Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Konichiwa, Japan: The Land of the Rising Sun

It was in the beginning of 2013 when hubby said maybe this year we could visit Japan. It's not in the initial travel plans for the year, just a spur of the moment decision. I was hesitant at first because I am used to planning way ahead (like a year, minimum 6 months) and the target month to travel was May/June school holidays. That only gave me about 5-6 months preparation. Yes, barely made it to my cut off period.

both hands up for Japan!!!
Japan was among our list of countries to visit. But I always put off planning for an itinerary because, aside from the many cities/prefectures to choose from, I felt intimidated by the complicated transportation system (crisscrossing train lines, plus separate maps for JR and subway lines) and the obvious language barrier (although I was proven wrong). I was also concerned about the cost (big travel factor). Japan is well-known for being a very expensive country to visit. And what my professor in university told us during one of his lectures stuck with me - Japan goods sold within the country cost very high but it is because they are of very high quality (and I proved him right). I started researching for possible attractions to visit and checked tour packages (our alternative hassle-free option) that would fit our travel needs. We even went to a travel fair hoping we could get a good deal, only to find out they don't have English-speaking tour guides for one of the companies we checked (ugh!). 

We ended up planning from scratch (which we normally do) and narrowed down our choices to 2 areas - Tokyo (where we would be flying in from Singapore) and Hokkaido (an island north of Tokyo which hubby found out to have a lot of interesting natural attractions). I started planning for our daily itinerary (that's 11 full days to organize) - places to see, attractions to enjoy, transportation to take, affordable accommodations, and other travel/holiday related stuff.

Next concern was, of course, the most important part of our travel planning process - budget/expenses. Thank goodness for cheap airfares at least we were able to save on something which we have control over (since we could choose from among a number of airlines). We were also able to book some accommodations which were reasonably priced, to offset those which caused a (big!) pinch in our pockets . Deciding not to go to Disney Tokyo and Disney sea and other attractions with costly admission fees helped cut down our budget. But that doesn't mean we weren't able to see much of Japan. We just narrowed down our choices to those that we were more interested in, and that would make our holiday different from other holidays we had.

We settled on the dates and length of stay - 11 full days in Japan (2.5 days in Tokyo and the rest exploring Hokkaido). I had to squeeze in what we could with the limited days in Tokyo. With so many travel books and online travel guides, there was so much to see and so many things to do. Yet again, my travel planning skills was put to the test (hopefully, I made my professors proud hahaha).

The kids were excited and counted down to departure day because we let them know earlier on that we were going on a holiday. At first, Ira was not keen on going as he knows he didn't really like Japanese food (except for Katsu). But when we watched a travel show on TV featuring Japan and the natural attractions, and showed him a youtube video of the nature sights we were going to visit, he got convinced. He really is into nature since early this year,  his Environment Club CCA played a part on this new interest. As for Kelvin, he was looking forward to trying different types of Japanese food (he is a foodie now).

Yes, Japan is beautiful. We loved our holiday there. Tokyo offered not only modernity and advancement in the transportation system, buildings and facilities, but lots of greenery and rich culture as well. Skyscrapers everywhere, convenience shops on every block, automated toilets (which the children loved), neon signs and advanced technologies. And yet, we could easily take a train ride to big parks like Ueno and have a breath of fresh air or stroll along Shrines/temples and do some soul searching.

Hokkaido was a different experience - an unforgettable roadtrip. Having Sapporo as our base for the first few nights, we drove westward to visit the capes and beautiful coastal scenery. If only we could stay there for the whole day to watch the sunrise and sunset while the boys kept themselves busy throwing pebbles into the water. What a very relaxing vacation that would be. Then we went on a joyride to see the colorful blooms at the flower farms in Furano. We were a bit disappointed though that most of the flowers were not in season and some land was still bare. But we couldn't really complain with the beautiful backdrop of the snow-capped mountains in front of us. We could sit there for hours just admiring the view while licking a cone of lavender ice cream. Yum yum! The next few days of our expedition around Hokkaido led us to  historical and onsen heaven Noboribetsu (where we experienced our first onsen, bombarded by smelly sulfur, steaming vents, and encountered some ninjas and samurais, too), to the lake-that-never-ices Lake Toya (overlooking Mt Yotei), to the island's southern tip Hakodate (with it's spectacular night view, seafood and Goryukaku), to ski resorts of Niseko (for the best and close up views of Mt Yotei), before returning to Sapporo (with its artistically planned Moerenuma Park, underground shopping district, beer and ramen). We clocked in 1324kms of driving along winding roads to the mountains and along coastal roads. Phew! We could definitely do it all over again.

This trip was definitely one for the books. A meaningful and fruitful way to celebrate Kelvin and Ira's good marks and class standings in the mid-year results.  

Here is the full disclosure of our 11-day Tokyo/Hokkaido adventure

Day 12 - arrival in Singapore

Japan is definitely a must-see country. Its culture, the scenery, the food, the people. We loved everything about our Japan experience and the kids couldn't wait to go back for more. I didn't really expect we would be this thrilled about Japan.


  1. Hi! Im avid fan of your travelogue :)
    Just want to ask about your Japan trip visa application here in Singapore. I also have kids (primary students) to tag around in our Japan trip this coming end of November(school holidays). Do I still need to provide the embassy the certificate of registration from school?
    Thanks in advance.

  2. Hi! Im avid fan of your travelogue :)
    Just want to ask about your Japan trip visa application here in Singapore. I also have kids (primary students) to tag around in our Japan trip this coming end of November(school holidays). Do I still need to provide the embassy the certificate of registration from school?
    Thanks in advance.

  3. Hi pinay _ mom! Thanks for visiting my blog :) and for being an avid fan. I appreciate that a lot.

    As for your question, the cert of registration is one of the requirements in the visa application. If you are travelling during the school holiday this may not be necessary, I think. But to be sure I suggest you give the embassy a call at 6830 3577. Or email them ryoji@sn.mofa.go.jp. This way you are guaranteed the info you get is directly from the Japan embassy.

    Where in Japan do you plan to go?

    Enjoy your trip!

  4. Hi karen!
    You're right I must ask directly the embassy :) I just sent them an email, let see.
    We'll plan to go to Kyoto and Tokyo hoping there still autumn leaves that time :)
    Thanks much!


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