Category: Japan

Ultimate Japan Trip Checklist

Before You Leave: Your Ultimate Japan Trip Checklist

Ready to go on your much awaited ultimate Japan trip? Hang on! Japan is a truly exciting place to take a trip in, but there are few important things to tick off your checklist before you leave to ensure that you enjoy and maximize your Japan trip. Traveling on a budget? I’ve got you covered – I’ve put together a cheapskate’s guide to traveling. Continue reading

My Seven-Day, Culture-Packed Japan Travel Chronicle

My Seven-Day, Culture-Packed Japan Travel Chronicle

My trip to Japan this year has been an incredible experience. My posts on my personal Facebook page has gotten a lot of attention, with many of my friends asking how I managed to discover and experience the unique culture of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka in only 7 days. I myself could not imagine how I did it. I could hardly imagine how I would most of the time run around train stations hoping to possibly catch the next train and save precious time. I could hardly imagine how I managed to plan my trip and adjust to last minute changes using a rented pocket Wi-Fi and notepad while on-board a bullet train and be prepared to scurry to the next nowhere-to-be-found platform once the train stops. It was all worth it, though, since my memories of Japan remains clear ’til now and my memories of that stinking, urine-turned-bad smelling thick-brothed ramen and drunk Geishas are staying with me, alright.

I actually never planned to visit Japan this year, but when I chanced upon a Cebu Pacific promo last February that offered a round trip flight from MNL (Manila)-KIX (Osaka) for only P8,700 (around $197) or approximately less 60% off the regular fare, who was I to let that pass? I went to Japan in March when winter is almost done and spring is looming around. That also meant I only had a month to plan my itinerary. Good thing I was also visiting a Pinoy friend living and working in Aioi (near Osaka) who helped me with my planning and offered free accommodation whenever I’m in Aioi, which served as my home base.

This post of mine is long overdue. My friends have long been asking for my itinerary since the day I posted in my “Japan 2015” photo album on Facebook, so here goes my itinerary and a lot of talking on the side. Continue reading

A Guide to Sleeping in Japan

Japan is undoubtedly one of the most expensive countries in the world to visit and sleep in. Do not worry; locals share the same sentiment as well. Japan is a sleep deprived country, and people there tend to take advantage of sleep whenever they can (sans the expensive hotels).

Most visitors to Japan who look for accommodation will head over to booking sites right away, but I personally discourage booking all nights of your trip in one batch. Suggest for you to book only your first night, and then look locally once you’re there instead of online for the rest of your stay. By doing so, you’ll be able to find out other, cheaper inns and other free places to stay at that are not available online.

If you are flexible enough (meaning you can sleep standing up), consider these tips first: Continue reading

Geisha Hunting in Kyoto, Japan

Guaranteed Tips on Geisha Hunting in Kyoto

For most foreigners, going to Kyoto to spot a Geisha tops the list as the ultimate cultural experience when visiting Japan. The mystery of the Geisha puts them on the top of the bucket list for many tourists, but the ever elusive Geisha makes it a challenge to take a photo of one or let alone spot one.

Geisha Maiko in Kyoto, Japan
A rare Maiko sighting! Yeah? Yeah?

Before anything else, what is a Geisha?

Before I talk on how to spot a Geisha, it is important to know a little bit about their story to fully appreciate when you see (or think of) one.

A Geisha (or Geiko in Kyoto dialect) is a woman highly trained in the arts of music, dance and entertaining. Geisha is Japanese for “person of art.” She spends many years learning to play various musical instruments, sing, dance and be the perfect hostess in a party of men. A geisha, when she is working, is just that: the illusion of female perfection. A geisha’s makeup, hair, clothing and manner are calculated to indulge a man’s fantasy of the perfect woman, and men pay huge sums of money to have geisha attend to their every whim. Almost. Continue reading

Inside: A 101-Year Old Ryokan (Traditional Japanese Inn)

I can’t believe I’m now back in the Philippines writing about my unforgettable stay at Amami Onsen Nanten-en in Japan. My experience is so fresh I can still feel the atmosphere and impeccable service that left me feeling spoiled.

Anyway, here’s a continuation of my previous post on how I booked this Ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn so ‘magical’ it sounds sugar-coated but it’s true. Once you step inside Amami Onsen Nanten-en, you will experience the culture, ranging from traditional construction and decor to excellent hospitality and service the Japanese are known for.

Surrounded by scenic mountains and lined by a serene river, Nanten-en is in the Osaka prefecture but is far enough from the bustle of the big city, you’ll feel as if you are traveling back in time and isolated from the rest of the world. Unlike in Kyoto where ryokans are next to homes and other establishments, Nanten-en is particularly unique due to its secluded nature. It just takes about 40 minutes and 590 yen to go to Amami station via the Nankai Koya line from the Nankai  station in Namba where the touristy Dotonbori area is. Convenient, eh?

To put into perspective, Amami station is far enough to be isolated and surrounded by scenic beauty, but is close enough to the big city (Osaka) it is just about 40 minutes away by train. Convenient, eh?
To put into perspective, Amami station is far enough to be isolated and surrounded by scenic natural beauty, but is close enough to the big city (Osaka) it is just about 40 minutes away by train. Convenient, eh?
The magic begins in the lost train station of Amami - just a minute by foot to Amami Onsen Nanten-en. This train station is unlike the crowded train stations of the city - feels so rustic this should be a tourist spot in its own.
The magic begins in the lost train station of Amami – just a minute by foot to Amami Onsen Nanten-en. This train station is unlike the crowded train stations of the city – feels so rustic this should be a tourist spot in its own

Amami Onsen Nanten-en is just a minute’s walk away from Amami station. There are traditional residential houses around the area but the only commercial establishment is the ryokan, so make sure to bring food if you don’t plan on ordering from the hotel – yes, it is accepted by the hotel, meaning no charges, if you bring your own food. The main building of this ryokan was designed by renowned Japanese architect Dr. Kingo Tatsuno. Completed in 1913 and just turned 101 years old when I stayed there, Nanten-en has already been designated as a National Registered Cultural Asset. Continue reading

How to Buy & Use Japan’s JR Pass

For those of you who are planning on taking that long desired trip (not to mention very expensive) to Japan, trying to keep commuting expenses at a minimum by just obtaining a JR Pass can be a money saver and at the same time such a pain in the a**. There is a wealth of information found on the internet and it’s kinda hard at first to make sense of all the data slammed right at your face when doing research, including Japanese terms and all the complex train maps. It’s also hard to plan at first and you’ll be asking if you’ll really be saving lots money by getting a JR Pass, or if you’d be better off just commuting at a regular price (since some routes are not covered by JR Pass).

Trust me, I’ve been there. This is the reason why I wrote this article, to help you easily make sense of all these information (get only the relevant information, basically, and avoid information overload) and be confident that you will not get lost on your next trip to Japan, and save valuable time and money in the process.

First of all, what is a JR Pass?

The Japan Rail Pass (ジャパンレールパス japan rēru pasu?), also called the JR Pass, is a rail pass for overseas visitors sold by the Japan Railways Group, and is valid for travel on all major forms of transportation provided by the JR Group in Japan, with a few exceptions. The Rail Pass is designed to stimulate travel and tourism throughout the country, and attract foreigners since the really expensive train travel in Japan puts off budget conscious travellers. The Rail Pass is designed for tourist use, and therefore has conditions for its purchase and exchange Continue reading

How to Easily Apply for a Japan Tourist Visa (and some tips…)

It was really great news when Japan announced last year that the Japanese Government will be relaxing the visa requirements for us Filipinos. Most of us are really excited in visiting Japan – so here are the simple requirements in getting a Japan Tourist Visa. Just complete below requirements, go to one of the accredited travel agencies by the Japan Embassy, pay the fee (approx. Php1200-2000, depending on which agency you choose), and wait for the results from the agency. Please note that I will only discuss Japan TOURIST visa application in this article, since I have experienced applying for this type only.

My tips and experiences when applying for a Japan Visa

  1. Do not go to your chosen travel agency without having completed your requirements. If you have questions, just call the agency first.
  2. To streamline the process and to avoid multiple travels to and from the agency, make sure you have every item in the checklist completed before going to the agency.
  3. What caused the delay in my application is my Birth Certificate from NSO. Damn, I waited too long for my Birth Cert! I already had all my other requirements but I still was unable to submit my application due to this. I didn’t know that applying through the official website will take 3-5 days (excluding weekends and holidays) AFTER your payment. That is if you live in Metro Manila. In my case, I had my birth certificate delivered to my office in the Makati Central Business District and it had to take 5 working days for me to receive the much awaited letter. If I knew applying online through the official website would take that long, I would’ve just coursed my request through 3rd party provider Delivery with takes only 1 to 2 working days. Take note that they have a phone number 737-1111 you can call (ehem,, they do not have a phone number so good luck just waiting). Click here for my guide on how to get your NSO Birth Certificate the soonest.
  4. To save on costs, call the agencies from the list provided by Japan Embassy to inquire how much their processing fee is. Fees range from Php1200-2000 – it will be best if you can save at least Php800 by finding the right agency. As for me, I’ll be applying at Universal Holidays. Their office is at Dusit Thani Hotel, and they only charge Php1200 for the service.
  5. UPDATE: My colleagues and I have this theory that having a South Korean tourist visa (single or multiple entry) allows you to be granted a multiple entry visa to Japan and vice versa even when applying for the first time. Okay there were a lot of us in the office (and friends of friends) who’ve applied for a Japan (JP) tourist visa just this year and those who have already had a South Korean (SK) tourist visa were all granted multiple entry visas even if it will be their first visit to Japan (some have US visa, some do not). My other colleague and I have multiple entry visas to the US but do not have SK visa (I’ve been to Seoul, SK for a 12-hour day tour but the visa requirement was waived since I was en route to the US at the time so I did not need to apply for one – I’ll tell you this exciting story in another article), and we were only granted a single entry visa. It seems like there’s a friendship thing going on between the two northern Asian nations, hence, our simple theory.  Of course, this will be up to you but if you are with me in this tip#5, you could just directly apply for a free (yes, they do not charge a single fee) SK visa at their Taguig consulate office to try and see if you’ll be granted a multiple entry JP tourist visa just by doing so. Plus, the requirements are almost the same as with applying for a JP visa so it will be easier if you decide to try tip#5.

Continue reading

How I Booked My Overnight Stay at Amami Onsen Nanten-en

Okay so my bro who works in the Osaka area of Japan and I were crazily and pointlessly talking over the Viber app about touring Japan (which we did not know would really happen at that time) two weeks ago when he sent me this photo he has taken when he went to the Gion area of Kyoto.

Geishas stroll along the scenic and historic Gion area of Kyoto, Japan. What a surreal photo... Source: My bro who lives in Japan
Geishas stroll along the scenic and historic Gion area of Kyoto, Japan. What a surreal photo… Source: My bro who lives in Japan

I don’t really know why but I was startled and amazed by the photo that I immediately told him I would go there as soon as I can to experience the rich and extremely deep, perfectionist, complicated, disciplined, and beautiful culture of Japan. Thankfully, with all the plummeting fuel prices Continue reading

Airport stopover? Who says it’s boring?

Welcome Sign at Tokyo Narita Airport
Welcome Sign at Tokyo Narita Airport

I can say I’ve been to Japan literally, but I’ve never been outside the walls of its hi-tech airport.

We had a 3 hour stop over at Tokyo Narita International Airport (NRT) when we went for a vacation in sunny California. When you have 3 hours of precious time to waste in a surreal wonderland with rich culture and interesting people, you do not just wait at the boarding area with your decaf coffee in one hand and your smartphone on the other. Come on, you have been holding that phone your whole life, why not hide it for a while and not waste a free 3-hour cultural experience.

I for one consider stop overs as a free tour, especially when these are on those places I’ve never been to.

It was a rainy morning and though the airport does not have a balcony where you can breathe in actual Japanese air, I can tell that it is chilly outside. i can feel the warm air being spewed out from the heaters on the floor just beneath the airport’s floor to ceiling glass walls. Continue reading