When we were talking about where to go for our honeymoon, we quickly agreed that going to Japan was the best destination for us. Once decided, it was all about finding the right travel agency (XFV in Barcelona) and spending a couple of weeks doing some research on what to visit, how to move around, and, most important, where to eat!
After coming back home, since we had a very good experience in the land of the rising sun, I decided to put together some useful tips for future travellers. Here they go!
Gadgets & Apps
While you are on vacation, do you consider that having full-time internet access makes you feel too ‘connected’ to your everyday world? Do you like experimenting those incomprehensible dialogues when asking directions to locals? Do you master the art of repetitive folding/unfolding of maps? Are you afraid of local food delicacies and rather prefer to eat a pizza slice in a Kyoto suburb?
If you answered ‘no’ to the previous questions, just keep reading. If you answered ‘yes’, you might consider jumping to next section. Nevertheless, you would be loosing the opportunity to discover some practical and useful technological tips that will make your trip to Japan even better.
Get a MiFi
Simply put, a MiFi is like a router but so small than you can keep it in your pocket. It provides internet access because it connects to the cellular network and creates a short-range WiFi where you connect to with your personal device as easy as you do at home.
We ordered the 75Mbps MiFi from Global Advanced Communications at 7000¥ (around 50€) for 14 days. It definitely one of the best decisions we made. The logistics are super-easy: they ship you the MiFi to your Hotel at your arrival date; the last day you just have to leave the device in a mailbox with the envelope they provided you.
And the data connectivity is awesome: LTE at 75Mbps almost everywhere you go. I had not seen loading webpages on my iPhone as fast as in Japan, not even at Barcelona with my home old-style wired connection (ADSL). I only remember one place where we lost connectivity; it was in the train journey towards Takayama while we were traversing the ‘Japanese Alps’. We were so happy with it that I’m afraid from now on ‘getting a MiFi’ will be a fixed item on our travel to-do lists.
Get an external battery
I assume that I convinced you and now you will be travelling with a MiFi, a tablet and two mobile phones. In such a case, feel free to shoot as many videos as you like and don’t be afraid of running out of battery at lunch time. We bought a PNY Powerpack Fancy 5200, which provides up to three additional full-charges for an iPhone 5.
Regarding the battery life, a final recommendation is to switch on the airplane mode in your phone when you are not using it. The reason is that, since you are connected to the MiFi through the WiFi interface, this actually drains out your battery.
Trust Trip Advisor
Here we could start a discussion on whether the top-recommendations in Trip Advisor (TA) are trustable and really represent the best places or they are just ‘made-by-tourists-and-for tourists’. This is out of the scope of this post because I consider that (1) in a community-powered platform the top places are, in general, better the bottom ones and (2) having this information is better than nothing. And we confirmed this in Japan because we were guided by TA to many good places that were not tourist attractions at all (they had no english menu but the ‘pointing at’ technique is more than enough).
If you agree, go get the Trip Advisor apps. The basic ‘Trip Advisor’ is a native representation of the website with a friendly interface and very easy to use. Check also the ‘Offline City Guides’ if you are visiting Kyoto or Tokyo.
Let Hyperdia plan your train schedule
If you are travelling to Japan I assume you are getting the Japan Rail Pass (otherwise, you should!). Then, download the Hyperdia app and forget about printing tones of train schedules before leaving. The train infrastructure in Japan is simply awesome: clean, fast and punctual. Did I say punctual? None of the trains we took was delayed a single minute. Not even that small local train that connects a few towns in the middle of the mountains. Don’t be afraid of taking 5 trains to get somewhere and let the app recommend you the route. You will get at your destination right in time.
Where to eat
We started planning the trip two weeks before leaving. The travel agency had already booked the flights and the hotels, so we just had to find some activities to fill up the days. And, frankly, we spent 10% of the time in selecting which temples to visit, and 90% in reading restaurant recommendations and blog posts written by foodies.
According to Wikipedia, “a foodie is a gourmet, or a person who has an ardent or refined interest in food and alcoholic beverages. A foodie seeks new food experiences as a hobby rather than simply eating out of convenience or hunger.” Wow! I never found a definition that better fits us gastronomy-wise.
Enough with the boring introduction and let’s dive into the most interesting part. The following list is a result of our experience and we hope you will find it useful (note the prices are approximate and per person).
- Ippudo Nishikikoji: This is a cosy place full of locals in the hidden small streets close to the Nishiki market. Just select the bowl picture you prefer and don’t forget to order the gyoza dumplings. 1200¥.
- Musashi Sushi: It is just a kaiten sushi in the centre of Kyoto. Nothing special but cheap and fast. 1100¥.
- Issen Yoshoku: They only serve one plate – a Kyoto-style okonomiyaki – but it is delicious. 1000¥.
- Izuju: Kyoto-style pressed sushi. We could not try this one but it was on our ‘must’ list. Get there early if you plan it for diner (they close at 7pm). 2500¥.
- Pontocho: Sooner or later you will be told to visit the Pontocho alley for dinner. It exists, and the river-side restaurants have an excellent terrace, but it looks very ‘touristy’. We did not eat there but we passed by ‘Pontocho Kappa Zushi‘: a sushi place with a long waiting line full of locals. Maybe next time… 3000¥.
- Reichan: Waiting for your Shinkansen at the train station? Go upstairs and look for Reichan. You’ll recognise it by the white curtains with red Japanese letters, and because everyone is there! Delicious Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki. 1000¥.
- Iwaso: We had dinner and breakfast in the Ryokan where we stayed. Outstanding 9-course dinner full of Japanese delicacies. We don’t know the price because it was included in the room.
- Ichibazushi Shinsaibashisuji: A single night in Osaka was enough to discover an authentic sushi place in the most commercial street. Remember to order the ‘unagi’ (eel nigiri). 1800¥.
- Center 4 Hamburguers: Need a break of Japanese gastronomy? Then visit this small but homey american-style burger restaurant. Take a look at the Japanese craft beers they have in the menu. 1500¥.
- Hidatakayama Kyoya: Traditional restaurant specialised in ‘Yakiniku’ (grilled meat you cook on your table with a small barbecue). Look for the menu set with ‘Hida beef on miso'; it is unforgettable. 3000¥.
- Fujioto: We had dinner and breakfast in the Ryokan where we stayed (Fujioto). Excellent 10-course dinner full of local mountain dishes. Say hello to Franco if you happen to be around! We don’t know the price because it was included in the room.
- Train Station: If you have little time in Nagoya train station, there’s two options: (1) buy a take-away bento box and eat it quietly on the train, or (2) visit the ramen shop opposite the ticket office in the hallway between the regional and shinkansen platforms. Don’t worry about the waiting line, they are fast! 1000¥.
- Omoide Yokocho (Shinjuku): Right behind the train station there are a few small allies with eat places that fit no more than 8 people and where you can eat delightful ‘yakitoris’ (chicken on a skewer). The one in the central corner only serves eel! 1000¥.
- Gonpachi Nishiazabu (Roppongi): Are you a fan of Tarantino? Then you must go to the restaurant where the Kill Bill fighting scene was ideated. While the food quality is not outstanding, the atmosphere inside is very nice. 2000¥.
- Kaisen-don (Tsukiji market): When you will go for sushi breakfast at Tsukiji market – because you will – and the ‘Sushi dai’ waiting line will be longer than 3 hours, give ‘Kaisen-don’ a chance. They serve sashimi rice bowls with very good quality-price ratio. 2000¥.
- Tonkatsu Hamkatsu (Akihabara): It was a rainy day and we decided to stay inside department stores looking for Canon lenses and Dragon Ball toys. At lunch time, we headed to the restaurants floor to eat our ‘tonkatsu’ (similar to schnitzel). Look for the button in the table or no waiter will come to ask your order! 1300¥.
- Mochi Cream (Akihabara): ‘Mochis’ are Japanese rice cakes with a filling of your taste. If you like them, right in the Akihabara metro station you will find this shop with tens of flavours. Take two and you will not regret it! 600¥.
- Tokyu Food Show (Shibuya): This is not a restaurant but an impressive supermarket located in the basement of the Tokyu department store in the Shibuya station. Get lost and buy something to take-away. 800¥.
- Popcorn (Omotesando): If you want to try gourmet-flavoured popcorn, head to Omotesando street. Take a walk under the trees and you will quickly find one of the two popcorn places with 30-minute lines starting at their front doors. 500¥.
And, most important, don’t forget to try every piece of street food you come across regardless its shape, colour or smell! Do you want a more visual review of Japanese food? Check our video ‘EAT remake’!