Hello all! Got back a few days ago, finally getting back on a proper sleep schedule. Jetlag is much more challenging coming this way.
I put months and months into planning this trip, and far longer into saving/paying for it.
We flew ATL-LAX via Frontier, which I will never do again. Hard seats with little room and zero entertainment options. Not worth the saved money.
Spent a night in LA via AirBnB near the airport, was very easy and cheap, and our rental (via rentalcars.com) was also a great experience. Midway Rental Cars was suuuuuper cheap and great to deal with- had a corolla reserved, but got upgraded to a Prius, for $20/day.
We then flew LAX-NRT via Singapore on SQ11, which was far and away the best economy experience I’ve ever had. Their service was wonderful, the entertain options were numerous, power outlets (USB and wall plug) at every seat… Seats were very comfy, and lots of room. I’m 6’2" and didn’t have any issues, which is rare in economy. I booked this flight 6 months before the trip, after scouring all the sites and several google flights custom search/alerts, and it was $2214 r/t for me, my wife, and our 6yo son. If you have priced out flights to tokyo in the summer before, you will know that this is a great price. A few months earlier was not an option due to school, but if you can go in Feb-Apr, you could get this route for half this price.
We landed in NRT at 1330 local, and proceeded directly to the JR (Japan Rail) office downstairs to exchange our JR Pass vouchers for the actual passes. This process is easy, but not fun after getting off an 11hr flight and if you have a hungry+tired wife and son with you.
Things needed in this process, and things you should also consider at the same time:
Passport, JR Pass Voucher (already purchased via travel agencies before arriving in Japan, it’s cheaper this way), filled out order form (obtained there at the JR office). You must fill out one form for each pass you are redeeming!
Also, if you plan on getting SUICA or PASMO cards (basically essential) might as well do it here and now. Children’s cards are special and get half-off fares, so get one for your kid(s).
Also(!) this is when you want to make your first train seating reservations, if you plan on riding that day or the day after, and are worried about getting multiple seats together on a shinkansen.
The JR Pass is good on Hikari, Sakura, and Kodama class bullet trains (shinkansen)… Hikari is the fastest class with fewest stops (of the three), Kodama being the slowest/most stops (local train basically)- avoid the Kodama if you are concerned with speed and timeliness of travel. We used Hikari for our trips.
Got our seats on the next train to Kyoto, which is where we were spending the first 3 nights of the trip. This involved taking the NEX from Narita to Shinagawa, which is comfortable and fast, also covered by the JR Pass. Last trip we used the Keisei Skyliner (NOT JR Pass compatible!). If you don’t plan on activating your JR Pass immediately upon landing in Tokyo, I would suggest the Skyliner into the city instead, as it’s cheaper and IMO better.
Easy transfer (one platform to another. Up one set of stairs and down onto another) to the Shinkansen…
~2.5hrs later, we were coming to a stop at Kyoto Station, which is expansive and beautiful. Massive above-ground portion of the station is a literal work of art, amazing!
Short taxi ride (easier at this point than dealing with Kyoto’s IMO substandard metro for 3 weary travellers) to our hotel, and we were unpacking a little.
Le Studio’s front door
Stayed at Le Studio Gojo Takakura, a 2 minute walk from Gojo Station (1.4km walk from Kyoto Station, manageable if not carrying a lot of luggage). Le Studio was very cheap, got it through booking.com (my favorite place to find hotel rooms) for <$300 (for the three nights). This was a fully-furnished room, two beds, nice bathroom, and kitchen setup.
There was a VERY nice little grocery store around the corner, this is where we got many of our meals in Kyoto. Most grocery stores in Japan have an excellent deli section of prepared meals, ready to eat cold/room temp, or be reheated. I could live off this stuff for the rest of my life.
Our first night we ate some grocery store food, walked around a little, and crashed out at a reasonable time.
Next morning we woke at like 0430, and ate more grocery store stuff, then headed to one of the few places open early (0600), Kiyomizu-Dera.
Here we were waiting for the place to open at 6 sharp lol. Not crowded at all, there were a few older locals out for their morning walks.
The temple was beautiful, honestly far more fascinating then Fushimi-Inari, which is the most well-known Kyoto site.
Had awesome views of the city, beautiful trees and nature… The creek was full of newts and tree frogs, both busy making the next generation. Trees even had masses of frog eggs hanging from the branches.
A short distance from there, and all downhill, are the Sanen and Ninen-zaka (sp?) streets, which are gorgeous and at 7 in the morning, very peaceful lol.
Kyoto as a whole is just overwhelmingly beautiful. There are temples, shrines, and other slices of old Japan scattered everywhere. It is a hard place not to fall head over heels in love with. Certainly one of my favorite places on earth.
Various Kyoto things:
Aquarium was super cool, but kinda small and expensive.
Yes, those are giant salamanders and small yamame…
Railway museum was awesome and pretty cheap. The opposite of above.
Montbell was dangerous. I picked up this trail wallet, very light and minimal, and $10. PERFECT wallet.
breakfast next day, was good and cheaaaaapppppp
Fushimi Inari is gorgeous but man does it get crowded. Go EARLY or late. It’s open 24/7 IIRC.
Our last full day in Kyoto, we met up with some old friends and went down to Osaka for food, shopping, and catching up.
I bought a few knives, two for friends and one for myself. They are in the mail, i’ll post pics another time.
Osaka was cool, just loads and loads of good food, but i think you could skip it and be fine.
Next we were on to Tokyo (well, Tachikawa in the burbs)
breakfast on the train. Beer was for celebrating. Got the news that morning that we’re moving back to Okinawa in 2020.
Kyoto to Tokyo you see a lot of this.
I’ll let him spill the specifics.
Kazuma was very helpful and it was great to meet him and his kids!
I didn’t know until he told me, but the river in that part of Tokyo (near Yokota Air Base) is full of smallmouth!!! Oh wow!
we had some fun in the park after dinner:
Next two days were very wet… Typhoon was grazing Japan.
I bought an umbrella:
another DANGEROUS trip to Montbell. I want everything they make.
Next day, we took the Ome line out to Okutama, to meet Go Ishii at TTC for some tenkara within Tokyo city limits.
Go, helping my buddy Winston with his first trout via tenkara
Wyatt getting his first trout in Japan via tenkara, well his first trout too. He was done fishing after this lol.
Here’s a crappy video of both Go and I shooting fish in a barrel. We moved down to the river after this lol.
Some of you may recognize this:
I pulled a few bows out of the lower section, then ventured up to the more challenging part.
Got one from the edge of that cliff face on the left.
at the end of this video you can see two cruise through.
It was great to meet Go, and he was super helpful! Showed us a taste of real tenkara in Japan, and how tricky those wild fish can be!
END OF PART ONE, my fingers need a break!