Travel with Sean!
Sean, our Pre-Advanced 2 student who recently visited Japan with his cousins, very candidly shared his experiences with us to celebrate Bunka’s 29th anniversary.
Date of Travel:
10th June – 26th June, Approaching Summer.
Toured around the Kanto and Kansai region with my cousins and met friends who were already in Japan (friends I made in Bunka).
10th June – 15th June covered the ‘road less taken’ parts of Tokyo via Train, Subway.
15th June – 20th June took Shinkansen to Osaka and covered Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara.
20th June – 26th June returned to Tokyo via Shinkansen and covered the more common attractions of Tokyo.
From 10th – 15th June, the most memorable place visited was Kawagoe. We took a train out nearer to the countryside. It retained some Edo-style architecture and there was not a big crowd around. We managed to explore and walk around Kawagoe and visited some mini shrines and their famous Kawagoe Clock Tower. We bought a lot of their local delicacies and talked to the locals. I’m not too fond of the large crowd in Central Tokyo and the fast pace of life there. Thus, venturing out to Kawagoe was a breath of fresh air and the locals were really helpful and chatty as well.
In Kansai, I would recommend going to Nara Park. It’s not often that you can see so many deer roaming around freely on the streets. You can purchase the Deer Senbei to feed them as well, sometimes they may even chase you around if they are really hungry. Actually, I really like all of Kansai such as Kobe, Kyoto and Osaka. If I had to choose the most memorable one, it would have to be Nara. To be able to see the deer roaming around in real life would be a more precious experience, unless your trip duration does not permit you to be too free and easy.
On the last day of my trip, I headed down to Odaiba, and I really love the place. It seemed very modern and tech-savvy, and there’s Wifi at many places. It felt like a Gundam Production site to me. You have to visit this place probably nearing the end of your trip to buy some random souvenirs back. Apparently they sell many different flavors of Kit-Kat, but since I was there during summer, they did not carry any interesting flavours T_T
I really love eating, so I will have quite a lot of recommendations for this.
If you are looking for a cheap and fast meal, stop by Suki-Ya. You’d probably be able to find this fast food restaurant everywhere and their Gyuudon is really awesome. You can top up the Gyuudon with Cheese for a mouthwatering meal.
For buffet that includes some grilling, you can try Stamina Taro. There is a wide variety of food and drinks, including sushi, grill it yourself meat, rice, noodles, and you can even make your own crepe and candy floss. The food is pretty good and the price is reasonable.
For people who want to try authentic fresh sashimi and sushi, you have to head down to Tsukiji Fish Market. I tried the sushi at Sushi-Zanmai and I must say that for a person who does not really like raw food and sushi, I really enjoyed my meal at Sushi-Zanmai. I could not taste even a little bit of fishiness in their sushi so it was all good for me. (In Singapore, I normally cannot eat much raw food because I will feel like puking due to the fishiness.)
For Udon and Ramen, I would suggest not limiting yourself to trying the ‘famous’ shops. I would say that the shops at the train stations or any roadside store are really delicious as well.
For curry rice, I only tried GoGo Curry. My cousins tried the Gorilla/Monster/Ichiban COCO curry and they said it was really awesome. I did not get to try it so I do not really have a verdict for this. But, curry rice can never go wrong so it should be just as awesome as all the other Japanese food.
Reflection about my trip:
Prior to this trip, I had been to Japan once before 2 years back, with very minimal Japanese knowledge. I sort of regretted it back then because I did not understand what the locals were saying and I was really lost (both for words and in direction sense). This time was a little different. My trip was much longer and I had more Japanese knowledge. I had an enjoyable time trying to talk to the locals and I grabbed at any opportunity just to be able to say a few Japanese words and phrases. I think that it is only through this way that I am able to pick up conversational Japanese faster. At the end of my trip, I really felt that I was more fluent in terms of conversation as I was able to maintain a simple conversation about myself, and just random things under the sun with various locals. In Osaka, I even made a friend whom I exchanged contacts with. Just as much as I want to learn the Japanese language, some of the Japanese want to learn English as well, so this works both ways. My suggestion would be just to go ahead and speak and not to be afraid of sounding weird when talking. It doesn’t matter whether you sound weird at the start, because with more experience and confidence in speaking, your Japanese will definitely improve and you’ll feel more at ease with time.
In the past, I’d always just thought of Japan as a high-tech city and famous for its anime and manga. After spending some time here, I realized that Japan is much more than that. Now I love Japan for its culture, food, language, and most importantly, the people. I was constantly amazed and inspired by the people I saw, and the people I interacted with. From the high school students to the road side stall owners, I could always feel a sense of determination and earnestness. When I look at the way they do things, I feel like I need to rethink my life, grudges and complaints back in Singapore. If we say that life as a student in Singapore is tough, we really have to think twice. In Japan, high school students have to commute to school on train, and after school they have club activities. Thereafter they proceed via train to their tuition venues (known as Juku) and proceed via train once again to go back home. This cycle repeats every day and the train rides are no joke as well. I really admire their resilience, and every time I feel like slacking in Singapore, I think about their lifestyle back in Japan and I get back to work again.
The Japanese are really sincere and honest people and I really look up to their diligence. This can be seen from the day to day interactions I had with them. They really take pride in their work and I think that I have much to learn from them.
1. If you are planning on a long stay in Japan, AirBnB would be a great choice for renting of apartments. Hotels are really expensive, but if you would like a chance to stay in a capsule hotel or an internet café for a night, go ahead and give it a try.
2. Plan the trip ahead specifically to the dates so as to maximize the use of the JR Pass. In order to really make full use of the pass, I took the bullet train around the Kansai region more than 10 times throughout the trip, even just from Osaka to Kyoto (but it really saves a lot of time). I think that taking the Shinkansen itself was a great experience. Taking the normal trains was awesome as well – there are some cool things you can do in the trains such as switching the seat directions if you’re travelling in a group and want to talk to each other.
3. I do not think that meals wise it will cost too much. Throughout my 16 days trip, including souvenirs /gifts/flight/accommodation, I spent about a maximum of 2.3k SGD, with quite a big sum of money spent on souvenirs (because I bought a lot of Kit-Kats, Tokyo Banana and etc. and they are really expensive). I believe that you do not need too much money for a relatively long trip to Japan.
4. I did not plan to the specifics of where I should go each day, and most of the time the places were decided the night before, so do not worry if you do not have a fixed itinerary. Things may change and the weather at certain places may not be to your liking. So just head down to Japan, grab a map and decide where you feel like going.
5. One thing regrettable was the weather – it was tooooo warm and rainy. It felt a bit like Singapore’s weather so it was not really to my liking. For those who hate to sweat, like me, try to visit in other periods other than summer (mid-June – end-August). I personally really like winter and cooler periods, so I would recommend visiting Japan from December onwards.
My next trip would probably be to Hokkaido (hahaha).
Useful Japanese phrases:
For the basics, I would think that it would be really polite to learn arigatou gozaimasu as you would use it quite often – during meals, when asking for directions and etc.
Since a lot of shopping will probably be done, and directions will be asked, I think that learning how to ask directions and migi/ hidari magaru would be essential (prepositions).
When speaking to the cashier it would be important to know to ask how much (ikura desu ka). When they reply, however, it’s an entirely different thing as they speak really fast (it took me some time to understand what they were saying but I guess you’ll get the hang of it after shopping there for a while). One of the questions they ask is whether you would want a plastic bag to put the goods in, and I find this pretty hard to catch. If you are doing a takeout, learning the word omochikaeri would be really useful as they will know that you want a takeaway.
If you are spending quite a large amount of money at various shops, do check if they have tourists’ tax-free shopping. In this case, you can use the word men-zei, which means tax free.
And if you would like to pay by card in Japan, you can use the phrase, (brand of your debit/ credit card) tsukaemasuka, which means to ask if your card can be used for payment, to which the reply would probably be yes if you are at BIC Camera, or Don Quixote. Remember to bring your passport for tax-free shopping though!
Thank you for sharing your experience with us Sean! We’re glad you had fun albeit the hot weather! 😀