Ipswich Trip Advisor: Japan
Each season in QT Magazine we're giving YOU the opportunity to share stories of your travels, your holiday stories and what advice you'd give to other people looking to do the same.
This month's 'Trip Advisor' is Margaret Hoffman who shared her experiences on her 16 day holiday to Japan.
Who went on your holiday?
My Partner Jayden and I.
How did you plan ahead?
As I have previously worked as a travel agent I knew how to begin the initial planning - a whole lot of researching. My partner has also been once when he was in high school so knew roughly the places he wanted to revisit.
A great way to start the process is by reading travel blogs and checking out 'top ten' lists of restaurants, bars and things to do. Another handy way to piece an itinerary together or decide how long to stay in one place is by reading some brochures from group touring companies.
Tour companies have itineraries with something for everyone and they are tried and tested! When it comes to accommodation there are plenty of places for reviews on the Internet, we looked through countless reviews and decided on places that were close to rail or subway lines.
A great chain to stay at is Ana Crowne Plaza. To get us in the spirit before we left we also revisited a classic documentary on Netflix called "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" - about a man and his sushi restaurant - a must watch!
Where did you go?
We flew Jetstar from the Gold Coast Airport, landing in Tokyo and then connecting through to Osaka.
From Osaka Airport we got the train through to a station near our accommodation, which ended up being very easy once we asked someone at Rail Information desk.
Be warned, the rail and subway system is overwhelming, but after asking a friendly local to explain it we were good to go.
After spending a few days in Osaka we took the Bullet train or Shinkansen to Hiroshima, then after a day took a Ferry to Miyajima (Itsukushima).
From here we took the ferry back and then another Shinkansen to Kyoto for a few days, then onto a historical city called Kanazawa - one often overlooked by tourists. After Kanazawa we made our way, again by Shinkansen, to Tokyo.
The total trip was 16 days - We spent three nights in Osaka, one night in Hiroshima, one night on Miyajima Island, three nights in Kyoto, two nights in Kanazawa and five nights in Tokyo.
How did you get there?
After flying from Gold Coast to Tokyo and then on to Osaka we used the Rail, Shinkansen and Subway lines.
Our greatest asset while travelling through different cities in Japan was definitely the Rail Pass. This pass allowed us to use the Shinkansen, particular rail lines and other forms of transport like buses and ferries.
The pass is eligible for foreign tourists and can bought online and shipped to you to redeem once in Japan. The pass seemed expensive when in the planning stage of our holiday, but in the end saved us money rather than buying point-to-point tickets.
One thing of note is that the pass does not include subway lines, which are used to travel moreso around the cities - however these tickets are inexpensive. Taxis were also available for times we were tired of walking or if it rained.
What were your first impressions of Japan?
At first I was personally very overwhelmed, I tend to go on more relaxing holidays where there is time to stop, wait and decide. However Japan was go go go.
After the first day I warmed up to the city, there was so much to see, taste and do. The people were so polite and took every chance to help us out - whether it was giving us directions or helping us with the subway ticket machines.
As we went in December/January it was also winter, which meant gloves, a warm down jacket and a scarf. We also went over the Christmas/New Year holidays, and I was surprised to find that they didn't really celebrate Christmas like other nations' but New Years was huge! During this time the public transport got very busy as people travelled home to visit relatives.
During the trip I was also incredibly impressed with the amount of education that monuments and tourism hot spots included. Museums and art galleries taught so much about the countries history in an easy and interesting way.
There were also many experiences that allowed for a break from the hustle and bustle of the city like cat and owl cafes - we could just relax and get some much-needed cuddles!
Was it what you expected?
As Japan is THE hottest destination for travellers this year I was expecting a fast-paced, exciting melting pot of culture and tradition - it did not disappoint.
At every turn there was something to experience in Japan; from tiny ramen stores scattering every street, coffee filled vending machines and the craziest fashion I've seen.
Each city boasted something unique and there was an astounding mix of new and old. The streets are tidy and had random temples here and there, but the majority of shops were restaurants where you could grab a very cheap meal that was filling and tasty.
Every meal was a chance to try something new and every region had a specialty.
One of the weirdest parts of the trip was that 7/11's became our best friend. Here we could withdraw cash, grab our breakfast (usually heated gyoza) and get other random bits and pieces we needed like stationary, 2-minute noodles and weird candy.
My partner had raved about traditional gyoza and ramen from a place called Fukki and it was the best I have ever had!
What was your favourite experience in Japan?
This is toss up between a few things. We were lucky enough to plan our holiday with Christmas Day spent at Miyajima Island, which is famous for the red Torii Gates in the water, no doubt one of the most famous images of japan.
This traditional island was mainly full of tourists, but after the last ferry in the afternoon it was almost empty, giving us the freedom, space and quiet we had craved since arriving in a nonstop country. Deer roamed around and there were grilled oyster stations lining the streets.
New Years day was another highlight because we spent it at arguably one of the happiest places on earth - Disneyland. When we were in Kyoto we also took a chance on the nightlife - we had heard that the Japanese work hard and play harder - this was an understatement.
We headed to a club and made friends with some other tourists, then went for a tipsy stroll through the side streets that were full of tidy bars.
We ended up in a bar that was at its capacity at 7 people, where we did karaoke with some businessmen and sipped plum wine - it was like something in a movie.
What tips would you give Ipswich residents thinking of going there?
Take your time in the first stages of planning. Research some restaurants you'd like to visit or monuments you'd like to see.
In every city there were English tourism booklets with ideas of things to do, but there was always too much to choose from! If you are taking kids, it may be easier to stay in one place - maybe Tokyo or Osaka - and do day trips out to various places. This saves the packing, unpacking, packing cycle.
Absolutely stay on Miyajima Island if your itinerary allows it, and stay in authentic Japanese guesthouses called Ryokan. Keep in mind that all through the country the accommodation is smaller than what you would usually expect, but this is normal.
Make sure you also get some Yen converted before you arrive to use in some restaurants and traditional markets - as well as at least 20kg of luggage for all the souvenirs you are sure to bring home! Lastly, always bring a plastic bag with you when going exploring or sightseeing, as often the streets do not have bins on them and you have to take your rubbish to dispose of at the hotel!
Another huge advantage we had when travelling was pre-organising portable wifi. This was something we couldn't live without! It came on a portable device that we charged at night and allowed us to use Google Maps to get to our destinations or find a hole in the wall restaurant for dinner. It was better than trying to find a McDonalds when we got lost and was only around $100 for our stay.
What would you do differently if you went back?
When we go back it will be in a different season. While winter was beautiful and we got used to the snow and cold, I would love to see the cherry blossoms and roam around the countryside. I would do tea picking and climb Mount Fuji - spending all my time outside.
Where do you plan to go next and why?
Next stop is a short stay in Singapore to have a break from work and study. At the Christmas time Jayden and I are planning to do South America, which will be tough but rewarding!