokyo

Stay for the night: APA Hotel Asakusa Tawaramachi Ekimae, Tokyo


P.S Note: More information on SIM card acquisition and train/metro ticket booking is available here: Click here to navigate





Day #2: Exploring Tokyo's Vibrant Soul


On our second day, we delved deep into the heart of Tokyo, marveling at the city's seamless functionality facilitated by the efficient Tokyo Metro. From the serene tranquility of Senso-Ji temple, bird eye view of Tokyo city from Sky tree, fascinating digital art at TeamLab Borderless and to pulsating energy of Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo offered a diverse array of experiences.


Each place we visited provided a unique glimpse into Tokyo's essence. Concluding our day at Yoyogi Park, soaking in the local life vibes, was the perfect finale. Watching families enjoy leisurely strolls with their pets in the park added to the charm of the experience.

Lastly, we ensured our Shinkansen train tickets for the trip to Kyoto and the round trip from Osaka to Hiroshima were secured at Tokyo Station using the ticket machine. This process was smooth and efficient.


Places Visited in Tokyo:

  • Senso-Ji temple, Asakusa

  • Tokyo SkyTree - We booked tickets in advance through Klook

  • Team Lab Mori Borderless Digital Art museum - Advanced booking made through Klook

  • Shibuya Crossing and Hatchiko Memorial

  • Yoyogi Park

  • Grand station of Tokyo


Restaurants visited: Sasaya Green Cafe, Tokyo

Stay for the night: APA Hotel Asakusa Tawaramachi Ekimae, Tokyo




Day #3: Discovering Kawaguchiko's Tranquil Beauty


Despite the clouds shrouding Mount Fuji, we embarked on a journey to Kawaguchiko, eager to discover its tranquil allure. While we missed the iconic peak, the breathtaking vista of numerous green-layered mountains captivated our senses.

Having pre-booked our highway bus tickets to and from Kawaguchiko, we ensured an early start to the day, catching the 7:15 am bus to maximize our exploration time. Navigating to the bus terminal proved a slight challenge in the morning rush, but we managed to find our way in time.


The bus ride was comfortable, and we were pleasantly surprised to find a restroom onboard—a novelty for us! Arriving around 9 am, we obtained day passes and embarked on our chosen explorations.

We explored Oishi Park which lies in the heart of Lake Kawaguchiko, a botanical wonderland with its lush greenery, vibrant flowers and tranquil walking paths. We also strolled through Maple corridor which offered amazing views of maple trees, explored adorable Kanohana Dayan Cat Museum a delightful diversion, and then spending our evening at Yogizaki park which provided panoramic view of the lake and surrounding mountains. It is a perfect escape from the hustle bustle of city life. In conclusion, Lake Kawaguchiko is a destination not to be missed. It is a picturesque corner of Japan.


However, finding suitable dining options posed a challenge, with some restaurants at full capacity and others lacking vegetarian choices. We decided to wait until our return to Tokyo to savor a delicious Kerala cuisine meal at South Park Restaurant, reminiscent of our first day's culinary delight.


On the journey back from Kawaguchiko, we encountered Tokyo's bustling weekend traffic for the first time, which added an extra hour to our travel time. Despite the delay, the day's adventure left us with cherished memories of Kawaguchiko's serene landscapes.


Places Visited in Kawaguchiko:

  • Oishi Park, Lake Kawaguchiko

  • Lake Kawaguchi Maple corridor

  • Kawaguchiko Kanohana Dayan Cat Museum

  • Kogamasao Memorial Park

  • Yagizaki Park


Restaurants visited: South Park Restaurant, Asakusa, Tokyo

Stay for the night: APA Hotel Asakusa Tawaramachi Ekimae, Tokyo




Day #4: Delving into Kyoto's Cultural Treasures


Our inaugural Shinkansen journey from Tokyo to Kyoto was a marvel of modern transportation. Covering approximately 450 kilometers in just three hours, we were astounded by the speed and comfort of the journey. Surprisingly, we felt refreshed upon arrival in Kyoto, ready to explore the city's cultural wonders despite the rain.

From the mesmerizing Arashiyama Bamboo Forest to the revered Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, each site we visited offered a glimpse into Kyoto's rich heritage and traditions. Despite the weather, we eagerly roamed the streets of Hanamikoji famous for spotting Geisha/Maiko, immersing ourselves in the vibrant atmosphere of Gion Corner and the bustling Nishiki Market.


Just a few days before our trip, we had watched the movie "Memoirs of a Geisha," which greatly familiarized us with the Kyoto city and its culture. With this newfound understanding and respect for the local traditions, we refrained from taking pictures or disturbing the Geishas we encountered in the city. Regrettably, not all tourists seemed to share this mindset.


Despite the rain, Kyoto's cultural allure left an indelible mark on our hearts, sparking a sense of anticipation for the discoveries that awaited us in the days ahead.


To navigate the city seamlessly, we relied on our ICOCA card for convenient bus rides, allowing us to hop on and off at various destinations effortlessly.


Places Visited in Kyoto:

  • Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

  • Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine

  • Vegan Restaurant - Gion Soy Milk Ramen Uno Yokiko

  • Nishiki Market

  • Gion Geisha Corner

  • Yasaka Temple and Marayuma park


Restaurants visited: Gion Soy Milk Ramen Uno Yokiko

Stay for the night: Hotel IL Verde, Kyoto




Day #5: Exploring Nara's Ancient Charms


Despite the persistent rain, we ventured to Nara, renowned for its friendly deer and ancient temples. The Todai-Ji Temple, home to a magnificent Buddha statue, left an indelible impression on us.


Observing the deer roaming freely was a captivating sight, albeit tinged with sadness as many seemed reliant on humans for sustenance. While some of the adult males displayed aggression during feeding, locals provided rice crackers for purchase to feed the deer. We noted the diligent efforts of workers maintaining cleanliness in the area, ensuring a pleasant environment despite the weather.


The Todai-Ji Temple stood as a testament to ancient craftsmanship, though entry required a fee. Grateful for the complimentary umbrellas provided by our hotel, we explored Nara with our trusty rain cover.


Though our attempts to book tickets for a Traditional Japanese art program were thwarted by website issues, we indulged in a delightful Indian meal at the Taj Mahal Everest restaurant. A leisurely evening stroll along the Kamo River, swollen with rainwater, offered a tranquil respite from the day's explorations. Kyoto's unique charm and authenticity captivated us, solidifying its place as our favorite city in Japan.


Places Visited in Nara & Kyoto:

  • Nara Deer Park

  • Todai-Ji Temple

  • Kamo Riverfront park


Restaurants visited: Taj Mahal Everest Restaurant, Kyoto

Stay for the night: Hotel IL Verde, Kyoto



Day #6: Embracing Osaka's Urban Dynamism


Transitioning to Osaka offered us a dynamic change of pace, as we entered a bustling city brimming with vitality. Before delving into its vibrant offerings, we savored a taste of home with Indian cuisine. Our exploration of Osaka Castle and the lively ambiance of Dotonbori Street provided a stark contrast to our experiences in Kyoto.

Unlike the orderly layouts of Tokyo and Kyoto, Osaka exuded a sense of growth and spontaneity. While it lacked the meticulous organization of its counterparts, its unique charm was unmistakable. Osaka's bustling energy and dynamic atmosphere offered a refreshing departure from the tranquility of our previous destinations, showcasing yet another facet of Japan's diverse cultural landscape.


Places Visited in Osaka:

  • Osaka Castle and Observatory

  • Ebisubashi Bridge

  • Dotonbori Street famous for Night walks

Restaurants visited: Indian Restaurant Shama (Vegetarian) Osaka, Hotel Gautama, Hotel Mithila (Dottonbori)

Stay for the night: APA Hotel & Resort Midosuji Hommachi Eki Tower, Osaka





Day #7: Reflecting on Hiroshima's History


A moving journey through Hiroshima offered profound insights into the city's tragic history and enduring resilience. From the somber halls of the Peace Memorial Museum to the tranquil surroundings of Itsukushima Jinja Shrine, Hiroshima etched itself deeply into our hearts. Tears welled in our eyes as we explored the museum grounds, where the Peace Bell tolled and children solemnly paid tribute to the lives lost.


Early in the morning we walked from our Hotel to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, soaking in all of the memoirs of that horrific day of First ever Atomic attack in the world on the City of Hiroshima. It was a humbling experience to go through in detail about that day knowing what went on the people of Hiroshima and how they get through from there to today's situation step by step.


After spending hour or more at the museum, We came out paid a visit to Hiroshima Peace Memorial in the shape of Burial mound along with Eternal Flame in memory of those who perished in that horrific attack. We walked further in a sobering fashion towards, Children's Memorial a meters further down which was dedicated to all the children who experienced the horrors of Atomic attack and then the radiation and perished without getting a chance to live their life to fullest. There were a couple of School children groups from near by area who were visiting and they did a small prayer and wreath laying at this Children's Memorial as a sweet gesture.


A meters further down, We got to the Bell of Peace which was erected so that, people remember and take a stand against Atomic or Any Weapons of Mass Destruction and take an oath while ringing the Bell of Peace. We too followed the school children and did the same.


In front of the Bell of Peace stood, the reconstructed T-Shaped Aioi Bridge which was the target for the Enola Gay Bomber plane which dropped the A-Bomb on Hiroshima and we walked across the river on that bridge to reach the Atomic Bomb Dome, a building which took the closest hit, yet survived (only the outer concrete skeleton of the building survived) to tell the story and which is kept as it is a memoir to tell the story of the Atomic Bomb Attack Horror. So, the entire morning We undertook this journey of experiencing the horrors of that day of Aug.06 1945 and with lots of questions, sadness and just like Japanese with a positive spirit about the future We walked back to our hotel.


In the afternoon, we embarked on a brief ferry ride to Itsukushima Jinja Shrine, reached via Miyajima. Purchasing round-trip tickets for 500 Yen per person, we savored the unique experience of exploring this sacred island. After a couple of enriching hours, we returned to our hotel in Hiroshima.


Amidst our explorations, we discovered a unique charm in Hiroshima's streetcars, a mode of transport not commonly found in other cities we visited. Opting for city buses and streetcars to navigate the city, we found our ICOCA card incredibly convenient, effortlessly tapping the machines for payment on all our commutes.

'Namaste Hiroshima,' an Indian-themed hotel, provided delightful culinary experiences for both lunch and dinner.


Making the most of our accommodations at 'Dormy Inn,' we took advantage of their shuttle service to the station. Anticipating our journey back to Osaka on the Shinkansen, we wisely arranged for seats on the shuttle in advance for the next day to avoid any last-minute hassles.


Places Visited in Hiroshima:

  • Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

  • Hiroshima Peace Park

  • Aioi Bridge and Atomic Bomb Dome

  • Miyajima Ferry across Hiroshima Bay

  • Itsukushima Jinja Shrine


Restaurants visited: Namaste Hiroshima

Stay for the night: Dormy Inn Hiroshima Hot Spring





Day #8: Exploring Osaka's Spectacular sights


After a swift Shinkansen journey back from Hiroshima to Osaka, our day in Osaka was brimming with excitement. We delved into the enchanting realm of the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan and embarked on a picturesque Santa Maria cruise ship ride. Amidst our adventures, we couldn't resist exploring the vibrant shopping scene. Our taste buds were treated to the savory delights of Mexican vegan burritos from local eateries.

The aquarium was a magnificent spectacle, boasting a diverse array of marine life and immaculate upkeep, ensuring an immersive experience for all visitors.


Places Visited in Osaka:

  • Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan

  • Santa Maria Cruise ship ride for 45mins


Restaurants visited: Indian Restaurant Shama

Stay for the night: Hote Yu-shu, Osaka





Day #9: Farewell to Japan in Osaka


On our final day at the ryokan, we captured memories in traditional yukata attire, relishing the spaciousness akin to a private haven. It offered a quintessential Japanese experience, a fitting end to our journey.


Upon check-out, we realized our cash reserves amounted to only around 4,000 yen, supplemented by 2,000 yen on our ICOCA cards. Opting to secure our luggage near the airport train (Haruka train), we selected a locker adjacent to the JR lines gate, convenient for our departure. Though priced at 1,200 yen for a large locker, payable solely through ICOCA card, we prioritized proximity over cheaper alternatives elsewhere.


To ensure seamless city travel without exhausting our remaining currency, we acquired day passes for commuting. Our tickets for the Umeda Sky Building and the day pass via Klook were purchased using a credit card, a deliberate choice to avoid cash transactions. However, redeeming the Klook voucher for the day pass posed a challenge, requiring diligent search before finding the necessary counter. This experience led us to recommend procuring commute passes and tickets directly at the station, while acknowledging the convenience of Klook for other entry tickets.

Our last day in Japan was spent savoring the sights of Osaka, from the Umeda Sky Building to the tranquil Shitenno-Ji Shrine. With hearts full of memories, we bid Sayonara to Japan. We took Haruka train to airport around 7pm and reached airport ahead of time for our flight to Singapore.


Places Visited on our Last day in Japan:

  • Umeda Sky Building and Kuchu Tiein Observatory

  • Shitenno-Ji temple

  • Hozen-ji temple


Restaurants visited: Green Earth (Vegan Restaurant), Osaka





Day #10: A Glimpse of Singapore's Splendor


En route back to India, we enjoyed a brief layover in Singapore, exploring iconic landmarks such as the Merlion and Gardens by the Bay.

The morning exploration proved challenging due to the humid weather, yet we appreciated the unique experience of visiting the human-made cloud forest and flower domes. While these attractions were impressive, they didn't captivate us nature lovers as much as the real outdoors would have. However, our enchantment reached new heights in the late evening when we ascended to the Super Tree Observatory Deck and embarked on a serene river cruise. From these vantage points, the panoramic view of Singapore Bay, adorned with mesmerizing city lights and towering skyscrapers, left us in awe.


Exploring Singapore was made convenient with the NETS card, which we obtained at a money exchange counter at Changi airport for $25 SGD per card. A $5 SGD fee was non-refundable, leaving $20 SGD available for metro and bus expenses, payable simply by tapping upon entry and exit. This covered our transportation needs for the day, and any remaining balance, approximately $9 SGD, could be refunded to our bank account via the accompanying app.


Places Visited in Singapore:

  • INA Memorial at Padang

  • Merlion near the Jubilee Bridge

  • Gardens by the Bay

  • Marina Bay Sands

  • Singapore River Cruise


Restaurants visited: MTR, Tandoori Zaika

Stay for the night: Ibis Budget Singapore Pearl





Day #11: Return Back to Our Sweet Home


With a flight departure scheduled for 8:40 am, we opted to take the bus to the airport. However, this required a 1 km walk from our hotel and a bus change halfway through the journey. Negotiating Singapore's early bus schedule, which starts around 5:30 am, proved a bit tricky, but we managed to wait at the bus stop and arrive at the airport with time to spare.


Our journey through Japan and Singapore was a tapestry of cultural immersion and natural beauty, leaving us yearning for more adventures.


Also, please go through our Japan/Singapore Travel planning/Visa Process blog (Link shared below) to plan your own adventure to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Join us on our Facebook page "HillTrotters" and subscribe to our YouTube channel "HillTrotters Travelogues" for more travel inspiration and insights. For any suggestions or travel-related queries, please contact HillTrotters@gmail.com.


With Thanks,

HillTrotters Team

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