Just want to give a quick trip report while it’s fresh in my mind for personal reference later as well; we got back late Saturday from a short 9-day trip for Spring Break week to Kyoto, Osaka, Hakone, and Tokyo in Japan! We are a family of 3 with a 7-year old, so we didn’t do anything too crazy, but still made day trips to Osaka and Hakone from our two main cities of Kyoto and Tokyo. This was also my 3rd trip to Japan (more on the blog here), but Betty’s first, so we still hit up a lot of the big tourist sites so on some days I didn’t take a ton of photos of places I had been before and in better weather (Japan last time). Also, it was raining and snowing last week (March 2018), but we caught the beginning of the cherry blossoms on Friday and I’m envious of anyone in Tokyo this week as it should be amazing right now for Sakura season!!
Overall a great 3rd trip to Japan as we got to see the start of Cherry Blossom season luckily. We did the whole trip rather cheap, booking 2 out of 3 flights on Delta SkyMiles points (thank you all those Indian weddings in Atlanta and thanks for flying Delta), and eating at convenience stores a lot thanks to having a 7-year old who luckily loves rice and noodles, which are pretty darn good microwave meals for 500 yen at 7-11 and Family Mart. We decided against something like the Japan Rail Pass as it would be about break even with the trips to Kyoto and Odawara, but we could have the flexibility to take any Shinkansen train we wanted. Same thing with the subway in Tokyo, Rail Pass would have restricted us a bit as we did take a few non-JR lines to get around from Shibuya and Ebisu stations near where we stayed. We loved both of our AirBNBs and always recommend staying like a local as long as you can find a location that is an acceptable walking distance to train stations. Also, $40 a night at an AirBNB in Shibuya can’t be beat versus $100+ hotels… We stayed in Higashiyama in Kyoto, and Shibuya in Tokyo, both great spots to be based out of for the respective cities which made getting around to the places we wanted to go easy. We did the trip with carry-on luggage only, packing for 4 days and doing laundry on day 5 in Tokyo. This made it easy getting around via train and walking to Airbnbs without carrying huge pieces of luggage or needing to take taxis.
Trip Report with photos of course!
Day 0 Friday/Saturday – Morning flight on Delta from New York’s LaGuardia to a connection in Minneapolis, and then it was on to Haneda in Tokyo, Japan. Upon landing it was 1pm on Saturday in Japan so we were pretty badly jetlagged, as it was about 2am Eastern Time so I would just be going to bed and we still had half a day to go. We booked the flights before making any itinerary because it was the cheapest points option, should have probably flown into Kansai instead to be closer to Kyoto but we just jumped on the Shinkansen from Shinagawa to Kyoto and arrived in Kyoto around 6pm, but crashed soon after walking into our AirBNB in the Higashiyama district from Kyoto Station so this day is Day 0 and no sightseeing.
Day 1 Sunday – Woke up super early thanks to jetlag, which turned out to be a blessing, as we were able to wander the streets of Higashiyama without any of the crowds at the temples. After around 9am the tour groups seemed to arrive as the shops opened as well, and things quickly got much more crowded at Kiyomizu-dera and Yasaka areas. We finished around mid-day and came back for a quick nap before going out again at night to catch the last evening of the Hanatouro festival of lights in Higashiyama. We didn’t plan to be in Kyoto just for this but decided we should attempt to see it since we would be in Japan at the time. Basically just some evening outdoor festivals around the main Kiyomizu-dera shrine, the streets are lit up with electric lanterns. Note for the day, Kiyomizu-dera is currently under renovations so the view from the top is not the grand postcard view of the temple overlooking the city, as it was draped in construction cloth and covered when you get to the top main temple.
Day 2 Monday – More temples & a day trip to Osaka. We walked from our AirBnB about 30 minutes to get to Fushimi Inari in the morning. Unfortunately, we should have left slightly earlier as the groundskeepers were turning off the lights right as we arrived so no postcard photos with the lights on in the morning dusk. Again, a great place to be in the early morning as it was fairly empty and we had the plenty of empty spaces to take selfies with the tori gates. On the walk back from Fushimi Inari we also stopped at Tokufuji Temple and walked around a bit but didn’t snap any photos that made the album. After seeing a ton of temples in the morning we took a quick 30 minute Shinkansen train from Kyoto station to Osaka to see the castle and the city. We walked Dotonbori at night, and while it’s nice with the river and everything, it just reminded me of most major city centers in Tokyo. Back to Kyoto in the evening.
Day 3 Tuesday – Checked out of our AirBNB in Kyoto and took a morning Shinkansen to Tokyo. Arrived to more rain in Tokyo. Checked into Airbnb and then walked to nearby Shibuya Station area to see a bit of the city (Hachiko statue, Shibuya crossing, etc.). Not a ton of photos as I took more last trip here on the blog.
Day 4 Wednesday – Asakusa Temple in the late morning after a little bit of shopping in Shibuya to get Betty some waterproof shoes thanks to all the rain. The rain was nonstop all morning around the temple and after leaving the temple it actually started snowing in Tokyo. Not enough to stay on the ground but more of a slushy wintry mix like is pretty common this time of year in New York too. We decided to stay indoors as it was getting chilly and the slush rain wasn’t fun to walk around in so we just headed to Roppongi Hills and wandered for a bit before calling it a day.
Day 5 Thursday – Day trip to Hakone. We took the morning Shinkansen from Tokyo to Odawara and upon arriving in Odawara Station found out the city buses weren’t running to Hakone due to the snow. Oops! Luckily taxis were still driving, and after a slightly longer trip due to some exits being closed due to snow, we made it to the Hakone shrine area. The area was pretty interesting to see in the snow and fog that was still lingering in the morning, definitely a unique time to visit after a snowfall in the mountains. Unfortunately, our main reason for going, to see Mt Fuji closer, didn’t really happen as visibility was severely reduced with the snowstorm and you could barely see across the lake. Still nice to see another part of Japan besides the major cities so it was worth the trek to a smaller mountain town for sure. After returning to Tokyo Station we walked outside the station and over to the Imperial Palace and nearby Chidorifuguchi park area to check on the cherry blossoms, which hadn’t quite opened yet. From there it was a short walk over to Akihabara at night so we went there for an hour or two for shopping and seeing the neon lights at night before bed.
Day 6 Thursday – Things were warming up and the rain finally stopped, so we headed outdoors to see Yoyogi Park, Meiji Shrine, and Harajuku in the morning. Yoyogi’s Cherry Blossoms had juuuust started blooming. We met up with a local Tokyo-native friend after lunch to walk Shinjuku Gyoen park which had the most cherry blossoms of the trip, and also the most people crowded around every tree that was in bloom. Beautiful park that I’m sure is super amazing this week as things warmed up and really started blooming. After Shinjuku Gyoen, we went up to the Tokyo Metropolitan Building for the *free* views from the observation deck before having some fresh sushi for dinner near Shinjuku Station and saying goodbyes to Sanae :).
Day 7 Return Home – 4pm flight out of Haneda means we slept in a little late, did some shopping for gifts at the train stations, and then headed back via Minneapolis before landing in New York around 7pm local time.
Since this is a wedding photography blog mostly, to give some camera info, I shot most of the photos on my Sony RX100 Mark V and my Samsung Galaxy Note8, lol. Carrying around the big camera at weddings meant I was too lazy to bring it out when traveling and just wanted to enjoy myself. I did take some photos with the 5D Mark IV in Kyoto but never took it out in Tokyo.