Traveling Japan by Train

Getting around Japan with a railroad pass.

I recently went on a two week trip around Japan with my mom. I always have a good time going to Japan because that means being able to spend time with my family and my best friend. This time around, we spent the first week catching up with family, then our last week going off on our own and exploring places we’ve never been before.

I highly recommend purchasing a Railroad pass if you want to get around Japan. It’s the most economical (around $200) and you can get anywhere within hours.

First stop: 5 days in Kyoto

From beautiful temples to countless shops within a short train ride or a walk away, this is the place to go sight-seeing. It’s very tourist friendly and there’s endless things to do.

Here’s where I went:

Kiyomizu-Dera Temple: This temple is located on a hillside, giving you an amazing view of the city below. This was probably my favorite location in Kyoto because it reminded me of a timeless Japanese village.

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Fushimi Imari-Shrine: Another must see. You can walk through thousands of Torii gates on a beautiful shaded mountainside. I bought ichigo kakigori (strawberry shaved ice) afterwards to cool down.

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Arashiyama: This place is for nature-lovers. My mom and I took the “Romantic Train” up the mountains, and then boated down the river back to where we started. There’s a little town with lots of shops and restaurants. It was a very hot day when I visited, so I got matcha shaved ice to cool down.

We also visited the bamboo grove, which was crowded with tourists, but was still beautiful.

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Shijou Kawaramachi: Basically Downtown Kyoto. Lots to do and lots to see… another example why Kyoto is the best city for tourists.

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Osaka

My mom went to a conference for the day, so I was left on my own to explore. It was raining, so I decided to take the train from Kyoto to Osaka to visit the Kaiyo kan Aquarium. It was my first time navigating the trains on my own, but my mom wrote down all the necessary stops and transfers I needed to take to get to Osaka, and I did it with no problem. The aquarium itself was amazing. It was definitely the largest aquarium I’ve ever been to with the most amount of diverse species. (They even had two whale sharks!) I spent a few hours in the aquarium wandering from exhibit to exhibit before heading back to Kyoto.

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I bought a whale shark stuffed animal in the gift shop, and he became my travel companion throughout the trip.

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When in Japan, going to an onsen (public bath house) is a must. Luckily, there was an onsen on the rooftop of the hotel my mom and I stayed in in Takatsuki when visiting my grandparents.

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Kyushu- Nagasaki

This was my first time going to Kyushu and it was one of the highlights of my trip. I highly recommend going to see Nagasaki, not only for its history but because of its amazing beauty. It’s an interesting dynamic in Nagasaki. It’s a city right next to a huge harbor that used to be the only port where foreigners were once allowed to trade with Japan back in the day. It also has one of the best, if not the best, night view in the world. However, what made the strongest impact me in Nagasaki was being in the site of the second nuclear bomb explosion in the world (after Hiroshima). It was heartbreaking to see the remnants of that horrifying nightmare that I had only read about in textbooks.

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After spending a couple days in the harbor area of Nagasaki, we rode the Sea Side Liner to an amusement park called “Huis Ten Bosch”, translated in Dutch as “House in the Woods.” We stayed in Henna Hotel (The Strange Hotel) which is the only hotel in the world to have robots.

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From Kyushu, we took the shinkansen back to Tokyo where we stayed for only a night. I was able to reunite with my best friend after 3 years.

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The next morning, my mom and I left at 6am to catch the shinkansen all the way north to Hokkaido. It was about a four hour train ride, and to cross the ocean between islands, we went through a tunnel under the ocean. Hokkaido was absolutely beautiful (and chilly). We enjoyed a long bike ride around a lake, and then walked around the town eating all the things Hokkaido is famous for: the ramen, its milk, and its odango.

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