Do you ever travel for an event? Every four years my family and I travel to the Rugby World Cup. This year’s event was in Japan and we flew over for the Semi Finals and Quarter Finals. We often plan our own trips, but with the language barrier and the fact that there were seven of us on this trip, we asked our friends from France At Leisure to help us with our planning. This is our fifth World Cup and it’s always a great way to bond as a family, see new places we might never visit and make friends with like minded sports fans from all over the world.
This trip we stayed at the seaside town of Fukuoka, the beautiful Kyoto and the fast paced Tokyo. As many more Australians will be visiting Japan next year for the Olympics I thought I’d share some of our highlights, tips and tricks for navigating this country whose culture and lifestyle is so very different to our own.
This port town is found on the island of Kyushu. To visit the stadium in Oita was a two and a half hour coach ride away. We stayed at the massive Hilton Sea Hawk Hotel in Fukuoka. This very central spot was full of rugby fans and close to a lovely, convenient shopping centre and baseball ground, home of the Sea Hawks. It boasted an English pub, The Hub, a very popular spot after the games.
Highlights in Fukuoka were visiting the Fukuoka Castle Ruins and surrounding parkland. The view from the top shows you why this spot was chosen as the site for the city’s fortifications. The three hundred and sixty degree view encompasses Fukuoka and surrounds.The lakes with bridges, birdlife, walking trails and water sports were lots of fun and gave us our first authentic Japanese experience.
Fukuoka is famous for tonkotsu ramen which is made by simmering pork bones for a very long time. Pork bones can simmer in broth for up to twenty hours and after adding noodles, spring onions and sometimes egg, it is a delicious and hearty meal in a bowl. The family had fun trying out lots of ramen places, many boasted autographs of the famous people who’d eaten there.
The street food and izakaya were popular dinner spots and we enjoyed a family night in the bar and restaurant at the top of the Hilton called Clouds.
My favourite city to visit was Kyoto. Our hotel, the Hotel Monterey Kyoto, was in the best location right near Shinkyogoku Shopping District. We were surrounded by great shops and boutiques and within easy walking distance to several palaces and temples. The hop on hop off bus had a stop nearby , so we enjoyed getting a feel for the city and it’s delights.
Kyoto has an almost French cosmopolitan feel and the family loved exploring every inch of this city. We all visited temples like the famous Golden, Silver and Red temples. We saw many women in traditional dress and you can even rent your own kimono and wander the streets in traditional garb. We had a lovely day out exploring Nin Jo Jo Palace and gardens. My youngest and his girlfriend said the highlight of their trip was catching the train and trekking up to see the Snow Monkeys, followed by a river cruise. There’s a zoo, movie studio and the Imperial Palace. Too much for us to see in just a few days!
We also enjoyed the night life visiting some of the quirky bars, izakayas and clubs. After dinner with friends we visited a Gin bar which sat only twelve people. There were nine of us that night so we felt like we had our own private bar. Food was lovely in Kyoto and you could enjoy cuisine from every country in the world here. There was so much to do you really need more than a few days to explore this gem of a city.
Sadly we said goodbye to Kyoto but we were excited to board the amazing bullet train once again for our final stop, Tokyo.
In Tokyo it was all about the rugby but we managed to fit in a little bit of sightseeing. On our first night we headed to Shibuya crossing to take those iconic snaps.There are plenty of spots to gain a birds eye view but we headed to the viewing platform on top of the quirky Magnets store.This shop is a must explore and a great spot for souvenirs. We were hoping to enjoy some of the more famous Teppanyaki places nearby, but they were all booked solid.
We ended up in a bustling Yakitori bar, where you can enjoy a constant stream of some of your favourite yakitori, chicken karage and dumplings as well as Western fare like pizza. It’s great fun!
We stayed at the Hotel Monterey Hanzomon which was close to the Imperial Palace so you can walk there and have a wonderful visit. Joggers and walkers all enjoy the abundance of greenery and you feel very safe exercising in this area. It was also one stop away from the Akasaka district, a busy area filled with restaurants and buzzing night life, especially during the World Cup when it was heaving with visitors from all around the world.
The family visited the Harajuku district which is the centre of youth culture and fashion. We all enjoyed the shopping at Shibuya.The youngsters also had a great morning at teamlab Borderless, a massive interactive digital art space.
There are some things I wish we’d known before the trip. The main one was that when you book a ticket on the Bullet Train everyone needs to have their passports. My eldest and his girlfriend wasted two hours lining up to get tickets before being told about this in Kyoto.
Another tip for tourists is that Seven Eleven sells everything from yoghurt and chips to wine, sandwiches, sushi, yakitori and everything in between. It was our saviour and an easy and cheap way to keep the family fed and watered. Japanese meals can be small so this ensured no-one became hangry. We were also travelling on coaches to and from the games and the boys could buy snacks and drinks to take on the bus.
It was easy enough to get around on the trains and we did have our JR Rail passes but in hindsight we should have bought Suica cards, the prepaid cards similar to Brisbane’s Go Card or England’s Oyster Card. Any money on the card you don’t spend while you’re there can be refunded. It was sometimes a pain in peak hour trying to buy seven tickets.
The other tip is to always carry a spare bag with you for rubbish. Garbage bins can be few and far between, so you need to take your rubbish with you. I always carried a fold up shopping bag and a re- usable plastic bag for any waste. They came in so handy! The stadium entrances always looked like a tip after everyone gathered eating and drinking. I felt very sorry for the poor people who had to clean it all up.There were a few bins on higher levels in the stadium but none on the concourse where everyone was eating and drinking. I hope they have learned from the rugby and things will be a lot better for the Olympics.
When you need a break from Japanese food try the Thai food in Japan. It’s amazing, fresh, plentiful and healthy. It was genuinely the best Thai I’ve ever tasted and I’ve been to Thailand. It was quite difficult to be gluten free in Japan and my vegan son who went vegetarian for the trip still found it hard. Japanese consider fish as part of a vegetarian meal so he had to be very careful when ordering. You’ll love the food, the people and the culture but I hope these tips ensure you navigate this world more easily.
Family event trips can take you to new places you had never envisaged yourself travelling to. We feel privileged that our family still wants to travel with us. The tech savvy kids are now creating videos and photo books that we’ll share on Christmas Day.
I loved that it was a quick and easy flight and there was no real jet lag. You learn about a culture that has ancient roots and is very different to our heritage. Most people love the technology, food and sightseeing. Many of my own friends go for the great skiing every year. The Olympics will be the next big event in Japan and many more tourists will learn about this very unique part of the world. So what are you waiting for? Tell us your tips for a great holiday in Japan.
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