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Japan 2019: plans and schedules

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“So when could we go?” my daughter asked. She meant Japan, of course. Ever since our first trip there in 2016, I have wanted to go back. I had this feeling of unfulfillment, not necessary of a missed opportunity but more like “we could’ve done more”.

I guess that time I over-planned it trying to cover as much as possible. I wasn’t sure if we were going to come back so wanted to see everything. As a result, the trip turned out to be a bit too stressful.

Japan 2016 highlights

In 2016, we flew to Tokyo and spent there a few days. Then we took shinkansen to Arima Onsen for a night (you can read about our stay here) and transferred to Kyoto the next morning. I think we spent five nights in the old imperial capital, of which we took a day trip to Nara.

After Kyoto, we took a bullet train to Hiroshima where we visited the poignant Peace Memorial, ate tasty okonomiyaki and went to Miyajima in the afternoon staying there overnight. It was raining on Miyajima when we arrived, but the next day was sunny and bright.

After getting on the top of Mount Misen on foot and then by cable car to awe at the opened view, we ate scrumptious frozen cream buns, treated ourselves with amazing grilled oysters just on the seafront promenade and left for Osaka stopping by Himeji Castle on the way.

In Osaka, we actually spent only an evening and in the morning took shinkansen to Hakone for two nights. Then back to Tokyo, meeting friends in the evening and flying back to the UK the next morning.

As you can see, the schedule was really packed. Mea culpa. My lovely wife was exhausted by the flight, transfers and walking. My daughter that time ate only tonkatsu and curry so our choice of restaurants was a bit limited. I was stressed about getting everywhere in time. Well, you’ve got the picture…

Our plan for this trip

Now, just only a few weeks away from our second journey to Japan, I hope for the better experience. This time we decided to make this trip a bit more relaxed. It’s again just over two weeks but with fewer places to visit. So this is our plan:

  • Fly into Tokyo, meeting my friends from the Japanese class in the morning and taking shinkansen to Kyoto
  • 10 days in Kyoto: I have a list of places I want to visit but we will try to play it by ear (or by a nose) keeping the schedule open. Might go to Osaka and Kobe on day trips.
  • A day in Matsumoto to see the castle and staying overnight.
  • A day in Okuhida soaking in the onsen in Hirayu.
  • Going back to Matsumoto and taking a shinkansen from there to Tokyo to stay for five nights and back to London.

I hope it will be a good trip. I wanted to squeeze in Kanazawa-Shirakawago-Takayama, but my daughter and wife just vetoed it!

Breweries on the cards

However, my main excitement is brewery visits. I have Matsui Shuzo, the oldest Kyoto brewery, just in 20 minutes walk from the place we are staying in Kyoto. I also plan to visit the Fushimi area to go to Gekkeikan Ōkura Sake Museum and probably stop by a couple of other breweries. I have contacts from another brewery in Kyoto, so I hope to go there as well.

I want also to go to Nada area in Kobe, which has around 40 sake breweries! What a paradise! Or probably hell, as you can’t visit all of them on one day. In any case, it’s on my list. I always wanted to go to Kobe anyway.

Given the poor performance of the British Pound since the Brexit Referendum, everything in Japan seems more expensive than it was three and a half years ago. So we decided to stay at Airbnb in Kyoto. It’s a bit cheaper and will give us more local feel I hope. We wanted to do the same in Tokyo but the choice of AirBnB there was not good, so we will stay at a hotel.

I will write a serious of posts covering the trip. I’m taking my laptop with me but not sure how much I can write there. Definitely will make notes, post a lot of stuff on Instagram and Twitter. So keep checking it.

If you’ve got any recommendations about places to eat and drink in Kyoto, please leave a comment or two! It’s always great to go to recommended places which are off the beaten tourist tracks.



Alex is a London-based sake blogger, podcaster, IWC Sake judge and sake advocate. He is a publisher of the Sugidama Blog website and a host of the Sugidama Podcast. Alex has an International Kikisake-shi (Sake Specialist) qualification from SSI (Sake Service Institute). He sees his mission as expanding the awareness of Japanese sake among as many people as possible and helping the growing community of sake lovers to bring together beautiful Japanese sake and non-Japanese food as a way to build a better understanding between our cultures.

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