Note: I do not read/write Japanese or Chinese. Planning for Japan is slightly harder due to the language barrier
1. Getting the Air Ticket
I got word of AirAsia launching their Osaka new destination, 2 days prior to the launch date on 14 Oct 2011. It gave me 2 days to decide when I would like to travel to Osaka and for how long. In my past experience, I found 10 days to be the optimal amount of time to spend at any place. Anything more, and I'd start to miss home. Anything less, and you lose out on getting the real feel of the place. Another thing about Japan that I really wanted to see were the cherry blossoms, i.e. sakura/hanami season. Do a google on "Cherry blossom Japan 2011" and you will get to this link
This is of course only an estimation, and nobody can tell you when it will be in full bloom. I can safely say the 1st to 2nd week of April would be optimal for Osaka/Kyoto. During the air ticket booking process, the cheapest possible dates for that time frame was 2 - 11 April 2012 @ RM544 per person.
2. Where to go in 10 days?
This is the part that took the most amount of time. My thoughts went wild. This would be my first trip to Japan. Should I do Tokyo Disneyland? Merely because I have already been to Disney's in Los Angeles, Orlando and Hong Kong, sorta like a Disney Grand Slam. Or do I want to visit the many famous places of Tokyo? HH has always wanted to visit Hokkaido as well. 10 days is not a lot, and it's not little either. I was toying with the possibility of including Hokkaido into the itinerary. Being a tourist in Japan, we are entitled to purchase heavily discounted tickets for flights to Hokkaido (approx 10,000 Yen per way)
02 Apr: KUL - Osaka - Kyoto (Train: 2000Y via JR West Rail Pass, 1hr) (Hostel: 6800Y)03 Apr: Kyoto (Hostel: 6800Y)
04 Apr: Kyoto (Hostel: 6800Y)
05 Apr: Kyoto - Sapporo New Chitose - Otaru (Train: 2000Y JAL: 9800Y Train: 2040Y 1h15min)
06 Apr: Otaru - Sapporo (Train: 920Y 32min)
07 Apr: Sapporo - Noboribetsu (Train: 4360Y 74min)
08 Apr: Noboribetsu - Hakodate (Train: 6700Y 133min)
09 Apr: Hakodate - Osaka (By ANA, 13000Y Bus fr airport to Namba: 880Y)
10 Apr: Osaka
11 Apr: Osaka - KUL (Bus to airport: 880Y)
Include the following Tokyo sites into the itinerary
Day 1: Shinjuku, Akihabara, Shibuya
Day 2: Ueno Park, Shinjuku, Tokyo Tocho Building (west shinjuku), Shibuya
Day 3: Tsukiji fish market, Asakusa, Ginza
Day 4: Harajuku, Yoyogi Park
In the end, we chose none of the above. We decided not to do Hokkaido with just 4 days, it would not give the place justice plus the cost would be extremely high. Option 2 was ruled out, because the 2-way train ticket from Osaka to Tokyo would have cost 28,300 yen (RM1132) for the 1-week Japan Rail Pass. A new air ticket from Kuala Lumpur to Tokyo would have cost RM500+. I will return to Japan once more to do Tokyo + Hokkaido on another trip.
So we shall fully explore the Kansai area for this trip. However, HH loves visiting the outback, the rural, the "ulu" kind of place. I found a UNESCO world heritage site known as Shirakawa-go which I think she'd love. It is a small village in the Gifu perfecture, which is sorta halfway between Osaka to Tokyo. Located on the mountainous areas of Central Japan, it is said to be like the Alps of Japan with wonderful scenery and unique architecture.
Source of photo: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e5951.html
Tentative Final Itinerary:
02 Apr: Arrive Osaka Kansai Airport, transfer to Kyoto
- LTD Exp Haruka 26 1616-1732 (every half hour departure, 76min)
- LTD Exp Haruka 28 1646-1802
- Buy JR West Rail Pass 1-day (2000Yen)
03 Apr: Kyoto (Buy Surutto Kansai 3-day Ticket 5000Yen)
04 Apr: Kyoto
05 Apr: Day trip to Nara
06 Apr: Kyoto to Takayama
- Buy Normal ticket Kyoto-Nagoya-Takayama (9380Yen)
- Or Bus Kyoto-Takayama (4650Yen) 08:55-13:02
07 Apr: Day trip via bus to Shirakawa-go
08 Apr: Takayama to Osaka
- Bus to Kanazawa, Normal ticket to Osaka (7240Yen)
- Or Bus Takayama-Nanba OCAT (5500Yen) 0700-1237/1420-1947
09 Apr: Osaka (2-day Unlimited Pass 2700Yen)
11 Apr: Osaka to Kansai Airport departure (Nankai Airport Express 890Y)
3. Hotel Booking
Doing a quick search in forums told me to book my hotel early! But nobody mentions how early is early enough. When dealing with the sakura/hanami season, 6 months would be optimal for Kyoto in particular. I am rather picky when it comes to hotel selection. I need it to be first and foremost convenient, as close as possible to the train station. Of course it should be clean. And have new or minimalist decor. And very very important is, the bed/mattress must be firm. It is sometimes very hard to find out this type of info online, and I spend a LOT of time reading through reviews to confirm it. The very first place I start is at Tripadvisor
For Japan in particular, http://www.agoda.com and http://www.booking.com do offer rather competitive rates. I have more than 10 other websites to search through before I am happy with the cheapest price possible.
Tripadvisor has become very powerful where you can narrow down to your budget or the type of hotels (B&B or Inns) you are looking for. Japan is one of the most expensive places for hotels in all of my trips around the world. I was not willing to pay more than RM400 per room per night, and that is very tough to find! In Kyoto, I found normal hotels to cost around RM500-600 and Takayama has very limited "hotels". Ryokans are highly recommended for their spas, but prices are even higher than that of hotels.
With much anticipation, we are going to stay at hostels for the very first time in our lives.
1. Kyoto Hana Hostel: http://kyoto.hanahostel.com/
A Private Twin Room with Bathroom = 3400 Yen per person per night = RM275/night
Reviews are excellent: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g298564-d1872323-Reviews-Kyoto_Hana_Hostel-Kyoto_Kyoto_Prefecture_Kinki.html
2. Takayama J-Hoppers: http://takayama.j-hoppers.com/
A Private Twin Room with Bathroom = 3800 Yen per person per night = RM304/night
Reviews are good: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g298113-d1486927-Reviews-J_Hoppers_Hida_Takayama_Guest_House-Takayama_Gifu_Prefecture_Chubu.html
3. Osaka is a much cheaper place to stay, so no need for hostel. Currently rated number 1 of all hotels in Osaka is the Fraser Residence Nankai Osaka
Official Website: http://osaka.frasershospitality.com/
Photos at Agoda: http://www.agoda.com/asia/japan/osaka/fraser_residence_nankai_osaka.html
A Studio Twin Room = 8400 Yen per room per night = RM336/night
I quote: "Comes with living, dining and kitchenette areas. The highest quality interiors, complemented by superb fittings and entertainment systems are standard in every residence."
How much money do I need to prepare for a 10-day trip?
4 nights Kyoto @ 6800Y = 27200Y
2 night Takayama @ 7600Y = 15200Y
3 nights Osaka @ 8400Y= 25200Y
Hotel Total = 67600Yen for 2 person = 33800 Yen per person
Day 1: 2000 Yen JR West Rail Pass
Day 2 - 4: 5000 Yen Surutto Kansai 3-Day Ticket
Day 5: 4650 Yen Bus to Takayama
Day 7: 5500 Yen Bus to Osaka
Day 8-9: 2700 Yen for 2-day Unlimited Pass
Day 10: 890 Yen Nankai Airport Express
Transport Total = 20740 per person
Food:Breakfast Simple Ramen = 800 Yen
Lunch Simple Set meal = 1200 Yen
Dinner Kaiseki or more elaborate meal = 4000 Yen
Food Total = 6000 Yen x 9 full days = 54000 Yen
Shopping and Entrance Fees:
2000 Yen per person per day
(If need to pay entrance fees, cannot go shopping for that day hahahahaha)
Shopping Total = 18000 Yen
Grand Total = Approx 126,000 Yen = RM5040 per person
All this planning was done 5-6 months before departure date. When it is 1-2 months to go, there will be a lot more planning to do.
Planning For: Japan 2012 - New Itinerary
Planning for Japan 2012: Kyoto 5D/4N Itinerary
Planning for Japan 2012: What to buy?
Planning for Japan 2012: Speaking Japanese
After actual visit to Japan:
Japan2012: Top 5 Favourite Restaurants in Kyoto - Part 1
Japan2012: Top 5 Favourite Restaurants in Kyoto - Part 2
Review: Super Hotel Lohas JR Nara, Japan
Japan2012: What Did I Buy Back?
Review: Hana Hostel, Kyoto
Japan2012: Kyoto 5D/4N Itinerary - Day 1
Japan2012: Kyoto 5D/4N Itinerary - Day 2
Japan2012: Kyoto 5D/4N Itinerary - Day 3
Japan2012: Kyoto 5D/4N Itinerary - Day 4
Japan2012: Kyoto 5D/4N Itinerary - Day 5
Japan2012: Nara 3D/2N Itinerary - Day 5,6,7
Japan 2012: Osaka 4D/3N Itinerary - Day 7
Japan 2012: Osaka 4D/3N Itinerary - Day 8
Japan 2012: Kobe Day Trip - Day 9 & 10 (Final)