Japan 2016 (Feb)

Since there was a promo on Singapore Airlines' fares, so the 4 of us (Cousin R, PW, my hubby and I) decided to visit Japan again in Feb 2016.
I love winter, as well as sakura...so I decided to make this a winter + sakura trip.

Some people might say it's impossible...since Sakura are in spring (usually end Mar-early Apr for Kansai/Tokyo regions), and winter is in Dec to Feb.
It is possible for me, because there is a type of sakura that blooms really early (Feb) in an area called Kawazu in Izu Peninsula (not that far south of Tokyo actually, about 2hrs train ride away)

So for this trip, I'd probably be able to see some snow in Takayama, as well as Sakura (hopefully) in Kawazu.

Day 1: Singapore to Kansai Airport. Stay at Osaka
(blog entry)

Day 2: Visit Iga Ninja Museum. Stay at Osaka. 
(blog entry)

Day 3: Visit Kobe Animal Kingdom and Osaka. Stay at Osaka.
(blog entry)

Day 4: (JR Railpass day 1) Daytrip to Miyajima. Stay at Osaka
(blog entry)

Day 5: (JR Railpass day 2) Visit Yunokuni no mori handicraft village. Stay Kanazawa.
(blog entry)

Day 6: (JR Railpass day 3) Kanazawa to Gero onsen. Visit Takayama. Stay Gero onsen.
(blog entry)

Day 7: (JR Railpass day 4) Gero onsen to Nagoya. Visit Nagoya, Stay at Shizuoka. 
(blog entry)

Day 8: (JR Railpass day 5) Take ferry from Shimizu to visit Toi Gold Mine. Stay Atami.
(blog entry)

Day 9: (JR Railpass day 6) Atami to Kawazu. See sakura at Kawazu. Stay Kawazu.
(blog entry)

Day 10: (JR Railpass day 7) Kawazu to Kyoto. Visit Kyoto. Stay Kyoto
(blog entry)

Day 11: Visit Kyoto. Night flight departure from Kansai Airport.
(blog entry)

After adding our airfares + railpass + hotels, I've calculated that our trip will cost about S$1.7k per pax...with 2 nights at ryokans (Gero onsen and Kawazu) with the rest at regular hotels.



  1. I look forward to reading about this, I love your blog, especially the trips to Japan :)


  2. Enjoy your blogs and the photos! Must say that I have learned lots of interesting facets about Japan from them. I imagine it must have taken you many long hours to plan and execute those extensive JR rail trips, and presume you are fluent in Nihongo by the efficient way you move around. Thanks for sharing, and enjoy your many trips to come.

    James, Singapore

    1. Hi, Thanks for your comments. :)
      Yes, it took me quite a long time to plan my Japan trips. But it's much easier these days than compared to my very first Japan trip when I was so lost and didn't know where to start since I wasn't familiar with the various railpasses as well as train schedules back then.

      I didn't really know any Japanese except for recognising the Japanese word for my favourite Japanese food (which is カツ丼 Katsudon, by the way) as well as asking for directions to the toilet on my first Japan trip back in 2010.

      Nowadays, after 5yrs, I've memorised the Japanese Hiragana + Katakana characters, and learnt more Japanese phrases and vocabulary to make my communication in Japan much easier. But not fluent enough to hold conversations yet... I try to improve on my Japanese little by little before every trip.

  3. looking forward for the posts... really get and learn a lot of japan from your blog.. thanks

  4. Hi Samantha
    I also going Japan Hokkaido in February . May I ask about the correct clothing
    Is it ok to wear uniqlo extra warm heat tech follow by a long sleeves t shirt, normal /fleece jacket then the winter jacket. Will it be too hot when taking the bus or in door?
    normal covered leather shoes for man is it good enough?
    I have got a lot of tips from your blog for my previous Tokyo trip. Thank you so much ^^

    1. It depends on which part of Hokkaido will u be going.
      If you are spending most part of the day shopping at sapporo or taking trains/subway, then u dont really need the heattech, else u will be boiling when u are doing your shopping indoors or on long train rides.
      At least, your winter jacket and fleece jacket will be easily removable if u feel too warm.

      But if you are spending most of the day outdoors at places like ski areas or Asahikawa or Otaru, then yeah, probably go with wearing heattech inside.

    2. As for shoes, if you are going to places where there's heavy snow (Asahikawa, Abashiri, Sounkyo, maybe Otaru...etc...) then make sure that your shoes are waterproof. I think there's a spray that might do it, but I'm not too sure about that since I usually wear the winter boots which I bought from Japan a few years ago.

      Also, wear thick socks. Walking around with cold toes is not fun, and in fact, quite a painful experience.
      If you find that your toes get cold even after u wear thick socks, then u can try buying the heatpacks for shoes from convenience stores.

      Also, if u find that the surface of the floor to be too slippery due to the layer of frozen ice, then u can usually buy spike attachments for your shoes from convenience stores. These usually just cost a few hundred yen.

  5. Hi Samantha,

    I came to your blog by chance while I was searching some information about coin lockers at Okayama station as I have a plan to visit Japan in this coming March. I've started to be interested in Japan since my first visit to Japan last year. There are many posts about Japan in your blog, so I think I will be really enjoying visiting your blog to read your travel reviews. Wish you have a great trip in February! :)

    1. Thanks for taking the time to visit my blog.
      Enjoy your trip to Japan too. :)

  6. Hi Sam,

    Hope you had enjoyed your recent trip to Japan. Looking forward to your trip updates.

    I will be going to Japan Kansai in April. Can i ask for your opinion on the below itinerary as to whether it is doable?

    10 days: with 5 days Kansai-Hiroshima Area Pass for Day 1-5 (including top up for Amanohashidate)

    Day 1: Arrive KIX (7:15am), Kansai to Osaka. Osaka to Himeji + Kobe. Stay at Osaka.
    Day 2: Daytrip to Hiroshima & Miyajima. Stay at Osaka.
    Day 3: Osaka to Kinosaki Onsen. Stay at Kinosaki Onsen.
    Day 4: Kinosaki Onsen to Amanohashidate then to Kyoto. Stay at Kyoto.
    Day 5: Daytrip to Nara. Stay at Kyoto.
    Day 6: Kyoto
    Day 7: Kyoto to Osaka. Stay at Osaka.
    Day 8: Osaka
    Day 9: Osaka to KIX

    I read your blog with interest to include Okayama as an additional day trip in my itinerary. Would you recommend that i include Okayama+Kurashiki as an additional day trip in Day 1-5. And then move Nara to Day 6 (pay separate return fare between Kyoto and Nara).


    1. Hi,
      here are some of my comments:
      - Day 1 looks packed. But not impossible. Just gonna be really rushed.

      - I took a really early Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka to Hiroshima, and then visited Miyajima from around 9am to about 2pm. So, assuming that you are ok with only spending about 3pm onwards at Hiroshima until taking evening Shinkansen back to Shin-Osaka, then by all means you can squeeze Miyajima + Hiroshima in a day. Just that it's gonna be really packed. If you intend to visit Peace Memorial museum, there are many exhibits to see and u will spend quite a substantial time there, and the museum closes pretty early too.

      - Make sure you've researched as to where u can deposit your luggage at Amanohashidate. I'm not too sure about this myself.

      - I've enjoyed my visit to Kurashiki. :) Since train fare to Nara from either Kyoto or Osaka doesn't really cost that much, so you could include Kurashiki if you want, and then push Nara back by a day.

    2. Many thanks for quick reply!

  7. Dear Samantha,

    Your blog is wonderful.
    Thank you for all the detailed posts and the clear and beautiful pictures in your blog. They were very helpful for planning a trip to Japan.

    I seek your advise on my upcoming trip with the husband.
    We will be flying in to Osaka, and staying there for seven days.

    We plan to hit Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Kobe, Takayama/Shiragawa-go (your pictures were so pretty) and Hiroshima.
    We have been to Osaka and Kyoto before, so would spend lesser time there. Unfortunately, our accommodation has been fixed in Osaka for the entire week, so we would have to make day trips out and head back to Osaka.

    Please advise on the transportation. Is it worth it to get the Rail Pass or the Jr Kansai Area Wide Pass? And should we get the JR Limited Express "Haruka" for the round trip to the Airport?

    Many, many thanks on your time and patience. (:

    1. It is a long way to go from Osaka to Takayama + visit Shirakawago and then back to Osaka within the same day. Is there free cancellation for your Osaka's accommodations so that u can amend the dates so that you can have 1 overnight at Takayama?

      Due to time constraints, it is probably better if you take the first Ltd Exp train of the day from Osaka to Kanazawa (instead of Takayama), and then take bus from Kanazawa to Shirakawago.
      Because to get to Takayama, you have to take Shinkansen to Nagoya + Ltd Exp from Nagoya to Takayama, so it will be more expensive and time consuming than if you'd used the Kanazawa route to get to Shirakawago.

      You can consider getting the Takayama-Hokuriku railpass for the Ltd Exp train from Osaka to Kanazawa + bus from Kanazawa to Shirakawago.

      This is assuming that you are willing to skip Takayama.

      After taking into consideration the 3-4hrs of train travel (1 way, Osaka to either Kanazawa or Takayama) and 1hr bus ride (1 way, Takayama or Kanazawa to Shirakawago), that's a total of about 8hrs of travel time within the day. Plus, the shops at Takayama and Shirakawago closes really early (most shops are closed by around 4pm when I was there), so that doesn't leave you with much time at Shirakawago nor Kanazawa/Takayama.

      If you plan to go Shirakawago, the JR Kansai area wide pass isn't beneficial for you. Places like Nara and Kobe are not that far from Osaka to actually justify getting a railpass for those 2 places anyway.

      Other than trains, there's the bus option to go from Osaka to Takayama...but it will be pretty late by the time u arrive at Takayama even if you take the first bus out of Osaka.

    2. Thank you for your advise! Will try to see if we could amend the bookings. Thank you for your reply. It was very helpful. (:

      Wish you all the best for your your next Japan trip!

  8. Hi Sam, I am so thankful to come across your blog. I am planning to visit Japan by the end of this week (26 Mar 2016).
    26-Mar arrive at Narita at 17.30 stay at Shinjuku
    27-Mar Tsukiji, Hama rikyu garden, Ginza, Meiji Shrine, Shibuya, Harajuku, Akihabara
    28-Mar Tokyo - Kyoto, but I actually plan to squeeze in Hakone open air museum
    29-Mar Kyoto - Osaka and back to Tokyo at night
    30-Mar Tokyo - Lake Kawaguchi - Mt. Fuji, and I want to include Gotemba premium Outlet in
    31-Mar Disneysea
    01-Apr Back to Narita for Flight back to hometown

    Will it be too packed to fit in all the places?
    I really need your advise and i am open to any suggestion or plan changes. Thanks so much.

    1. Hi

      Here are some of my thoughts:
      - 27 March is way too packed. The itinerary which u listed for 27 March is too packed even if it is across 2 days...let alone just within 1 day. Since it is probably sakura season, I would suggest that u focus on places where u can see sakura for this trip rather than places that are more known for shopping. Although there are some sakura trees at HamaRikyu, but it is not many. You might want to consider going to other places in Tokyo if u wanna have better views of Sakura.

      - Do u want to go Tsukiji for tuna auction or just for sushi/sashimi? If u plan to go Tuna auction, u will have to go really early (like 4am or something, I'm not too sure since I never went) to get the pass for the auction.

      - My suggestion for your 27 Mar is probably a garden (or somewhere where u can view nice sakura) in the morning, then maybe Meiji Shrine in the afternoon, and then Shibuya in the evening. At most, I think u can squeeze 4 places within this day, but so as not to be overly rushed, maybe just 3 places. Or if u want to leave the sakura viewing for Kyoto, so as u can focus more on shopping at Tokyo...it's your call.

      - My recommendation is for u to skip Hakone openair museum. There are SOOOOoo many nice shrines and places for u to visit at Kyoto that even 1 day is not enough for Kyoto. And after taking out the 3hrs bullet train travel from Tokyo to reach Kyoto, u are not left with much time at Kyoto even if u skip Hakone. Shrines at Kyoto close pretty early, usually by sundown (maybe 5pm?). So I would strongly suggest that u skip Hakone for this really short trip.

      - Actually, Osaka has more things in the evening/night than Kyoto, so if it is still possible to shift things around, it might be better that u visit Osaka on 28 March (dont forget to visit Dotonbori area in the evening), and then spend the day visiting Kyoto on 29 March before taking evening train back to Tokyo.

      - Assuming u are getting 7 days JR railpass for the trip, do note that the railpass doesn't cover the entire train journey to Kawaguchiko since u will still have to top up. Unless u are taking bus (which has really limited departure timings), you will have a probably squeezing Kawaguchiko + Gotemba within this same day. Gonna be really rushed.

      - I've been to Gotemba outlet, and I didn't buy anything from there. Not as cheap as u might expect them to be actually, in my opinion. If I were u, I'd probably choose to just go to Kawaguchiko and skip Gotemba. It is really not fun if your trip is so rushed just because u overpack with too many places in your itinerary.

      - To be honest, if I were u, I'd just skip Osaka/Kyoto for this trip, and just focus on Tokyo region (+ Kawaguchiko). Or skip Kawaguchiko/Gotemba so that u have 1 extra day at Kyoto.

      - If you intend to get the 7 days JR railpass, do remember to buy it BEFORE u go to Japan because they dont sell this particular railpass in Japan. U can use this railpass for your Narita Express train from Narita airport to Tokyo city, JR train lines within Tokyo, Bullet train (Shinkansen) from Tokyo to Kyoto, Bullet train or regular train from Kyoto to Osaka, Bullet train from Shin-Osaka to Tokyo, partial train journey from Tokyo to Kawaguchiko, and Narita Express train from Tokyo to Narita airport. It costs around 29110yen (around S$370+, depending on exchange rate).

  9. Hi Sam,

    I am drafting my itinerary for upcoming Osaka trip in December 2016 and I came across your shared link in TripAdvisor. My trip planned are as below;

    07/12/16 : KIX > TAKAYAMA (Arrival @ KIX at 8.30am)
    08/12/16 : TAKAYAMA
    09/12/16 : TAKAYAMA
    11/12/16 : KANAGAWA > KYOTO
    12/12/16 : KYOTO
    13/12/16 : KYOTO > OSAKA
    14-18/12/16 : OSAKA

    I would like to ask;

    1. Will 3 nights in Takayama too long? I'm hoping to allocate half a day for Ski Resort nearby.
    2. How many hours do I need to visit Shirakawa-go? 4-5hrs, is it enough?
    3. I am planning to buy the 5-days regional pass which will cost 13,500 Yen, which includes the bus ride too. Is this worth?

    Your advise will help me a lot.


    1. It's a long way from Kansai airport to Takayama on your day 1.
      Although I can't exactly check the train schedules for December now, but the train + bus journey will probably go something like this:
      - 0946-1035 Kansai Airport to Shin-Osaka station via Ltd Exp Haruka Express train
      - 1046-1317 Shin-Osaka station to Kanazawa via Ltd Exp Thunderbird train
      - Lunch at Kanazawa
      - 1600-1810 Kanazawa to Takayama via bus

      1) 3 nights seemed a tad too many for Takayama. But if you are planning to go ski resort, there's a possibility that early Dec might be too early for the snow to accumulate enough for ski season to start. The opening dates for ski places varies year by year since it's dependent on the weather. This year, even though I visited Takayama in Feb (still winter), but I didn't see any snow at Takayama at all. Anyway, just keep in mind that there's a possibility that it's too early for ski season to start.

      2) The village is not really that big. It took me about 2-3 hours but I found it a tad rushed. Probably 4hrs odd should be fine.

      3) Yup.

  10. Hi Samantha, you have such a lovely blog! Your travels so fun !!!
    I love Japan too :))

  11. Hi Sam, thank you for putting up this useful japan guide to newbie planner like me. May I have your advice on my draft plan for my upcoming dec trip with 2A2teenagers.
    Day 1 >is a friday in 1st week of dec. arrive tokyo 4pm check in hotel in citadine shinjuku. Can't decide to take NEX or Bus.
    Day 2 tsukiji, shibuyu ,asakusa
    Day 3 Harajuku, meiji shrine
    Day 4 Monday. To disney sea
    Day 5 arrange trf big luggage to takayama. Then take shinkansen to Nagoya. Deposit small hand carry at stn locker. Take bus to snow monkey. Hoping to take the late afternoon shinkasen to kanazawa. stay kanazawa.
    Day 6 kanazawa day tour & R&R. Stay kanazawa.
    Day 7 check out. take morning bus to Shirakawago. Possible to finish by 3pm? take a bus to takayama. Stay takayama ryokan.
    Day 8 shin hotaka in morning..afternoon tour takayama town. Stay takayama ryokan
    Day 9 Saturday go takayama morning mkt & walkwalk ard. After lunch take hida view train to nagoya. Stay nagoya.
    Day 10. Morning trip to nagoya castle. Lunch at nagoya. Then shinkansen to tokyo.
    Day 11 to 13> 2 nites stay in tokyo. Duno wat to Do yet. Shd we go fuji? Or any suggestions? Day 13 flight is 6pm.
    Thanks & welcome your suggestions. I plan to buy 7 Day JR pass.

    1. Sorry typo error. DAY 5 is to Nagano.

    2. Sorry typo error. DAY 5 is to Nagano.

    3. The hotel's website have directions:

      There's not much difference since both options will require u to transfer to subway at Shinjuku station.

      Personally speaking, I like travelling on NEX, since there's toilet onboard + since it will probably be close to evening peak hours by the time u arrive at Shinjuku, so if you take the bus, the road traffic conditions might be unpredictable.

      Just spend the rest of day 1 at Shinjuku area, since you'd probably be too tired after your long flight to do much exploring anyway.

      For day 2, since you will be on the east side of Tokyo, so visit Tsukiji in the morning (assuming you are not going for the tuna auction which takes place in the wee hours in the morning), then visit Asakusa's Sensoji Shrine in the afternoon, then maybe considering visiting Odaiba or Skytree or Akihabara or Ueno in the late afternoon/evening.

      For day 3, visit Meiji shrine in the morning, then stroll through Takashite dori at Harajuku, then spend the rest of the day at Shibuya. Since Shibuya is near Harajuku, so it will cut down on travelling time if you visit Shibuya with Harajuku on this day instead of travelling across Tokyo on Day 2.

      For day 5, make sure you plan your train and bus timings for this day, because the bus departure timings aren't really that frequent if I recalled correctly.

      Day 7, yes, you'd probably finish exploring Shirakawago by 3pm if you had taken morning bus from Kanazawa to Shirakawago.

      Do note that the buses at Nagano, as well as the bus from Kanazawa to Shirakawago to Takayama are not covered by the JR pass, so prepare enough cash for those bus journeys.

      For Day 11 to 13, you can consider spending 1 day at Yokohama perhaps?
      Or visit Kawagoe for half a day?
      I posted a few suggestions on another section of my blog actually:

  12. Hi Sam,
    great informative blog that's a pleasure to read! Pls could you give some advice for my dec trip, mainly Osaka-takayama-shirakawa-Osaka, 7d6n. My concern is whether is it useful to get the Takayam Hokuriku pass? I'm staying at Osaka namba area. Thanks so much for any advice that you can give! -Jes

  13. Dear Sam,
    I am planning for Oct trip. Not sure if the following is good. If 7 day JR pass is worth since got Shinkansen for few locations.
    Day 1: Arrive Tokyo via midnight flight. Take train to Toyama. Stay Toyama. Try to do short trip to Kanazawa & Takaoka Great Buddha
    Day 2: Stay Toyama. Day trip to Kurobe Gorge, come back at late afternoon or evening to explore Toyama.
    Day 3: Check out Toyama, proceed and stay Takayama. Take bus to Shirakawago.
    Day 4: Check out Takayama proceed to Gero Onsen or straight to Nagoya??
    Day 5: Stay Nagoya. Go Nabana no Sato winter illumination.
    Day 6: Stay Tokyo
    Day 7: Stay Tokyo
    Day 8: Night flight return


    1. Your itinerary for Day 1 seemed kinda tight though.
      For Day 3, skip exploring Toyama in the morning, instead, just take early morning train from Toyama to Takayama, then bus to Shirakawago. The bus from Takayama to Shirakawago is not included in JR railpass though.

      For Day 4, if you want an overnight at a hotspring town, you can consider staying at Gero onsen for 1 night since it is located along the way between Takayama to Nagoya.

      For Day 5, Im not too sure if there's winter illumination or not, you will need to double check the dates. Because Oct is still considered autumn in Japan.

      As for whether it's advisible for you to get the JR railpass, here's a breakdown of the single trip fares for the Ltd Exp and Shinkansen train rides for your itinerary so that you can do a comparison:
      Tokyo station to Toyama station: 12730yen via Shinkansen
      Toyama station to Takayama station: 3360yen via Ltd Exp train
      Takayama station to Gero onsen: 2240yen via Ltd Exp train
      Gero onsen to Nagoya station: 4620yen via Ltd Exp train
      Nagoya station to Tokyo station: 10880yen via Shinkansen.

      Also, if you are using Narita Airport, you can also use the railpass to cover the train ride (Narita Express train) from Narita airport to Tokyo station on day 1, as well as the various JR train lines (eg, JR Yamanote Loop line, JR Chuo line, etc) within Tokyo for your Day 6 and Day 7.

      So, yes, I would get the 7 days railpass if I were you.

  14. Hi Sam
    Your blog are extensive and very inspiring...I'm heading to Osaka-Tottori-? this Dec...Kind of stuck after Tottori as im thinkin of catching some snow at the Ski resorts at Ishikawa/Toyama area as well as the more lay back country side, however the thought of dragging the luggages for the next 6 days fr Tottori-Toyama-Kansai airport is holding me back. Also im with my 10 yrs old girl, so got to plan something with her in mind. Any suggestions? Thanks

  15. Great post! Love the pictures! Do check out our Japan Travel Itinerary for your next visit to Hida Takayama!

    Happy Travels Everyone!

    Tom & Kate,