I still remember the moment I decided I wanted to go to Japan. I was stressed because of work (what else), I was starting to get sick of my daily, monotonous routine, and I just badly needed a break. To escape. Japan wasn’t really a dream destination for me, but I stumbled upon some heavenly photos of Arashiyama, a small district in Kyoto, and then I just claimed it: I’m going to Japan.
I initially wanted to travel on my own (now I realize how difficult that would’ve been—traveling to a non-English speaking country is apparently quite the challenge), but my mom wouldn’t let me, so I convinced my brother to tag along. Before I knew it, I was booking our flights and our accommodations, and it was happening. I was going to Japan. Simple as that! (How I’d love if my friends decided this quickly, man.) (Although, okay, in truth, it’s probably not that easy since you have to think about finances. To be honest, I didn’t. I was prepared to splurge and lose everything I had earned thus far. But a) I didn’t actually lose everything, and b) it would’ve been worth it.)
Applying for a visa was quick and easy, too. There’s really no reason to be anxious if you’ve prepared all their requirements. Simply find an accredited agency, pay their fee, submit your documents, claim your passport in a few days, and voila! I managed to get a multiple-entry visa (5 years!) and I plan on making the most out of it. (
I already have my eyes set on autumn. I’ve already booked for November, a.k.a. autumn’s peak, whoop!)
Being the obsessive-compulsive person that I am, I of course did my research and carefully planned our itinerary:
I’m no travel expert (this is only my second trip out of the country), but I did learn a lot from this trip that I want to share as a reminder to myself too for my future travels (yes, I am promising myself more travels, wallet be damned) starting with this: plan ahead. I highly recommend giving yourself time to do this at least a month before your trip—it could save you a hell of a lot of time and money: both precious when traveling on a tight budget and schedule. The reality is that traveling is not as simple as packing a bag and going (not if you want to go about it smartly and practically, anyway).
It begins | May 11th. Day of our trip! Upon arriving in Kansai Airport, we had the remainder of our pesos exchanged for yen (I let my brother do all the math here, lol) (turns out it is cheaper to get your money exchanged in the airport!) and later bought Kansai Area Pass tickets, which allowed us unlimited rides across all JR train lines and an express train to Osaka. A single ticket aboard that express train cost more than the Area Pass itself (this I learned and was prepared for thanks to tip number one), so, if you’re going to Osaka, buy that pass to save some cash. (Trust me, you’ll want to grab any opportunity to save cash in this country.)
Since check-in at our Airbnb home wasn’t until 6pm (we arrived at around 1pm), we had to store our luggages into coin lockers (so convenient!) in Osaka Station. (I almost had a panic attack while trying to store our luggages because I couldn’t open my own suitcase, hah. Turns out I was pressing the opening wrong. Whomp whomp.)
We only planned an overnight stay in Osaka and didn’t have as much time as we would’ve liked, so we skipped roaming around Osaka Station and went straight to Yodobashi Umeda, which was a camera superstore. No photos, sadly, but as expected, it was a sort of heaven for photography geeks. I snagged a couple of films and batteries for my Canon AE-1 (which, sadly, died on me at some point later) to some hardship: this is where my first real interaction with locals happened. I couldn’t find 6V batteries and had to ask a saleslady if they had them and it probably took us 30 minutes, some weird hand gestures, and four additional salesmen to find exactly what I needed. Through all that, these guys remained patient, kind, and polite: while they didn’t speak nor understand English, they managed to blurt out “Just a moment,” everytime they left me to look around. They genuinely wanted to help, talked among themselves, and figured things out. Lovely people, these guys, I tell you.
Afterwards, we went to Osaka Castle, which was just a train ride away.
On that train is where I began to realize the stark difference between a first-world country and a country such as ours—different kinds of trains arriving in minute intervals, people inside not forced to be intimately connected (literally) with each other, tourist destinations very easily accessible, etcetera. Exactly how seamless public transportation should be—exactly what public transportation in Manila is unfortunately not. (Sigh.)
After a bit of walking around the park, we finally caught sight of the park’s main attraction, which was this beauty:
We opted not to go inside the castle itself anymore (entrance fees around museums here are pretty steep), but we decided to skip our next destination so we could sit and take the sights in.
The greenery was lush and beautiful, man. To be honest, I thought I would regret coming in spring (autumn has always been the dream season), but surprise, surprise—I didn’t. The weather was lovely: not too cold, not too hot, nowhere near as humid as Manila. The trees were the most beautiful shades of green. Walking along this path in particular was one of my favorites:
Hard to appreciate here, but it really was serene in reality.
Afterwards, we went back to Osaka Station to grab our bags and head to our home for the night, which was apparently really hard to find. With that, here’s tip number two: rent mobile internet. Since there was free internet in our home, we opted not to, which ended up costing us almost two precious hours. We spent probably that much time stuck in the middle of nowhere—with no English signs to be found, no maps in hand, no internet, and two heavy suitcases and a backpack each—trying to look for the house, which could’ve taken all night.
When we eventually got tired of walking around and trying to figure it out on our own, we finally asked a stranger who we now know as Kana, who luckily spoke English, for help (tip number three: don’t hesitate to ask for help, regardless of any language barrier).
We showed her the home address and walked with her for a bit before she decided she’d look for it on her bike alone and get back to us. We didn’t even have to ask her—heck, we didn’t think to; it was completely beyond our expectations that she’d be kind enough to offer. If this were in Manila, that person would’ve just shrugged and left (understandably, though, because the circumstances were different: Japan was so safe. Even lost in the middle of nowhere we never felt like we would get mugged or anything. It just seemed so peaceful.)
Again: so far, the Japanese just really seemed to be generally, genuinely lovely, helpful people. Kana came back maybe 15 minutes later and announced she’d found the house—yay!—and guided us all the way there. We took pictures with her when we arrived and she looked us up on Facebook before she left. Thanks so much for your kindness, Kana—we’ll never forget it!
We then went in the house and met our host’s wife, Yuri, who took us to our room and showed us around. It was past 10 pm at this point and we were tired but there was no way we could miss the infamous Dotonbori, so despite our fatigue, we went out again.
Since we wasted an hour and a half getting lost and had a train to catch, we didn’t have time for proper dinner and opted for street food instead. We had takoyaki, which I didn’t realize was—gasp—octopus (the octopus signs floating around just then made sense, lol). I can still vividly remember how its tentacles and suckers felt in my mouth. Yikes. I love you, Japan, but your favorite street food is super weird. Bleurgh.
We walked around for a bit, then turned back and went home—without getting lost this time. Aaaaand that was our first day in Japan, which was basically a peek at what was to come in the next four days (hint: we get lost a lot more).
PS. So good to blog again!