OK, first thing’s first. The next ~3 weeks of posts will be all about this wild and awesome trip we’re taking as we follow the sakura blossoms through the southern part of Japan and up into Tokyo.
A few things this guide will be good for: Food, travel with young (under 3) children, really fast city travel, Steampunk destinations, interesting random things, and traveling with not that much Japanese. My wife speaks well enough to keep us out of trouble, but Aubri and I are both about four words of understanding.
A few random tips: I always keep a record of each day’s purchases in a small notebook so I can keep track of exactly what I spent each day. Japan is a mostly cash-only country so this is really important unless you have an unlimited budget.
First of all, Denver has a direct flight to Tokyo. We weren’t supposed to be flying direct, but United had a HUGE delay on our Denver to San Fran flight, so we bargained to get put on the direct flight (~12 hours).
We then hopped on a short flight from Tokyo to Osaka to get to our southern starting point. So we arrived at Shin-Osaka very VERY late (8pm), and checked in to Remm Shin Osaka.
Remm Shin Osaka is right in the heart of the Shin-Osaka station, and it’s a really nice hotel with a giant teleporter pad entrance. Unfortunately it’s a super tight space, so we only were comfortable because Aubri had basically passed out hours before we made it there.
We technically left Osaka as soon as we could get our JR rail passes exchanged and get on the train, but since we also woke up at 4am we spent about 4 hours roaming the station. Shin-Osaka station has lots of delicious restaurants. We didn’t get to try takoyaki though, and that’s what the city is famous for. Most importantly, there’s a 7-11 nearby and that’s where we withdraw money from the ATM in order to make our money exchange. 7-11 ATMs (if you have a bank card that doesn’t charge an exchange fee) pay VERY close to the actual exchange rate (in this case they paid me 103.4 yen to the dollar versus the 103.8 yen to the dollar actual rate). Also the 7-11 had a new magical ice cream that was green tea surrounding chocolate fudge with crushed almonds on the outside. Yum.
Aubri pigged out on onigiri:
We saw our first batch of blossoms there.
We hopped on the Sakura 551 (JR) to get from Shin-Osaka to Hakata station, which is at the heart of Fukuoka. The ride took about 2.5 hours, but the train was comfortable enough. Aubri made friends with the nervous little boy behind us, and his mother bribed her with candy. She’s already figured out that making friends results in sweet treats here…
In Fukuoka we were able to check into Hotel Centraza Hakata several hours early (at 12:45), so we could ditch the bags and walk to a couple of places. The tourist maps around this area are super blown up, so almost everything is within a kilometer of the Hakata station. We visited Tochoji temple, home to a 16.9 meter tall wooden Buddha, as well as lots of cherry trees and just a beautiful area.
We also stopped by Wakahachimangu shrine (small and not particularly interesting), and got waylaid by a tea shop owner on the way. She didn’t realize we spoke some Japanese, and she was so happy that she gave Aubri tons of green tea cookie snacks and gave us a deep discount on some matcha and cookies. (We asked her which matcha would be best for cooking).
We also visited Canal City, which is basically just a giant super mall but does house a Raumen Stadium filled with 9-10 of the “best raumen houses” in Japan. Our favorite was the one whose specialty is the spicy pork broth–the pork cutlets melted in our mouths, and didn’t give me any of the digestive issues American pork usually does. Fukuoka is a foodie city, and we could tell! There were more international restaurants (especially Korean, Mexican, Chinese, French and Italian) than we usually see anywhere else. And most importantly everything smelled amazing!
We decided on this trip to get Aubri a charm from each city we stop in. Here are the ones we have so far:
The Hello Kitty is in front of a temple from Osaka and the little ghost thing is delivering a ramen bowl–appropriate for Fukuoka, we thought.
Our next stop is Nagasaki, but not for the usual reasons…