Japan 2018 trip – a retrospective

My fourth trip to Japan took place in the northern hemisphere autumn in October.

The weather was still very pleasant with only a couple of days that were cold and wet while there were also warm days thrown into the mix.

I flew into Narita from Melbourne on a Monday evening and rather than taking the train as I have done in the past I chose to take the limousine bus that would drop me right at my hotel, the ANA InterContinental Tokyo. If I’d taken the train I would have had to change to the Ginza subway line at Ueno and then walk about 500m to the hotel. My guess is that the bus saved me 30 minutes or so.

After one full day in Tokyo where I exchanged my JR pass and reserved seats on the first couple of trains I headed up to Toyama.

Toyama

First impression was that Toyama was a small, flat city bounded by the Toyama Bay to the north and mountains in the other directions.

Travel around the city was easy using the trams buy you’ll need a Toyama specific IC card called the ecomyca or passca – they aren’t usable anywhere else in Japan so I kept mine as a souvenir. You can also pay by cash on the tram if you don’t want to buy an IC.

Best place I visited in Toyama was Izakaya Hosokawa, while I found Oeuf to be disappointing and overrated (I might have just been there on the wrong day!).

After Toyama I’d originally planned to head to Takayama and then to Gifu however during the storms in July and August the train line between Takayama and Gifu was cut and there was a replacement bus that was overwhelmed from what I’d read. So I decided I rejig my itinerary and travel to and stay in Kyoto for a couple of days.

Kyoto

I do like Kyoto, this was my third visit. It’s a bustling city full of heritage and a very good restaurant and bar scene.

As I’d changed my itinerary quite late hotel rooms were at a premium so I had to stay at the newish Hotel M’s Est Shijo Karasuma. The hotel was very modern but the room was very compact (i.e. about a foot of space around the bed and nowhere to store your luggage). This was the first hotel I’d ever stayed in where I couldn’t actually see out the window – the window had an opaque film over it – I’m guessing so I didn’t see the brick wall 50 centimeters away.

I really enjoyed BeerBar MIYAMA162 and my return visit to Beer Komachi. But the outstanding venue for me was Beer Bar Takumiya which had a great beer selection and the meal was excellent. Most disappointing was Gottie’s Beef Shijo Kiyamachi which should be been better for the price.

Himeji

About an hour by train from Kyoto is the beautiful and compact city of Himeji. From the station if you look up the main street you’ll see the famous Himeji Castle.

Himeji Castle is considered the finest example of a surviving Japanese castle having survived earthquakes and the bombing’s of Himeji during world war 2. Well worth climbing the narrow stairs to get to the top.

Much like Kyoto I’d added Himeji late to my itinerary so rooms at reasonable prices were at a premium. I ended up at the businessman orientated Toyoko Inn next to the station. For the cost it was a good hotel in a great location with decent, functional rooms. There are strict rules about check-in times (no early check in here!) and getting back into your room during the day. One thing though – the pillows suck big time!

A couple of standouts for my short stay were the sake bar Kokoromi at Himeji station where you can sample hundreds of different sakes from all over Japan

and Public House Hosanna which is a gastropub a short walk to south of the station – great meal and drink options.

Kobe

It was a quick, 16 minute train ride from Himeji to Shin-Kobe where I was staying during my lightening stay in Kobe.

The Crowne Plaza ANA Kobe at Shin-Kobe is a very good hotel. It’s a little bit out of Kobe proper (3 minutes on the subway) but in a good location a 5 minute walk from Shin-Kobe Shinkansen station. The subway station is right under the station so you can get a lift from the hotel lobby down to the subway station – pity I didn’t find this out until my second and last day in Kobe – oh well. The bar on level 36 is pretty good for nighttime views of Kobe and surrounds.

Only one restaurant / bar stood out for me which was HOPSTAND. It took me a while to find down the back streets but once I did I was treated to some very good beers and yakitori.

I think Kobe is worth more exploring in the future.

Osaka

After the quick ride from Shin-Kobe to Shin-Osaka and a local train to Osaka station and a transfer on the hotel shuttle I was at Crowne Plaza ANA Osaka again. A very decent hotel in an area heaving with restaurants and bars. 

Continuing on the beer theme of my trip my choice of bars for Osaka was Beer Belly Tosabori. Excellent beer selection and food menu.

I was only in Osaka for around 36 hours, so not much more to report.

Tokyo

I was on my last Shinkansen train for this trip and made the tactical mistake of alighting at Shinagawa station rather than at Tokyo station – I hadn’t realised how far south Shinagawa was and the time, distance and cost by taxi to get to ANA InterContinental Tokyo was far more than I initially thought. Next time I’ll continue on to the Tokyo station terminus.

During my last couple of days I spent a majority of my time exploring the local area of Akasaka which I had ignored during past visits. Akasaka has hundreds of restaurants and bars, there’ll be something for everyone.

My favorites during these last few days were Sansa – just superb! A little further to the south east near Tamachi station was Craft Meat with great beers and very good food. But probably the best meal for the last part of my trip was the tonkatsu restaurant Masamune, a small restaurant in Akasaka serving fried pork cutlet that was a magnificent way to complete my trip before heading home.

All that was left to do was get back to the hotel to pack and head for the airport to call a close to my 4th Japan trip.

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