Japan 101 – My First solo backpacking trip in Sakura season

Japan had been on my mind for a long time. I always dreamed of travelling to Japan in Sakura “Cherry blossom” season. First and foremost without a doubt 2016 had been a remarkable travel year for me, the remarkable part definitely includes Japan. 

Happy Sakura taxi

Within a month I decided to plan my Sakura trip and do it backpacking. I wasn’t sure if I will reach in time to see Sakura blooms but I was really lucky to witness something even better than full bloom. It was Sakura snow when the flowers start to fall. It was just magical! 

ps.  Blooming time of cherry trees differs from year to year depending on the weather. Hence it is recommended to check online for Sakura forecasts before planning your.

sakura snow

I gathered a lot of information before planning my Sakura trip to Japan. I actually felt a bit overwhelmed with the amount of information I received. For this reason this post will help first time travelers to Japan with the best tips from my own solo backpacking adventure.

Traditional tea ceremony

My 10 days itinerary

4 Days Tokyo (3 in the beginning and one last night before departure)

3 Days Osaka (day trip to Nara)

1 Day  Uji

2 Days Kyoto

Lets talk about what you need to know before planning a trip to Japan.

 JR Pass

First and foremost an important thing about travelling to Japan if you’re planning to travel with train (which you should). JR pass allows you to take unlimited trips on JR lines for instance bullet train rides across Japan. Furthermore JR pass is available to order online only for tourists. In fact you will save a lot of money by travelling with JR pass. Therefore make sure to order it online and receive it before travelling to Japan as you won’t be able to buy it once you land there. I activated the JR pass when I reached Tokyo but I only started using it on my first trip out of Tokyo. Similarly, commuting through Tokyo metro system is easy and affordable. 

Train attendant

Flying

I chose Etihad airways for this trip. The flight was excellent. I arrived to Narita International airport in Tokyo full of excitement. From the airport I took a shuttle bus to my hotel in Tokyo. In fact there are many buses and trains from Narita to downtown Tokyo all the time. 

Tōdai-ji Buddhist temple in Nara

 

Backpacking (kinda!)

Since it was a condensed trip I chose to travel with a backpack knowing my fast pace jumping from city to another. It was my first backpacking experience and I loved my Tortuga bag. We bonded really well.

Even though I cheated a bit and brought a carry-on bag mainly for my camera gear. In addition to my digital camera and lenses I was also travelling with a film camera and they are really heavy. I posted some of my Japan on film photos here. And by the way, Japan is heaven to analog photographers. I shot and developed my rolls almost daily. It helped that I was staying close to a huge camera shop (BIC Camera) that developed films.

Gion Kyoto

 

Accommodations

I stayed mostly in budget hotels still I wanted to try the traditional Japanese house experience. I heard about the traditional ryokan hotels styled just like a traditional Japanese house. The only one I found available was in Uji so I decided to stay a night in Uji !

Since my trip was short and I wanted to make the most out of it. I chose to stay in central locations close to JR stations to avoid commuting with taxis. I didn’t have many accommodation options since I started planning the trip late. However again I was happy with my choices.

tip: Smart tourists usually start planning and booking their trips to Japan 6 months in advance during Sakura season so the earlier you start planning the better.

 

My traditional hotel room at Uji Hanayashiki Ukifune-en

These are some of the hotels I stayed in:

Uji

Uji Hanayashiki Ukifune-en

Beautiful traditional ryokan with onsen spring water baths. The room overlooks the beautiful town and is a walking distant to main attractions in Uji.

 

Uji is a cute town between Kyoto and Nara

Kyoto

Hotel Sunline Kyoto Gion Shijyo

I was looking for a hotel in Gion Kyoto because I wanted to stalk geishas. This hotel was the only one available. Regrettably, It was dated but the location was good.

 

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in Kyoto

Osaka

ibis Styles Osaka

Lovely design and fresh colors. But could be tricky to locate.

Osaka Castle

Tokyo

ibis Tokyo Shinjuku. 

I stayed there for the first few days in Tokyo. The location was perfectly walking distant from the main Shinjuku station in Tokyo.

Harajuku district of Tokyo
Shibuya Excel Hotel Tokyo

Luxury hotel in Shibuya station and overlooking the famous Shibuya crossing (scramble). 

The famous Shibuya scramble

 

I’ll blog about my experiences in each city in a separate blog posts in details.

Finally you can view my instagram posts on Japan under this hashtag #RshJapan