Last Days in Japan

Our last days in Japan were spent back in Tokyo, back at our original hotel in Shibuya. With Tokyo being a city of neighborhoods, our plan for the last 36 hours was to investigate a new ‘hood, and possibly ‘do a Muji run’ for miscellaneous beautifully designed household items which you can’t live without and can’t purchase in the US.

The location we hit was Daikanyama which was a 15min walk SW of Shibuya and filled with smaller local stores, local cafes and some residential. The architecture as we found previously was a comfortable mix of old and new blending seamlessly together.

After a couple of ‘autumnal’ rainy days in Hakone, it was nice to get back to sun, albeit with a crisp snap to the air. We walked, shopped and managed to find some illusive Space Invaders to add to my collection. Yes, you heard me right.. After an initial four days of nothing when we first arrived, I found four cheeky invaders within our last 24hours. My invader haul now covers Paris, Kathmandu (in dispute), Tokyo and …..spoiler alert… Melbourne (whoop).

So after 17 days in the country, we collected our bags and made our way to the airport for the last leg of the trip. This was my first trip to Japan, but it won’t be the last. It’s made it’s way onto the list of possible places to move to and as Trey is almost fluent in Japanese we feel the transition will be pretty smooth.

Below are some observations and meanderings from our time there:

  • One of the best Apps we used used was called Travel Japan. It had a great route planner for the trains and buses (especially when traveling on a JR pass) as well as recommendations on districts, food and events.
  • was probably the best for accommodation although it wasn’t very user friendly. We planned around 40% of the accommodation ahead of our arrival and left the rest loose so that we can be more spontaneous (Trey’s favorite word, mine less so). Many of the places had free cancellation so this made it easier to switch around if needed.
  • Accommodation prices – were cheaper than we thought. Even with our stay at the Design Ryokan, we were under our accommodation budget for this leg of the trip (shocker). We’d budgeted $150/per night and our costs varied from $30 for the backpacker to $450 for the high end. Average was $100 and all places were clean, warm, centrally located and had a hairdryer (very important feature)
  • Food budget – ha, well we blew this easily and quickly. We allocated $100/day and it should have been $175 ish.
  • JR Pass was fantastic. As mentioned previously, it cost us around $430/pp for 14 days and we easily saved over $200 each in travel costs by having it. Another thing to note about the public transport system here is that this is the only place in the world (generalization maybe?) where you can have a journey of 5 connections (all with 8 mins between connection) where you can be 100% sure you will make every one. It is phenomenal.
  • Japanese toilets are amazing. We went from outdoor squat toilets in Nepal to heated and multi functional toilets in Japan. I know which I prefer.
  • Rice triangles (4″x4″x4″ triangles of rice with fillings of salmon, tuna and covered with seaweed) from 7/11 are great and were often a lunchtime snack of we were short of time (or money)
  • In general 7/11 is a great store for food, snacks, sake and public transport cards are available.
  • WiFi in public areas in Japan is pretty shit so we got hold of a pocket WiFi for our time there. It’s basically a small matchbox size thing which when on connects you to WiFi. It wasn’t amazing to be honest in terms of connectivity or speed, but it helped us out when we needed to find locations.
  • Suica cards are used in every city pretty much and are top up cards used for transport or food purchases from 7-11. I used the old school card format and Trey added it to his phone and watch.
  • People are unbelievably helpful here regardless of the level of English. Whether it was helping with directions or how to order food from a vending machine, everyone we met went out of their way to help us out.
  • Standing positions on escalators varies from city to city. In Tokyo and Kyoto you stand on the left, with Osaka and Hiroshima, it’s on the right. Random.
  • Hotdogs are a breakfast item


We have been so lucky with the weather throughout our stay in Japan. Arriving in their Fall season, we expected traditional Fall weather (rain and cold) so we packed accordingly: Down jackets, long sleeve tops, warm jumpers, but we struck it lucky everywhere we went with temperatures on average of 20deg C (70F). It wasn’t until we got to Satoyama Jujo and also Hakone that we felt the Fall chill and were able to bust out the warm layers instead of our T shirts and light jackets. BTW – I’m not complaining, it’s just that when you’re lugging around heavy clothes in a case, you want to have a chance to wear them..

We had 2 nights in Hakone, we arrived at 3ish on Tuesday checked into our great guest house: Irori Guest House Tenmaku which was located 200mtr from the Open Air Art Museum (intentional selection). The guest house had a mix of dormitory and private rooms, all with futons on tatami floors with rice paper screens. At the heart of the guest house was a huge shared space where they cooked dinner on the irori (a traditional sunken hearth) in the evening (1000 yen pp). It was a great way to eat, stay warm and chat with fellow travelers.

Hakone had been highly recommended to us. Our primary destination was the Hakone Open Air Museum which comprised of a large sculpture garden, a Picasso Pavilion and a Sculpture Lab. There was also a ropeway close by which promised views of Mt Fuji before heading down to nearby Lake Ashi. On our main day there, the weather was grey, cold and cloudy which enabled us to wear our down jackets but did not present Mt Fuji in all it’s glory. (More to come on that).

The Open Air Museum was impressive, but after being thoroughly spoilt with Naoshima, we were a little underwhelmed by Hakone’s offer. Not that the sculptures weren’t impressive, they were, it was more that there wasn’t the space for them to breathe as they were crowding each other and battling for visibility. Naoshima’s Chi Chu Museum gave us nine pieces of art in one museum, here we had thirty nine pieces of art in a confined space. Naoshima raised the bar on art presentation.

The sculpture lab was my favorite part: an interactive space where you could use your body and voice to create art. Yes, I am still ten years old.

Overall, I think if we hadn’t been to Naoshima, Hakone would have been a richer experience for us.

We followed up the museum with a trip on the ropeway. I’ll keep the description of this experience brief as it was very crowded with tourists (like us) and also quite underwhelming. Again, we’d been spoilt by the mountains in Corsica and later the Himalayas so a ropeway over some mountains was *ok*. Also Mt Fuji was cloaked in cloud so we saw nothing..

The next day, however, (our day of departure) the sky was clear and bright so Trey took advantage of our late check out to head back to the ropeway to get the illusive shot of iconic Mt Fuji.

Satoyama Jujo

One of the must do’s on our list for Japan was to visit an Onsen (Japanese hot spring) and also a Ryoken (traditional Japanese Inn). The fact that we managed both at a lux Design Hotel was an added bonus.

I’m not sure how I found Satoyama Jujo, I think it was via the app Japan Travel. Also, I’m not lying when I tell you that we re-arranged a chunk of our original travel and several pre-booked rooms to stay here for one night.

It’s not a huge place, thirteen guest rooms, two Onsen (one each for the ladies and gentlemen), a restaurant, dining room, two lounges, a shop, and a handful of private dining rooms for those who want extra solitude. The style of the place is a mix of old traditional with modern touches of furniture and decoration. It’s minimal, which you’d expect from Japan, but not cool and clinical. As we visited in Fall, there was a fire burning in the lobby and the autumn colors of the trees in the surrounding forest added a burnished glow to the rooms.

Our intro to the place was slick, we were met at the railway station by a smart young man in a car and driven the 5 minutes to the hotel. We then received a choice of drink and some sake cheesecake (which tasted of sake and not of cheese) and walked through the agenda for our stay. We confirmed the ten course dinner menu at 7.45pm, we walked them through our food requirements and allergies and we checked the box for breakfast and check out for the next day.

We were then escorted to the room and further presented with our free mini bar, private bath on the deck, free tea, coffee, snacks, and booze in the lounges, and organic cotton jammies that we were encouraged to wear throughout the whole stay. We can even wear jammies to a fancy dinner. This is my kind of place.

The dinner that evening was amazing. The theme throughout was Fall, from the decoration of the table and presentation of the food. There was a heavy play on vegetables with small additions of fish and meat. The flavors subtle but delicious and each plate plenty full. I think it’s fair to say we could hardly move after it and we both fell asleep quickly and deeply.

I’d set the alarm for 6.20am so we could catch the sunrise from the Onsen. Unfortunately it was cloudy and rainy (for the first time this whole trip) but the view across the forest and nearby mountains was still amazing. The Onsen were split to male and female (no mixed) but we had the place to ourselves albeit on either side of a wall, listening and watching the rain hit the water, mist rising in the dawn light (sounds magical doesn’t it?).

The breakfast was as elaborate as the dinner, no omelette or juice bar here. Instead were small tastings of tofu, pickle, rice, mackerel, egg, and miso soup. Delicate and delicious.

The balance of our stay was spent lounging in jammies, reading, and drinking tea before we got changed into real clothes, checked out and made our way by train back to civilization.

Osaka: 18 Hours And Not A Minute More

Osaka was always planned as a brief visit (it had never been a *must see* on our agenda) but we managed to keep it under 24 hours. We used the location as a stopover between Hiroshima and Osawa which was the location of our visit to Satoyama Jujo. Direct from Hiroshima would have been +/- nine hours.

Osaka is huge – supposedly larger than LA and spread out accordingly. We stayed in the Nakazakicho area of the city which was an up and coming district full of small local houses and cafes stores around 12 min walk from Umeda station. As per my usual requirements it had just the right blend of old vs new, hipster vs old lady, vintage vs craft. The vintage stores were amazing – Shop Band was especially excellent with luxury consignment.

Our accommodation was listed as *Osaka Umeda Cosy Cute Apartment* and yet again, we can confirm that it was all of those things.

For dinner we found a local ramen place called Ramen Kikuhan: still watching the ¥ as we approach our next stop, but clearly not watching it that closely since earlier that afternoon I purchased a vintage APC coat in Band. I call it selective budgeting.

When your mac matches the drapes

The next day were were up and out at 8am for our six hour journey to a new side of the country.