A Japanese Adventure: Getting Started!

It’s only been 2 days since I returned from a perfect little tour of Japan, and I can’t describe just how badly I want to fly back to the little island paradise.

This is the first post in a series which will cover various aspects of the journey. I’ll be adding some tips for those who’ve never been to Japan, and I’ll also try to add links to any useful websites.

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The UAE-Japan Cultural Center (http://jp.ae/) organized a summer tour of Japan this year, and my sister and I (who had previously studied Japanese at the center) were fortunate enough to take time off work to be able to join the adventure.

We landed at Kansai airport (http://www.kansai-airport.or.jp/en/index.asp), which is built on a man-made island about 50 km from the center of Osaka. Passing through the airport was a fairly pleasant experience. There are signs in English so it’s easy to find your way through. Due to the sudden influx of a large number of tourists (including ourselves :-)) queues at passport control were pretty long. However, the process was quite organized and we made it through without any hiccups.

Airport Tips:

  • Forms: Do not forget to fill in the forms detailing your visit, any cash you are carrying etc, prior to reaching passport control. The forms are relatively easy to find. There are two forms you must fill. Do not forget to check both sides of the form! 🙂
  • Sim Card: In Japan, you cannot obtain a voice enabled sim card without comprehensive registration. There is no concept of a visitor voice sim as there is in other countries. However, data-only sim cards are available for visitors. As you exit the baggage claim area in Kansai airport, on your left is Starbucks. Right opposite Starbucks are sim card vending machines. Yes, vending machines 🙂 I purchased a sim card pre-loaded to 1GB data. I did have to top it up with another 1GB towards the end of the trip. The cost, if I’m not mistaken, for the 1GB sim card was about 3000 Yen. You can also find 3GB and 5GB data sim cards. They were available in standard, micro and nano sim form at the vending machine. The sim I purchased was from ‘so-net’. More information is available here: http://www.so-net.ne.jp/prepaid/en/index.html#buy
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  • Money Exchange: There is a money exchange at the airport which you should take advantage of, if you’ve not already brought some yen with you. Money exchanges are not very common, and although major department stores take credit cards, most of the small vendors, souvenir stores and coffee shops, etc deal only in cash.

From the airport we took the group tour bus to our hotel, the Kyoto Tokyu hotel, in Kyoto, where we’d be staying for the first leg of our tour. We arrived late at night, and were glad to find a simple dinner had been arranged for us in our rooms – sandwiches and crips. Given the 9 hour flight, we were all quite happy to snack away and get some shut-eye before our first day of site-seeing.

The hotel
Kyoto Tokyu hotel was perfect (http://www.kyoto-h.tokyuhotels.co.jp/en/). I couldn’t really find anything to criticize. Everything from the rooms, the wifi and the fantastic breakfast buffet to the service, the location, and the little souvenir store in the hotel was perfect. It is also quite close (5 minute walk) to ‘Lawsons’ (http://lawson.jp/en/). Lawsons is a 24/7 convenience store for any snacks, beverages or essentials you might need to pick up.


Day 1: Breakfast buffet at the hotel

The breakfast was deeelicious! There was a wide selection of dishes to sample, including Japanese breakfast dishes, fresh fruits, juices as well as the usual American breakfast selection.

Favorites:
‘Matcha’ latte:  The Matcha Latte from the breakfast buffet vending machine was great!
From Wikipedia: Matcha (抹茶, pronounced [mat.tɕa]) is finely ground powder of specially grown and processed green tea.
In Japan, Matcha is extremely popular, both as the tea itself, but also as a flavor for sweets, beverages, snacks, cakes, etc. The tea can be quite strong/bitter if you’re not used to it, but matcha flavored snacks are delicious! In fact the first thing I saw at the airport was a Starbucks, which had a Matcha latte and Matcha frappuccino on its menu. (http://www.starbucks.co.jp/en/beverage/frappuccino.html)
Eggs Benedict – Kyoto style (also from the breakfast buffet)
One word: Delicious.

Weather Tips:
Summer can be quite hot and extremely extremely humid. Even for someone like me, travelling from Dubai, where temperatures hit 50 degrees Celsius and humidity is quite high.
If you’re travelling to Japan in July or August, you need to have 2 essentials:
A Fan: Yup. The nice manual fan that you use to cool yourself down. We were fortunate enough to be given some free fans on our very first morning, and, believe it or not, we were, all of us, using those fans till the very last moment of our very last day.
Water: Drink lots of water as you will need to take long walks and you will sweat a lot. The good news is that there is a vending machine almost at every single street corner, selling an assortment of unique, and delicious, cold, and often hot, beverages. So you can choose to purchase water bottles (usually costing between 100-130 yen) at any vending machine, if you prefer not to carry one with you.

The next post will cover the ‘Tea Tasting Session’ which was arranged for our group at the hotel after breakfast!  🙂

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