Sometimes, the idea of travel can come from the outside, when you do not plan and do not expect it. But after a few hours of thinking, you begin to mark dates, submit a vacation application and you’re your budget. The idea of going to Japan has always been somewhere on my mind, but always marked as “sometime in life”. And when my colleague, who had already traveled to Japan at the same time last year, offered to join me, I unexpectedly agreed for myself.
Despite the fact that Japan is becoming increasingly open for tourism, a visa for Russians remains mandatory regardless of the purpose of the trip (for 2018). You need to apply for a visa to Japan in advance at the Embassy or the Consulate General, by analogy with a Schengen visa. As of 2018, it is also required to issue a transit permit, in case you want to make a stop in Japan. Obtaining a visa on your own is extremely difficult – it is best to contact the appropriate accredited agency, which can competently execute all the necessary documents . At the same time, the work of agencies is quite flexible – you can buy either a complete package or some part of it, leaving everything else at your discretion.
We bought the tickets ourselves, based on the convenient time of departure / arrival and my desire to fly with the SkyTeam alliance. The most convenient was the direct flight of Aeroflot, although Japanese airlines are very competitive and, according to colleagues, some are even better and more comfortable than the Aeroflot flight.
I recommend buying a J-pass ticket in advance – an unlimited ticket for all JR railways. In Japan, the main railway lines belong to the state and are called JR, and the Shinkansen network of high-speed trains is also included there. There are also municipal railways and private railways – everything has its owner and they have their own fare everywhere. But JR is the largest network, plus we moved between cities and we just needed tickets to Shinkansena. In this case, the weekly unlimited J-pass is very profitable, in sum it is cheaper than taking a full ticket for a high-speed train each time, not to mention traveling by metro.
You should also pay attention to currency exchange – this can be done in Russia by asking for yen in a bank. There are certain problems with Visa \ Mastercard ATMs on the territory of Japan itself, and the rate is not always adequate – it is more profitable to purchase currency in Russia .
And now, after all the formalities, on Friday after work, we flew to Narita airport. Narita, the city that is located far enough from Tokyo.
Japan greeted us with snow! We arrived just after a heavy snowfall, despite the fact that it should not have been there anymore. It was already warm and the snow was melting quickly, but for some reason this did not prevent the Japanese from raising panic, canceling part of the trains and writing ads everywhere that nothing was working because of the snow. As you understand, the express train, for which we had a J-pass, did not go. We were put on the train, which travels about 2 hours to Tokyo. Since the working train was another railway network, we had to defend our place in the queue for a free ticket from JR, as compensation for the non-working express line.
And here we are going to Tokyo … Tokyo … City of the 80s. City stuck in the 80s. The main buildings, apparently, were built in the 80s, and since then they have been living in them. Yes, everything is clean, well-groomed, but this is not a high-tech Singapore or Shanghai. The central district of Tokyo, like our Moscow-City, is built up with glass buildings (and they are much lower, apparently due to seismic zones), and everything else is somewhat retro . For some reason, I recalled the American films of the 80s with panoramas of residential urban areas in America. The subway cars are once again old and retro. Taxi cars are Toyota Mark 1 or 2 from the 80s. Such square huge Volga. On their background, rare priuses look like something outstanding. We didn’t notice any high-tech, robots or anything else. It was quite surprising, because in my understanding, I was about to see futuristic buildings, robots and Godzilla on the horizon.
We arrived in the city center and went to the Ginza district with the street of the same name, where we stopped. This is one of the new areas with shops and restaurants. I’ll say right away that shopping in Japan is not the most profitable thing – the prices of branded clothes and things are really high. But buying Japanese equipment is profitable – cameras, computers, smartphones (taking into account their specifics). All this is cheaper than back at home, although recent fluctuations in the rate make such purchases less and less profitable.
Probably, like any Asian metropolis, Tokyo is not immediately disclosed, but seems to be a fairly ordinary city, where old quarters with narrow streets are mixed with new houses and wide avenues. Nevertheless, there are many interesting temples that can be found quite by accident, just turning the corner. Small public gardens, with gardens and stones, where it is nice to sit and try to escape from the hustle and bustle of the crowd. Japan, it is different – it is about the details and traditions.
And one of these “little things” is food. A lot of fresh and raw fish, seafood. This is something that is worth trying, something that is worth paying attention to and what is worth going to Japan for. Be sure to go to some market that serves raw freshly caught fish. There are many small restaurants at the market, where you can try all this. We were served sushi with shrimps, which are really alive – they still move and flutter in your mouth when you eat them. This is strange, but very tasty :). And, oh, how many different types of fish they have… And everything is so fresh! Restaurants are full of people; They eat, drink and talk everywhere. Prices for food there are low – cheaper than in Moscow and Europe. For example, a good set of sashimi and / or sushi costs 1,500 yen – this is about 900 rubles (and this is a very large dish). For 2-3 thousand rubles you can eat til you explode with sake or beer. But the rolls we are used to are more likely like sandwiches for them – they are often found in the shops / stands as a snack, but in restaurants you can hardly find them.
In general, Japanese food is inexpensive. If you like Japanese cuisine, you can safely assume that you will find an excellent lunch in the region of 500-800 rubles. But if you want European food – something like pasta, steaks and other things, you will have to lighten your wallet. Apparently, therefore, there is a certain myth that Japan is very expensive. From my experience, local small restaurants offer Japanese cuisine a lot cheaper than in Moscow.
Another “trifle” of Japan – its inhabitants. Probably, in a country where all residents are short, black-haired, and men are also wearing black suits, any informality does not seem weird, because subconsciously you still see the same modest black-haired Japanese. And there is something to see – anime cults and the love for cosplay allow you to meet the most unusual characters on the streets! Blue, red hair, amazing costumes and appearances – all this is like a carnival, which suddenly arises from nowehere. If you want to see something like this, then be sure to take a trip to Harajuku in the Shibuya region.
Karaoke, strange shops for fetishists, grannies in national costumes – all these are shades of Japan that make it unforgettable.
There is even Disneyland in Japan! It is located near Tokyo and is very convenient to get to by subway. I would recommend to use my experience and go there in the afternoon – it looks very beautiful in the evening, with a parade of lights, this is something that is definitely worth seeing (unlike the attractive sights, which are quite old and simple there).
After two days in Tokyo, we boarded Shinkansen and moved on to Hakone. This is a small lake at an altitude of 700 m, in a hollow, not far from the foot of Mount Fuji. We traveled by high-speed train to Adavara, and from there we had to get to the hotel on the shore. I note that Shinkansen is very similar to our Sapsan.
We arrived in Adavaru, went to the bus station, and found out that the buses do not go. It’s snowing, for God’s sake! While at the same time there practically is no snow at the streets – the sun is shining, the weather is excellent. Having called the hotel, we learned that the shuttle will go, as it drove the tourists to the station it picked us up. [highlight style="gray"] In the mountains, already beyond the pass, we understood why all the precautions: snow was up to my chest! All piled up. Grader cleared, but the strip of the cleaned road is narrow, and you go along it as in the corridor of snow. We couldn’t even miss a single truck, and the bus was backed up long enough so that we could miss them. The houses around were covered in snow up to the roofs, the cars barely stick out of the snow, in places only antennas are visible. And with all this, the sun and blue sky – it was beautiful!
The hotel has already been cleaned, but the funicular was not working. So we could not climb the next mountain to admire Fuji in full size, but only saw it from the valley. However, Hakone is a very picturesque place, very beautiful, nature is gorgeous. The lake is large, elongated, but it is impossible to swim in it – it is forbidden. A dragon sleeps in it, and in order not to wake him up, one cannot enter the water . But you can ride on the boats \ motorboats. And you can catch fish. On the shore, there is a children’s zoo and aquarium. The aquarium was interesting for such a resort town. Zoo, of course, is just called zoo, but there were some amazing rabbits and one giga-rabbit of huge size! Such an awesome bunny, I of courserushed to photograph them.
There is a five-star Hakone hotel with a thermal spa on the lake shore. Prices are high, especially during the season, but you have to pamper yourself. As I entered, I was so surprised – this is a Soviet holiday home! The carpeting, wall panels with shells – again, hello from the 80s. Such a building design as in the movie Wizards . Because of the constant transitions and corridors I wanted to say: who the hell builds like this! The rooms themselves are large, comfortable, fairly comfortable. The SPA is small, but after a long walk in the snow it was so nice to have a dip in the hot thermal water.
In the evening, I strongly recommend to visit the hotel’s restaurant. It has one important nuance – a demo dinner. It is expensive, but for one dinner they will bring you several changes of dishes, they will tell and show what it is, what it is made of and how to eat it properly. Very cool. So many snacks, all sorts of unknown things. Very interesting experience.
The next day we moved on to Kyoto. Kyoto is the ancient capital of Japan, and now, for the most part, the industrial zone. However, there are several iconic places that we found interesting – the famous geisha quarter, the Imperial Palace and numerous temples.
The Imperial Palace is open to tourists from age of 18 and older, and only with the passport and a pre-reservation. Unfortunately, it was not as impressive as I expected. Very, very modest and ascetic, but it must be remembered that the Japanese are basically ascetics. But its parks and the Garden of Stones are very beautiful.
And despite the prolonged winter and snow, we found what many people want to see – Sakura bloom ! The season has just begun, but we managed to see why the Japanese are so praised. Other trees were already blooming. Beautiful, what can I say …
From Kyoto, we returned to Tokyo, had a little shopping and returned to Moscow.
Japan is an unusual country, not as futuristic as I imagined, but very distinctive in the details. Many nuances and subtleties that the Japanese are in no hurry to open to foreigners. Asceticism and accents make the setting of any place modest enough that for a person who is used to European castles and palaces, it looks somewhat empty. But if you look at these little things, watch, you can see a lot of interesting things. And it is very tasty to eat seafood;).
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To explore a new city during your visit with a guide you may through excurzilla.com.