Sunday, 8 November 2015

**Top tips for travelling Japan**


It is important to learn at least a few key words or phrases before going to Japan. We learned the following and although very basic, it just made transactions with locals a little easier/friendlier. I don't know if our accents/pronunciation were that good but we tried and the locals seemed to appreciate it.

Ohayou gozaimasu - Good Morning
Konnichiwa - Hello
Konbanwa - Good Evening
Sumimasen - Excuse me / Sorry (most common way of saying sorry)
Gomennasai - Very sorry (Almost like begging forgiveness, not for use in everyday situations)
Arigatou gozaimasu - Thank you
Onegai shimasu - Please
Gochisosama - I am pleased with the meal (Tomo taught us this one)
Ego ga hanasemas ka - Do you speak English?

('u' at the end of the words above is silent)

These are also potentially useful words:
Oishii - Delicious (childlike way of saying it)
Kanpai - Cheers
Kawaii - Cute
Kowai - Scary     (notice how similar to Kawaii - careful pronunciation needed)
Tori/Chikin - Chicken
Wagyuu - Beef
Ton - Pork
Gohan - Rice
Mizu - Water
Umeshu / Kajitsushu - Plum Wine/Fruit Liquor

We never really had to go higher than 5 as all prices are printed/on screens:
Ichi - 1
Ni - 2
San - 3
Yon - 4
Go - 5

We also had a Japanese phrasebook with us and we had the Jsho app on our phones so we were able to look up words/phrases if we needed (Jsho is an absolute gem!). We can't read Kanji so were unable to decipher what most food was in convenience stores however by having basic food words we able to ask them for help (we found that about two thirds of convenience store workers couldn't speak English)


Etiquette is big in Japan and when someone isn't following it they really stick out.
-There is no jay-walking; everyone waits for the green man at traffic lights. Most cities have a bird tweeting noise when it's OK to walk which we loved.
-Do not sit in priority seats on trains if someone is in need (& even if the carriage is nearly empty you'll get frowned at)
-There is absolutely no litter, though there are not many bins
-Smoking is not allowed in the street, there are designated smoking areas to go to (with trees in!)
-Do not gesture with chopsticks and do not eat from same plate as someone else/drink from  the same cup
-Point with whole straight hand, not one finger.
-Do not pour your own drink; pour others' & they'll return the favour.

We think we made a few taboos throughout our 3 weeks. These are some of the ones that were more obvious as we got some funny looks:
- When sitting on trains/subway try to sit next to a person of the same gender as you. Ideally   sit at least one seat away from other people (Also look out for the hanging handles - they  are lower than on UK trains!)
- Present and take money with both hands if possible. Definitely receive business
  cards with both hands & a slight bow!


We definitely recommend buying a JR Pass before arriving in Japan as this will save you a lot of money if you will be travelling by train most of the time. We bought the 2 week pass for £246 each which was amazing value considering how much travelling we did and the fact that for one of our journeys the Shinkansen ticket would've cost ¥12220/£70 each. We definitely got our monies worth using the JR Pass!

In terms of planning travel, Hyperdia is an amazing website and app as it lets you check all types of train times for any journey around Japan. We found this very useful when planning/confirming our plans for our full days.

Many cities and some towns have dedicated travel passes that could also be of interest if you do not have a Rail Pass.


Japanese money comes in ¥10000, ¥5000, ¥1000 notes and ¥500, ¥100, ¥50, ¥10, ¥5, ¥1 coins (when we bought our cash it was £1/¥182 which is £5.50/¥1000). We took half our money in cash and half on a prepaid card (like a debit card). This was definitely the best way to carry money, though now I think I would take 1/4 cash and put the other 3/4 on the card. We got our 'Explorer' card from MoneyCorp which is a really good website; it sells cash & the cards (minimum spend £500 for home delivery), and you can utilise up to 14 currencies on the card (I've now heard this has changed but they still sell something similar). Our card is valid until 2020, so we'll be changing our left over money from the 'Yen Wallet' to 'Euro Wallet' for our next holiday.


It is definitely easier if you book your accommodation to be within easy walking distance of the main train station. We used to book all our hotels which was amazing because you could cancel up to 2 days before the stay for free and it was pay on check-in.

I have reviewed all the places we stayed in on under the username 'Casabi' if you'd like to check. I've also done reviews on TripAdvisor of the attractions we visited under the username 'ChloCasabi'.


If you go in the height of Summer as we did, prepare to sweat copiously. We both really enjoyed the heat and humidity but the best thing we did was buy little hand towels to dry ourselves with to at least appear 'normal' throughout the days. I also bought way too much sun cream with us; we both applied to face, arms and legs everyday and still only used 1 bottle. Though we were on the go all the time we weren't actually in the sun a lot; if you are looking to catch a tan, do be prepared with SPF 30 - the sun is so hot!

Make sure to stay hydrated which is easy due to all the vending machines everywhere and we found that most ranged from ¥100-¥200. Do not be caught out though! Water is normally international branded; clear drinks like 'Pocari Sweat' are not water! It is an electrolyte drink, which, although is needed in mid-summer heat, is an acquired taste and a shock if you're expecting water.


Nearly all trains have moveable seats! On Shinkansen the whole row of 2 or 3 seats swivels round, and on smaller slower trains the backs flip over the seat so you can always face the direction of travel if you want. Such a great idea!

Bowing came naturally to us as we were being bowed to; maybe it wasn't appropriate at some times but it felt right. We adopted a slight incline from upper/mid-back which was received well.

As we had the (mis)fortune to find out, Japanese products are made very well and are long lasting. Now we have our Don Quijote suitcases (which despite a few scratches are still in perfect working condition after 2.5 weeks of hard-core travel) we'll certainly be using them for all future trips. If we'd known we could've been tempted to take cheap suitcases out there to replace with better ones once in Japan.

Every hotel room had a fridge in which was an absolute blessing. This makes keeping food and drink costs down much easier as you could buy breakfast from the convenience store in the evening and have breakfast in bed the next day.

If we think of any more tips we'll keep adding...
Hope you have enjoyed the blog!
C & M, Casabi Designs

Summary of our Japan Experience

Overall we absolutely loved our trip to Japan and we will certainly be going back. We plan to see Japan in all seasons, I'm hoping we see Autumn next; M wants to see Spring & Cherry blossoms. We won't fly via Russia next time, though I doubt we'll go direct. We will see what other routes are available...

We both adored Japanese TV which we put on for background noise at the hotels, and subsequently learnt to enjoy Baseball. Nearly all food was great, we aim to start learning Japanese properly before we go again, hopeful also Kanji as this will make food-buying a lot easier.
I was also totally in love with all the plastic food in restaurant windows, so realistic!

(This was the only photo I got of the plastic food
there were so many great types though!)

My favourite things were snorkelling in Okinawa, Fushimi Inari, and the crafts. M's favourite things were Okinawa as a whole, Tokyo as a whole, and Akihabara. We both adored the food. And the roadworks:

(LED cones! & traffic cops carried tiny light sabers)

 (Possibly the best barriers I've ever seen)

We travelled 4042 miles / 6505 km within Japan on flights and trains in 3 weeks. We saw 21 places plus some more in transit and experienced nearly everything we wanted to.
(Overall we travelled 16901 miles / 27199 km in 3 weeks from our front door and back again)

Just as a point of interest, our Itinerary looked something like this:

25.07.15 - 11:05 flight from London Heathrow to Tokyo Narita via Moscow SVO
26.07.15 - Arrive Tokyo 10:35 (Explore)
27.07.15 - Tokyo - Ghibli Museum and explore
28.07.15 - Tokyo - Mt Fuji & Hakone Day Trip
29.07.15 - 11:05 flight from Tokyo Haneda to Naha, Okinawa
30.07.15 - Snorkelling (am). 18:45 flight from Naha, Okinawa to Fukuoka
31.07.15 - JR Pass start. Fukuoka to Takeo-Onsen (& Arita)
01.08.15 - Takeo-Onsen to Hiroshima (& Yamaguchi & Iwakuni)
02.08.15 - Hiroshima to Okayama (& Kurashiki)
03.08.15 - Okayama to Kobe (& Himeji)
04.08.15 - Kobe to Kyoto (& Nara)
05.08.15 - Kyoto - Explore
06.08.15 - Kyoto - Fushimi Inari
07.08.15 - Kyoto to Hakone (Onsen)
08.08.15 - Hakone to Yokohama
09.08.15 - Yokohama to Yamagata (& Yamadera)
10.08.15 - Yamagata to Morioka
11.08.15 - Morioka to Aomori. 11:05 flight to Sapporo New Chitose. Sapporo to Otaru
12.08.15 - 11:40 flight from Sapporo New Chitose to Tokyo Haneda. Train to Ueno
13.08.15 - Tokyo (JR Pass End) (Shop!)
14.08.15 - Tokyo (Shop!)
15.08.15 - 12:00 flight from Tokyo Narita to London Heathrow via Moscow SVO

We hope you enjoyed reading the blog; if you have any questions please don't hesitate to ask!

All the best,
C & M, Casabi Designs

15.08.2015 ~ Fly from Tokyo to London

We woke at 07:20 & packed the remaining items into luggage. I checked HyperDia & it said to get the 09:18 Joban Line to Nippori & then 09:25 Keisei liner to Narita. Once we'd left & were on our way I double checked and saw there was only a 4 minute changeover time between trains - not enough time! Sure enough we missed the Narita train which left as we were still trying to move along the platform on other side of Nippori station. We would've arrived at 10:03 if we'd got the trains according to HyperDia. As it was we had to wait to catch the 09:39 Keisei Ltd Express due to arrive 10:53 at Narita Terminal 1 (¥1060 ticket each).

We raced to check in where there was thankfully no queue, checked our bags & asked for fragile stickers on both, then ran through to security & passport control. It was 11:20 by now and as we cleared security they announced boarding for our plane; but we still had to buy sake as gifts first so we ran to the Duty Free shop and managed to buy 2 sakes & 1 fruit liquor before we ran to the gate... where they hadn't even started boarding. As we were so late to check-in we had separate seats, luckily we managed to swap so we could sit next to each other for the 9 hour 10 minute flight. (I was told that I would have to check my duty-free bag into the hold in Russia as it wouldn't be allowed on the plane; no idea how or when to do this but hoped for the best)

We both settled in to watch the in-flight entertainment; I chose the movie 'Transcendence' while M planned to catch up on 'Game of Thrones'. Unfortunately after half hour of watching the sound went on both our screens. After trying 2 new pairs of earphones each and having the system reset twice it became apparent that there would be no entertainment for us for the remaining 8 hours of the flight...M was furious, I was resigned. So I played some of the games for a while & then put on movies I knew inside out so I could watch the pictures and do my own soundtrack. We had lunch and dinner on this flight which for me were lactose-free fish in tomato sauce again, and then a sort of chicken casserole that had a really thick clear sauce (bit unnerving); while M had 2 different beef meals.

We landed in Moscow at 16:00 Russian time and as our next flight take-off had been delayed to 18:25 we decided to get some food. We changed £10 for 940 Roubles at the bureau de change just inside the terminal & went to the Burger King we'd spotted on our first connecting flight. We managed to get Double Cheeseburger with bacon; chicken nuggets and a Sprite for 740R as we'd already spent 170R on a bottle of water. Strangely the Sprite was a bit minty but not altogether unpleasant.

We went to our gate to wait for an hour or so and then at 18:00 an announcement was made to say the gate had changed to 31 from 26. So we rushed down as there was only 25 minutes to go until take-off but the queue for boarding had barely formed so we joined it as the British love a queue. We boarded (the duty-free bag got on no problems) and though we were sitting together on this plane it was in the very last row and so there was constant kitchen noise and toilet door banging. It was late at night in Japan by this time so really needed to sleep but that was unachievable for either us which we knew we'd regret later...

Our second dinner was served with M having Lamb Kare while I had yet another fish in tomato sauce (note to self: do not choose lactose-free meals if flying with Aeroflot again). I couldn't stomach much at this point; also could barely support my own head and it kept rolling. Apparently my eyes were scary as big blood vessels were visible in both... somehow M still looked fairly good at this point. This flight was only 3.5 hours long but it seemed to drag because of how tired we were.

We landed, through passport control, got luggage and went through Nothing to Declare (which is the route I always take so think I was on auto-pilot). We got stopped to ask what was in the duty-free bag; turns out the limit is 1 litre of alcohol per person. Who knew? Luckily we were allowed through, so then it was straight out to the shuttle bus to get back to the car park.

By the time we left the airport car park it was 22:00 (06:00 Japan time), and so when we finally got home at 00:30 it was 08:30 Japan time so we'd been up for over 24 hours. Needless to say we collapsed in bed & left everything til the morning...

14.08.2015 ~ Tokyo

Woke at 08:00 for our last full day in Japan. After more breakfast cake and showering I decided to pack the bigger suitcase so we would only have to pack smaller one tonight or tomorrow morning (just under 23kg phew!)

We went out and were at the high-end part of Harajuku by 11:00. As our rail passes were no longer active we used the subway and got ¥1000 subway & metro combined day tickets which was better & easier than paying for separate journeys. We were aiming to go to 'Oriental Bazaar' in Harajuku but got waylaid by 'Kiddyland' on the way there. Kiddyland is 5 floors of kawaii; with minions at the front door and Snoopy & the Peanuts Gang in the basement. The other floors were dedicated to Star Wars, Studio Ghibli, Hello Kitty, Moomin, Disney, Japanese icons and more. I couldn't leave empty handed so I bought 2 Geisha umbrellas & a Totoro notepad (very restrained of me).

We continued onto Oriental Bazaar which was full or all types of craft from all over Japan... obviously we felt it was a cheat as we went to each place to see/buy the craft however a 'Craft convenience store' such as this is a good idea for most travellers/tourists. I think I'd hoped this shop would be full of cheap souvenir tat like magnets etc from the description I'd read online, but it was all high quality craftsmanship goods which was great to see though the prices were higher than in the towns and cities they originated from.
Back out on the street we bought our standard (and last) FamilyMart lunch before heading into Takeshita Street. Still so busy, no less crowded than the first time we were here. We meandered in and out of some shops looking for magnets (surprisingly elusive) and I bought 3 cute tshirts.

(View from the bottom end of the street)

Once we'd reached the top end we walked to the metro station and went to Akihabara again so M could buy some final games etc. For our last dinner in Japan we went to the 8th floor of a huge shop to a restaurant where I had pork cutlet in katsu kare (which had beef in...?) and M had American steak with Japanese Sauce; we shared fried chicken & wedges; plus 3 drinks for ¥6600. We finished dinner and headed back to ground floor to head to the subway station and it was raining! It had been forecast to rain for the last 4 days but this was the first time it had done it. It was heavy warm rain but with one of my new Geisha umbrellas we were sorted for the walk back to the station.

Back at the hotel it was time for final showers and final packing of suitcase(s) now all shopping was done.

13.08.2015 ~ Tokyo

Today was the last day of our JR Passes which have been so worthwhile and indispensable when doing so much travelling. We formulated a plan of where we wanted to go, but we were wary as today was the official first day of the Obon holiday so knew that some places may be closed. I looked into breakfast that we'd paid for at the hotel and was sorely disappointed; waste of money as it was set trays of small amount of food with a limit on how many pastries and hot drinks you could have. So we went to the newsagents in the station & got 'Breakfast Morning Cake' instead which is the most amazing banana cake ever!

First up we went to Nippori Textile Town as I had hopes of buying some 'proper' Japanese fabrics, possibly from the big store(s) called Tomato. Unfortunately (and as semi-predicted) due to Obon half the street was closed, however there were some small independent shops still open which had some beautiful fabrics. I found 6 fabrics I loved and so bought 1m of each as I knew we were close to our 23kg limit for our suitcases; definitely would have bought more if I could have.
On the way back to the station we stopped by a clothes shop as one of M's friends wanted some authentic Japanese T-shirts. We found an amazing shirt which we got for ¥600 (£3.30):

After triumphant shopping we headed to the Tokyo Skytree; as we'd done the Yokohama Landmark Tower we weren't as desperate to go up this one but as there was no queue we decided to go for it. WARNING: do not be suckered in by the 'International Visitors Fast Track' desk. We paid ¥2820 (~£15) each for this which was basically security queue jump, but then we still had to queue for the lifts. It was around 11:30 & there was no queue at security; we didn't think it was worth the extra money. However, the lift queue went down quickly as there are 4 lifts (1 for each season) and the lift travels 350m in 50 seconds.

(We got the Spring lift on the way up)

Our first impression of the viewing deck was overcrowded. We were underwhelmed by it, possibly because the Yokohama one was more picturesque, quieter, cheaper. We took photos at each 'side' then took the escalator down as we'd seen signs for a glass floor viewing area. We were disappointed by the glass floor as it was severly overcrowded and only 2x2m square. There are route signs, and guides directing you the whole way round the Skytree but the area that really needs guidance/monitoring is the glass floor so you could actually get to see down through the floor. The queue for the lift down was long! Lucky the lifts fit a lot of people in. Overall we thought it was a waste of money compared to the Yokohama experience, although if it had been clear weather and we'd been able to see Mt Fuji we probably would've said it was worth it.

(View through the glass floor) 
(We got the Winter lift back down) 

We stopped at McDonalds for lunch where we got a Quarter Pounder meal & a Chicken Burger meal for ¥1000! Strangely McDonalds seems to be treated as a cafe/restaurant by the Japanese as there were lots of tables full of people just chatting or working at laptops etc. Maybe we were seen as the odd ones because we found somewhere to perch, inhaled our fast food & were off again in under 10 minutes. Next up was to find the 'Asakusa Sugarcraft' shop that I'd seen in the news months before. We found it in East Yard and it was impressive; the owner/maker works at the store and does demonstrations of making Sugar Koi fish. There are wares on display all round of the different animals he creates, so beautiful and clever though not realistic to buy as souvenir as I doubt they'd survive 24 hours travel with 2 plane journeys...

(Still unbelievable that these are made of sugar!)

We left Skytree and went back to the hotel to put the shopping down and for M to make a list of what he wanted to get form Akihabara in the afternoon. We went out again at 16:40 and went straight to BookOff on arriving to look at prices then compared with Trader prices. Then it was time for Don Quijote again! (NB. tax free shopping starts at ¥5400 in Don Quijote. You can either buy your items on each floor or take them all up to the 5th floor desk and buy them there with valid passport to get tax free).


We got back to the hotel at 20:00 to put the shopping down & freshen up before heading out to look for dinner. We found a (French/Italian) chicken restaurant near to the station and were seated at 20:45. We ordered a whole chicken to share, artisan breads and a bottle of wine. We waited an absolute age for the chicken which arrived to the table at 22:30! The food and wine was really good but it was let down by poor service and ridiculous waiting times.
Straight back to the hotel and bed after super long and late dinner.

12.08.2015 ~ Fly from Sapporo to Tokyo

We lay in til 08:00 then I went to Lawsons to get breakfast while M packed the bathroom stuff away. We caught the 09:55 train from Sapporo to New Chitose Airport (37 minutes duration) and went to JAL ticket desk as we couldn't use the self-check-in computers. We got our boarding passes, had suitcases scanned (asked for fragile stickers to be put on small case) then through security to sit at the gate for 30 minutes. We were both pretty excited to get back to Tokyo!

On the plane we were in the very last row (3x3 seats on this plane) and there was a lot of turbulence for the last 15 minutes of flight. However we landed at Tokyo Haneda at 13:20, got our baggage, had a quick McDonalds (cheaper than UK) then got the subway at 14:00 to Shinogawa where we changed for the Yamamote Line. Arriving at Ueno station we used the Ikaya exit where it was then about 8 minute walk to the hotel. We checked in at 14:50, rested and changed then headed out to Akihabara and Don Quijote to buy cabin suitcases and souvenirs. SHOPPING TIME!!

Luckily we'd looked up the Don Quijote online before so we knew what facade to look for as there are no recognisable signs for it on the street. This is what you're looking for:

(If you're walking away from JR Akihabara Station you walk
alongside this building so you'd need to turn around to see this view)

Don Quijote is on floors 2-5 and once again has nearly everything you could ever want. We got 2 cabin suitcases to match our large suitcases we already had and spent a good hour or so looking around the whole shop for things to buy souvenir-wise. M is more careful with money than me (I enjoy a good impulse buy of cheap items) so we decided to come back tomorrow when he'd thought about what he wanted. We had a quick look around Trader for games etc but again agreed to come back tomorrow as I was getting Hangry (angry/hungry for those that don't experience it).

We got the train to Tokyo Station and ate dinner in North Yaesu Kitchen Street. I didn't get the name of the restaurant we went to, but it was a beef and fish place, so M had beef steak while I had raw salmon & avocado dish (both super tasty) with as much rice & sauce as you wanted for free!

After dinner it was back to the hotel for showers and sleep.

11.08.2015 ~ Travel from Morioka to Aomori & Fly to Sapporo (& Travel to Otaru)

M slept better than the past few nights, but I did not sleep well at all.
The travel plan we had was as follows:

08:00 Shinkansen Hayabusa 95 from Morioka to Shin-Aomori (Arrive 09:09)

09:19 Ltd Express Super Hakucho 95 to Aomori (Arrive 09:25)
09:45 JR Bus to Airport (Arrive 10:20)
11:05 flight to New Chitose Airport

The travel all went to plan! We checked out & caught taxi back to the station in Morioka and then it was smooth-sailing from there. Slight inconvenience that there's no transport from Shin-Aomori to the Airport but the bus from Aomori was great service (JR Pass worked on the bus!) We caught the bus to the airport from bus stop 11 just outside Aomori Station. There's a timetable at the bus stop that shows what time bus to catch for different flight times (very helpful & reassuring). The bus stops right outside ANA check in desks where there was no queue so we put our bags through the scanner and confirmed reservation and paid for the tickets (¥52600 [£144 one-way per person] - shockingly expensive now I think about it, but at the time I just wanted to move on to Hokkaido).

As these were domestic flights no passports were required and we had to abide by 20kg luggage allowance, this meant that I was carrying 5kg of laundry and M was carrying 5kg of important stuff & our clothes for the next day so we could leave the suitcases untouched. We still weren't sure we'd do it but luckily the suitcase were 19.4kg & 19.6kg. Phew!

After check in we went through security and boarded at 10:50. I had never been on such a small plane in my life (only 2x2 seats and 19 rows! and you could see the propellers on the plane!)

The plane was half full and the flight took 50 minutes though it didn't feel as long as that. Off the plane and onto the bus to baggage claim where our bags were the first out. On the 12:33 train to Sapporo (37 minutes duration) we saw our first rain while in Japan. The sky was so grey and dark, and it was torrential rain which thankfully had stopped by the time we got to Sapporo. We went straight to the hotel who allowed us to check in straight away for free! After half hour rest and planning using the hotel WiFi we went back to the station to find food. We ended up in the underground complex where we both had Tonkatsu again as it's fast and easy.
We caught the 14:44 Rapid Service to Otaru (well known for it's glass) which took 34 minutes (the sea is literally right next to the tracks, bit of a surprise when you look up from talking!)

We arrived in Otaru and after collecting a tourist map from helpful tourist centre we set off on a 20 minute walk to the Taishou Workshops which had a very good range of products. We carried on down the main shopping street (Sakaimachi Street) where there are so many glass shops plus Venetian Glass Museum. I was particularly keen to see this area as I'd heard it was like a mini complex of all different types of glass. We walked through each shop which had fused glass, blown glass, stained glass and bead making (staggeringly we saw a child of 5 making glass beads with a worker with no glasses/real PPE over a table mounted vertical acetylene torch - you'd never see that in the UK):

I bought a beautiful torch-worked pendant that looked like a cross between a chrysanthemum and a galaxy swirled in white on black background from one shop and then on the way to the next train station (Minami-Otaru) I bought a small opalescent blown glass vessel.

Surprisingly all trains were delayed, substantially as well. We managed to catch a local service train to Teine (don't do it, worldwide rush hour, too crowded between 17:00-18:00), then after waiting on the train for 15 minutes at the station a semi-rapid train to Ebitsu via Sapporo pulled in (which was 20 minutes late) so we jumped on that and got back to Sapporo in about 15 minutes.

We stopped by Sunkus for dinner/snacks then went back to the hotel for showers & rest, which turned into sleep. Think our bodies were wearing out by this time, we just didn't have the energy to keep going for an evening as well as a day.