Since my earliest memories, I have been captivated by the rich culture and beauty of Japan. This year, I was finally able to fulfil my dream of visiting Japan during the vibrant spring season. I was accompanied by my friends Ankit and Vikram, and our two-week trip was absolutely fantastic, leaving me with unforgettable memories that I will always cherish. Join me as I share the details of my exciting adventure in Japan, and provide you with valuable tips and insights to help you plan your own remarkable Japanese journey.
Depending on your country of origin, you may need to obtain a visa to visit Japan. As an Indian, I had to obtain a tourist visa, which required a lot of documentation. In order to apply for the visa, I needed to visit VFS Delhi, but I was unable to get an appointment in time and had to submit my application at VFS Chandigarh. The application process required me to submit several documents including bank statements, tax returns, salary slips, a no objection certificate from my employer, as well as flight tickets, hotel bookings and itinerary. Typically, it takes one week for visa processing, but in my case, it took more than two weeks. Therefore, it's best to apply for the visa at least one month in advance of your intended departure. Additionally, if this is your first visit to Japan, you may only be granted a three-month single-entry visa with a fifteen-day stay.
You can use any currency exchange service to convert INR to JPY, but I prefer travelling cashless, so I usually use forex or international debit cards. Most banks charge a 2%-5% forex markup for transactions in foreign currencies, including cash withdrawals abroad. To avoid these fees, you can use zero-forex international debit cards offered by fintech companies like Niyo Global and TripMoney, both powered by SBM Bank India. However, in January 2023, RBI restricted SBM Bank India from outward LRS remittance, affecting these zero forex debit cards, and making my Niyo Global debit card unusable for this trip.
So, I needed a forex card and found that BookMyForex had slightly better rates and fees compared to banks. I chose to get a BookMyForex card, which was delivered within 24 hours of placing the order. During the trip, I realized their customer service was poor and difficult to reach. Apart from that, the experience was okay. I could load money onto the card using their app, although the user experience was not great. The app also allows you to block the card in case of fraud.
Booking flights 6 months ahead can help you find round-trip direct flights for around INR 50,000. However, I had to change my trip date, which raised the cost to INR 71,000. I flew with Air India from New Delhi to Tokyo on April 4th, leaving at 9:15 PM IST and arriving at 8:45 AM JST the next day. The flight lasted 8 hours, and they provided meals and drinks. Japan is only 3.5 hours ahead, so jet lag wasn't too bad, but I didn't sleep much because breakfast was served just 4 hours after dinner.
Landing in Japan
We arrived around 8 AM JST at Narita Airport T2 and spent about 3 hours going through immigration and customs due to a long, slow line. Before departing, we completed immigration, customs, and Covid-19 vaccination proof on the Japan Digital Web, which I recommend to avoid filling out forms during the flight or at the airport. After clearing immigration and customs, we got cash from an ATM and rented a portable WiFi for JPY 15,000 (15 days). Although I had an e-SIM from Airalo for Japan, having unlimited data on the WiFi kept us stress-free. Then, we headed to the airport terminal railway station to get our JR Pass.
Japan has an excellent railway system, including the Shinkansen (Bullet Train), which is mainly run by JR. The JR Pass, available to temporary visitors, allows unlimited travel on JR trains for 7, 14, or 21 days. I bought a 14-day pass for INR 33,000. Whether the JR Pass is worth it depends on your travel plans on JR lines and Shinkansen. Use a JR Fare Calculator to check if it's cost-effective. We bought our JR Pass online before leaving and collected it at the ticket counter. Be careful not to lose the physical pass, or you'll need to purchase a new one. Keep in mind that the JR Pass doesn't cover metro and subway travel. For Osaka, Tokyo, and Kyoto subway systems or city buses, you'll need to buy separate day passes.
Narita to Kyoto
Although Narita Airport is considered part of Tokyo, it's actually 80 km away. We used the Narita Express (NEX), covered by the JR Pass, to get from the airport to Tokyo, taking about an hour. Tokyo Station is massive and confusing, connecting subways, JR lines, and Shinkansen. Initially, finding the right platform may be challenging, but you'll soon get used to it. By the time we arrived in Tokyo, it was 1 pm and we were hungry, so we bought our first bento box at the station and caught the Shinkansen to Kyoto. Despite travelling at 280 km/h, the train was steady enough that we didn't worry about spilling our drinks. I had reserved a right-side window seat for a view of Mount Fuji, but clouds obscured it that day. After a 2-hour-50-minute journey, we arrived in Kyoto around 5 pm.
5 Nights in Kyoto
Our hostel was a mere 750 meters from Kyoto Station, so we simply walked there. Taxis in Japan can be incredibly costly, so it's best to avoid them unless absolutely necessary, especially when budget-conscious. After arriving at our accommodation, we checked into Kyoto Hana Hostel, where, like most hostels in Japan, we removed our shoes and wore the provided slippers. We stayed in a mixed dormitory room and took a brief rest before exploring the nearby streets.
To our surprise, many shops and restaurants were closed by 9 pm. We soon realized that it was due to the rainy weather, which often causes small businesses to close early. We later learned that the majority of shops and restaurants in Kyoto close between 8 and 9 pm, as they are predominantly operated by family members. We eventually went to a Seven-Eleven to get a bento, a single-serving packed meal popular in Japan. These can be found at any grocery store, with FamilyMart, Lawson, and Seven-Eleven being the three most prominent chains in the country. These convenience stores, which operate 24/7, offer a variety of items, including bento, liquor, snacks, and everyday essentials.
The following day, we decided to rent bicycles since Japanese roads often feature dedicated bike lanes and pedestrian sidewalks. We rented bikes for five days at a cost of JPY 12,000, which included insurance. However, we were only charged for four days due to one rainy day. Japan's citizens are known for their politeness, discipline, and patience; they would even switch off their cars and wait patiently for pedestrians to cross the road before proceeding.
Equipped with our bicycles, we began exploring the charming streets of Kyoto. Although we didn't witness the peak of the Sakura season, remnants of the blossoms still adorned the city, making the streets picturesque. Due to global warming, the Sakura bloom occurred two weeks earlier than anticipated, which affected our plans since we had scheduled our itinerary around the expected dates.
Next, we ventured to Nishiki Market to discover the local scene. However, finding a place to park our bikes proved to be a challenge, taking us nearly an hour to locate a bicycle parking facility. We also visited several gardens and parks hoping to catch glimpses of the Sakura, but unfortunately, our efforts were met with disappointment.
The next day, rain greeted us like an old friend. We were already feeling quite lazy, but we went to the nearest FamilyMart to get a bento. After having our bellies full we went to Yadobashi Kyoto which is a big electronics shopping complex. Vikram had his heart set on buying an iPhone, as Japan's prices were so low, they'd make even an Apple executive blush. At INR 90,000 for the iPhone 14 Pro, that's a whopping INR 40,000 cheaper than in India! Plus, for those having non-Japanese passports, you can evade that pesky 10% tax on purchases above JPY 5,500.
However, unfortunately, iPhone was out of stock at Yadobashi. We then decided to visit Fushimi Inari, one of Japan's most iconic landmarks. It was situated approximately 4 km from our hostel, so we grabbed our bicycles, donned our raincoats, and began cycling. Riding through the light rain was a delightful experience. We eventually reached Fushimi Inari around 7 PM.
As evening approached and the drizzle persisted, Fushimi Inari was delightfully uncrowded. We stumbled upon rare sights that the internet scarcely showcases. The Tori gates, bathed in the warm glow of Japanese lanterns, appeared mesmerizing. We embarked on the trail towards Mount Inari, a path adorned with tori gates from start to finish. Boasting over 10,000 of these gates, Fushimi Inari is truly a spectacle. As we neared the trail's peak, we were treated to a jaw-dropping nighttime view of Kyoto, twinkling like a sky full of stars from the mountainside.
Rising with the sun the following day, we aimed to reach Fushimi Inari early to snag those Instagram-perfect shots before the masses arrived. We got to Inari at 7:30 am, only to find it swarming with people. Folks eagerly queued for their turn to pose among the dense Tori gates. Here's a little nugget of wisdom: The entrance, where the gates commence, is the main hub of activity. As you ascend the mountain, the summit area is refreshingly sparse, granting you the tranquillity you seek for those picture-perfect moments.
Having conquered the summit via the main trail the previous day, we opted for a scenic detour through the Bamboo Jungle, which was notably less crowded. We captured some memorable snapshots along the trail before making our descent.
After that, we visited the Kiyomizu-dera Temple, which appeared as picturesque as a scene from a film, complete with a bustling crowd. Renowned for its expansive wooden deck, the temple was an impressive sight surrounded by lush greenery. Following that, we visited Toji and Kinkaku-ji. Kinkaku-ji, which is decorated with gold leaf, is truly stunning. You can try the unique "Gold-leaf ice cream" at Kinkaku-ji, which comes in Matcha and Vanilla flavours. During my trip, I developed a liking for Matcha, and I ended up consuming Matcha-flavored ice creams and desserts quite a lot.
During the evening, we visited Gion, a renowned geisha district in Kyoto, encompassed by upscale restaurants and stores. Hanamikoji Street, one of the area's most well-known streets, was a spectacular sight at nighttime, although it was quite packed. Eateries in this district (and in Japan overall) tend to be small, seating only 6-10 patrons at once. Reservations for these high-end restaurants are often made days or weeks ahead of time, so we couldn't simply walk into any of them. Additionally, language posed a challenge in Japan, as the majority of locals don't speak or comprehend English. We frequently relied on Google Translate for communication with restaurant staff. Ultimately, we headed to a street in Pontocho where most eateries had queues, and we waited around 30 minutes to enter a Ramen restaurant. Nevertheless, the exceptional Ramen made the wait worthwhile.
Day Trip to Nara
The following day was designated for a day trip to Nara, which we reached by taking the Nara line from Kyoto station, a benefit of our JR pass. The journey took approximately an hour. Nara is popularly known for its city park that houses over 1200 free-roaming wild deer. We began our exploration by walking from the station to the stunning Kofuku-ji, a Buddhist temple. Following that, we spent a few hours at Nara Park attempting to feed the deer biscuits with the hope of receiving a bow in return. Eventually, our efforts paid off when a deer finally bowed back to us. We then proceeded to visit Todai-ji, home to one of Japan's biggest bronze Buddha statues. We continued our exploration of the park and enjoyed the lovely weather. In the evening, we visited Nakatanidou, a renowned establishment for Japanese Mochi, which we relished. We then dined at Okaru, where the chef cooked our Okonomiyaki, a seafood-stuffed pancake made with egg and flour, right at our table. After dinner, we made our way back to Kyoto.
2 Nights in Osaka
The next day we awoke, did our laundry and left the hostel in Kyoto. We grabbed a bite before boarding a train to Osaka. The Shinkansen would have taken only 14 minutes from Kyoto to Shin-Osaka, but we opted for the Airport Limited Express since the next Shinkansen was half an hour away. Arriving in Osaka, we used the JR line to reach Namba, where our accommodation, Hostel Chillax, was a short walk away. After checking in and taking a break, we ventured to the nearby Dotonbori.
Dotonbori is Osaka's premier tourist hotspot, famous for its vibrant neon lights, flashy signs, and abundance of eateries and bars. The area was bustling with people, and we were captivated by the massive billboards and bright lights. We took photos with the iconic Glico running man sign before trying some of the area's well-known dishes. We began with delicious Gyoza, which is similar to dumplings. Next, we sampled Takoyaki, an Osaka favourite, but found it to be just average, as our Indian taste buds may find much of Japanese cuisine rather bland. We skipped Okonomiyaki, another local speciality since we had already tried it in Nara. After trying some Sashimi, we indulged in Matcha Melonpan for dessert, a freshly baked melon bun filled with matcha ice cream. It was, without a doubt, the best dessert we had in Japan.
The next day, we had planned to visit Universal Studios, but we couldn't get tickets for the dates we were in Osaka. Usually, tickets should be booked one or two weeks ahead of time. So, we decided to visit Osaka Aquarium, which was the world's largest when it was built, but now there are even bigger ones. The aquarium was quite impressive, with exhibits featuring seagulls, penguins, dolphins, whale sharks, jellyfish, and hundreds of other aquatic species. Afterwards, we had lunch nearby and explored the surrounding market.
In the evening, we headed to Shinsekai, an area near Tsutenkaku Tower. We tried some Kushikatsu, a local speciality. Later, we returned to Dotonbori for some Ramen at Ichiran. We had to wait an hour to get into the restaurant, but it was worth it. At Ichiran, you can personalize your Ramen to your taste.
3 Nights in Lake Kawaguchiko
We checked out of our hostel and took the Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka to Tokyo, a journey of around three hours. After buying a bento at Tokyo Station for lunch, we boarded a scenic limited express train and enjoyed our meal. In about an hour, we arrived in Otsuki, where we transferred to a local train bound for Kawaguchiko (not covered by the JR pass). We reached Kawaguchiko at approximately 6:45 PM, amidst a light drizzle. Japan's weather can be quite fickle, so carrying an umbrella is a good idea.
By 6:45 PM, many shops had already closed for the day. Our Airbnb was about 2 km from the station, so we opted to take a taxi. However, no taxis were available, so we joined a queue at the taxi pickup point and waited for about 45 minutes. When we finally got a taxi, the fare came to JPY 1250 for the 2 km ride. Considering the luxury of the taxi, the fare seemed justified.
We adhered to the property owner's directions to obtain the key from the key locker and checked into our Airbnb. The charming house boasted luxurious amenities and a lake view through the glass wall in the living area. After a brief rest, we ventured out to buy food for the night and the following morning from a nearby convenience store, 1.5 km away. Our purchases included a bento, sushi pack, matcha tiramisu, snacks, and beers, as well as unique squid ink-flavoured potato chips.
We followed the property owner's directions to obtain the key from the key locker and checked into our Airbnb. The charming house boasted luxurious amenities and a lake view through the glass wall in the living area. After a brief rest, we ventured out to buy food for the night and the following morning from a nearby convenience store, 1.5 km away. Our purchases included a bento, sushi pack, matcha tiramisu, snacks, and beers, as well as unique squid ink-flavoured potato chips.
The next day, after breakfast, we went to the train station to rent bicycles for exploring Lake Kawaguchiko. We then cycled approximately 4 km to Chureito Pagoda, renowned for its picturesque Mount Fuji backdrop. The bike ride was enjoyable, with a striking snow-capped Mount Fuji view, though clouds eventually obscured the mountain's peak. Upon arriving at the crowded Pagoda, we waited in line for around 20 minutes before reaching the observation deck. Unfortunately, clouds still shrouded the top of Mount Fuji, so our experience wasn't optimal. Clear views of the mountain only occur with a 20-40% likelihood in spring and summer.
We continued to visit several gardens with cherry blossoms in full bloom, hoping the clouds would clear by evening. Fortunately, our hopes were realized as we returned later to witness a breathtaking, unobstructed view of Mount Fuji, which was beyond description in words or images. We snapped a few pictures and spent a couple of hours there, peacefully admiring the majestic Mount Fuji.
At night, we returned to our Airbnb and debated whether to extend our stay in Kawaguchiko for another night, as we hadn't booked accommodations for the following evening and were considering a visit to Hakone. Ultimately, we chose to stay in Kawaguchiko and extended our booking by one day.
Although the weather app predicted a cloudy day, Mount Fuji was visible. We quickly biked to Chureito Pagoda and enjoyed an unobstructed view of Mount Fuji behind the Pagoda. Seeking a higher vantage point, we began hiking to the top of the mountain where the Pagoda was located. After an hour of strenuous ascent, we were rewarded with a stunning view of Mount Fuji and the town of Kawaguchiko, making the hike worthwhile. The summit was nearly deserted, with only three of us initially and later joined by two more hikers. We lingered there for a while before making our way back down.
Afterwards, we strolled through the streets of Kawaguchiko and Fujiyoshida in search of dining options, but most restaurants were closed between 3 PM and 6 PM. In the evening, we visited Shimoyoshida Honcho Street, renowned for its remarkable Fuji view from the street, which appeared stunning with the streetlights illuminated. We then dined at a nearby restaurant, where I savoured a delicious Confit de canard.
4 Nights in Tokyo
The following day, we took a local train from Kawaguchiko to Otsuki and then the JR Rapid line from Otsuki to Tokyo. It rained throughout our journey, and we continued on the JR line to Suidobashi. Our accommodation, a capsule hotel called 9 Hours Suidobashi, was just 200 meters away. Eager to try the capsule hotel experience, we booked a night there, despite the relatively high cost of INR 5,000 per person. After storing our luggage, we visited a nearby park on our itinerary. Since the full bloom had occurred three weeks prior, the park was entirely green, but the drizzle created a unique experience of exploring the park in the rain. We returned and checked into our capsule hotel, where the locker and shower facilities were on separate floors from the sleeping pods.
After resting briefly, we visited Akihabara, known for its electronics shops and numerous anime stores. We stopped by Yadobashi since Vikram wanted to purchase an iPhone, but it was sold out there too. We continued exploring the area before heading to Shibuya. Upon exiting the Shibuya subway station, we found ourselves at the iconic Shibuya Crossing, the world's busiest pedestrian intersection. The scene was truly impressive, with bright neon lights and massive billboards. We went to a nearby building to observe the crossing from a distance and at an elevated vantage point. Afterwards, we visited and paid our respects to the Hachiko statue located near Shibuya Crossing.
The following day, we checked out of the hotel and bought a 72-hour Tokyo Subway Ticket for JPY 1,500. We took the subway to Shinjuku-gyoemmae station and headed to our nearby hostel, Unplan Shinjuku. After storing our luggage, we ventured out to explore Shinjuku and did some shopping. Vikram finally purchased an iPhone 14 Pro from Apple Shinjuku for INR 90,000, even without the 10% tax-free discount. After spending a few hours in Shinjuku, we returned to the hostel to check-in. Following a short rest, we visited Tokyo Tower. As it was already evening, we waited for darkness to fully appreciate the tower's illuminated beauty, which was truly stunning.
After that, we went to Golden Gai in Shinjuku, where we met up with Aditi, a friend of mine now living in Tokyo. Golden Gai consists of six narrow alleys filled with over 200 tiny bars, each accommodating only 5-6 customers. The area is popular for bar hopping, where patrons have a drink at one bar before moving to the next. Being a Sunday night, the place was packed with locals and tourists alike. We then decided to visit Omoide Yokocho, a well-known area in Shinjuku famous for its yakitori. Similar to Golden Gai, it featured narrow streets lined with small restaurants. As most establishments had queues, we opted for a British pub instead. After spending a few hours there, we returned to the hostel around midnight.
The following day, we woke up leisurely and headed to Asakusa, a neighbourhood known for local shopping and the Senso-ji temple. We visited the temple first and then strolled around the nearby streets. Later, we returned to Akihabara to browse some anime merchandise shops. In the evening, we visited Tokyo Skytree, a structure nearly twice the height of Tokyo Tower, offering an incredible city view. We chose to access both observation decks. After spending time at Tokyo Skytree, we went to Shibuya for dinner, enjoying sashimi and yakitori.
On our last day in Japan, we first visited Nezu Shrine, known for its vibrant spring garden and Torii gates reminiscent of Fushimi Inari. After spending some time there, we headed to Ueno, famous for its shopping and food streets. We explored Ameyoko Street and bought souvenirs, including chopsticks for me. Next, we visited Don Quijote, a well-known Japanese store, where I found KitKats in eight unique flavours such as Japanese Sake, Wasabi, and Matcha. In the evening, we went to TeamLabs Planet, an art museum featuring immersive experiences like the Infinite Crystal Universe, Floating Plant Garden, and four more exhibits. It was a truly enjoyable experience. Later, we returned to Ameyoko, where we enjoyed a Japanese rolled omelette, kushiyaki, and some seafood.
Arriving in India
We woke up at 4:30 AM JST, quickly packed our belongings, and took the subway to Tokyo Station. From there, we boarded the Narita Express and reached Narita Airport Terminal 2 around 8 AM. We dropped off our pocket wifi in the drop box since the shop was closed, checked in our luggage, received our boarding passes, and cleared security. I bought Japanese Sake at a duty-free shop. While Terminal 2 had an extensive array of duty-free shops, food options were limited. We visited a cafe and had udon as we waited for boarding. Our plane took off around 12:00 PM JST and landed in India at 5:30 PM IST, after a flight time of about nine hours. We deboarded, cleared immigration and customs, and exited the airport. I immediately began to miss the Japanese culture, the unrivalled discipline, and the politeness I had experienced throughout the trip.
- While convenience stores accept card payments, smaller shops, certain tourist spots, and hostels may only accept cash. Be sure to carry some cash with you. Most convenience stores have ATMs where you can withdraw cash, but they charge a JPY 220 fee per withdrawal.
- In Japan, people commonly wear masks, so remember to carry and wear a mask on public transport such as subways, trains, or buses.
- Purchase Suica or Pasmo card to use on subways, trains, or buses. These cards function like virtual currency and can be used in public places. You can obtain them at any station or airport. These cards are essential if you don't plan on using a JR pass or subway or bus pass.
- Many fine dining or quality restaurants need advance reservations, and they might not understand English. You can ask your hotel or hostel receptionist to make a reservation for you.
- To avoid large crowds, it's best to wake up early if you plan on visiting Fushimi Inari or Chureito Pagoda in Japan, as the sun rises early.
- People in Japan are very disciplined and considerate of others, so you should be as well. Be aware of queues at places, avoid speaking loudly, and refrain from taking calls on subways, trains, or buses
- People in Japan are very polite and humble. It's a good idea to learn a few Japanese words. "Arigatou Gozaimasu" means thank you (tip: u is silent), "Sumimasen" means excuse me or sorry, and "Konnichiwa" means hello. You can start by learning these three phrases.
- Koyasan is highly recommended for a visit, despite us not being able to go there. The main highlight is the temple lodging, but it requires reservations to be made months in advance, which we were unable to secure. On the other hand, Hakone is also worth visiting and can be done as a day trip from Tokyo.
- If you're a vegetarian, it may be a good idea to bring food from India when visiting Japan. In India, there are four types of people when it comes to dietary preferences: Vegans, vegetarians, vegetarians who eat eggs, and non-vegetarians. However, in Japan, there are only two: Non-vegetarians, who make up the majority, and vegans, who are few in number. In India, non-vegetarian food items are labelled with a red triangle symbol, but there is no such labelling in Japan, making it difficult to identify animal or seafood components in food products. Additionally, much of the packaging is written in Japanese, requiring the use of translation tools such as Google or Apple Translate. It's important to be aware of ingredients such as Dashi, which contains fish broth, and that many breads in Japan contain eggs. Overall, the message is that it can be challenging to find food options that meet vegetarian preferences in Japan.
How much does it cost?
Even though 1 JPY equals 0.64 INR (at the time of writing this post), Japan is more expensive than India. A 550ml bottle of water costs JPY 120 (INR 72), while a 2L bottle costs JPY 125 (INR 75). If you book accommodations months in advance, you can find them at lower prices. We booked some accommodations 2 months prior and had to cancel and re-book some closer to the trip, which increased the cost. Also, we stayed in mixed dorms at hostels, which were cheaper than hotels; however, we stayed at some nicer hostels that were relatively more expensive. If you plan to stay in a 4/5-star hotel, you can expect prices to start from INR 15,000 per night in Tokyo.
Here's a breakdown of my trip expenses:
|Wifi, eSim||INR 4,000|
|JR Pass||INR 33,000|
|Subways, Buses, Taxi||INR 5,400|
|Entry Fees||INR 15,000|
|Food (Apprx)||INR 50,000|
|Souvenir and Gifts||INR 12,000|
My 15-day trip to Japan was amazing, and it was my first international vacation. I strongly suggest that people visit Japan at least once due to its stunning beauty and unique culture. The locals are also incredibly friendly. I am already looking forward to returning to Japan, perhaps during the autumn season, in a few years.
For updates on future trips like this, feel free to follow me on Instagram. If you have any questions or thoughts about Japan, please leave them in the discussion section below. Thank you for reading and have a wonderful day.