JT3: Introduction and Conclusion

The Golden Pavillion (Kinkakuj), from our 2011 trip to Japan.
A summary of our 2013 trip to Japan
Hello and welcome to the 'Trip to Japan' travel report blog!

My name is Eric and in 2011, 2012 and 2013, Kate and I travelled to Japan from Australia and each time spent a very enjoyable three weeks experiencing the many interesting activities and sights on offer.

We had heaps of fun exploring Japan!

After our 2012 trip I thought I'd write a bit of a summary of our travels in the hope that we'd not only have a permanent record of our journey but that we'd also be able to help and inspire fellow travellers to Japan.

Somehow though I managed to spend more time writing about each day than I actually spent experiencing it which meant it took five months until I'd finally finished writing up all the posts.

As I only made the decision to write a blog after we had returned I had to make do with what photos I had on hand and try and piece together what we did from our fading memories.

For our 2013 trip, though I wasn't sure I'd write another trip report, I made sure to document our activities much more thoroughly so it would be easier if I decided to once again take the plunge.

As you can see, the 2013 report has many more photos, is much wordier and took me nearly twice as long to publish. I'm not sure what lesson to take from that. Is it better or worse?

Anyway, I'd like to say a huge "Thank you very much!!!" to everyone who has taken the time to read or view any content I've produced!

If you've battled through every word and picture, Wow!.

During the planning stage of our Japan trips we relied heavily on information and experiences provided by fellow travellers, especially for less heavily visited locations. I hope that this blog can help to fulfil that role for the places I've visited.

The following is a quick description of each day with links for those who want to click through to read the whole novel (or just look at the pictures).

I've done something similar for 2012 Japan Trip and direct links to each day for both trips are also available in the sidebar.

You might also notice a list over there for our first 2011 Trip to Japan. These locations cover the pretty standard "Golden Route" followed by most first time travellers to Japan and I've included them so people can see what places we've already visited. Perhaps one day I'll provide photos and a very quick description of that trip for completeness sake.

Peering into hell at Nokogiriyama
JLT3: Background and Preparation
This is an overview of the preparation we did for our trip, the plans we made, what hotels we booked and what we brought along with us.

Day 1: Flight & Tōkyō

After arriving into Narita Airport at night, we sorted out our rail-pass and caught the train to our hotel in Shinjuku.

Day 2: Nokogiriyama and Chiba

We caught an early train this morning to see the great Buddha and temple of Nokogiriyama (Saw Mountain- named after its unique appearance). On the way back to Tokyo we stopped in at Chiba City and rode the Oreimo clad suspended monorail car to the Chiba Port Tower.

Day 3: Kawaguchiko

Mt Fuji as seen from the Kachi Kachi Ropeway
Today we left Tokyo and travelled down to Lake Kawaguchi which is located in the shadow of the symbolic Mt Fuji.

The lake is the most developed of the "Fuji 5 Lakes" region, and we spent the day taking in views of the mountain from the top of the Kachi Kachi ropeway, appreciating the dyed kimono in the Kubota Ichiku Art Museum and having a look at few of the more minor attractions.

We finished the day with the regions hot pot speciality: Hōtō.

Day 4: Mt Fuji and Matsumoto

Although it was still far too early in the year to climb up to the summit of Mt. Fuji, we nevertheless caught a bus up to the "Kawaguchiko 5th Station", which is the most commonly used starting location.
View from the top of the Shin-Hokata Ropeway

Instead of climbing up or around Mt. Fuji we instead followed the ancient pilgrimage trail down to the third station where we caught a bus back to Kawaguchiko Town.

During the evening we caught a few trains to Matsumoto City.

Day 5.1: Okuhida

This morning we said goodbye to our luggage while we spent the next two days travelling through the Japanese Alps. First on the agenda was a bus trip out to Okuhida's Shin-Hokata ropeway.

This unique doubled decked gondola travels 1000m up the Hotake mountain range to a fantastic viewing platform located at an elevation of 2150 meters. Around the viewing platform building we found a maze of tunnels cut through deep snow.
Painters in the Kamikōchi Valley

Day 5.2: Kamikōchi

After returning back down from Shin-Hokata we caught a bus to the Kamikōchi valley, which is located on the other side of the Hotake mountain range.

This elevated plateau contains some of Japan’s most spectacular mountain scenery and we spent a very enjoyable afternoon strolling along the north half of Azusa River's banks, ponds and marshes. In the evening we enjoyed a Kaiseki dinner at our Japanese style inn.

Day 6.1: Kamikōchi and Norikura

Early in the morning we checked off the western half of the southern size of the walking trails before returning to our Ryokan to enjoy another delicious meal.
Peak of Mount Norikura

After checking out we continued south along the eastern back of the Azusa River and enjoyed a few more ponds and marshes until we reached the Taisho-ike bus stop. The next set of bus trips then took us along Japan's highest road, through snow tunnels, to the top of Mt. Norikura.

Day 6.2: Norikura and Matsumoto

Mt. Norikura is apparently the easiest of Japans highest mountains to scale however as it was still spring there was still a lot of snow remaining and we encountered a few difficulties. We nevertheless enjoyed a fantastic view from an astronomical observatory before we climbed back down to catch buses back to Matsumoto.
Kurobe Dam section of the Tateyama Alpine Route

Upon arriving into the city we had just enough time for a quick look at one of Japan's the three best original castles.

Day 7: Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

The travel itself was the attraction today and we spend a fun series of hours travelling through the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine route.

Some of the attractions included travelling right through mountains using electric trolley buses, the 186m tall Kurobe Dam (with spicy dam curry), riding a number of cable-cars and ropeways (one with a huge single span), trudging through thick snow, catching a bus through high snow tunnels and exploring a misty forest.

In the evening we checked into our Japanese style business hotel in Toyama City.
Kurobe Gorge Scenic Railway

Day 8: Kurobe Gorge and Toyama

This morning we enjoyed a delicious included Japanese style breakfast and then caught trains out to different section of the Kurobe valley.Once again the transportation was the feature and we had an exciting ride along the Kurobe Gorge scenic railway.

We made sure to stop off at the various stations along the way and enjoyed a number of different attractions along the steep Kurobe River Valley. Examples include the person eating rock,  ten thousand year snow and a power plant shaped like a European castle.
Diorama of Nagoya in the SCMAGLEV Railway Park

In the evening we returned to Toyama to have a quick look at the early stages of a festival and a bridge folly.

Day 9: Nagoya

After another delicious breakfast in Toyama, we caught a long train out of the Alps and back town to Nagoya section of the Japanese Megalopolis. Upon arriving we explored and had lunch had lunch at the Sakae entertainment district before retreating to the SCMAGLEV and Railway Park train museum to avoid some inclement weather.

In the evening we had an early night after a bit of window/shutter shopping in the Osu shopping street.
Arashiyama Monkey park

Day 10: Arashiyama (Kyoto)

Although we intended to visit the Ise shrines today, a last minute change in plans resulted in us instead catching a Shinkansen (courtesy of our rail passes) down to Kyoto.

Focussing on the Arashiyama region we visited Tenryūji temple, the bamboo grove and the monkey park before having some delicious prawn buns for lunch from the nice shops.

After lunch we then checked out a scenic villa and a few more temples (Gioji, Adashino Nenbutsuji and Nisonin) before enjoying a ride out of Arashiyama on the scenic railway.
Racecar in the Toyota Kaikan Museum

Day 11: Toyota

Toyota is one of Nagoya's satellite cities and is so named as the cities industry is almost exclusively dedicated to the construction of Toyota vehicles.

We'd pre-booked a free guided factory tour and so today was spent making our way out to the Toyota Kaikan Museum and then taking part in a tour of the Takaoka Factory. In the evening we caught a series of trains down to Beppu, Kyūshū.

Day 12: Beppu

For our first morning in Kyūshū we caught buses to the famous hydrothermal hot spring "Hells" of Beppu.
The hells of Beppu

These hells are a series of bubbling mud and water pools that have been packaged up into a touristy experience- one even has a geyser.

After returning to the mortal realm we caught another bus up to the Kintetsu Beppu Ropeway for views from the top of Mt. Tsurumi.

Day 13: Yufuin, Mt. Kujū and Tsuetate

This morning we hired our first ever car from Beppu Station and drove over the mountains to the trendy hot spring town of Yufuin.

Shops in Yufuin
After filling our hands with bags of tasty food souvenirs we continued along the Trans-Kyūshū Route to the Kujū mountain range for a hike to the top of Mt. Kujū.

After scurrying all the way back down, we hurried on to our ryokan hotel in Tsuetate. Upon arriving we were pleasantly surprised to learn we'd received an upgrade!

Our evening today was spent exploring the huge hotel, enjoying a delicious kaiseki dinner, checking out the onsen and having an included game of ten pin bowling in the attached entertainment wing.

Day 14: Mount Aso

Mount Aso volcanic crater
After leaving our Tsuetate Ryokan we made our way back to the Trans-Kyūshū Route and drove on to Mt. Aso, which is a huge active volcano located in the middle of the island.

While there hasn't been a cataclysmic eruption for thousands of years, the volcano is still alive and it's currently active vent had proved deadly in the past couple of decades.

Safety measures have increased such that portions of the top area are closed in times of high gas emissions, which initially foiled our crater inspection. Not to be deterred we instead caught a helicopter which flew over the area to give us spectacular views down into the crater.

In the evening we enjoyed an included fancy meal at our accommodation: a French themed astronomical pension.
Takachiho Gorge

Day 15: Takachiho

Today we travelled down to Takachiho to explore the town's famous gorge and shrines. After arriving at the bottom of the gorge we had a heap of fun rowing boats through the steep cliffs and waterfalls.

After climbing back up to the top of the cliffs we then looked down into the water from the walking paths at the top of the inner gorge. Next we climbed hundreds of steps back up to the town for a quick look at Takachiho town.

Once back down in the gorge we used chops sticks to catch some "Flowing Noodles" for lunch. After lunch we drove to another shrine to behold thousands of stacked stone towers near a sacred cave, before hopping back in the car to enjoy a great view from a nearby hill.
Gunkanjima "Battleship" Island

In the evening we continued across Kyūshū and dropped our car off at Kumamoto city, where we caught a train to Nagasaki.

Day 16.1: Nagasaki and Gunkanjima

A busy day today!

First up, early in the morning, we visited the Spectacles Bridge and explored the nearby Chinese influenced Kōfukuji and Sōfukuji temples. We lingered a bit too long however and really had to dash down to Nagasaki harbour so we wouldn't miss our tour out to Gunkanjima (Battleship Island),
Nagasaki night view from Mount Inasa
which is the famous abandoned island featured in the Bond movie Skyfall.

Day 16.2: Nagasaki

For the second half of today we climbed up and around the "Dutch Slope", which is a region of Nagasaki containing a large amount of old Western Style Houses. At the base of the slope we made a brief trip into Chinese territory at the Kōshibyō Confucius Shrine.

After returning back Japan we then caught an
Kagoshima's Sanganen Garden
interesting elevator back up the hill so we could walk down through the Glover Garden, which is a specifically preserved area of historic western residences. At the bottom we then had a look at the Oura Catholic Church and tried Castella cake.

Finally, after a quick look at China Town, we ventured out to the top of Mount Inasa to enjoy one of Japan's three best night views.

Day 17: Kagoshima

We spent much of this morning travelling all the way down to Kagoshima city at the southern end of Kyūshū. Upon arriving we caught a bus up to a view spot on Shiroyama where you can usually get great views over the city and bay across to the very active Sakurajima Volcano.
Kagoshima Flower Garden in Ibusuki

Another bus ride brought us to the historic Sanganen Garden which we spent a fun couple of hours exploring. Finally, to finish off the day we spent another couple of hours singing Karaoke and having a look in a few shops near the station.

Day 18: Sakurajima and Ibusuki

Instead of travelling up to the Kirishima mountains, due to rain, we instead took our hire car across Kagoshima Bay to the Sakurajima Island. Although there was a fair amount of cloud around we managed to avoid most of the rain on our scenic circumnavigation.

After arriving back on the mainland
Yakushima's Okonotaki Waterfall
we next drove all the way down south to Ibusuki to check out a fantastic flower garden and an interesting cape.

Day 19: Yakushima

Today we caught a high speed hydrofoil boat all the way down to the subtropical Yakushima! This island is famous for containing a number of Yakusugi which are cedar trees famous for being at least 1000 years old.

After arriving we hired a car and did a loop around the incredibly scenic island enjoying highlights such as a lighthouse, dense rainforest filled with monkeys and deer, beaches and a spectacular waterfall. Next we headed in towards the centre of the island where we saw our first Yakusugi trees along the hiking trails that lead through the rainforest.
The Hana-no-ego marsh on Yakushima's Yodogawa Trail

In the evening we enjoyed a delicious dinner at a local restaurant.

Day 20: Yakushima

After waking up early this morning we collected our pre-packaged breakfast and lunch packs and set off back into the centre of Yakushima Island for a full day hike along the Yodogawa trail. Yakushima's is Japan's wettest location and as such our hike turned into a bit of a swim by the end.

Nevertheless we were able to enjoy some beautiful marshes and climb up one of the island peaks. After swimming back to our car
Akiyoshido cave in the Akiyoshidai Quasi National Park
we cleaned and warmed ourselves up at one of the island's many onsen.

In the evening we caught the hydrofoil back to Kagoshima and then a Shinkansen all the way up to Fukuoka.

Day 21: Akiyoshidai

This morning was spent at Yamaguchi's Akiyoshidai Quasi national park, which is a rare Japanese example of a karst landscape. We had lots of fun under the ground exploring the the one kilometre public section of Japan's largest cave, Akiyoshido

After returning to the surface we next had a quick look at the landscape from above and drove through the rolling hills up to another two, less well known caves. The highlights was the adventure course section where we found our way around in the dark narrow cave armed only with a headlamp, torch and gumboots.
The Eikandō temple gardens

Day 22: Kyōto

Today was our last in a Japan and we went what time we had left exploring the ancient capital. Although we'd visited Kyōto many times before there's still lots to do!

After catching a bus to and visiting the Silver pavilion (Ginkakuji), we walked along the philosophers path and visited Eikandō and Nanzenji temple. Highlights included many beautiful gardens, interesting temple architecture, an old stone aqueduct and viewing over a thousand statues inside Japan's longest wooden building.

Finally, to end our trip, we collected our bags and rode a train down to our plane at Kansai International Airport.

Hopefully I've been able to express what a fascinating and fun country Japan is to visit though these posts and I would like to highly recommend and encourage everyone, (including you!) to visit as well!

Japan is perhaps the most ideal location to do a self-guided tours thanks to things like it’s excellent public transportation system, varied geography, interesting sights, rich culture and the wonderful hospitality of the Japanese people.

I'm sure you'll have a wonderful time!

As always, If you've found these posts interesting, have travelled to, or are considering travelling to Japan, please feel free to leave a comment!

I'll definitely promptly and personally reply to you and will do my best to answer any questions you may have!


  1. I hope you plan to write up your New Zealand trip, too ;-)

    1. Hi Keith!

      Although I would really like too, I don't think I'll be writing up any more trips for a while sadly.

      I started a Master of Information Technology in addition to my full time job so I don't seem to have a spare minute to do anything these days.

    2. Thank you for the comment though!!!

  2. I'm curious about which field(s) of IT you hope to specialize in -- security, networking, web technology, programming, or other... if it's not a secret, and wonder if your full-time job is in IT...

    1. It's my first semester so I'm not quite sure at the moment what my strengths/interests are exactly.

      Not web technology I think, perhaps programming though it seems like networking might be where the jobs are. I haven't done any courses to do with networking yet.

      My current job is a bit of a secret because I'm the only one with this particular job. It's got nothing to do with geology or IT, although it's benefiting from the IT I'm learning- I'm writing some programs to replace some of our old ones.

    2. I've done Cisco CCNP and CCDP exams., and taught CCNA basics courses, so feel free to bounce questions off me (the Boson exam. prep. stuff is good). Security and forensics is another challenging field -- the organization associated with the Kali LINUX distro has some hands-on courses and exams., and there are some good blogs on diagnosing and fixing hacked Windows systems, for example (let me know if you're interested). I've played with PHP quite a bit, and the market for good Javascript programmers seems to be booming. (JAVA and SAP middleware is in demand in the enterprise, but I'm personally not interested in financial ERP middleware, profitable as it may be). Web analytics (Google) and SEO is interesting, and there's free study material (but it takes a bit of study to pass the GAIQ exam). We can connect via Google Plus and chat directly if you like.

    3. Hi Keith!

      I'm really sorry for this extremely late reply, I'm completely swamped with university work, normal work and still plugging away at Japanese learning during the commutes and lunch. I also wanted to give a proper reply.

      IT: I'm at a very beginner level at the moment, but thank you very much for your advice. I really have to make sure I target my degree towards the field I want to go into, and 'real world' insights and comments are incredibly valuable.

      This semester I'm doing Introduction to Software Engineering, Introduction to Web Design (HTML/CSS basic JavaScript) and Introduction to Computer Systems.

      Software Engineering is python and Computer Systems is a bit of logic gate level, a bit of assembly, a bit of C. We're programming an Atmel ATmega324A microprocessor to play Frogger on an LCD display at the moment. Web Design course is a bit of a snore honestly, it's at a very basic level- but I have to take it. There's still a lot of design work with it as well, which I don't really like (making mockups, persona's etc).

      The course that follows on from Systems is Computer Systems Principles and Programming which focuses on Systems Programing in C and Computer Networks Principles.
      I'm doing that next semester along with "Introduction to Information Systems" which is mySQL databases.

      Thank you very much for your valuable comments!

      I really appreciate it. I'm really sorry about the delay once again.

      Also apologies for any grammatical or spelling errors in here- I’ve typed this out pretty rapidly.

    4. Almost forgot: I'm happy to talk on google plus as well!

      Oh yeah and we're going to Japan again in July!

      Shikoku this time (and a bit of the western coast around near kanazawa and kanto)

      Kate is almost 100% planning it this time.

  3. All the best for the July trip...Japan is addictive isn't it? We have been 8 times already! Thanks to Jetstar's cheap airfares and JR passes ;)

    1. Wow eight times!

      We're only up to four so far, yes Jetstar's fares are very tempting. Even now they have a two for one sale on.

      The JR pass is really good too, though we didn't happen to use it this trip as it would not have paid off for our itinerary. We caught a lot of buses this time instead it seemed. I also got to learn how to use the automatic ticket machines! Though I did not manage to master the use of the multiple day JR rail base fare thing.

  4. Oh, I forgot to mention...we met an Australian couple in Kamikochi who had stayed with local people in Japan through the website www.servas.com Do you know about it? You can stay free up to 3 nights...you have to be registered to do it and offer your own place as well. These people had stayed many nights with locals around the world...nobody had asked to stay with them as they lived in rural Victoria!

    1. No, that actually sounds really cool- though a bit scary as well perhaps! I have heard of such things before.

      Is http://www.servas.com the right website? I went there and it does not seem to be correct...

      We live in a rental property so I don't think we could do this but it would be really cool to stay with locals. They'd be able to show you where the best place to play with fireworks would be and such.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. http://www.servas-japan.org/

    4. Thank you Keith!

      That looks like a pretty friendly website actually

  5. > I did not manage to master the use of the multiple day JR rail base fare thing.

    The JR East ticket validity chart is at https://www.jreast.co.jp/kippu/04.html -- other JR areas seem to offer essentially the same deal. If you are traveling say A -> B -> C -> D with no doubling back or side trips (you can buy tickets for side trips separately) then if your trip is over 100km then you can buy a ticket from A to D and make multiple stops provided you complete the trip within the validity period.
    If you make a return trip A -> D -> A then the distance is double the one-way A -> D trip and the validity period is doubled.

    1. Yeah, I was thinking about doing that for our Tokyo -> Kanazawa trip, but ended up not doing it in the end. We had side trips and also were in a hurray at that time so just used a ticket machine- I'm not sure how easy it is to pick a particular route using the machines. We wanted to stop off at Minakami on the way (rather than go via shinkansen).

      Later in Minakami I found that you could buy/select more complicated routes using the machines (only in Japanese though), but I haven't explored them fully yet. I'm still not sure if you get options to take a particular route.

      There's some pretty good information here about the base fare:

    2. The people at the counter will work out the base "Futsu joshaken" fare from A to D. If you buy a combined base + express / Tokkyu / Shinkansen ticket then it's good for one trip only (though you can switch Shinkansen if you don't exit the station), so buy separate base ("Futsu") and "Tokkyu" express tickets.

    3. Yep- looks like I'd need to go to a manned counter then :)

  6. You'd buy your long-distance "futsu" ticket at a "Green Window" http://jprail.com/travel-informations/basic-informations/timetable-and-reservation/how-to-reserve-seat.html ; for a trip starting from Tokyo you could start using it the ticket anywhere, but it might make sense to start using it from there ;-) However you can buy tickets in advance. http://www.eki-net.com/pc/jreast-shinkansen-reservation/English/wb/common/ticketwindow/index.html

    1. http://www.jreast.co.jp/estation/midori/
      > for a trip starting from Tokyo you could start using it the ticket anywhere
      meaning "anywhere in Tokyo" (and heading out of Tokyo)