Trip Report: Two Weeks Christmas Trip to Japan
In August 2015, I ventured on a month long backpacking trip around Southeast Asia. On this trip Rodalyn and I ended up making a stopover in Japan en route to Hong Kong. We only stayed in Japan for eight days but those eight days were memorable. I literally fell in love with the country. I made a promise that I would return someday. I didn’t know that it would be literally four months later that I would come back to the wonderful land of Japan.
Originally, Rodalyn and I were suppose to go to Disneyworld in December 2015. We booked all of our travel expenses but not the Disney tickets. This ended up being a good thing because we ended up having to cancel the trip in September due to Rodalyn not having enough vacation days. Luckily, every one of our travel expense for this trip was easily refundable.
Couple months past and one day in October. I spent a day catching up with a good friend of mine, Tracey. Since I already had my vacation booked in December and she was going to take winter break from school. We decided to take a spontaneous trip to Japan!
Outbound route: SFO-HND (Japan Airlines)
Inbound route: NRT-SJC (ANA Airlines)
When we finally decided to take this trip it was well into late October 2015. I would be coming home earlier than my friend as I had to get back to work. I was worried that there would be no award availability as we were late into the booking window. Additionally, we planned to travel over Christmas holiday. Which is one of the busiest holidays to travel. As I browsed around, to my surprise there was some availability. En route to Japan, there were two Japan Airline seats that went from San Francisco (SFO) to Tokyo (Haneda HND) on December 16. My cost of this flight was 25,000 AA miles + $5.60.
My friend wanted to fly out to Korea after Japan so I did not have to worry about her forward flight as they had a lot of availability. However, for my flight back home it was like finding a needle in a haystack. I was starting to lose hope that I would not find an award availability coming home. Until one day I was talking with a coworker, who is a Japanese expat temporarily working in America. He told me that there is a direct flight from Tokyo to San Jose on ANA. When I brought up the United search engine I was luckily able to snag the last flight out on December 27 going from NRT to SJC. United charges a lot more miles than American Airlines or British Airways. While this was not the greatest use of my points because this particular flight costed me 35,000 UA miles + $38.60. I did have a flight home.
Airbnb Tokyo (4 nights)
Airbnb Kyoto (6 nights)
Due to the high prices of hotel for Japan, including redeeming for points. We decided to opt for Airbnb stays for a majority of our stay. I was able to find two Airbnbs in Tokyo and Kyoto that were pricing their studios for a reasonable price. To sweeten the deal I was able to negotiate them into lowering their amount. See my post about how to save money on airbnb for more information. For our lodging in total we only spent $553 for 10 nights. Which averages out to $61.44 a night and $37.72 a person per night. This was definitely cheaper than staying in a capsule hotel or any other brand name hotel.
On the last night, I ended up using some Hyatt Goldpoints to stay at Hyatt Regency in Tokyo. This came out to 12,000 points + $0.
We used the train for most of our local transportation. If you’re planning on traveling around Japan for at least 7 days then I would highly suggest you to get the Japan Rail Pass. This pass is only available for to foreigners and it costs $240. I know that may sound a lot but it will pay itself if you take decide to take a round-trip on the shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Kyoto.
Additionally, we did end up spending $88.06 on local trains and buses while we were in Kyoto. To get around Kyoto you usually would have to take a bus and some their trains are not compatible with Japan Rail Pass.
Points of Interest:
Here are some activities in which we participated and would highly recommend in doing for your trip.
- Meiji Shrine: Meiji Shrine is located in Shibuya. We actually got the luxury of seeing a wedding in progress. This place is free to walk around. It’s definitely a great place to get some fresh air.
- Yoyogi Park: I would highly recommend coming to this on a weekend. On weekends Yoyogi draws all sorts of talents from dancers to cultural street performers. You can easily lose yourself watching various acts. Not only can you lose yourself but this is also a great place to people watch.
- Takeshita Street, Harajuku: As you may not know. Harajuku is an incredibly famous and popular area. Due to its reputation of various restaurants, stores, and purikura (aka. japanese photo booth). This is within walking distance of both Yoyogi park and Meiji Shrine. You definitely need to try out their crepes.
- Shinjuku Golden Gai: If the bar scene or nightlife is your thing. Then you definitely need to head out to the Golden Gai of Shinjuku. This is nothing but drinking bars from 4 seaters to 30 seats. You’ll definitely get cozy with a neighbor. Don’t worry a majority of these bars accept foreigners while some are only limited to regular customers. A tip is if they have anything in English posted outside their bar then you’re probably more than welcome to come inside.
- Fushimi Inari Taisha: When you see pictures of Japan. You have probably seen a handful of these that shows tori gates. This place is in Kyoto and it’s definitely a place to have a photo shoot. I’d recommend if you plan on hiking up the mountain to bring comfortable shoes.
- Kinkaku-Ji: This is also known as the golden pavilion. I would recommend to try out their tea ceremony at the end of the premises. You won’t regret it.
- Todai-ji Temple: Nara is easily a 1 hour train ride from Kyoto. We took a day trip to check out the Todai-ji temple and of course get some photos of our new deer friends.
- Universal Studios: I’m a big fan of Harry Potter. So I had to come check out out Japan’s Universal Studios. While the setup is the practically same as in Orlando. There are some rides that are only exclusive to Japan Universal Studios. So it wasn’t a complete waste and I did get my butterbeer fix. Be mindful that all of the rides are spoken in Japanese. Unless you understand Japanese you would have to fill in the blanks as to what the story line is.
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For only $639, I managed to enjoy a 12 day vacation in Japan and saved over $5,450. If you plan on visiting then definitely consider getting an Airbnb rather then wasting points or money at a hotel. Additionally, if you plan on staying more than 7 days. Definitely look into the Japan rail pass to save you more money for transportation.
Japan is definitely a country in which you should plan to visit. I know for me I love it so much that i’m actually planning on going back again this August 2016.
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