Welcome to Travel Diaries, a Refinery29 series where we tag along as real women embark on trips around the world and track their travel expenses down to the last cent. Here, we offer a detailed, intimate account of when, where, and how our peers spend their vacation days and disposable income: all the meals, adventures, indulgences, setbacks, and surprises.
This week’s travel diary: A 31-year-old Human Resources Manager visits Tokyo and Osaka, Japan for go-kart excursions and rainy day shopping.
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Occupation: Human Resources manager
Travel Companion: husband, K.
Travel Companion’s Salary: $150,000
Hometown: Orange County, CA
Trip Location: Japan, Tokyo and Osaka
Trip Length: 11 days
Annual # Of Vacation Days: 17, plus every other Friday off
Companion’s # of Vacation Days: 1
Costs: We initially booked our flights for $547.53 each. After realizing we totally missed the fact that there was a Formula One race the day we were supposed to leave, we extended our trip by a day and paid the change fee of $120 each, but got a refund for the priority seats we paid for. Flight total: $1301.06.
JR Pass for 7 days was $732.50. This gives us unlimited access to most bullet trains and some local transportation lines, basically anything run by the JR line.
Limited train for the qualifying and race: $97.04. We had to take a different company’s trains to get out to the race, so this was for our seats and then we had to purchase the basic fare at the station. For the Formula One races, they do a qualifying on Saturdays to determine the order in which they line up for Sunday’s race and we planned to attend both. Thankfully, your race ticket for Sunday allows access to all pre-race events, but we had to pay for transportation for both Saturday and Sunday.
Costs: We spent four nights in Tokyo and five in Osaka. We used Osaka as a home base while traveling around to Kyoto, Nagoya, and Suzuka; it was nice to come back to the same place and not have to carry our luggage around. Four nights in Tokyo at Citadines Central Shinjuku: $778.92. Five nights in Osaka at Cross Hotel Osaka: $892.63.
Miscellaneous pre-vacation spending
– Parking at a hotel near the airport: $74.12
– Pocket wifi: $76.96. There are a ton of vendors to choose from, but we booked through Sushi Wifi and the process was seamless. We chose it because it was a good price, we were able to pick it up and return it at the airport, we had unlimited data and a free portable charger, and it ran on the Softbank network, which is their largest mobile phone network.
– International Driving Permits: $40. In the US, you can only get these at AAA or American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA) and we got our at AAA. You have to submit it with a current passport photo, but we had extras from renewing our passports a few months ago.
– Clothing/accessories: $201.03.
– Formula One tickets: $228.93.
– Robot Restaurant Reservation: $137.78
6:00 a.m. – Up and getting ready to go. We stayed up too late packing and figured we’d sleep on the plane, but it is definitely hard to get up this morning. We’re out the door by 7:00.
8:00 a.m. – We arrive at our parking spot and wait for the shuttle – we prepaid for parking at a nearby hotel because it’s outrageously expensive to park at the airport or for us to Uber here. Orange County and L.A. public transportation, especially when coming to the airport, is not great, so this was the best option. My husband, K., likes to get to the airport way too early and I like to arrive with just enough time to get through security and board, so we’ve learned to meet somewhere in the middle, although we’re on the earlier side today.
8:30 a.m. – We made it and are already at our gate for our 11:30 p.m. flight. We check in ahead of time, have pre-check, and don’t check bags, so it’s a smooth process once we get to the airport. We decide to prepare for our 12-hour flight by walking around since we’ll be sitting for so long, grabbing coffee for me ($7.39) and breakfast sandwiches ($17.62) along the way. $25.01
11:00 a.m. – Boarded and in our seats. We specifically chose this flight over others so we could take this specific plane, taking several photos along the way. K. loves planes and I’m from a family of pilots, so we are trying to fly on every type of plane we can. This one was a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, so that one is checked off the list! We settle in and decide to watch Aladdin for our first movie. It’s a 16-hour time change, so we depart LA at 11:30 a.m. on a Friday and arrive in Tokyo at 3:10 p.m. on a Saturday.
Daily Total: $25.01
3:00 p.m. – Arrived a few minutes early. The flight was smooth, but a little frustrating because they served two small meals with no snacks in between and we didn’t end up sleeping. We go through immigration/customs and head to pick up our pocket wifi. We hit up an ATM at the airport, which is our preferred method of getting money overseas because my bank refunds all ATM fees. On previous trips, we’ve just relied on free wifi in public areas, but since we’ll be using more public transportation and it’s so convenient here, we decided this hotspot was worth it. We purchased a JR pass to travel around, but since we aren’t activating it until we leave Tokyo, we purchase tickets on the express train to Tokyo, which will drop us off a few minutes’ walk from our hotel. $55.12
6:00 p.m. – Finally make it to our hotel. We’re exhausted and starving, but had previously purchased tickets to the Robot Restaurant (it’s a show, not really a restaurant), so we take a quick shower, brush our teeth, and head back out. Our hotel room is tiny, but the bed and shower are great, which we’re thankful for at this point. The Robot Restaurant is only a couple of blocks from our hotel, so we walk there.
8:00 p.m. – Time for the show! As it turns out, the show doesn’t actually start until 9:30 p.m. even though they told us to be here at 8:00 p.m., so we could have taken a nap or gotten some food first after all. We buy a Coke and wait to be seated. The show is a little crazy and we weren’t really sure what to expect, but it’s fun. The robots are more like floats in a parade rather than what you’d expect with a typical robot, but it’s a cool experience. We paid around $10 extra for second-row seats, but in hindsight, it was unnecessary because there are only four rows. $1.84
11:00 p.m. – We decide we’re too exhausted to go eat (which is a big deal for K. to not want to eat), so we stop at the 7-Eleven next door to our hotel to grab a few snacks. They have some Japanese version of the hot fried snacks you usually see at gas stations, but also fresh, hot snacks like squid, octopus, and other fish. K. grabs a few of these and a juice while I grab pastries and a cold water. We eat, brush our teeth, and promptly fall asleep. $6.89
Daily Total: $63.85
5:30 a.m. – We’re a little messed up from the time change, so we’re wide awake early. Jet lag is tough, but we try really hard to stay up and keep a normal schedule when we travel, so we’re usually exhausted and will sleep whenever we lay down and adjust fairly quickly. We’re planning to see some temples and hit up a museum today, so we take our time getting ready, finish our snacks from yesterday for breakfast, and head out. It takes us a while to figure out the subway system – it’s not hard, it’s just that there is one metro line and a few different private lines connecting the city and we want to take the most efficient route. Our hotel is right next to Shinjuku station, which is the busiest station in the world (and massive), but we eventually figure it out and buy our fares for the trip. Since there are so many different lines, we decide to pay for fares one at a time instead of buying a pass because then we’d be limited on our routes. $5.14
9:00 a.m. – We get to Sensoji Temple, which is Tokyo’s oldest temple, and walk around for a while. There’s incense burning, which is supposed to cleanse or heal the body, and you can purchase fortunes. It’s stunning and we snap photos and spend some time looking around. We put a few coins in the offering and buy candles to light ($1.38). It’s a great way to start off the trip. We aren’t Buddhist, but take a few moments to clear our minds and practice gratefulness and feel a sense of peace. After we’re done, we buy some snacks from vendors on the street. We share a Coke and I get a fried mixed veggie skewer (kind of like a vegetarian Okonomiyaki, but fried) and K. gets a crab skewer ($10.11). $11.49
11:00 a.m. – We walk through an adorable little market to stay out of the rain that just started. We stumble across a cute restaurant and decide to stop for lunch. K. orders shrimp and I order a cashew chicken dish for us to share. By the time we’re done, the place is packed and people are smoking. It’s interesting because you can smoke in a lot of restaurants here, but you don’t see it as much on the street and there are definitely no cigarette butts lying around. $18.37
12:00 p.m. – We head out to visit the Tokyo National Museum ($11.37). We walk about 30 minutes to get there and it rains most of the time. We brought an umbrella and rain jackets, but decide we might need to buy a second umbrella if the rain keeps up like this for the rest of the trip. We spend a few hours exploring the museum, seeing both historical and current Japanese paintings and sculptures, and spending most of our time looking at samurai swords and armor. A couple of the buildings are closed and we are feeling tired, so we go to the Starbucks across the street. We grab coffee and relax while the rain stops. ($10.56). $21.93
1:00 p.m. – There’s a cute little market next to Starbucks, so we check it out. It’s mostly kitchenware and I’d love to pick up a few pieces, but I know transporting it back won’t be that easy, so we settle for some chopsticks as a gift for some friends ($4.59). We’re already in Ueno Park, so we walk around and see a few shrines, the water lilies, and then stumble across a lake where you can rent paddleboats. We rent one in the shape of a swan and paddle around for our 30-minute time slot ($6.43). K. is too tall, so I do the paddling, but we’re enjoying this random stop. $11.02
3:00 p.m. – We hop on the metro to go to the Imperial Palace, but end up only being able to see the Imperial Palace Gardens, which are free. It’s beautiful and we enjoy looking at all the greens, the moat, and some ruins. They close at 4:30, so we don’t spend a lot of time there. $4.40
4:30 p.m. – Next up we go to the Akihabara district, which is another metro ride ($4.40). Akihabara is filled with bright lights, anime stores, and themed cafes, so we walk around for a while and K. is having fun looking at some of the characters from his childhood. After a couple of hours, we stop and eat. We find a random building filled with restaurants and end up choosing based on the plastic food in the window (so many restaurants in Japan do this and it’s awesome to see what dishes look like ahead of time). We end up ordering from the pictures without really knowing what we’re choosing since there is nothing in English. We end up with a pork dish that comes with sides of miso soup (which you drink), sashimi, and rice. I don’t eat much seafood, so I give K. my sashimi and my leftover pork ($20.21). $24.61
8:00 p.m. – K. was hoping to find a little toy of one of his favorite childhood characters (Goku from Dragon Ball) to take to his nephew, but everything is expensive and we’re exhausted, so we head back to the hotel. We take another train ride, walk to the hotel, shower, get ready for bed, and pass out. We walked around 15 miles today and are beat, plus we have another full day tomorrow. $3.67
Daily Total: 100.81
8:00 a.m. – We’re up and getting ready for the day. We decide to skip breakfast – I don’t usually eat in the mornings and K. typically only eats a granola bar. We head over to Roppongi, a district that’s full of business during the day and plenty of entertainment at night, to walk around and go to Tokyo City View, a high observation tower with 360-degree views of the city. We take a metro ride ($3.67) and walk around for a bit. There are a lot of American restaurants everywhere, but also high-end stores and dealerships, which is different from most other areas we’ve visited. We go up to the Tokyo City View ($33.08) but have to wait almost an hour to get in. We spend a couple of hours there taking in the views and taking photos. We can kind of make out Mount Fuji, but it’s a foggy day so we can’t really see it the way we were hoping to. We see Shinjuku (where we’re staying), Shibuya (where we’re heading next), and K. checks out all the stadiums. The Summer Olympics are here next year and there’s a lot of promotion for it, so it’s fun to see the stadiums. We leave when we get hungry to go find some lunch. $36.75
11:30 a.m. – We walk around looking for food, but don’t want to eat anywhere we have back home and everything else is packed. We decide to head to Shibuya, our next stop, and just eat there. We take a train ride ($3.12) and decide on Genko sushi for lunch. It’s something we found on a “must do” list for Shibuya. We get there and wait about 10 minutes before we’re seated. It’s conveyor belt sushi, but made to order instead of rotating, so we order cokes and start choosing our dishes. I order a corn salad roll, cucumber rolls, udon (which K. eats), and miso soup. He orders about 10 different rolls and is super satisfied ($36.75). $39.87
1:30 p.m. – We don’t have anything else planned besides seeing Shibuya Crossing and checking out the area, so we start walking around. We check out our first Don Quijote of the trip (a discount store similar to Walmart or Target). We want to buy a few things, but decide to come back on our way out so we don’t have to carry anything right now. There’s everything from high-end stores to 100-yen stores (the equivalent of a dollar store), so we spend a few hours just looking around.
4:00 p.m. – We’re in an Asics store when I pass by a mirror and notice my right pupil is taking over my entire iris and the other one is somewhat enlarged, so we start freaking out a little bit. It’s a little bit like when you have your eyes dilated, but it’s much larger than that. I’ve never had eye issues, but immediately take out my contacts and we go outside and sit down. I want to talk to my sister, who’s a doctor, but it’s 3:00 a.m. her time, so I call a 24-hour nurse hotline available through my insurance. They tell me it doesn’t seem like an emergency and just to follow up when I get home, so I try to calm down and we keep walking around. We walk by a pop-up DC store and go in to take tons of photos with their Batman statues (one of our nephews is obsessed with Batman) and then go to Starbucks for Frappuccinos so we can watch the Shibuya crossing from higher up at rush hour. We stay here for about an hour until it starts raining and we just see a sea of umbrellas. $10.11
6:00 p.m. – We go back to Don Quijote and buy a few snacks and chocolates for us, a Biore sunscreen I wanted to try, and a few juices ($20.70). Next, we stop at a dollar store, where we stock up on Hello Kitty goods. K.’s mom loves Hello Kitty but most of the merchandise is expensive, so we get pretty much everything we find here. ($14.15). We check out Tokyu Hands, which is kind of like a department store, and end up buying a little figurine for one of our nephews ($3.03). We take the metro back to the hotel ($2.94) and I FaceTime with my sister once we get back to the hotel. She looks at my eye and looks a few things up. She says most likely it’s nothing but wants to talk to an ophthalmologist she knows. We shower and head to bed. $40.82
Daily Total: $127.55
6:00 a.m. – Today’s our anniversary and we booked a go-kart tour of the city! We shower and get ready and then stop by the ATM. Each trip, we try to do something a little unconventional to see the city and this sounded like a lot of fun. There are several places you can do this, but we chose one by the water so we could go over a couple of bridges. We take the metro there ($5.14), which takes almost an hour. We stop at the station for breakfast sandwiches ($11.02) that are supposed to be burgers but taste more like sausage before walking to the go-kart location about 20 minutes away. $16.16
10:00 a.m. – Check-in for our tour. We chose the 2 ½ – 3 hour tour specifically to go over Rainbow Bridge, by Tokyo Tower, through the Shibuya crossing, and back over the bridge. We had to get International Driving Permits before we came, so we show those with our passports while we select our costumes. When we first signed up, we were hoping to be Super Mario characters, but it turns out nowhere can offer those anymore after getting in trouble with Nintendo. K. chooses a Batman costume and I choose Woody from Toy Story for mine. They have dozens of character costumes you can choose from, but they’re all giant onesies. Some have hats or hoods, but it’s a little windy, so we don’t choose those, although I totally would have if they had Woody’s hat. We pay and sit down to watch the safety video.
11:00 a.m. – We’re done with the safety video and on our way! You ride in traffic along with cars and get up to 40-45 mph, so it’s a little intimidating, but we settle in pretty quickly once we start going. We start out driving over Rainbow Bridge, which has an upper deck and lower deck. We’re on the lower deck and can see two different Ferris wheels and have an amazing view of the water. When we drive, we’re in a single file line and when we come to a traffic light, we move into rows of two, so it’s nice to be able to talk to K. while we’re stopped. Our guide takes photos of us at most stops since we’re not allowed to use phones. Next, we drive by Tokyo Tower (a communication tower whose shape is inspired by the Eiffel tower but it’s painted red and white), go through Roppongi, through the Shibuya crossing, and then back over the bridge. I feel like we got to see a lot of things we wouldn’t have otherwise and it’s fun to see areas without a lot of tourist attractions as well. Overall, we drive around 30 miles.
1:00 p.m. – Back from the tour and it was a blast. I didn’t get to wear sunglasses since I’m wearing my glasses with my eye issue, which seems back to normal today, but we had perfect weather. We’re a little stiff from sitting for so long, but it was an amazing experience. I would highly recommend this for anyone who goes to Japan! We walk back to the metro station, stopping for drinks on the way. I get a water and K. gets a Monster and a chicken kebab ($4.59). We take the train back ($5.14). $9.73
3:00 p.m.– When we’re back to our station, we stop by to get our tickets for tomorrow, the way back, and then another stop we’re planning for a few days, all of which are included with our JR Pass. While it’s unlimited, we need to make seat reservations for our longer trips and the office isn’t open in the morning before we leave. We walk back to the hotel and shower.
5:00 p.m. – We didn’t eat lunch today, so we head out for an early dinner. We had wanted to do a nice dinner for our anniversary, but we’re both tired and have to come back and pack, so we just walk around to see what looks good. We end up at a place that has around 30 plastic dishes in the window and everything looks good. I order Japanese spaghetti, which is like spaghetti but with a little different sauce, sausage, pork, mushrooms, and green peppers and K. gets a seafood soup dish but helps me with mine. $21.13
6:30 p.m. – We pack and get ready for our early train ride tomorrow. We had planned to get up early and go visit Kyoto, but we’re pretty exhausted so we’re thinking we’ll just head straight to Osaka to check-in and only spend one day in Kyoto instead. We were going to split it up over tomorrow and day seven, but we’ll just make that a longer day. While it’s our wedding anniversary, it’s also our two year anniversary of trying for a baby. We’ve had one miscarriage, but still no baby and we aren’t pregnant, so it’s a little bit of a tough day for me. We relax for a little bit and make it an early night.
Daily Total: $47.02
5:00 a.m. – Alarm goes off and we’re up to get ready for our train. We have to take a train to Tokyo Station and then hop on the bullet train, but we want to allow for plenty of time for the transfer.
6:00 a.m. – We head out and go to the station. We’re supposed to catch an express train to Tokyo Station, but it seems like it’s not running until later than we need to be there, so we have to scramble and take a longer train, which only gives us 10 minutes to make our bullet train.
7:00 a.m. – It turns out that was enough time, so we were worried for nothing. We bought the seven-day JR pass, so both this metro ride and the bullet train ride are covered. We splurged for the green car (first class) tickets, so we relax and are surprised at how nice the ride is. We even get a great view of Mount Fuji on the way!
11:30 a.m. – We get to Osaka and figure out how to get to our hotel. We can either take a longer ride that’s 30 minutes with two transfers and included with our pass, or a local metro that’s 10-15 minutes direct. We’re not in a rush, so we take the longer route. It’s too early to check in to our hotel, so we drop our luggage off with them and go to explore the area. We’re right by a canal and a huge shopping street, Shinsaibashi, so we walk around before settling on a place for lunch.
1:00 p.m. – We try Kushikatsu, which is essentially anything put onto a skewer and deep-fried and then dipped in a specialty tonkatsu sauce, which comes with a specific set of instructions (no double-dipping, cabbage leaves for extra sauce, no chopsticks in the sauce). We share a combo set with 12 items, plus order two chicken noodle soups. After, we walk around and hit the ATM again before going back to the hotel. $25.27
3:00 p.m. – We check-in and love our room. It’s on the top floor with views of the water and the shopping areas. It’s a little larger than the last and the bathroom has an entire room that is half shower and a soaking tub, complete with bath salts to replicate the onsen experience. They also have tons of little amenities – samples of high-end face products, hairbrushes, hair towels, headbands, and all the usual amenities. It’s also really nice that the hotels here give you slippers, pajamas, and complimentary bottles of water.
5:00 p.m. – After relaxing for a while, we head out to get something to eat. Right near the shopping street is another few blocks that is all restaurants, Dotonbori. I stop at a street vendor to get a cheese dog, which is a mozzarella cheese stick covered with a batter and tiny potatoes, K. gets takoyaki from a different street vendor, which is octopus mixed with batter and tempura scraps plus veggies, and we share a melon pan bread with ice cream from another food stall. $15.16
8:00 p.m. – After walking around the area, we’re hungry again. Right near our hotel, there’s a giant shopping street (Shinsaibashi), canals, and endless amounts of restaurants and food stalls (Dotonbori). It’s also full of tourists from everywhere. K. is originally from Colombia and remarks that he hasn’t heard anyone speaking Spanish on the trip, but we hear tourists speaking at least a dozen different languages just within a few blocks. We go to an udon restaurant, where K. orders a shrimp and chicken udon noodle dish and I get a small side of udon and mixed veggies ($13.41). We get a few drinks and snacks, mostly pastries and a mango juice K. has become obsessed with, for the train ride tomorrow and call it a night ($11.03). $24.44
Daily Total: $64.87
5:00 a.m. – We’re up early again, this time we’re headed to do a Toyota plant tour. K. is in manufacturing and Toyota is really the birthplace of many manufacturing processes, so he’s super excited to see them in action. We wanted to do this on our way from Tokyo to Osaka, but they didn’t have any tours available, so we have an hour train ride to the main station and then it can take another two hours to get to the plant.
5:45 a.m. – We head out to the metro, but we’ve already decided that we aren’t going to do the free 30-minute ride with two transfers anymore, but will just pay for the quicker route ($5.15). We get to the station and realize we forgot our snacks and drinks we bought last night on the bed, so we stop to get more since we won’t be eating until later ($9.65). $14.80
7:00 a.m. – We get to the main stop in Nagoya and quickly make a transfer. We have two stops and a 20-minute walk to get to the factory from here, but the first train is covered with our pass. We ride this train for about an hour, then purchase tickets for our second train, which is a 45-minute ride. We get off and head out to the tour. $10.47
9:30 a.m. – We get to the museum right as it’s opening (it’s free). The tour doesn’t start until 11:00 am, but we walk around before we have to meet the tour group. We start in the showroom, which has both Toyota and Lexus cars, and check out the cars. K. focuses on sports cars and is like a little kid taking pictures of himself sitting in the cars. They also have one of their robots doing different tasks and several areas geared towards kids. We spend some time in the section dedicated to their assembly process and continuous improvement philosophies (those same ones K. has studied), and then we finish off by doing some simulators to test safe driving. It’s similar to a video game, but you’re in a simulator so you move around and you have to dodge obstacles, brake suddenly, and you get to see some of their safety features.
11:00 a.m. – Time for the tour (also free)! They only do tours in English and Japanese and both of them are at 11:00 a.m. We hop on a bus and head over to the plant. On the way, we see Toyota headquarters, an engineering building, and two other plants. All of this is in Toyota City, which has around 420,000 residents, around half of whom work at Toyota. First up, we tour the assembly line. It’s a slow-moving automated conveyor line, where cars come onto the line with just the frame and then everything else gets added on as it goes. This particular line produces over 300 cars per day. From where we’re walking, we can observe around 10 different stations and people working. Each person is responsible for installing one specific thing and the last thing they do is put on the doors. K. is really excited to see it and is wishing he could hire a few of these employees to work as his facility. They are extremely efficient and it’s evident that everyone has a strong work ethic and takes pride in the work they do.
12:00 p.m. – Next up, we go to the welding building, and everything we see is done by robots. The cars here are also on a conveyor belt and when it gets to each station, immediately 7-10 robot arms start welding a different piece. Each station takes around a minute to complete. It is really fascinating to watch!
1:00 p.m. –The tour is done and we’re back at the museum. We contemplate doing another round in the simulators, but there’s a long line now. We buy a water and a Coke ($2.04) for the train ride back and head back to Nagoya ($10.47). $12.51
3:15 p.m. – We’re back in Nagoya and decide to change our tickets to just head back to Osaka instead of hanging out here. We board the train and both fall asleep, waking up when we get to our stop. We get our tickets for the metro and head back to Osaka. $5.15
4:30 p.m. – We are starving by this point, so we head straight to eat. We end up going to a ramen restaurant, which is so delicious. I get a combo with dumplings and ramen and K. gets a chicken rice bowl and ramen. We are exhausted, so we head back to rest. I take a bath, we watch some TV, and go to sleep early. $20.42
Daily Total: $63.35
10:00 a.m. – We finally get up after lounging around for a while this morning. My eyes have been acting up off and on over the past few days, but not to the point where they were really bad. Unfortunately, this morning one is pretty bad again and my sister told me her ophthalmologist friend had told her I really needed to go in, especially if it happened again, just to rule anything major out. We had planned on spending the day in Kyoto, but I call my insurance to find out about coverage and then we have the front desk help us make an appointment for an ophthalmologist I found that speaks English. They can squeeze us in, so we hop on the metro to get there. We’ll have to pay out of pocket, so we go to the ATM as we’re not really sure what to expect, but they said it could be around $200. $5.15
12:30 p.m. – We get to the doctor’s office and it was really easy to find. This office is in a high rise building that is actually connected to the metro station, so we don’t even have to go outside. It’s on the 8th floor, along with clothing stores, and really looks like a giant box that was placed on this large floor. It’s small, so K. can’t come back with me. I go back and they do a basic eye exam (check my vision, eye pressure, and wash my eyes) and then I wait for the doctor to see me.
1:00 p.m. – Finished with the doctor and she says that it doesn’t seem to be an emergency and I’ll be okay to follow up once I get back home. She looked into my eye and at the nerves and said everything looked okay and K. is more relieved than I am as he’s been pretty concerned the past few days. We pay the bill, which is much lower than we expected and head straight to Kyoto from this train station (included with our pass). I called my insurance ahead of time and they told me I had to pay the bill and then I could submit it for reimbursement when I returned home. $61.56
2:00 p.m. – We get to Kyoto, then transfer to another station and hop on another train, which is also included with our pass. This one is pretty packed, but by the time we get out toward our destination, it’s mostly tourists.
2:30 p.m. – We head to the Iwatayama Monkey Park first because they close early and it’s a 20-minute walk from the station, then 20-30 hike up the hill. We get there and pay our entrance fee ($10.11). We buy a water once we get to the top; the hike isn’t bad, but it is really humid today ($1.19). We spend about an hour there taking photos and watching the monkeys. It is a really cool experience and has amazing views of the city, but I think the one outside of Tokyo is supposed to be better. $11.30
4:30 p.m. – We come down and walk around the area, checking out Togetsukyo bridge, the bamboo grove, Tenryuji temple, and a couple of shrines. We had planned on going over to the samurai museum, Nishiki market, and Fushimi Inari shrine, but since we got a late start, the market and museum are closing soon. We saw a similar shrine in Tokyo, so we call it a day and head back to Osaka.
5:30 p.m. – We take the bullet train this time, so we only have to pay for the metro back to our hotel. $5.15
6:00 p.m. – We drop our stuff off and go eat. We find a place with rice bowls tonight. I order chicken and K. gets eel and shrimp and they come with rice, veggies, and miso soup ($16.72). We then get another melon pan ice cream sandwich for me ($4.13) and a juice for K. ($1.12). $21.97
8:00 p.m. – We head back, take another bath (this bath and bath salts are perfect for relaxing our muscles), and go to sleep.
Daily Total: $105.13
9:00 a.m. – So today we were supposed to go to qualifying for the formula one race, but with the typhoon approaching, it was postponed until tomorrow morning before the race. We are not going to be that affected by it but will get two to three inches of rain, so we take our time getting up today. K. is pretty much into every sport, and this is something we started watching together after we started dating. He went to a race 15 years ago and we’ve been talking about going to one, so it’s really nice it aligned with this trip. We had to buy train tickets through another line for the qualifying and race, so we log in to cancel our train tickets for today. We should get a refund (minus a processing fee) within a week. We also change our tickets for tomorrow for earlier since we want to be there in time for the qualifying. There’s no charge to change the ticket.
11:00 a.m. – We decide we’ll use today to buy souvenirs for our families. We want to get something for our parents, K.’s sister, and our nieces and nephews (we have 1 on K.’s side and 11 on mine, so I usually only get something for the kids). Thankfully, the main shopping street is covered so we only have to worry about the rain when crossing the street.
11:30 a.m. – We scope out the first few stores, but want to see our options before deciding what to buy. There’s a mix of everything here – tons of stores similar to CVS or Walgreens, but without the actual pharmacy, clothing stores, souvenir shops, shoe stores, and high-end department stores. We see at least 5 Asics stores, 3 Hello Kitty stores, and a few restaurants mixed in.
12:00 p.m. – We stop for lunch at another conveyor belt sushi restaurant, Daikisusian, but this one is one where you just grab your plates off the line. I get miso soup, candied sweet potatoes, cucumber rolls, and a small plate of fried chicken. K. gets a beer and like 12 plates of sushi (they’re each two rolls). This is our most expensive meal of the trip, but it’s well worth it. We try not to let money play a part in where we go or what we order on vacation, but the cost of food is very reasonable here. $41.81
1:00 p.m. – We finally make it to the end of the shopping strip and we’ve already walked close to four miles. Our first purchase is an umbrella. It’s Hello Kitty, which means we can take it for K.’s mom, but we needed another one for tomorrow too ($4.59). We end up stopping and buying another umbrella for us to bring home because we like the ones here so much and ours won’t do enough for the rain that’s expected tomorrow at the race ($2.76). $7.35
2:00 p.m. – Next we find some Japanese fans and decide to pick up a few. K.’s sister asked us to bring her one and I wanted to find some for our nieces, but the ones we were seeing earlier were all-around $10. We asked how much these are and were told $4, but when we check out, they are only $1! We decide to just get ones for the nieces and then look for nicer ones for our moms and K.’s sister ($6.06). We also stop for some tote bags we found earlier for our moms and sisters ($36.38). $42.44
3:00 p.m. – We stop and buy a three-pack of sunscreen for me since I really like the Biore I’ve been trying out. I had been pricing them out in stores that we’ve passed, but the best deal was the one near our hotel. I add in a lip balm, but of course, the lines are way longer here than anywhere else, and it takes at least 20 minutes from the time we enter the line to when we can check out. $19.24
4:00 p.m. – We drop the items off at the hotel before heading back out. We want to get some candy to bring and look for something for our nephews. We go back to Don Quijote, but it is insanely packed today. We end up buying flavored Kit Kats, tea, magnets, and Pockys ($50.24). We looked at some nicer fans, but honestly, the quality is not any better than the ones we just bought, so we decide to head back to that store and get a few more, plus see what else they have. We get there, buy four more fans, find some ninja headbands for the nephews, and find some other little candies for the kids. ($18.70). $68.94
7:00 p.m. – We’re done shopping, but decide we want another cheese dog like the one we had the other day. We get one to share, but this one is half cheese and half hot dog. The place we went to before is closed, so I Google “cheese hot dog” and we find one. These food stalls don’t have names, they just typically list the item that they have. This one literally says “Cheese Dog” at the top and this is all they sell. We go back and rest for the remainder of the night. $4.13
Daily Total: $183.91
5:00 a.m. – Up early for our early train. We originally picked this hotel location because it was right next to the train station where we’d go to and from the qualifying and race, so it’s just a quick five-minute walk to the station. We have our reserved seats, but also have to buy basic fare tickets, so we get those and hop on. The basic fare tickets allow us to get through to the train and pays the fare from one destination to another, but then on trains like this, you have to also purchase a reserved seat since it is a limited train (which is just longer distances, fewer stops, and nicer). I’m glad we bought everything early because there’s a huge group of fans being told they can’t switch their train because it’s already full. We leave the umbrellas as the forecast now shows it’s supposed to be sunny all day. $33.62
8:00 a.m. – We make it to the train stop for the race. We see a few people lined up to buy their basic fare return tickets and figure we’d be much better off getting those now rather than later, so we purchase those ($33.62). There is only one station near the race and it’s a pretty small one, but they expect more than 100,000 people to come through it today. Outside, they have an enormously long line for shuttles to the circuit. I have been so impressed with how efficiently everything is run here, and this just exemplifies that. It takes about 45 minutes to get onto the bus and then it’s a 15-minute ride. We pay the bus fare once we get off and purchase the return bus ticket as well ($15.07). $48.69
10:00 a.m. – I had no idea how long the racetrack was and we walk over three miles just to get to our seats (these are unreserved, we wanted the option to pick from a few spots). We settle in and watch the qualifying and the team we’re rooting for (Ferrari) lands the top two spots! We weren’t anticipating doing that well today, so it’s a nice surprise.
12:00 p.m. – We’ve got a couple hours before the race starts, so we go to the restroom and find something to eat at one of the food stalls. There are a few full restaurants near the entrance of the race, but most of the ones closer to us are food trucks. We spot some people with pizza that looks good and end up with pepperoni and pepper pizza, chicken teriyaki pizza, chicken nuggets, and soda that is just okay. We eat half and save the other half for later. We settle into another spot for the race. $32.15
4:00 p.m. –The race didn’t go quite as we hoped (we ended up in 2nd and 6th), but it was fun. It’s interesting because when you watch it on TV, you get to see the entire race and they highlight the parts where something exciting happens (like showing the leaders or when one car passes another one). When you’re here, you only get to see a small portion of the track (this track is over three miles long), and there isn’t a screen where we’re sitting, so we don’t really know what is happening other than if it happens right in front of us. Thankfully, we do get to see a lot of cars passing each other. We check out other spots along the track and the fan zone and take tons of photos before lining back up for the bus.
6:00 p.m. – I really thought it would take even longer to get back, but we make it back to the station by 6:15 for our 7:15 train. I am so amazed at how efficiently this event was run, especially shuffling race-goers back and forth to the station. I’ve attended many events in the US and it takes forever to get out of the stadiums, whether it’s public transportation or driving, and we could learn a thing from the Japanese. The lines to get both the reserved tickets and basic fare tickets are insane and a lot of trains are full, so I’m really glad we reserved everything ahead of time. We get waters for the ride back to eat with our leftovers. $2.39
9:00 p.m. – We’re back at the hotel and pack up for tomorrow. Our train leaves at 9:00 a.m. and we have a four-hour journey to the airport, so we get everything ready for tonight. We purposely left room in our bags for souvenirs, so thankfully we don’t have to check anything. We’re done by 10:30 p.m. and call it a night.
Daily Total: $116.85
7:00 a.m. – We’re up and getting ready to go. We leave the hotel room around 8:30 to check out, get something to eat, and take the metro to the main station. $5.15
8:45 a.m. – We find some delicious looking breads that we purchase for breakfast on the way at the Osaka Namba station. We get a ham and cheese croissant, cheese rolls, hot dog cheese bread, ham and cream cheese bread, and pumpkin melon bread ($14.66). We settle in for our three-hour ride to Tokyo. $19.81
12:45 p.m. –We arrive in Tokyo and transfer trains to the express train to the airport (included with our pass). K. falls asleep on the train, even though we were trying to stay up in order to sleep on the plane.
2:00 p.m. – We arrive at the airport, turn in our wifi, and get through security smoothly and efficiently (like everything else here). We have about $20 left that we were planning to use for lunch, but we don’t see anything good. I end up walking around and buying some snacks for the plane since we know they don’t give you enough food and then a few more Pockys, a lip cream, and a face wash. $19.11
4:15 p.m. –Time to board! We leave at 5:00 p.m. Monday local time and then get in at 11:00 a.m. Monday LA time, so it’s going to be a weird day.
11:00 a.m. – We arrive in LA, get through customs easily (thanks Global Entry), and catch the shuttle and pick up our car.
Daily Total: $44.07
How did you prepare for this trip?
A little bit of everything. A few coworkers of mine frequently travel to Japan for work, so I got their recommendations. We also did a lot of Googling – the best places to stay, the best things to do, and then narrowed it down to what looked most interesting to us. A friend of mine whose husband is stationed in Japan had done the go-karting earlier this year and posted the photos, so that’s how I found out about that. From there, I looked up the different options and they all have different routes, so we specifically chose the one that was by the water and went over the bridge.
Do you have credit card debt as a result of booking this vacation? If so, how much?
No. We put all the travel purchases ahead of time on our credit card to get the points, but paid it off on time. While overseas, we used cash to pay for everything.
Did you use credit card points or miles to pay for parts of this trip? If so, please explain further: We didn’t, I recently used our points to purchase another flight.
When did you book the flights? Do you think you got a good deal?
We booked about four months ahead of time on the 4th of July sale. We had been seeing tickets for around $800-900 but snagged them when we saw the lower cost.
What was your favorite part of the trip?
The go-kart tour was probably my favorite part because it was such a unique experience. Even though we were driving in our own karts, we could pull up next to each other and talk every time we hit a red light. It allowed us to see a lot of the city plus it felt like an adventure.
What was the best meal or food you ate while you were there? Everything was amazing, particularly the fact that anywhere you ordered food, whether it was a high-end restaurant or a food stall, was excellent quality. My favorite was probably the ramen or udon, but K. would definitely say the conveyor belt sushi.
Would you stay at your hotels again?
Without a doubt, I’d stay at our hotel in Osaka. The location could not have been more perfect: just steps away from the metro station, the water, and the Dotonbori while having incredible amenities. Our hotel in Tokyo was fine, but definitely on the smaller side. A few of the hotels that looked better were booked up already, so I would maybe do a little more research there.
Where were you located in the specific city and would you recommend staying in that part of town?
In Tokyo, we stayed in Shinjuku. I would definitely recommend it for those who like the nightlife scene, but in retrospect, I think Shibuya would have been better for us. It had a lot going on and was maybe a little more touristy, but since we didn’t really go out at night, it would have been more convenient.
Is there anything you wished you had time to do but didn’t?
One thing K. really wanted to do was visit the samurai museum, but that got cut short with my eye doctor appointment. We could have gone back and done it on the day where the qualifying got canceled, but we didn’t feel like venturing out in the rain.
Do you feel like you were there for the right length of time? Would you have come home sooner or stayed longer given the chance?
I felt like it was the right amount of time. We do international vacations annually and have typically done around two weeks, but with multiple countries. I felt like we were able to see a lot, but it also didn’t feel like we were away from home for too long.
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