3 Weeks of Springtime Sakura in Japan

Location MapDuration: 23 days
Expenses: $92/day in expenses, $30/day for JR Rail Pass
Total: AUD$2,800 or ¥240,000

Japan is certainly a destination for all seasons. I feel like I need to live there to really experience all the colours and many faces of the landscapes. This year I travelled to Japan for a little over three weeks to see springtime cherry blossoms during Sakura. It was so contrasting to the last time I went during Japan over New Years one winter.

Tips and Advice

Japan is an expensive place to visit, so do try to eat local and if you’re travelling during Sakura to popular places like Kyoto do make sure you book ahead.

Japanese food is delicious, but if you want fruit or vegetables (that aren’t pickled or tempura-ed) you’ll pretty much have to fend for yourself. Japanese food is largely carnivorous and often includes dashi so it’s pretty tough for vegetarians.

7-Eleven is great for free WiFi, no fee international ATMs and food for the road if you are on the go or heading to a train. They also accept card payment for any amount and are everywhere.

Once again I used the Japan Rail Pass to get around. It was pretty expensive at $698 for 21 days, but if you are willing to do the mileage to make your money’s worth it is still the best way to cram heaps of places in.

If you need to save money on transportation I’d strongly suggest either:

  • Basing the start or end of your trip in a major city like Kyoto or Tokyo to cut down the number of days you need the JR Rail Pass for intercity travel and simply use metro day tickets, or
  • Just focus on specific areas of Japan and grab a cheap flight between them e.g. Shikoku and Hokkaido as the trains can’t beat air travel when crossing the country.

It might even be possible to buy two separate 7 day JR Rail Passes to activate at different points in your trip.

Trip Summary

My old housemate, Alex and I landed Kansai airport and met up in Kyoto where the cherry blossoms were popping like popcorn. Gion in particular was absolutely stunning as were the nearby cities of Nara and Uji. Funnily another friend from Melbourne, Amy and her colleague Anna happened to be in Kyoto as well (or perhaps not so funnily since Sakura is the best time to see Japan) and so we got to hang out on the other side of the world and enjoy tofu, sake and all sorts of weird and wonderful matcha flavoured foods.

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Kyoto friends

We took the shinkansen to Hiroshima and Miyajima to learn about the history and see how much things have changed in 60 years.

We took 13 trains in one day to see the four thousand cherry blossoms of Mt Yoshino. It’s pretty amazing looking out over the forest and seeing a sea of pink.

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The Kenrokuen gardens of Kanazawa

In  Kanazawa we bathed in the glorious sunshine and made dozens of origami cranes and butterflies. Plus we visited what I believe is the most beautiful garden in the world, the Kenroku-en. We also made a quick detour via Shirakawa-go on our way to Tokyo where we surprised the Amy for her birthday!

In Toyko at Amy’s birthday, we met up with some of Alex’s friends, Jeremy and Will and enjoyed some izakayas, kareoke, some crazy costumes and plenty of good times.

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Good times at izakayas and kareoke!

On the second try, we made it to Nikko just so that we could freeze our butts off in the National Park, but I suppose we also got to see some interesting temples too.

Afterwards we journeyed across to Mt Fuji and the Five Lakes to marvel at it’s perfection. It’s easy to see why Japanese artists like Ukiyo-e were so captivated by Fuji-san.

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Fuji-san

From here we stopped back in Tokyo for Alex’s last few days and then I went solo.  Although I pretty much only managed to travel solo for two days through Sendai and then camping overnight at Zao Onsen, because in Hakodate I made a new Melbournian friend named Rachel and we pretty much travelled the rest of Japan together.

We ate some weird (for I’m a bit of a food sissy) seafood at the Hakodate fish markets, ate some miso ramen and then headed on up to Sapporo which was where I had my favourite Japanese travel experience.

In Sapporo we stayed with an extremely kind couple, Hiro and Sato, who welcomed us into their house, taught us to cook Katsu-don and Katsu Curry. Plus they even let us try on their kimonos and yukatas and taught us many things about Hokkaido.

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Super times in Sapporo

From rainy Hokkaido we made the long trip down to Nagano to complete the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Crossing through ice, hail, snow and rain. The snow walls there were several stories high, but in the end they were no match for the high rises of Tokyo.

I was quite jaded about Tokyo from when I went in winter, but this time I discovered areas I could relate to in Harajuku and the hostel / co-op that I stayed at in Chiba. I think it’s safe to say that our time in Tokyo was pretty heavily dominated by eating so perhaps that also helped. Good food, good times!

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Purikura in Tokyo

Overall it was a really fantastic trip with a lot of great memories and great food! Once again, the Japanese people were so kind and so generous. They really are an amazing people. I would also like to try and figure out how much mileage I got on my JR Rail Pass because it was just plain ridiculous!

From here it was off to Hong Kong

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See ya next time Japan

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