Jetstar has just done it again and released incredible prices for return flights to Japan from anywhere in Australia. This is a similar offer to what I took up last year, along with another family, with the attitude of “book now and plan later”. So with this mentality in tow, we locked in return flights from Brisbane to Tokyo for a trip in January 2019 with a ski leg to Niseko on the top of the list.
The tour was on, and consisted of my family (4) and another family (5) which consisted of 5 teenagers ranging from 15 – 19 years. Lucky for the parents, the teens are a close-knit bunch and we knew there would be no drama’s with clashes or fighting. The siblings, of course, were exempt from that.
Our first red flag to the creeping cost of our trip was the cost of internal transfers, which included a private car from Narita Airport to central Tokyo. The distance was approximately 1hr 20mins and is comparable to the distance from London Gatwick to central London. Private transfer for the family was $600 AUD, however, we could have planned better and arranged more affordable options. Unfortunately, arriving at night made my decision hasty.
In saying all of that, accommodation in Tokyo and Kyoto were very affordable, comfortable and central.
The next red flag was our leg to Niseko. I am usually an avid researcher when it comes to trips and not knowing Japan at all, I didn’t realise that we had to catch a flight from Kyoto to Niseko which sits on the top island, Hokkaido. And of course, I didn’t ask or research the cost of Japan Rail, however, in saying that it was worth every cent. Convenience and comfort.
Sounds like I am having a whinge, however, it’s just a polite warning about jumping onto cheap flights, as the costs hit you elsewhere. I will say now, I loved, the kids loved, we all loved Japan.
We hit the ground running after arriving in Tokyo late at night and settling into our room, which literally had a queen bed that took up 75% of the space. It felt like I was in a caravan but it did the trick, bed, bath and location. We pounded the pavement and became familiar with the metro train system and in 48 hours achieved the below;
- Dinner at the Robot Restaurant – Not a must do, but it was quirky and entertaining. If you plan to eat during the experience prepare for fast food options. There are plenty of drink options which are offered at multiple intervals. I swear they want you to drink so you can see the humour of the show. There are lights, flashing lights, oversized remote-controlled creatures and actors in costumes that make it comical.
- TeamLab Borderless Interactive Show – Thank goodness for friends that give you tips when travelling to a new country. This digital exhibition over 2-3 levels was incredible and a must do. Ensure you book prior to secure your spot! The pictures tell you the story but you can wander in groups or go it alone, which I enjoyed.
- Sumo Wrestling Stable – There is a reason it’s called a stable as it is likened to horse stables except we are dealing with humans here. I like to think of it as an academy. To visit the stable to watch a training session, it was an early start to arrive at 8am. We were running a little late due to train transfer issues so we ended up at the back of the stable sitting on the ground. The warm up and subsequent training was so fascinating you easily forgot your legs and feet had pins and needles from sitting awkwardly for so long. History and tradition were on show, particularly when the owners entered to watch briefly. We made sure we didn’t miss a photo opportunity, being told that one particular Sumo Wrestler was very famous.
- Shinjuku – This was the heart and soul of Tokyo and we wandered for hours trying the local foods and taking in the atmosphere. The food offerings were fascinating and I just couldn’t understand how a culture which loves sugar, pastries and cheesy delights can have an average BMI. The only reason we didn’t put on weight was because we walked an average 15 kms per day.
- Shibuya Crossing – This was another one on our list and we made the quick trip via the train to walk the crossing and grab a coffee at Starbucks, which overlooked it.
A half day tour of Tokyo was part of our exploration of the city but to be honest it is not necessary.
We took the Japan Rail bullet train to Kyoto which was about 3 hours. We paid for green class and the journey was comfortable and a welcome rest after Tokyo. We had three days in Kyoto and we again pre-booked tours and experiences to ensure we did as much as possible.
The first day was spent discovering Kyoto and we kicked this off with a group booking for a Traditional Tea Ceremony wearing a Kimono. This was a highlight for parents and teens alike as we laughed through the entire process. Not disrespectfully of course. Our ‘tea’ teacher was wonderful as we all knelt around a mat and mixed and slurped our tea. We did learn that you can only slurp on your final mouthful as a sign of respect.
With food in mind we hit the Kyoto Markets and meandered through for over an hour sampling and buying delights, both sweets and seafood. The fresh seafood, like oysters on a stick and scallops cooked in butter, were just delicious.
That night we decided to visit Osaka just to get a glimpse of the ‘running man’ on the digital billboards. It was much like Times Square but on a canal. Bombarded with lights, billboards and people. It was a great glimpse of a city we would all love to revisit.
Day two was a full day tour of Kyoto with Japan Panoramic Tours to experience the rich history and spirituality of this city. Kyoto was the official capital of Japan until Emperor Meiji moved it to the city of Edo, renaming it to Tokyo. Our itinerary below, was a beautiful day of experiencing the Japanese culture and again, so much amazing food.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Our final day in Kyoto was actually spent travelling to Hiroshima for a half day walking tour called ‘Atomic Bomb Dome and Peace Museum Half Day Walking Tour’. Our guide was Keiko, who I booked through ToursByLocals, and met us at the Hiroshima Station. She was a true local who shared with us her father’s experience surviving the Hiroshima bomb.
All I can say is that this tour rendered me speechless and I shed tears as I had the most insightful and balanced view of WWII. Our guide Keiko was so wonderful and her email to our group straight afterwards said it all ‘Let us be small pieces of a peaceful world!’. No selfies taken that day.
We had only been in Japan for 6 days and we were exhausted, but happy exhausted. Next stop was our long-awaited ski trip in Niseko. It was a full day’s travel to Niseko which started with a train to the airport, a flight to Sapporo, followed by a bus to our final destination. Total travel time was approximately 10 hours. We did discuss the better options after this, but little too late for convenience.
Our accommodation at Niseko was Shiki Apartments which has just been taken over by Hyatt House. We were at the heart of the ski village which you can’t compare to the shopping and size of the Canadian resorts. It was quaint and most of the time you want to be back at your hotel after a day on the slopes due to the temperature freezing every exposed hair on your body.
The skiing was exciting and painless due to the sheer amount of snow. It snowed consistently, therefore, there was plenty of powder to ski in, get stuck in or just fall into. I must admit I haven’t experienced cold like this before but by the end had worked out how to enjoy myself in -10c.
Our food journey in Niseko was more organised and booking ahead for a party of 9 was necessary. However, many of the restaurants didn’t take bookings, but we didn’t have the patience to line up and hope that all 9 of our group was going to be happy to wait. For the nights we didn’t dine out, we dined in but there was a permanent food truck area which offered pizza, crab claws, burgers and fries plus much more i.e. chocolate covered bananas.
The trip back to Australia was one we were all dreading and we knew it was going to be 24 hours from door to door. All I can say is ‘never again’. I am getting too old and impatient for this.
So to wrap up our family/group trip to Japan….For an initial cheap family ski holiday, with all the added internal transfers and flights and the high cost of a ski village, we really did end up spending what we would have if we visit the slopes of Canada. However, we did experience Japan and what a beautiful country it is. Nothing can compare to their culture and history and it was truly a wonderful holiday to have with teenagers spanning across all ages.
A tip when travelling with men and teenagers is to plan the meals and snacks. We failed to do this the first few days so negotiating what everyone was happy to eat and then finding a restaurant that would take 9 people was nearly impossible. We ended up having to splinter off in sub groups so everyone was satisfied. The planning in Niseko was much better done and we had some wonderful meal experiences, made easier by the food truck options for HANGRY teens.
If only we had discovered earlier that their fast and convenient foods from 7 Eleven and train stations were like going to a Sushi Restaurant or French Patisserie here in Australia.
The vending machines were also a great source for hot soups and hot chocolates to fill those tummies on our travels. I think you can see the theme of my travelling pleasure in Japan… the food.
Hiroshima Half Day Walking Tour – www.toursbylocals.com