Hello Japan!

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

After travelling to South Korea and Taiwan respectively for two consecutive years, 2017 was the year to go to Japan. Everywhere I looked on social media, it seemed like everyone including their mothers were in Japan. Qantas even launched the first Sydney to Osaka direct flight due to the booming tourism market between Australia and Japan.

My original plan was to travel with my sister Shirley and cousin Sharon, but Shirley bailed out for all sorts of reasons, so Sharon and I just ended up going ourselves. We bought our tickets towards the end of February because Cathay Pacific was having a sale for Valentines Day for couples (i.e., two people). Although our tickets were classed as "Economy Supersaver"—meaning that we couldn't pre-book our seats until we checked-in—and we had to stopover in Hong Kong, we saved about AUD$400 between the two of us. Considering how expensive Japan is, I think we got ourselves a pretty good deal.

Booking our tickets in February also meant that we got the first available seats in Economy Class without the extra legroom (i.e., the second row). The plane had a 3-4-3 seat configuration and we got the row with an aisle seat which had no seat in front of it. But the highlight of our plane trip was that the aisle seat was empty so we got 3 seats between the two of us, and one of those seats had extra legroom. #score #actuallymanagedtosleep

We landed in Hong Kong at around 5:00am and we were not only exhausted and sweaty due to the humidity, we were also feeling very peckish. However, most restaurants in the airport food court open around 6:00-6:30am so we had to wait like an hour before we could order anything. (I didn't want McDonalds, which is open 24/7.)

Looking at the menus of each restaurant, we eventually settled on Tsui Wah (翠華), a popular cha chaan teng (茶餐廳) with numerous branches all over Hong Kong. Sharon ordered a fish fillet set with lemon tea while I ordered a rice noodle set with milk tea. The food was okay (not fantastic) but the drinks were legit, as you would expect from a typical cha chaan teng.

After eating our "breakfast", we proceeded to wait in the gates for our next flight to Japan. While we were waiting, we took the chance to change our SIM cards, which we had bought at JTB Australia. As I was pulling out my hair trying to decide which SIM card to buy in Japan (there are SO many it's ridiculous), I figured that it'll be much easier to simply buy it in Sydney before we departed. The price was reasonable (AUD$49) and comes a good amount of data (4GB). It also has expiry date of 31 days from the day you activate it but there are no restrictions as to data usage. In other words, you can use all your data in one day if you wanted to! As were were only in Japan for about 2 weeks, the SIM card pretty much ticked all our boxes.

I'm not familiar with any Japanese telecommunications law, but after I started using the SIM card for a couple of days, let's just say it wasn't the best SIM card I've ever used. The setup was clumsy and the connection was so-so. For the most part, the connection was manageable, but we did drop out a couple of times. I don't know how high this SIM card is ranked with the other 30 different types of Japan SIM cards out there, but this JTB Australia one in particular still uses the network service of one of Japan's largest providers of mobile voice, data and multimedia services, NTT Docomo. Therefore, in comparison to the SIM card that we got in Taiwan, the Japan one was clearly lacking. The Taiwan SIM card didn't require us to change our APN settings, gave us unlimited data, and the connection was amazing.

Once we handed in Japan, we went to pick up our ICOCA cards and HARUKA train tickets (to get to Kyoto) at the JR-West Ticket Office. We had booked our cards and tickets online before departure, so we simply just presented our email confirmation and paid our ¥3,600 each at the ticket office.

The train ride to Kyoto was about 1 hour 15 minutes. It was packed when we got on-board, so we only managed to get a seat halfway on route. The seats were comfortable albeit cramped because we had all our luggage with us.

After we arrived at Kyoto Station, we walked to our Airbnb, which was about 8 minutes away and put all our luggage down. By the time we got to our apartment, it was already around 3:15pm so we just got ourselves organised and freshened up before going out again. Conveniently, there was a Family Mart right outside our apartment, so our first "meal" in Japan was actually onigiri!

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