Family Japan Trip 2018 (trip report)


(Chris Lynch) #1

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!
New photo by Chris Lynch

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.
New photo by Chris Lynch
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.
New photo by Chris Lynch
fresh meals

New photo by Chris Lynch
fresh ayu

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.
New photo by Chris Lynch
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.
New photo by Chris Lynch
New photo by Chris Lynch
New photo by Chris Lynch

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.
New photo by Chris Lynch

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.
New photo by Chris Lynch

Various Kyoto things:
Aquarium was super cool, but kinda small and expensive.
New photo by Chris Lynch
Yes, those are giant salamanders and small yamame…
New photo by Chris Lynch

New photo by Chris Lynch
Railway museum was awesome and pretty cheap. The opposite of above.

New photo by Chris Lynch
New photo by Chris Lynch
Montbell was dangerous. I picked up this trail wallet, very light and minimal, and $10. PERFECT wallet.

New photo by Chris Lynch
breakfast next day, was good and cheaaaaapppppp

New photo by Chris Lynch
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.
New photo by Chris Lynch
New photo by Chris Lynch
New photo by Chris Lynch
New photo by Chris Lynch
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)
New photo by Chris Lynch
breakfast on the train. Beer was for celebrating. Got the news that morning that we’re moving back to Okinawa in 2020.
New photo by Chris Lynch
Kyoto to Tokyo you see a lot of this.

Arrived in Tachikawa, got set up with our friend there, and then went to meet an Instagram buddy https://www.instagram.com/ohachi1008/ at the local Joshuya, to look for something for @itsjaywhatsup

New photo by Chris Lynch
I’ll let him spill the specifics.

New photo by Chris Lynch
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:
New photo by Chris Lynch
New photo by Chris Lynch

Next two days were very wet… Typhoon was grazing Japan.
I bought an umbrella:
New photo by Chris Lynch
New photo by Chris Lynch
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.
New photo by Chris Lynch
New photo by Chris Lynch
New photo by Chris Lynch
New photo by Chris Lynch
Go, helping my buddy Winston with his first trout via tenkara
New photo by Chris Lynch
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.
https://photos.app.goo.gl/2FrTBWYqVhfgo7Fg6

Some of you may recognize this:
New photo by Chris Lynch
New photo by Chris Lynch
New photo by Chris Lynch
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.
https://photos.app.goo.gl/WEyrRF6DKoqQDCyFA
at the end of this video you can see two cruise through.

New photo by Chris Lynch
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!


(Rob) #2

Awesome trip! Can’t wait to see the rest. Food looked great. Yeah, Montbell gear is pretty hard to resist!


(Tom Davis) #3

Super trip! Thanks for sharing!


(Jay Johnson) #4

Awesome write up, can’t wait for the other part(s)… oh ya, and my Pack Tenkara rod. It’ll be my first Shimano rod, I’m excited to get my hands on it. Thanks for picking it up for me!!!


(Adam Rieger) #5

Awesome! Excited for the next one!


(David S Riley) #6

Wow! Fascinating. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to the next episode.


(Isaac Tait) #7

Great tips Chris. Looks like a really great trip, and I am happy that you got to meet Go too. Looking forward to the next installment.


(James Hopkins) #8

I always love stories of other’s trips to Japan, thanks for posting!
Kyoto is beautiful, I was there at the end of March for the cherry blossoms, but Tokyo owns my heart. I had to look up where Tachikawa was, never been out there.
Looking forward to the next installment.


(Michael Agneta) #9

Wow, awesome report & photos. Had seen a little bit here & there on Facebook, but nice to see a summary all in one place. That water toward the end is drool-worthy. And congrats to Wyatt on the first trout!


(Adam Trahan) #10

Looks like fun!

Looking forward to more of your adventures!


(Carl Anderson ) #11

So rad! Japan has never been on my travel bucket list, but Kyoto looks pretty rad.

Also, your yellow sandals. Fire. So rad.


(Mike Kookagee Shelton) #12

Those climbing/water tie up shoes on the second shelf at the Mont-bell store look awesome. I think I have seen them before in an article along with the traditional straw tie up shoes.
The pictures are amazing Chris. I dream of going one day. What a wonderful experience for you and your family.


(Chris Lynch) #13

OK time to work on part two I guess lol.

Next day we got up somewhat early (long after sunrise though… right now the sun is up at like 4am in Japan, since they have no daylight savings) and went to Haneda. Had to catch our flight to Misawa (MSJ), which is where some old friends of ours are stationed with their 3 girls.
If you are going to be travelling in Japan, and are not dead set on train or car to get around, look into JAL and ANA’s “Explore Japan”/whatever they call it fares.
Normally, to get from Tokyo to Misawa (as far north as you can go on Japanese mainland without going to Hokkaido) it’s like $400, be it train or plane, or a long-ass drive.
Explore Japan fare is Y5000 each way… DIRT CHEAP! You can only get these fares as a foreigner visiting Japan.

IMG_20180612_164111 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

#JAL gave Wyatt this little model of their #777, and look at that view of #tokyo! @japanairlines_jal #travel #japan #teampixel2 #teampixel by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

ANA is super great, their domestic flights are super suuuuuper comfy, loads of legroom, and they came by and took care of the kids first, giving them choice of model plane, coloring book, or a cup, at the start of each flight.

Met up with our friends, and went to Hamazushi (national chain of conveyor belt sushi) for dinner.

Kids got their own booth, we got ours.
IMG_20180613_203400 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

IMG_20180613_203407 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

That giant stack was like Y3000. UNGH cheap sushi/seafood is so great.

After that, or maybe the next day, we hit their local Joshuya. They had a very limited tenkara selection, but they were chock-full of Ayu and shore/surf fishing.

IMG_20180614_142346 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

One of the adventures we went on was to Lake Towada, about an hour and half SW of the base, in the mountains. On the, way, we stopped at one point because one of the girls got carsick. I checked out a river that was next to the rd.
No hint of fish, or at least none that were interested in a fly.
IMG_20180615_134052_727 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

That shows how incredibly packable the Daiwa Minomushi is! You can use the little nub of rod blank to skewer the T-USA keeper, then the cap holds it on.

On the final stretch to the lake, you pass through Oirase Gorge, which is a National Park or forest or something. INCREDIBLY beautiful gorge, where the lake drains down to lower elevations. From what I’d found online, there are wild Iwana and Yamame in there, but it’s high pressure. I didn’t have time to fish, as there were 8 other non-anglers with me lol.
00011IMG_00011_BURST20180615141315 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

P6150281 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

We arrived at the lake and it was glorious.
IMG_20180615_153317 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

Massive lake surrounded by mountains.
PANO_20180615_150825 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

Went on an exploratory cruise around to the other side of the lake, and found a super cool shrine-
IMG_20180615_155440 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr
IMG_20180615_155544 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr
IMG_20180615_161041 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr
IMG_20180615_162740 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

all around the lake, these little fish were dying, floating to the surface, and washing ashore. Not sure if it was after a big spawn for them, or lake turnover, or what?
IMG_20180615_163522 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

Wyatt and the girls
DSCF6565 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

DSCF6601 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

Samantha and Jon
DSCF6610 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

cute little town on the lake, next to the shrine
IMG_20180615_165641 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

End of Pt 2, next is last day in Misawa then our time in Okinawa


(Chris Lynch) #14

Part three!

finally, after missing it for the whole trip, we hit up CoCo Ichibanya, aka coco’s curryhouse. This stuff is addictive, but it’s really just fancy Japanese fast food curry. You can specify the level of heat from mild, to medium, then 1 through 10. Yes, mild and medium are below 1. I get 5 to 7, used to get 8-10 but need to work my way back up. My wife still eats 8 lol. We always get half order though, which is half the rice, so you don’t get so full you want to die afterwards.

I was sure Wyatt would love it, if he gave it a shot. He eats curry at home, and this stuff is better, but he’s very picky and it was hard feeding him on this trip.
IMG_20180615_192654 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

minutes later:
IMG_20180615_194604 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr
clean plate club!

I couldn’t be happier that one of their summer specials is fish cutlets and river clams! OHHHHH YEAHHHH
IMG_20180615_193027 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

The next day, Jon and Sammy insisted we go to their local favorite ramen-ya, which she had been raving about since we started talking about this trip. She knows how much I love ramen!

I was overjoyed to see Niboshi on the menu, which if you didn’t know, is sardine/fish broth. I am a lover of fish, the fishier the better, and have never been able to try niboshi… so of course i went for it!

Holy fish broth, Batman! #niboshi #ramen #japan #japanesefood #fresh #takumiya #misawa #aomoriprefecture #misawaairbase by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

oh mannnnnnn, it was one of the most heavenly bowls i’ve had in my entire life! The fish flavor was POTENT, my wife had to scoot away a little, the smell was too much for her haha.

That night, our friends got us all a sitter, and we went down to Hachinohe city, 30-40 minutes away, for a parents night out. They’ve been stationed there 18 months, and this was only their second time down to Hach for dinner! They both work full time, and have 3 girls, so they don’t get out enough lol.

This is looking down the Hachinohe Yatai Yokocho, or food stall street/alley, which was super cool. Like 30-40 tiny restaurants crammed into one small alley.
IMG_20180616_224052_037 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

First place we tried was because i was the only one who’d make up my mind- of course it was fish! (people complain about being stationed at Misawa, saying all there is to eat is fish, what with it being by the ocean)

IMG_20180616_202146 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

I went for that Mebaru right there, and it was tasty!

Next we found a little Izakaya, and got a mix of yakitori and sashimi. Found out that dandelion makes an awesome addition to soy sauce as a garnish.

IMG_20180616_223027 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

While Jon and I waited for the girls to finish up inside, we waited on the street and he vaped. Notice the lady in the background? She had just solicited him for a “massage”. Oh Japan, you never change.
IMG_20180616_224617 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

The next day we went and hit up a Tackleberry, it was great even though they had zero tenkara or keiryu gear, what with being by the ocean. I got like $10 worth of .7g spoons and micro snaps.
$10 of used micro spoons from tackelberry. #tenkara #ratskincanoe #untenkara #finesse #flyfishing by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

Then we hit up a local fish market, it was as they usually are. Full of smells and sights.
Stingray wind chime at #Augashinsen #Market in #Aomori #japan. #fujixe1 #7artisans25mm #fujifilm #fujifilmxe1 #xe1 #7artisans #25mmf1.8 #japan #travel #vacation #fishmarket by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

visited another shrine
#fujixe1 #7artisans25mm #fujifilm #fujifilmxe1 #xe1 #7artisans #25mmf1.8 #japan #travel #vacation #Aomori by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

DSCF6747 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

The feature here was “big Buddah”, which was for sure quite big!

Next morning, packed up and got ready to head to the airport for our journey WAY south to Okinawa!
IMG_20180618_123551_393 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr


(Chris Lynch) #15

Part four, OKINAWA (aka the center of anti-tenkara in Japan)

Obligatory pic of Fuji from the air:
IMG_20180618_165143 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

we got into Okinawa late that night, long day of travel. Spent the night in a great little hotel right off the middle of Kokusai Street in Naha- Andon Matsuokan. VERY simple little rooms, both tatami or western style available, with A/C, was only Y5000 for the night. I found it on booking.com
In the morning, I got up and had a leisurely walk over to the OTS car rental office to pick up my sweet Honda Fit for the next 7 days.
First thing after that was to take Wyatt to his first Okinawan beach, one of our favorites near where we were staying- Toguchi Beach over in Yomitan.
P6190315 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr
P6190320 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr
P6190325 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

We met up with our buddy Nate for lunch, he showed us a totally amazing Okinawa Soba (prob my favorite food) place near his house, then we went back to his place and dropped off our bags. We were staying with them the week. We’ve been friends since '07, and spend a LOT of time together when we were stationed there '08-'11. They have four kids, from 4 to 11 (or 12?), so we knew Wyatt would have a blast with the kids.

Kintiti soba was a fantastic welcome back to the island, if only for a visit. I destroyed their large bowl. #okinawa #okinawasoba by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

Did I mention this soba was nuuuuuuuuts!?

The soba was a light and early lunch, so later that afternoon, or maybe it was the next day, who knows, we went to King Taco. King Taco pioneered Taco Rice back in the 80’s, up in Kin town near Camp Hansen. The proprietor was looking for something new and cheap to serve the hungry and often drunk GI’s… and stumbled upon an Okinawan classic. Something we make at home almost weekly, which Wyatt has grown up loving.

#tacorice #okinawanfood #uchinachu #okinawa by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

Then took Wyatt to explore at low tide:
P6200467 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

P6200455 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

then went way up north to a jungle river w/ fish ladder, theoretically to support movement of Ryukyu Ayu, which were exterpated then reintroduced. I intend to find them when I return!
P6210008 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

Then more beach action up north!
P6210025 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

Okinawa is tiny. Okinawa has more beaches than you could imagine. I mean it’s basically all beaches, with some sugar cane and jungle, and small patches of urban development scattered between.

More saltwater fun!
P6210036 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

Gesashi Mangrove is an old favorite of ours- fiddler crabs, mudskippers, etc.
P6210101 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr
P6210104 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

beautiful okinawan sunset:
IMG_20180625_193155 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

IMG_20180625_193706 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

I hit up a fishing shop my last night, saw some nice fly tying stuff,
IMG_20180625_202247 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

got some stuff
IMG_20180625_205142 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr

Basically our time in Okinawa was eating delicious food we missed, drinking local Orion beer (me) and tropical flavored Chuhis (shochu highball, fruity alcopops basically), eating more food, and taking wyatt all over the island to show him the stuff we missed and that he now loves.

I may or may not have mentioned it, but we are headed back to Okinawa after I do my year solo in Korea. That will be my 9th assigment in my Air Force career, my third time in Okinawa, and if I retire at 20, it will be there (first assign was there too in '03)… So we are super excited to go back!

I’ll have plenty of opportunities to take weekend trips up to mainland and get into some Genryu adventures with the likes of Go, Jun, and hopefully Keiichi among others- but I will have loads of saltwater fishing right there in Okinawa. This has heavily influenced me to give spin fishing a try, as it will be far more suited than tenkara or western fly while on island. I put together a simple daiwa setup this week and have given it a little use and it’s loads of fun.


(Mark Fishburn Jr) #16

Awesome pics! Epic trip for sure :+1:


(Adam Trahan) #17

Great report. Thanks for taking the time to share.