Japan – independent travel to Kyoto, Matsumoto and Osaka by plane and train in 14 days
Before you go: No visas are required for entry to Japan, and getting around by rail is easy and cheap using rail passes only available to foreign visitors, purchased before travel. Fees include seat reservations (important on busy trains particularly when travelling with luggage), – see https://www.japan-rail-pass.co.uk/jr-pass. Following purchase, (currently around £205 per adult for a 7 day pass) an exchange voucher is issued, which must be exchanged at any major rail station for the actual pass on arrival. Please see the end of this blog for other useful links
Travelling to Osaka from Newcastle Upon Tyne UK: Emirates flights depart daily from Newcastle Upon Tyne in the early afternoon, with a 3-hour wait in Dubai followed by a 9-hour flight to Kansai Airport (Osaka). Expect to pay around £650 per adult, depending on travel dates. Visitors are often wax-lyrical about visiting Japan in spring for the ceremonious arrival of cherry blossoms, but warm, mellow autumn days are sublime.
Update for 2020: obviously Covid-19 means that travel from the UK to many destinations is on hold. Hopefully you’ll enjoy these few snippets and soon we will all be on our travels again. Take care and stay safe.
Arrival at Kansai Airport, Osaka: After exchanging the voucher for travel, the train to Kyoto takes around an hour. The train will depart at precisely the minute it is meant to, and travellers are greeted graciously by the driver and team.
Above is a Shinkansen Train departing from Kyoto. The seat reservation indicates exactly where to stand on the platform. The JR Rail Pass gives access to almost all trains except NOZOMI, and MIZUHO trains on the Tokaido, Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen lines
Stay: the Kyoto Royal Hotel and Spa is well-located near the Sanjo Railway station – see: http://japantraveleronline.com/af/9031Q/hotel-detail/5312052/ and is a relatively cost-effective way of staying in Kyoto for around 5 days – expect to pay around £70 per room per night room only. Clean and well-located, complete with vending machines on each floor! There are plenty of cafes around, including an excellent bakery in the Sanjo Railway station nearby. Below is an image of the main Kyoto station from where the major trunk (Shinkansen) trains leave:
Kyoto railway station, above, is a cost-effective and relatively easy location to try some local food, the Japanese kind of expect that for many visitors understanding menus can be complex, and many restaurants place plastic models of the foods on offer in their windows, (see images below) enabling visitors to gain an idea of what they might be ordering. ‘Sets’ are common, whereby the diner is presented with one or more larger dishes and several accompaniments, always presented with high precision. Tipping is unheard of, making payment straightforward.
Temples: There are many temples and shrines in Kyoto, below are images of the interior and beautiful gardens at the Taizo-in Temple, open daily 9am – 5pm, currently costs 600 Yen – around £4.50 per adult see http://www.taizoin.com/en/
Removal of outer footwear is mandatory inside the temples, serene, intricately designed and aromatic.
Kyoto Shopping: Kyoto has many shopping opportunities, including modern galleries, the narrow back lanes synonymous with aothentic restaurants etc as well as the red light district. Nishiki Market, image below, is located centrally in downtown Kyoto, located at 609 Nishidaimonji-cho, Shijo-Noboru, Tomikoji Tori, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto. Marvel at the array of tempting foods, pungent spices, and sample delicacies at the many, inexpensive eateries.
There are more vending machines per person in Japan than anywhere else in the world, you can even buy bento boxes, including sushi such as below, from machines located at railway stations, street corners, everywhere! Travellers are allowed to take their own food and drink on board the trains, enabling a delicious lunch whilst drinking in the stunning scenery along the way.
Himeji: Take the train from Kyoto to Himeji, the journey is roughly two hours. Himeji Castle, dating from 1333, is easy walking distance from the railway station. The castle is well-preserved and a designated world heritage site. Current costs are around 1000 yen per adult, or for a little more, purchase a dual ticket gaining entrance into the Kokoen Garden nearby, consisting of 9 separately walled gardens and be immersed in this fascinating culture, there are several tea ceremonies held throughout the day – instructions included!
A fishy resident of Kokoen Gardens:
Hiroshima – Trains to Hiroshima take about an hour and a half from Kyoto. Hiroshima’s tragic history began in 1945 when it was subject to nuclear bombing by the USA. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum outlines what happened in a most thought-provoking manner and visitors are encouraged to reflect on this sad moment in time. Also see the Genbaku Atomic Dome as well as the Hirosima Peace Park. The Genbaku Dome below somehow survived the devastation in October 1945 when all other buildings in the vicinity became little more than dust in the wind:
Arashiyama takes around an hour from Kyoto railway station, famed mainly for its bamboo grove, the town provides yet more temples and shrines.
Shrine in Arashiyama:
Matsumoto: Moving on to Matsumoto – around 3 -4 hours on the Shinkansen. Stayed at the Dormy Inn, a 3 Star Hotel about 10 minutes walk from the railway station, 21 Fukashi, Matsumoto, tel +81 263 33 5489. Rates are little more than £60 per night including breakfast, and complementary Ramen served in the evenings. The hotel boasts its own small onsen on its uppermost floor. Separate facilities are provided for male and female. Nudity is mandatory, and there are strict protocols to follow including pre-cleansing before using the facilities.
Matsumoto Castle, dating back to 1504, is easy walking distance from the railway station.
Narai historic village, complete with splendid wooden buildings. is well worth a visit, only about an hour from Matsumoto, and famous for hand-made goods such as beautiful combs.
Matsumoto to Hotaka and its Wasabi Farm takes less than an hour. Amazing countryside here and by the roadside there was a welcome vending machine, selling ice cold lychee juices amongst other delights. We mistakenly thought a writer’s shop and studio was the tourist information office, because we were enthusiastically ushered inside, to share photographs, green tea and hot chestnuts, amidst much hilarity – neither understanding a word of the other but an international moment of friendship, warmth and hospitality.
Osaka – the train from Matsumoto to Osaka takes around 3.5 hours. Staying at the Osaka Swissotel is a nice pre-flight treat, particularly when upgrading for access to the business lounge, with complementary breakfast and evening refreshments. Below is the Osaka Skyline at night.
Doubtlessly, eggs are on offer at this Osaka restaurant! :
For Kyoto Tourist information click http://www.kyototourism.org/en/travel-info/tourist-info-centers/index.html
For Matsumoto Tourist information click https://visitmatsumoto.com/en/
For Osaka tourist information, please click https://osaka-info.jp/en/page/tourist-information