What I bought: January 2019

I didn’t expect this post to get delayed until now, but Lunar New Year has been hectic. Happy Lunar New Year if you celebrate! 🙂

Uniqlo rayon short sleeve blouse (white, S): I purchased two sleeveless “new rayon” tops before Christmas and enjoyed the fit and ease of wash and wear. Obviously, the higher the polyester proportion, the less it’ll wrinkle. I think it wrinkles but looks like relaxed linen when dried on a hanger. I think it shrinks less than the old (100%) rayon, but there was still a tiny bit of shrinkage as evidence by the twisting at the hems (suggests some stitching and fabric shortcuts). I wash in cold and air-dry, but as I have sized up, it’s not noticeable (after the very slight shrinkage) and the overall looser fit is perfect for summer. This fabric is nowhere near as wrinkly as the old rayon blouses – I purged those from my wardrobe because they just shrank too much and were a pain to steam. I especially love this crisp white – it looks so chic. It’s also really light and breezy. I notice there is another shirt on the website that looks the same but with a different product code and is not reduced. This seems to happen a lot and I find the website rather confusing. Maybe one’s old season and one’s new season? No idea. The comfort and ease of maintenance is really good. Maybe not worth $40, but I’m happy with $30. Reduced from $39.90 to $29.90.

Uniqlo rayon sleeveless blouse (navy, S): Navy is another staple colour for me. I wanted it in this style (which I have in the wine colour and love the fit of), but it was sold out in the colour and size I wanted. I have this same style in black, but the navy is so dark I have trouble telling the two apart. Again, there appears to be the same style with a non-reduced price and I’m not sure what the difference is. With the four that I now own, I am basically wearing each one at least once a week and more if I get the washing done. They are just so easy for summer! Reduced from $39.90 to $29.90.

Uniqlo HEATTECH crew neck long sleeve tee-shirt (dark grey, S): The main reason for purchasing this was I needed to reach the free shipping threshold. I first tried Uniqlo’s HEATTECH almost ten years ago. I never enjoyed them and thought they made little difference. It’s been a while now and people always rave, so I think it’s time I gave these another shot. I haven’t opened them yet to try the size on, oops. I’m not sure if I should include thermals, but anyway… $19.90.

Uniqlo total: $79.70 minus expected cashback of $3.63 through Cashrewards = 76.07

Pre-owned Saba silk 3/4 sleeve dress (AU 8, via eBay and using the seller’s photo): I thought this was a steal for a silk dress in a pretty versatile and work-appropriate style. The shoulders are a bit puffy and I’m not sure if I’ll like that. It was listed as and I thought it was a really deep purple/eggplant colour. Instead in all lights it looks more dark brown to me (T also thinks it’s brown). I actually hate brown so I’m not sure I will end up keeping this because I just can’t bear the colour. I may pass it on to my Mum or sell it after washing it. I have to have a closer look and careful try-on after it’s been washed. I dumped it straight into the delicate wash laundry basket when I got it and it might take several weeks before we run a load for wool/silk items. $25.00 + $8.55 shipping = $33.55

January 2019 total: AU$109.62

Money Diaries: #3 Back to the grind

I am trying to be more mindful of our finances starting this month as we really need to buckle down to save for a house in the next two years. I’ll not be counting my Airbnb expenses but I will note prices if I’m purchasing something.

Day 1: Monday 21 January

Usual morning routine – I pack breakfast (mango with yoghurt and muesli), lunch I cooked last night (kimchi rice, Japanese egg roll – tamagoyaki – and sugar snap peas), a banana, and a bag of spicy snap peas (my Mum can’t eat spicy food anymore so she gave them to me because they were going stale).

I drive to work as it’s a Monday and I visit my parents for dinner. I lend T my transport card.

Every Monday, money is taken out of T and my separate accounts to go into our joint bank account which we use for joint spending (cash and paying off credit cards). We decided this was the easiest method and usually there is enough money or else I will just have each of us deposit a bit more (I am the chief financial officer of the household, haha). This way we can still keep most of our money in our own mortgage offset accounts but there is a communal pool that is easy to access. I go ahead and pay off last month’s credit card bill.

After work, I visit my parents. When I leave, my Mum sends me off with lunch for the next day (rice, cabbage and carrot stir-fry, tofu, and a prawn-egg-corn dish) as well as her (slightly famous amongst friends) pork floss bread. She’s really into making it!

When I get home, I make T’s lunch for the next day. I make a pasta salad with corn, edamame, lettuce and egg (and I will add tuna the next morning).

Day 2: Tuesday 22 January

I add dressing and tuna to T’s lunch. I pack my own food – lunch from leftovers from my Mum, coffee, breakfast of nectarine with yoghurt and muesli.

I train to and from work today.

In the morning, I go down to Coles to get bin bags for my Airbnb ($2; the size I need has been sold out during our weekly shop for the last month – get your stock right, supermarkets!) and David Jones gift cards which are on offer with 10% added value. I was planning to get maybe $200 ($220 value) but they’re sold out. I should have taken this more seriously… argh!

After getting home from work, I make Japanese curry (potato, carrot and peas) with rice, which I cook with quinoa mixed in. We also pack our two lunches, but there is still some leftover curry (no rice)… I’ll think about it later. I also start making sponge cake because I want to have a second go at making mango cake (Natasha’s Kitchen recipe). I didn’t think I used enough filling for my first attempt at Christmas.

T is invited to go out and Pokemon Go raid for a bit and I want to go too. The cake-making is put on hold. (For anyone interested, we are playing hard in these two weeks because of an incredibly meta-relevant Pokemon)

After getting home again, I finish making the cake but I definitely put too much filling between the layers this time. Plus I don’t have time to cool everything in the fridge between steps so it’s a sloppy mess when I cut two slices for us to eat. I consider this attempt a bigger fail than last time and I am not going to try making this again because the recipe’s ratios are all wrong for me. The kitchen is a nightmare and T helps me clean up.

Day 3: Wednesday 23 January

I take my breakfast (peach with yoghurt and muesli today), curry lunch, banana and a slice of cake, which is holding itself together now that it’s cold.

I train to and from work.

I leave work early to go see my allergist and pick up my kit as I’m starting immunotherapy. It’s $120 and the Medicare rebate goes through overnight. $54.80 (personal account)

After I get home from work, I make tacos using the vegetable mixture I use to make vegetable puffs (I froze the leftover after making vegetable puffs for Christmas) and frozen crumbed fish (taco toppings are lettuce, cherry tomatoes, pickles and cheese)

After dinner we go and clean my Airbnb. I’ve gotten good at predicting which guests will give me a minor or major headache. I was right about this one. 🙁

After we get home, I cut up nectarines and we eat that with some more mango cake.

Day 4: Thursday 24 January

I pack breakfast (peach with yoghurt and muesli), coffee, a banana and some Vegemite bagel chips.

I train to and from work.

For lunch, our department goes out to lunch to farewell our colleague. I’ve worked closely with her and I will really miss her. She’s returning to another country but will be working with us via distance. I order a breakfast tortilla ($19.50) and surprisingly, the boss pays for all of us!

As I’m leaving work, eBay notifies me that an item I am watching is ending. I put a lot of things on my watch list and most I’m not serious about and often just curious to see the final price. This one I will commit to if it sells low (near the asking price) as it’s a Saba silk dress and I’m a sucker for silk. It’s starting at $25 plus $8.55 shipping so I bid $33 as I’m only ready to pay a little over $40 for it. I’m the only bidder so I win! $33.55

It is like 42 degrees when I leave work and I think I’m going to die. I do make it home. It’s a mishmash dinner. I make a potato pasta salad with leftover pasta from Monday night, some vegetable dumplings from the freezer, and heat some pork floss bread from my Mum that I totally forgot about and now we need to hurry up and finish. I decide I’ll have to finish it for lunch the next day because I don’t think I should keep it much longer.

I have to have an icypole, and we somehow manage to finish the mango cake (T thinks we can’t keep it in the fridge any longer) but we do regret this decision…

Day 5: Friday 25 January

I pack breakfast (banana with yoghurt and muesli), coffee and lunch (leftover salad from taco night, and the remainder of the pork floss bread). I’m very please because we had enough leftover curry that T also took curry for Thursday’s lunch and today’s lunch. This marks the first week ever that we have not bought any lunches during the work week! It wasn’t intentional but I’m very happy.

I train to and from work. It’s also over 40 degrees today… ugh.

After I get home, I get to work making slow baked (boneless) beef ribs with onion, carrots and mushrooms. We bought some meat from Costco a few months ago, portioned and stored them in the freezer but actually I’m not good at cooking meat so I’ve been trying to work out how to cook this. The last attempt at slow-cooked ribs was pretty bad. This time I go with a slightly different approach. Unfortunately I realise we don’t have canned tomatoes or tomato paste (the former is my fault since we have a house inventory rule of putting items on a grocery list that is shared on both our phones when one opens or uses the last of an item, and I was the last to use the canned tomatoes). I send T out to get tomato puree and he comes back with a huge bottle. I make two cling film balls with the remainder that I don’t use and freeze. $2.75 but paid with a 5% off gift card so ~$2.61.

We eat close to 9pm, haha. We eat with some broccoli, but it’s not much food, oops. Also the beef wasn’t good. Braised beef isn’t a good weeknight idea.

Day 6: Saturday 26 January

It’s Australia Day today (and Monday is a public holiday in lieu).

We go to Louis for a (late) brunch. T gets the green chilli scrambled eggs ($18) and a latte ($4). I get the salmon baguette ($11 – I order this in an effort to be more frugal at brunch as I’m weary that we might eat out more than usual this long weekend if things get hectic…) and an iced latte ($4). The eggs are nice but not spicy at all, the salmon baguette is super stingy on the filling, and the iced latte is pretty horrible. $37

We spend all afternoon out and about (Pokemon Go) and pick up a slurpee from 7/11 to keep hydrated. $1

But by the time we get home at like 7:30pm, I am super hungry and dehydrated. T suggests we go have Vietnamese so we drive to Thanh Ha 2 (I’ve never been before). We get beef satay skewers ($8), and a broke rice dish each ($14 and $15) plus ice tea for me because I need to rehydrate as quickly as possible with sugar ($4.50). $41.50

Day 7: Sunday 27 January

We decide to eat in for lunch but don’t have much breakfast/lunch-friendly food. I make french toast (savoury because I never liked sweet french toast!) and some broccoli. I rationalise that we can pick up a snack in the afternoon since I’ll probably be hungry very soon. T gives me a blind taste text of the two coffee capsule brands I’ve been buying for the Nespresso machine. I can’t tell the difference because they are both so terrible so seems logical that I’ll just continue to buy whichever is more discounted (I think all capsules including Nespresso taste bad, but do not want to regularly pay for someone to make me coffee).

We spend all afternoon walking around the city again (Pokemon Go). The snack situation never eventuates but we grab another slurpee from 7/11. $1

For dinner, we visit T’s parents for our near-weekly catch up. We have chicken rice, loh bak, snow peas pumpkin shoots, and try the 2X spicy Samyang HEK Buldak chicken ramen. The ramen is painful and I go through half a glass of milk while almost crying. We also have fruits after dinner, including the best cherries I’ve had this season!

After dinner, we hurry to do our weekly grocery shop. I have $30 of rewards stacked up from spend-and-earn offers I’ve been doing for the past three weeks (it didn’t require us to spend more than we were already going to), but somehow the whole shop goes out of control because quite of lot of discounted meat that we talk ourselves into getting since the freezer is looking a bit empty. We usually buy meat when cheap to freeze in portions (T likes his meat so we try to keep the freezer stocked). We buy (deep breath): bulk-pack free range chicken thighs ($13.41 at $15.00/kg); 6-pack chicken, rosemary, thyme and chive sausages, 6-pack Italian beef and pork sausages, and 8-pack sweet and chilli chicken tenders (3 for $17 offer); organic chicken drumsticks ($4.67 on clearance as expiring); quarter red cabbage ($1.47); half green cabbage ($2.94); gold sweet potato ($3.94 at $5.00/kg); purple sweet potato ($3.48 at $5.50/kg); broccoli ($2.49 at $5.90/kg); a bunch of kale ($3.00); flat large mushrooms ($1.33 at $9.00/kg); nectarines ($3.07 at $3.00/kg); bananas ($2.84 at $2.00/kg); 700g wholemeal bread ($3.20); 750g sliced cheese ($8.75); Marion’s Kitchen Thai green curry and Thai red curry kits ($3.72 each – highly recommended by Ozbargain when it went half price this week so I want to try it!); 105g beef stock cubes ($2.60); 1kg iodised cooking salt ($1.09); 1kg yoghurt ($4.00); 3 cans 400g diced tomatoes ($0.60 each); 230g chipotle in adobo sauce ($4.50); 120-pack surface wipes ($5.00); 48-pack liners ($3.80). The total is $101.80 minus $30 of rewards, and we pay with a 5% discount gift card. I almost cry because I can’t believe our total grocery bill (minus rewards) is so high and can’t remember this happening before… $68.21

Notes on the grocery shop: the sweet potatoes broccoli were both very expensive but I did really want them (I love both so much!). Otherwise everything was pretty cheap, but we just bought a truckload of meat.

I also buy fresh milk for my upcoming Airbnb guests ($3.20 for 2L because they are staying a long time).

We retreat home and I’m still moping about how large the grocery bill was. I was really hoping it would be low considering we had $30 of rewards. 🙁

Total spend: $239.67 ($184.87 joint account; $54.80 personal account)

We had the Thai green curry the other night and it was pretty good. I’m impressed! Even at half price, I find it a bit pricey so I’ll have to think about whether I’d repurchase.

Travel: Japan Trip #4 2016 (Day 3 & 4 – Kagoshima, Sakurajima, Yakushima)

See: Travel: Japan Trip #4 2016 itinerary and intro

Day 3: January 20

In the morning, we took a bus to Sangen-en/Sangen Garden. The bus I wanted to take didn’t actually seem to exist (maybe I got the wrong information online) but I did find another bus. Sangen-en is another landscape garden which has stunning views of Sakurajima and Kagoshima Bay.

One of the cutest things I saw for the first time was the little straw huts that the Japanese use to cover plants in the winter! I found them so adorable!!!



We also witnessed this cute scene where the man in the pond (staff) was trying to catch a fish, and the other visitors were cheering him on. Everyone was very pleased when he succeeded in catching the fish.

We then took the bus to the Kagoshima ferry terminal that would take us to Sakurajima. I mentioned in the last post that I was really excited to come to Kagoshima in order to visit this active volcano and Yakushima, an island close to Kagoshima. These were major destinations I planned around for our visit to Kyushu. The ferry ride between Kagoshima and Sakurajima is only around 15 minutes, so it’s really close (and the reason why the town gets a lot of ash when the volcano erupts). After arriving at Sakurajima, there wasn’t much around so we walked up the hill to a cafeteria for a simple and quick lunch.


I love that they are keeping track of Sakurajima’s eruption frequency on this board. As you can see, it had been quiet thus far in January and T were personally quite disappointed that there were no eruptions during our time in Kagoshima. In fact, it erupted over a thousand times the previous year, and after we left, Sakurajima did erupt!





We walked the Nagisa Lava Trail (around 3km), then took a bus from the end of the trail to Yunohira Observation Point. The Nagisa Lava Trail starts near the ferry terminal, and winds through the lava zone created from the giant 1914 eruption, showing all the vegetation regrowth since then. The Yunohira Observation is the closest observation point to the crater (2.5km away) and also the tallest at 350m.

We took the bus back to the ferry terminal and returned to Kagoshima. I also purchased our ferry tickets to travel to and from Yakushima, where we would be going tomorrow.

We walked around Kagoshima, stopping at a shochu store to buy (shochu) souvenirs, and many conbini since it was a bit early to have dinner but I had no other plans.

For dinner, we had ramen at Tontoro Ramen, which was apparently one of the best ramen restaurants in Kagoshima.

Day 4: January 21

We took a very early taxi to the Kagoshima ferry terminal. It was just easier with our luggage and the time of day to take a taxi. Our ferry departed for Yakushima at 7:45am and took two hours. When we arrived at Yakushima Miyanoura terminal, we picked up our rental car. For this rental car, I would be driving! Yakushima is very hard to navigate without a car, and especially so in winter when public transport is more limited. The island is manageable to drive around though – only 135km.

Yakushima is a subtropical island covered in cedar trees and known to have Japan’s oldest trees. It is famous for raining “35 days a month” and its ancient cedar trees, especially Jomonsugi, which is estimated to be 2000 to 7500 years old and the is the main attraction of Yakushima. Visiting Jomonsugi is like a pilgrimage to the Japanese, and in peak season, the trail to Jomonsugi is so congested that there’s barely any gaps between hikers. The roundtrip hike takes around ten hours (or more depending where you start) but because of the reduced access and shorter daylight hours during winter, it was not a good idea to attempt this hike. However we are hoping to return to Yakushima in the future to do the Jomonsugi pilgrimage!

My plans for Yakushima were fairly relaxed since it would be weather dependent. In true form, it poured the whole first day so we drove around one side of the island to the various sites marked out on maps.



How adorable was our car? It was tiny but comfortable and very easy to drive. The road speeds were slow enough that it didn’t matter that we were in a small car.

Much of the island was pretty deserted and we almost never saw tourists, even at tourist destinations. Even the town area where shops and hotels were located was really quiet. I guess winter is really not a popular time to visit Yakushima. We couldn’t even find a restaurant or anything for a long stretch, so we stopped at a supermarket. It thankfully had a bathroom (which I desperately also needed). We bought some food from the supermarket, warmed it up in their microwave and ate a very late lunch in the car.





We were driving down the western coast, which is definitely the quietest side of of the island (buses don’t even serve that side). The roads were, for long stretches, just single lane mountain roads for BOTH directions but we could go an hour or two without seeing a single car driving in the opposite direction. I guess that was one good thing about visiting during the super low season. Occasionally we would have to stop as there were animals in our way. We stopped at four waterfalls, including Okonotaki/Oko Waterfall, which is considered one of 100 most beautiful waterfalls in Japan. Japan loves a good list.






It worked out well that we just drove around the western side and stopped at the waterfalls, since it rained so hard all day. It would have been miserable to do any walks or hikes. We drove to our hotel, Yakushima Green Hotel, on the eastern side of the island (where all the hotels are) and checked in. The hotel had large rooms but was a bit old. Overall it was fine though.

We drove to have dinner at Izakaya Jijiya, which serves modern and fusion izakaya food. I hadn’t had trouble with parking the whole day because we hadn’t really been on residential roads, and most tourist destinations had parking areas. Unfortunately I could not figure out where to park nearby! We actually had to go ask at the restaurant, and they informed us of a parking area across the road where we could park for free. We enjoyed a nice dinner after a pretty tiring day. I was definitely sick of the rain though!






Travel: Japan Trip #4 2016 (Day 0 & 1 & 2 – Travel, Kumamoto, Kagoshima)

See: Travel: Japan Trip #4 2016 itinerary and intro

Day 0 & 1: January 17 & 18

Our flight was at 12:30pm and I woke up at 6am (!) to shower and get ready. T’s parents drove us to the airport. We arrived around 9am and it took around an hour to get through to the gates. We had some breakfast at Little Ludlow and bummed around until our flight (with JAL).

Our first leg landed at Singapore Changi airport around 5:30pm and it only took around half an hour to clear immigration. I met my friend and she took us to the staff food court adjoined to the airport where we ate some hawker food. This was a great way to catch up with her in the few hours we had to transit since we didn’t have to travel anywhere.

We hung around until 8:30pm before going back to our gate. Our next flight departed from Changi at around 10pm. We landed at Tokyo Haneda airport around 5:30am (on time) but we had a domestic transit at 7:30am, which I hadn’t realised would be a problem. We had to clear immigration, which took around an hour because there were so many people, run out and find our checked luggage and re-check it in for the domestic leg. I noticed that a lot of domestic flights were cancelled due to severe snow weather. Then we had to catch a monorail for the domestic terminal! We made it to our boarding gate with 15 minutes to spare, so it was really a lot more stressful than I had anticipated!

All over the country, Japan was actually having abnormally cold weather with lots of snow storms and many unusual places experiencing snow. Our plane was actually delayed because they had to de-ice the plane… this seemed to involve a man on a crane hosing the plane down, haha. I’m just grateful we were one of the few planes not cancelled! Shortly before take-off, a flight attendant also came and informed us that our checked luggage had not made the flight and would be on the next flight (roughly an hour behind). This wasn’t a big deal to me because almost anything is better than lost luggage.

After landing at Tokyo Haneda airport, we waited at the boarding gate another two hours (the second flight with our luggage was also delayed). I did have to check that the staff member knew who we were and that we were waiting for our luggage. She was quite concerned about disrupting our travel plans but honestly it wasn’t a big deal to us. When the plane landed, a staff member informed us and we went to baggage collection, where someone else was waiting there with our luggage – yay! It was such a relief to see it.

But the crazy first leg continues (I don’t think I’d ever do this again…)! We took a bus to Shin-Osaka station (25 minutes), exchanged our 21-day JR pass, booked some shinkansen seats, and activated our passes for our 3+ hour ride to Kumamoto, the first city on our trip. From Kumamoto station, we took a tram to our hotel, Richmond Hotel Kumamoto Shinshigai, which was located in the central shopping arcade of Kumamoto. It was a lovely hotel and exactly what I wanted. We checked in and picked up the pocket wifi that was mailed to our hotel. And so after 30-odd hours we were finally in our first location. Good gosh what was I thinking…

After relaxing for a bit, we left to walk around the area and find somewhere for dinner. We definitely wanted izakaya food!






We settled on Hakata Ichibandori, a quiet restaurant (I think we were one of only two sets of diners there) with a huge menu. It’s actually a chain restaurant, I think. The skewers were ah-mazing! Kumamoto’s specialty dish is basashi, horse sashimi. We ordered some and with some apprehension (none from T though because he’s game for everything), I tried it. It wasn’t bad, but also not memorable.

Day 2: January 19

Due to the weird cold weather Japan was experiencing, we actually had light snow in Kumamoto! Kyushu is the southernmost of the main Japanese islands and has a subtropical climate, hence why I chose to visit in January. Snow is pretty rare overall. Locals said it happens once every five to ten years or so. It was quite cold and windy though the light snow didn’t really continue into the afternoon. We were only going to sightsee around Kumamoto for half a day. First we walked to Kumamoto-jo/Kumamoto Castle, which is a modern reconstruction of the original castle, though some original structures still remain (such as the Uto Turret). Although it’s a modern reconstruction, the castle and its grounds are considered one of the most impressive in Japan, especially during sakura season. Very sadly, this castle suffered severe damages during the 2016 earthquake and it is still closed to the public.


I believe the structure on the left of the enormous tree is an original structure. We also went inside the castle, and at the top you can see a beautiful view of Kumamoto city, since the castle is perched on a hilltop.



We then walked back to the Shinshigai area to line up for katsu (Japanese port cutlets) at Katsuretsutei Shinshigai Honten, a very famous and popular katsu restaurant in Kumamoto. We arrived before midday and didn’t have to wait too long.

After lunch, we trammed to Suizenji-jojuen/Suizenji Garden, a landscape garden which reproduces the post stations of the Tokaido (including a miniature version of Mt Fuji).






The garden was so immaculate and beautiful. There were hardly any people, and in general I was surprised by how few tourists we saw in Kyushu until we got to Beppu and Fukuoka. (Honestly, it was kind of glorious compared to the rest of the trip)

I also picked up my first dango of the trip! (FYI I freaking love dango)

We trammed back to our hotel and picked up our bags to then take the shinkansen from Kumamoto station to Kagoshima-chuo station (around 45 minutes to arrive around 5pm). I was first introduced to Kagoshima from the taiga drama (period drama), Atsu-hime, in which the first half is set in Kagoshima, with the beautiful backdrop of the active volcano, Sakurajima. I was so excited to visit Kagoshima and Sakurajima!

It is very clear everywhere you turn that Kagoshima is also very proud of Sakurajima.


We checked in to our hotel, Solaria Nishitetsu Hotel Kagoshima (also excellent), and they had a great view of the mountain from the hotel! Sakurajima is so close to Kagoshima that it’s visible from almost everywhere.


We headed out to grab dinner. We went to Kagomma Furusato Yataimura, which roughly translates to Kagomma old hometown food stall village. It has a bit of a novelty factor, but it was really quiet and there really weren’t any tourists at all! We sat down in one tiny little stall (seated about two people on three sides so six to seven people total sitting around the chef). The store owner-chef (shopkeeper?) and the other locals were very friendly and chatted to us. One man said he/his company built a lot of important buildings around the world. One thing I always get in Japan is people exclaiming how far I’ve travelled (from Australia) to visit Japan. I find this so bizarre because I consider Japan one of the closest countries for us to visit!





We left after we had tried everything we were interested in, because a couple of them were smoking. We also like hopping around and trying a lot of stuff in Japan. The sizes of izakaya dishes means we can try a lot of things in small portions. We went to another little place, where we tried some oden. This one was more like a small restaurant and we sat in our corner, rather than squished up against other customers.


Travel: Japan Trip #4 2016 (3 week/23 days) itinerary and intro

Intro

This was my first holiday with T and we were both pleased to discover that we had similar and often complementary travel habits and priorities. T also discovered to his joy how much I enjoy trip planning because he hates thinking about it. So I get to plan all our holidays forever and ever, yay!!

It had been just over three years since the previous visit to Japan. The trip was my longest yet – three-ish weeks, meaning I could fit in first-timer must-see tourist places (my opinion) for T who hadn’t visited before, and I could easily expand the itinerary to include other sites that I want to visit for the first time. This trip was a monster to plan. We visited southern Kyushu and northern Hokkaido (briefly), and used the 21-day JR pass which is known as the most difficult JR pass to get your money’s worth out of. We exceeded the value significantly, which shows the distance and frequency we used it. Now I know we both adore Japan and T really gets why I want to keep returning to Japan for travel, there will be many more trips to Japan in the future. We are visiting again this coming April!

I chose January to February because it is the low season (and I love escaping Melbourne summers to enjoy winters) and timed it to visit the Sapporo winter festival.

The plan

    Visit the top “first-timer” places (if I designed a 1.5-week itinerary for someone’s first and last Japan trip) – Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Miyajima, Kawaguchi-ko – could not fit in Kawaguchi-ko and not great time to visit
    Sapporo Winter Festival
    Otaru Snow Light Path Festival (Otaru and Sapporo festivals usually overlap by a few days)
    Visit Himeji castle, often considered the most beautiful original castle in Japan – Was under renovation for many years when I wanted to visit in 2012
    Visit Kobe – Never been!
    Visit Kyushu including Yakushima (and Jomon Sugi) – Southern Japan would likely have a milder winter and Yakushima looked like a stunning island but we didn’t manage to visit Jomon Sugi because winter is actually not the right time to make the hike – oops!
    Visit Shirakawa-go and see the gassho-zukuri farmhouses – carried over from the 2012 trip where I couldn’t fit it in and because winter is still the best time to visit
    Visit Amanohashidate, one of the nihon sankei (three most scenic views of Japan) – carried over from the 2012 trip where I couldn’t fit this in but did visit Miyajima (one of the other nihon sankei

The worst part of planning Japan trips is everything that unfortunately cannot make it onto the itinerary! For resources, Japan-guide and Hyperdia were my indispensable best friends as per usual. To be the most time and distance efficient, I wanted to fly in and out of different cities, and ended up flying with JAL to Itami airport (Osaka) and departed from Narita airport (Tokyo) with stopovers in Singapore on both legs and an additional transit at Haneda airport (Tokyo) for the first leg to Japan. That made both legs pretty intense (considering Japan is not that far to Melbourne) and the first leg arriving in Japan especially crazy! I tend to find the combination of Tokyo and Osaka flights optimal since both cities have two major airpots and both cities typically end up on itineraries. I think I would look less favourably on spending 24 hours to get to our starting city (after our flight we had to take a shinkansen to our first destination!), especially as I hadn’t realised we would have to check-in again on the domestic leg (including hauling our luggage, which ended up missing our flight during the short transit – but more on that later). On the other hand, fewer airlines can string together Osaka and Tokyo routes, and I considered under $1000 for JAL pretty good at the time. The route also allowed me a few hours in Singapore – enough time to exit and leave immigration in order to meet my friend, who came to the airport.

Final itinerary

17 January – 10 February 2016

Click links to see the corresponding blog entry!

Day 00: Flight from Melbourne to Itami/Osaka via Singapore and Haneda/Tokyo [enroute]
Day 01: Arrival in Osaka; travel to Kumamoto [Stay in Kumamoto] *JR Pass Day 1*
Day 02: Kumamoto – Kumamoto Castle, Suizenji Garden, travel to Kagoshima [Stay in Kagoshima]
Day 03: Kagoshima – Sengan-en, Sakurajima [Stay in Kagoshima]
Day 04: Travel to Yakushima, pick up rental car, Yakushima [Stay in Yakushima]
Day 05: Yakushima – Shiratani Unsuikyo [Stay in Yakushima]
Day 06: Yakushima – Kigen-sugi, Yakusugi Land, return rental car, travel to Kumamoto [Stay in Kumamoto]
Day 07: Pick up rental car and drive to Takachiho – Takachiho Gorge, drive to Beppu [Stay in Beppu]
Day 08: Beppu – Hells of Beppu, return rental car, travel to Fukuoka [Stay in Fukuoka]
Day 09: Fukuoka, visit Nagasaki [Stay in Fukuoka]
Day 10: Travel to Kyoto – Fushimi Inari Taisha, visit Osaka – Umeda Sky Building [Stay in Kyoto]
Day 11: Visit Hiroshima, visit Miyajima – Itsukushima-jinja [Stay in Kyoto]
Day 12: Kyoto – Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto Imperial Palace, dinner at Sojiki Nakahigashi [Stay in Kyoto]
Day 13: Visit Himeji – Himeji Castle, visit Kobe [Stay in Kyoto]
Day 14: Visit Amanohashidate, visit Osaka [Stay in Kyoto]
Day 15: Kyoto – Ginkaku-ji, Philosopher’s Path, Nanzen-ji, Kiyomizu-dera, Higashiyama, Gion [Stay in Kyoto]
Day 16: Travel to Nagoya – Nagoya Castle [Stay in Nagoya]
Day 17: Visit Takayama, visit Shirakawa-go [Stay in Nagoya]
Day 18: Travel to Tokyo – Asakusa, Tokyo Sky Tree, Sumida Aquarium [Stay in Tokyo]
Day 19: Travel to Sapporo [Stay in Sapporo]
Day 20: Sapporo Snow Festival, visit Otaru Snow Light Path Festival [Stay in Sapporo]
Day 21: Travel to Tokyo [Stay in Tokyo] *JR pass day 21 – last day*
Day 22: Tokyo – Tsukiji, Roppongi, Odaiba [Stay in Tokyo]
Day 23: Tokyo – Shibuya, Shinjuku [Stay in Tokyo]
Day 23+1: Flight from Haneda/Tokyo to Melbourne via Singapore [enroute]
Day 23+2: Arrive in Melbourne

Important costs (AU$ or ¥)

(Not well documented…)

    Flights: ~$990pp with JAL
    Hotels: ~$140/night for 2 (most expensive ¥35728 for one night at The Tokyo Station Hotel)
    Dinner at 2-Michelin star Sojiki Nakahigashi: ¥15000pp
    Kobe beef dinner (in Kobe): A5 120g-180g sirloin and flank/bottom sirloin (a bit of confusion on the cut) ~¥9000-11000
    JR pass: $676pp (21-day JR Pass)
    Return ferry to Yakushima from Kagoshima: ¥16100yen
    Car rental: ??

Note: T didn’t really buy anything and spent around $4500-5000 total for the whole trip (inclusive of flights) and I wouldn’t say we were frugal at all

Final thoughts

We packed one check-in suitcase (~17kg), one carry-on suitcase and one carry-on backpack (we packed a change of clothes in our carry-on plus anything we wouldn’t want to lose, such as cables and chargers). We packed a light duffel bag in case of shopping – which we ended up doing a lot of. The whole check-in suitcase ended up filled with souvenirs (mostly food and alcohol) so we additionally checked in the carry-on suitcase and duffel on the return flight (we haven’t needed to expand with the duffel bag for our later Europe or USA trips though). We avoided breakfast-included rates where possible because I find conbini so much more convenient and much cheaper, especially as T doesn’t tend to eat breakfast. I usually purchased vegetables or salad the night before to eat while getting ready the next morning (I find vegetables far too lacking when eating out). If still hungry, I’d grab something on the go while we were out for the day. As with previous trips, I mostly chose mid-range business hotels, which are small but clean and well-priced. Often it’s possible to find good ones near the main stations. I stayed at Hotel Sunroute Plaza (Shinjuku) for the second trip in a row because I really like it’s value and location. It’s reviewer ratings are lower than what I typically choose but having stayed there before, I knew what I was in for and it met all my needs as it did the previous time. One of my favourite things about travelling in Japan is that mid-range hotels usually have coin laundries. We only had difficulties with machines taken up by other customers once and had to leave and come back, but otherwise we were able to do our (planned) laundry every 4-6 days.

We only made one restaurant booking, which including ringing up months ahead to book the Michelin restaurant (among my shortlist, this was the first one to accept a reservation from a non-Japanese patron – usually they would ask your hotel to book for you). For everything else, we looked up restaurants on the fly or just walked into a restaurants that looked alright. Most restaurants that came highly recommended from the Internet, we planned ahead (like the day before) and made sure to arrive early to minimise the queuing. It was hit and miss – I wouldn’t trust English reviews anymore. Notable restaurants will be discussed in subsequent posts. Overall the food was amazing and cheap – T is the most adventurous eater I’ve been to Japan with, and I think we were really able to eat very well for pretty cheap. In particular we are both fans of izakaya (and drinking Japanese fruit liqueurs), which we ate at for most dinners. My impression is that on average, most of our dinners cost ¥3000-6000 for two (with alcohol), proper lunches around ¥2000-3000 for two, and on-the-go quick snack/lunches around ¥1000-1500. This isn’t representative of Japanese food but these are the kind of places we naturally gravitate towards based on our taste and preference for Japanese food (casual and homely)… and occasion need to just keep moving and not prioritise food. Street food and conbini food is pretty awesome!

As mentioned above, we purchased the 21-day JR pass ($676 at the time but this moves with the exchange rate) which we picked up locally from HIS Japan because they had the cheapest AUD price at the time. We exchanged and used it upon arrival in Japan and I made almost all my reservations on the first day as well, for ease. With this, we literally zipped all over Japan and made some trips that seemed pretty silly if not using the JR pass (such as shinkansen travel between Kyoto and Osaka just for dinner).

For the first time, I also rented a pocket wifi. My previous travelling style had been without phone/internet and relying on maps and diagrams stored on my phone (or, I admit, hard copies printed and folded in my bag!). As my planning got more complicated, this method got more complicated for travelling through Japan. Now with T as my travel companion, he made it clear that Internet was non-negotiable. It is much easier to rent pocket (portable) wifi devices in Japan than to try and get a phone sim (it is now easier to get a data-only sim, but still harder and more expensive to get a sim with calls/text). We did some research on wifi coverage (since we would be visiting some pretty remote places) and daily limits in deciding on the company to go with (neither of us can remember the company or find the emails from that time unfortunately…). We chose to have ours delivered to our first hotel (also possible to pick up from major airports) and then return it via reply-paid post on our final day. This worked seamlessly and I believe many travellers who rent pocket wifi devices would agree that the process is very convenient for most companies. Our coverage was great even in Yakushima (except for maybe for some spots deep into our hikes) but actually it was surprisingly bad on long shinkansen rides. I am using a data sim for my upcoming trip so I will see how I get on with that compared to a pocket wifi.

I also discovered and bought my first goshuin-chou – a bit late from Kinkakuji though, so I missed out on several good opportunities earlier on! Argh! I almost filled my first book from the trip. We spent many days with no plans and just wandering the streets and obsessively going to teeny tiny shrines and temples annotated on Google maps and finding a priest or caretaker to give me a goshuin. I definitely surprised many poor priests/caretakers in some fairly obscure suburban shrines and temples. I am super proud of my first book and hope to collect many more books and fill them!

Unlike previous trips to Japan where I only used cash (pre-exchanged in Melbourne), we got the 28 Degrees credit card and used it for about half our expenses. I pre-exchanges only some cash, in anticipation for being able to use a credit card at most restaurants. This trip is where I noticed that more merchants were accepting cards than previously.

I also planned places where we would need to drive because public transport in Japan does have it’s limits! So for the first time, I had to rent cars and we both had a go driving (we rented twice). It’s actually really easy driving in Japan (especially in small towns). We got our Internal Drivers’ Permits just before leaving (received on the spot).

Camera: My beloved Canon G15 – unfortunately I dropped it a few times early on and then the focus didn’t work properly… this was my last trip with this camera although I tried to use it with difficulty for several more months. 🙁 I adored my G15 and should have taken better care of it.