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Sunday, September 25, 2016

[Japan Trip 2016 - Kansai] 4 days/3 nights - Kobe, Kyoto, Japan Ititnerary


Last week, I went on a quick last-minute trip to Kansai from Korea for the Chuseok holiday (Korean thanksgiving, Mid-Autumn Harvest Festival).

I flew on Eastarjet Airlines (a charter airline that flies out of Incheon for flights to Kansai - KIX).  I flew out on Thursday morning at 7:50 AM (arrive 9:30 AM) and flew back to Seoul on Sunday at 11:10 AM (arrive at 1:00 PM)

Itinerary includes:
Day 1: Kobe
Day 2: Kyoto
Day 3: Osaka
Day 4: Back to Seoul

Check out my other itineraries here!


SIM Cards and phone access in Japan!
Since I lived there about 3 years ago, it is a little easier to get a SIM card and there are many more options.
I prepared my SIM card ahead of time. I ordered one off of TicketMonster in Korea for about 14,000 KRW (2 GB LTE, 14 days). 

There are vending machines in the lobby of KIX and booths for various Japanese telecom companies scattered throughout the arrival hall. I just took a quick look to see the prices, I had done a bit of research before leaving Korea, and that's how I decided on buying the Korean one. I found that the SIM cards were roughly all about 4000 JPY for either 2GB LTE or unlimited 3G, for use over 14 days.

One note! iPhones are very difficult to set up with a Japanese SIM. I was never able to get mine to work, luckily I had an unlocked LG phone and I just used that instead. The workers at the Duocomo store weren't even able to help (my phone is completely global unlocked, the Japanese government just has a lot of additional settings for iPhones).

I can write a little more about the options later, if you want to know. Just leave a comment!



Day 1: KOBE
9:30 Arrive at Kansai Airport
I was unlucky. The customs line was ridiculously long. Three packed full flights from Korea all arrived at the same time...none of the travelers were prepared, for some reason or another.

Around 11AM
I took the airport limousine directly from KIX to Kobe. You just go out to the #6 bus stop, ask the help desk if you're confused. You have to also purchase a bus ticket from the ticket machine. There's English, so no worries. The bus ticket was 1980 JPY (about 19 USD). The ride is about 70-75 minutes depending on traffic.

You arrive in Sannomiya, right next to a large department store. There's also my favorite store ever...Loft! Loft seriously has everything! You can easily spend an entire day in there. There's cosmetics, clothing, accessories, DIY, kitchen supplies, lifestyle supplies, etc. Seriously! Check it out!

I just used it for the free WiFi to try and figure out my phone situation.

I, then, went behind the station to the Ikuta Shrine, about a 5-7 minute walk. I had been there a couple of times before, but wasn't really able to explore it that well.

I then went to Nishimura's Coffee, the original store. It has been open since 1948. I had a quick bite to eat and then continued on my way.

I walked from Nishimura's to Kitano, which is the foreigner settlement in Kobe and walked around a little bit. I had kind of awkward timing, so many of the cafes were in between services.

I then decided to walk to the Venus Bridge. It is famous for its wonderful view of Kobe. My guidebook and Google maps said it was a 45 minute walk from Kitano, but it didn't really explain the elevation of said walk. I ended up climbing a mountain by accident, while carrying my backpack suitcase full of all my gifts and clothes, etc. up that darn mountain. The climb would have been wonderful had I kind of known it was a climb and wasn't carrying my backpack and also hadn't tried to do it at 2 PM (it was pretty sunny and about 32 degrees).

I had initially planned on walking from Venus Bridge to Harbourland, but after that accidental climb, I decided that a bus was probably the best plan. It definitely was!

I finally made it to Harbourland, took a quick walk around, but I was kind of beat and wanted to kind of get to Osaka to meet up with my friend.

I finally bought my Kobe Starbucks Mug. I ran out of time to get one last time...I also didn't have very much space left in my suitcase that time, so I finally got it. It was 1100 JPY.

My friend lives off the Hankyu line, so I had to get to a Hankyu station (just for ease). I wanted to also pass through Chinatown, so luckily both goals were accomplished.

I also decided to walk from Chinatown through the Motomachi Shopping Arcade.
It was about rush hour, so I kind of wanted to get on the train before Sannomiya station, so that  I could sit down and not worry about being in the way with my suitcase.

I made it to Osaka, after a bit of a train mishap, around dinner time.
NOTE: If it is your first time to Japan, make sure you read the train maps! I kind of knew in my mind that I needed to get on an express train, but somehow I forgot when the train arrived to check and I ended up on the limited express train to Kyoto. So, I had to go back and wasted like 7 minutes of my/my friend's time.

Finally made it to her house and then we went grocery shopping. I am maybe a weirdo, but the thing I like to try to do is to go to a grocery store. I also check out the snacks and candies aisles for souvenirs and gifts.


Day 2: KYOTO
As I said, we were living on the Hankyu line. This is one of the most convenient ways to get to Kyoto...and also one of the cheapest. You can also use the JR line or the Keihan line, just make sure to check all your options. JR tends to be the most expensive company.

We decided to go on Day 2, just because it was a Friday, which means that there would likely be less people there, since most of the Japanese tourists couple probably go to Kyoto on the weekend.

We took the Hankyu line to Kawaramachi station. This station is right by Gion. We were actually ahead of schedule, we had planned to arrive around 11AM and then go directly to lunch, but we had some extra time.

I bought some of the famous Kyoto mochi as gifts for my friends. We also walked around a bit in the specialty shops in Gion.

My friend is into the Pokemon Go game and one of the hotspots for the game is the Yasaka Shrine, or actually the Maruyama Park, which is directly behind the shrine. So, for me, we hit up the Yasaka Shrine and then hit up the park for her.

Also, as luck would have it, the restaurant we wanted to go to, Izuju, was right across the street from the shrine. This is a sushi restaurant that is more than 100 years old. We arrived there about 11:30, we didn't want to wait in line, so that's why we started our day so early. I highly recommend the mackerel (saba) sushi. It was so wonderful! I've never had sushi that flavorful. We also got the checkerboard sushi and 2 pieces of the hamo sushi. I would also recommend the hamo, it's a seasonal fish - only available in the summer, so this was our last week to eat it. It was a little pricey, but not too bad given the quality of the food we received. It was about 4600 JPY (about 45$ for the two of us to have more than enough sushi).

We bought the unlimited day bus pass for 500 JPY (each ride is 210 JPY, so if you take the bus more than 2 times, you have your money's worth). All of the tour guides tell you to to buy the bus pass at Kyoto Station, which is what I did last time. But, if you know Japanese/have a Japanese speaker, you will find out that you can also buy the bus pass on the bus.

We then went to Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion). This is the most famous one for foreign tourists. I had tried to get there last time, but ended up at the Ginkakuji instead (Silver Pavilion). I honestly liked Ginkakuji better, it's so much more peaceful and I even went there during the really busy autumn colors festival time. Both are definitely worth a try. I believe the entrance fee was 400 JPY per person.

From there, we took the 51 bus again to Ryoan-ji temple. This was an interesting temple and my friend had actually never been there before. It was a vacation house for an aristocrat, but was later transformed into a temple. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and I highly recommend it, too. There's a beautiful Zen rock garden and pond. It's so relaxing to just sit there and look at nature.

From there, we went back to Gion and then transferred buses to go to Kiyomizu-dera. It closes at 6:30 PM in the fall, but the famous shops around it close much earlier. We got there around 5:45 and almost everything was closed, such a pity.

We decided to walk back to Gion and try and find food along the way, rather than taking the SUPER crowded bus. It's about a 20 minute walk from Kiyomizu to Gion.

We decided to get a steamed bun that we were eyeing on our walk up to Kiyomizu-dera. It was delicious and so flavorful. It was SO HOT, though. The worker was not joking.

We then stopped off at a udon restaurant - Senkaku that was right on the main road. It was so good!

We continued our walk back and stopped off at this cute accessory shop. Unfortunately, the name escapes me.

Back in Gion, we stopped off at some more of the specialty shops. One of the really famous things in Kyoto are the specialty pickles, so we tried all of the pickles. I don't even like pickles and I found some I actually enjoyed! We also went to the ume (Japanese plum) store and tried some ume pickles and juice there, too.

There's also a really cute candle shop. We stopped in there on the way to the Kyoto candy shop (another Kyoto specialty) and I found a candle exactly like the candies that I was going to buy as decor. It was so lucky, I was worried about the candies getting kind of gross if I used them as decoration.

Then, we stopped off in an accessory store and ended up buying some cute/good smelling solid perfume and some good luck charms. I had been trying to find something cute all day, but so many of the charms at the temples were so...tacky.

Then, we headed back to Osaka.

Day 3: OSAKA
I bought an unlimited Osaka subway pass for 600 JPY. It's easy to find on the subway vending machine. I believe it's called something like the Easy Eco card.

I started off the day at Chitose for a brunch of meat udon soup. It's a very famous shop and I waited in line for about 20 minutes. There's only seats for about 20-25 people in the store.
It was super good. I highly recommend it, especially if you're eating alone.

Then, I walked around in Dotonburi a bit. It was really hot outside, so I decided to do some quick shopping in Don Quixote, which is kind of like a Japanese big box store. It has a little bit of everything at discounted prices. I ended up buying all the products I wanted to buy.

Then, I wandered around Shinsaibashi while I was waiting for my friend. This is a large shopping area in Osaka and is definitely worth a look. It has a bunch of international and Japanese brands, but not so many independent stores. It was actually "Silver Week" in Japan, so there were a lot of sales.

My friend and I met for Kobe beef rice bowls at Red Rock. I meant to go to the location in Kobe earlier in the week, but I ran out of time. It was SO DELICIOUS and such a good value for the quality, quantity, and flavor of food we got. (More on it later).

It's in the Amerikamura area, so we walked around a little since she's never really been there. We quickly decided, however, that we were too nerdy and not fashionable enough to pull off most of the clothes that were there, so we decided to continue on our way.

I had wanted to go to the Elk Pancake and Dining in Amerikamura/Sinsaibashi for fluffy Japanese pancakes and 3D latte art. We were so full, but did consider going for 3D latte art, so we checked it out. Unfortunately, the 3D latte art is only available on weekdays (something to note).

We decided to just go explore a different area of Osaka. We went to the Nakazakicho area and explored the cute artsy cafes and shops there for a bit. We went to Kaya Cafe and got some coffee and just rested and caught up.

Then, we walked to Osaka Station because I wanted to check out the Disney Store to buy a Duffy bear. However, Duffy bear is ONLY available at Tokyo Disney, unless there's a special theme promotion. We had also been seeing posts about the Gudetama cafe and just did a quick walk-by to see what it had to offer. We were so full and it seemed like it wasn't totally worth overstuffing ourselves.

We then went to Tenjimbashisuji, which is the longest shopping arcade in Osaka. It is more than 2.6 km long and is filled with restaurants, specialty shops. We stopped in there for kushikatsu (kushiage), which are the Japanese fried food skewers.

We then wandered around a bit and then went outside the arcade a bit to a restaurant for our sashimi rice bowls. This place was good, but not great. It was cheap, but they sacrificed quality.

Then, we went on a bit of a walk around the shopping arcade to walk off our food a bit.

I stopped into to Daiso to get my final last gifts and snacks.

Then, we headed back via bus.

Day 4: Back to Seoul
Since it was Silver Week, I had to leave ample time to get to the airport.

The Namba station is also quite confusing to me, so I wanted to make sure I didn't get lost.
Follow the signs at Namba Station for the Keihan Railway to the airport.

Tickets from Namba to KIX are less than 1000 JPY. If you buy that ticket, make sure you don't try to get on the Rapi:t train. So many people tried doing that, but that train requires you to buy different tickets and reserve a seat!

Instead, go to platform 8. I made the mistake of taking a local train, so then I had to get out and transfer, but I was so worried and I kind of just sat there. The local is so slow, so keep a lookout at each station for a sign that says Airport Express.

The lines were insane at the airport. I also ended up standing in the wrong line forever. My airlines changed...even though I booked both flights directly on the Eastarjet website, my flights were operated by T'way. So, I wasted an hour standing in line, to only get to the ticket counter and have the agent tell me I need to go to the other company's line. The annoying thing is there were three workers that were checking our ticketing information at three separate points in the line, but whatever, I made it.

The line at customs was SUPER long, too. A combination of all the Koreans going home and all of the Japanese people escaping Japan for Silver Week.

I got to my gate RIGHT at the printed boarding time, but it turned out that they had called the boarding gate and told them to hold off on boarding because everyone was stuck in customs.

We ended up departing about 25 minutes late.

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