Travel to Japan… an expensive affair?

Whenever we talk about travelling to Japan, the general comment from people will be: “It’s very expensive!” Of course expensive or not is rather… relative, and it is very much depends on your budget and financial condition. Often there are people who find every single ways to save when they travel, like staying in the cheapest possible way (such as couch-surfing), eat in cheapest possible way, or even spend little in attractions admission ticket. Well, everyone plans their trip accordingly on their budget, I’m not in the position to judge on whether you should or shouldn’t spend on something. However, I would like to share some tips on ways you can actually save some money while still enjoying a lovely experience in Japan.

Airbnb is not really that cheap in Japan, and with the new regulation kicked in, it became harder and trickier to book accommodation through Airbnb. Some may choose to stay in capsule hotel, but I personally prefer to stay in hostel/guesthouse in Japan. They are not the cheapest, but I would say they are really value for their money. Per night rate ranging from 3,000-5,000 yen per person (depending on room type and facilities), they are reasonably affordable and much more comfortable that staying in a capsule hotel. They usually have common bathroom, wifi service, coin laundry machine, friendly reception that takes care of your luggage if you choose to check out early/arrive early and so on. On top of that, you get to meet with people from other countries while using the common spaces such as kitchen and dining room. I had always enjoyed the cozy environment provided by hostel/guesthouse, and it will certainly be my go-to choice whenever I travel to Japan.

My recommendation: K’s House, Khaosan Hostel Group, Ichiensou

You can expect food to cost from as cheap as 300-10,000 yen per meal! Well, that really depends on what you choose to eat. From cheap bento box to Kaiseki Ryori, there are abundance of choices in Japan for you to choose from. Usually I will balance up my meal with some cheaper options at times and some more luxury one once awhile.

For breakfast, usually I will settle at Family Mart, 7-11 or Lawson. Grab a drink with a bread/onigiri and everything should be below 500 yen or so. As for lunch and dinner, the cheaper options are those chain restaurant such as Yoshinoya and Matsuya, or some local restaurant that operate at friendly neighbourhood price. You can get a decent meal of Oyakodon, Hayashi rice, Ramen or Soba below 1,000 yen. Do go and experience ordering food via vending machine, it is perhaps Japanese’s obsession on vending machine at its best.

Some restaurants in shopping mall or food court, which have better settings and environment, may cost somewhere around 800 yen to 2,000 yen per meal. For that, you should be able to feast yourself with some set meal (Teishoku) or some local specialties. Do note that a lot of the cheaper restaurant in Japan are offering food at very good quality and taste. I tasted some very good ramen and teishoku meal and paid well below 1,000 yen for them, you just need to explore, and hopefully get lucky on your choice at times.

Recommendation: Miyamoto Munashi, Gusto

If you do not plan carefully, transportation cost will usually be quite expensive in Japan. However, for foreigners, you can always make full use of various discounted ticket or day pass which can save you quite some money. If you need to ride the shinkansen, do get the JR pass. However, for ultimate saving, I would advise you to avoid taking shinkansen altogether, unless you really need to fly into Japan and travel to places like Tokyo and Osaka in the same trip. You won’t be able to experience much this way, so the best way is to visit Osaka and Tokyo separately in different trips.

JR train and some local Metro train do offer day pass for unlimited use of their train services. Do check and plan your itinerary accordingly and see if you can maximize the usage and hence achieve saving by purchasing such ticket. In Kyoto for example, a lot of sightseeing spot can be reached via Kyoto Bus service, and you can actually purchase a day pass at 500 yen or so and get unlimited bus ride throughout the day, which is very budget friendly. If you are travelling to Osaka, consider getting Osaka Amazing Pass which covers unlimited metro train ride together with free entry to various attractions.

Recommendation: JR East, JR West, Osaka Amazing Pass

Attractions in Japan are generally not that costly (I’m not considering Disneyland or Universal Studio Japan), however when you visit a few spots a day, cost can add up pretty fast. Typically, temples, gardens, castles or museums have admission ticket that priced somewhere from 100 yen to 1,000 yen. Some attractions offer combine ticket that provide discount when you purchase ticket for various attractions at once. Make use of that and you should be able to save some money during your visit.

Some travel pass (such as Osaka Amazing Pass) offers free entry or discount on admission ticket which you can make use of. Also, some tour agencies also offer discounted rate for attractions when you purchased them before flying into Japan. Do check them out and make the necessary comparison first prior to your trip.

Some other things to take note
Generally speaking, Japan is not wheelchair or baby stroller friendly. A lot of places are lacking of elevator or covered with stone path, which can cause some difficulties.

When you travel to outskirt places, expect majority of the locals do not speak in English. It will be handy to learn a few Japanese words or phrases, or have a translation app in hand.

Japanese are usually very friendly and helpful. However, there are some who dislike foreigners so do keep that in mind. Be respectful and mindful of the etiquettes when visiting temples and shrines. When you give them your respect, you should be returned with the same level of respect as well.

All in all, travelling to Japan is certainly not cheap, but if you travel smart, plan ahead and manage your budget well, it is certainly not that expensive either. If you are able to snatch some cheap air tickets or travel during off peak season, you should be able to manage your budget well and make it a memorable and enjoyable trip. Hope this sharing helps you to get a sense of the cost of travelling to Japan. Till then.

Travel… Japan

I had travelled to Japan for the past 4 years, covered places from further south of Hiroshima, Okayama, Himeji, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Kobe, Wakayama and up to Tokyo. If you ask me, I will still revisit these areas as there are still many places within the area that I would like to explore further.

So why Japan? I don’t know, honestly. There’re something about Japan that keeps drawing me in. Perhaps is their culture, perhaps is their scenery, perhaps is their people, perhaps is their way of life. I enjoyed anime and Japanese drama when I was young, perhaps that had shaped my perspective on Japan a little.

Of course it’s not all great, they still engage in puzzling activities such as mass killing of whales, and some of the people are less open and dislike foreigners. But my point of travelling to places is to immerse yourself into their culture, look at the goods and the bads, pick up those goods and learn from it, adopt it and enrich yourself, and Japan has a lot to offer in this regards.

Rubbish management, recycling program, the politeness, the respect they gave to people, their public transportation, their professionalism are among the fews that really worth learning from. Of course there are more, and they are the things that you really need to go and experience yourself to truly understand it.

Japan also offers a wealth of nature beauty, shrines, temples, well preserved and managed cultural and historical sites and so on. My home country Malaysia do have a lot of great sceneries too, but sadly most of them are not very well managed or maintained, and a lot of times these locations are almost impossible to access unless you drive. There’s still a long way for my home country to improve in terms of public transport system.

So, will I still be heading to Japan next year? Well, hopefully. There are still a lot of places that are yet to explore, such as Kyushu, Hokkaido, Okinawa and so on. Hopefully I can visit all the amazing places in Japan while I’m able to do so. But that does not mean I will not travel to other locations other than Japan, so… what’s next? I’m looking forward for the trips to come. Till then.

Stay strong, Japan

Lovely people from Osaka

On Monday morning (18 June), news broke out that Japan was hit by earthquake measuring at 5.3 magnitude. There were death and injuries reported, followed by train disruptions, possibility of aftershocks and so on. The earthquake affected areas such as Osaka, Kyoto, Nara etc, and ironically I just came back from my trip to these places on Saturday evening.

First of all, I felt grateful that I was not affected directly by the earthquake, but my heart just sunk when I saw the news. What if I was there and caught in the middle, what if my friends or family were there, what if… when I saw the news, I immediately contacted my friends whom I knew were still in Japan to ensure they were safe, and thankfully they were not affected by the earthquake.

The next question that popped into my mind was: If I was there, will I be able to react to the situation? If I was there, what can I do and what should I do? I have been travelling to Japan for the past 4 years, and I felt guilty that I have not even thought about the worst case scenario before, and I do not have a “Plan B” if thing goes wrong. That’s something I need to really ponder about, and that doesn’t mean I will stop travelling to Japan, but to have the mental preparedness of what I might faced and don’t panic when it does happen.

I can’t help but sent my little prayer to those who were affected, and hopefully things will recover soon. Yes, the Japanese are tuff, they had gone through ups and downs, and every time they managed to stand up and move on. For that, I really admire and salute them. They may not be the most friendly and welcoming people in the world, but I always saw valuable qualities from them that everyone can learn from.

As I read through the news, I was annoyed by some comments made by those brainless people who can only live their life behind the social media wall.
“Japanese deserved it because of what they did during the world war”
Seriously? What the fxck is wrong with the mind of these people? I was shocked and utterly disappointed, and even disgusted by such comments, but sadly this is the age we are living in, a world full of people like this.

Once again, stay strong fellow Japanese, I will be back visiting you again soon. Till then.

Let’s Talk A Little About Makoto Shinkai

Disclaimer: This is a non-photography related post.

Recently, the release of a new anime movie titled “Kimi no Na Wa” (Your Name) has stormed the world with great reviews and everyone was talking about it. I watched the movie myself and I couldn’t agree more. This is a movie from Makoto Shinkai, a film director and former graphic designer, an extremely talented creative artist.

I’ve enjoyed his movie since the early days. I can still recall the first movie I watched from him was “Hoshi no Koe” (Voices of a Distant Star), a story about love and distance between the young couple who were separated light years apart. Although the graphic of this anime is not that pretty, the meaning and the story behind was indeed meaningful and touching. If you are in a long distance relationship while watching this, you will sure feel the pain and roll your tears. This movie has marked his name in my heart ever since.

Later on, Makoto Shinkai released another movie titled “Kumo no Mukou, Yakusoku no Basho” (The Place Promised in Our Early Days). This is another love story with some sci-fi essence in it. The story revolves around the mystery between the tower built on their homeland and the lady who was loved by these two young gentlemen, about their dreams and their love story. It’s a rather slow paced movie which you need to slowly indulge in it to dig in the feeling and atmosphere. Graphics are certainly much better than the previous movie, and you can slowly see the style and signature of Makoto Shinkai all over the movie.

The next movie released from his production is a short movie titled “Byousoku 5 Senchimetoru” (5 centimetre per second). This is probably the movie that signifies the breakthrough of his graphical production as every scene of the movie is just so well illustrated and perfectly executed. This movie consist of three short stories that talk about the love story between a childhood couple, how they endured the pain of long distance relation, and how their relation changed as they were further apart and as they grew older. It’s a very sad and painful story, but yet they are so true and they feel so close and so real. This is the “magic” that Makoto Shinkai managed to evoke in his movie. A sense of connection to the viewer where we can really understand and relate the story to our memories in our life. I have watched this movie for countless time, and I can’t help but to cry every time I watched it.

Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo” (Children Who Chases Lost Voices from Deep Below) is probably a movie with least of Makoto Shinkai’s signature. To me it’s more like a Studio Ghibli kinda movie production. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s not a good movie. It is a very nice movie of its own. It’s a story about an adventure that this young lady embarked on in search of solving the mystery of the sounds and voices she heard. There are some very nice meaning behind the story which will make you feel heart warming and touching at the same time.

The next production from Makoto Shinkai was “Kotonoha no Niwa” (The Gardens of Words). This time around, he is backed to his signature love story with beautiful graphics and soundtracks that simply touches the deepest memory and feeling in your heart. This is a story about a young man, an aspiring shoemaker, who happened to meet this lady in the garden during the rainy season. Soon, they are meeting each other more often but when the rainy season is over, their relation was put to the real test. A very nice movie indeed.

Last but not least, “Kimi no Na Wa” (Your Name) was released this year and this movie has marked a new milestone for Makoto Shinkai in many respects. To me, this is probably the essence of all the greatness of Makoto Shinkai and Japanese Anime concentrated into one perfectly executed movie. This is a story about two teenagers who had their body “swapped” from time to time. They didn’t know why this happened, but when they do, they realized that their fate and their love were in real test and danger. Again, superb graphics and soundtrack as you would expect from any of Makoto Shinkai’s film. However, this time around more story elements had been added into the movie which provides a greater perspective and broader meaning and message to the viewers. Hence, the great success it achieved.

So what is the “signature” of Makoto Shinkai you may asked? Well, to me here are some of the reasons why I loved the movie he produced thus far. But this is just me, others may felt differently and it’s totally okay.

  • Scene are often taken from real life location which makes you feel “closer” when you have been to those places before, or during your next visit to those places
  • Timeline of the story is usually “current date” with a twist of fantasy in it, it makes you feel real and surreal at the same time
  • Love story portrayed by him was usually very lovely, but at the same time it came with a splash of sadness, which is probably what we all had been through in our real life
  • Story telling through scenes and background musics which pulls you into his world
  • There’re always some room left for your own imagination
  • Stories and scenes extracted from daily life which echoes and resonates with our memories, giving you more engagement with his movie

Other than animation movie, Makoto Shinkai also get himself involved in various projects such as music video production, script writing, short video creation for other media such as game or TV commercial and so on. Do check out his other works. I’m looking forward to the next production from Makoto Shinkai and hopefully it will not disappoint me. Till then.

Shooting with Fujifilm X-Pro1

X-Pro1 + XF56mm F1.2 R
I have been shooting X-Pro1 alongside my X-T1 during my trip to Japan last month. I’m glad that I brought two cameras with me as there were times when the situation just a bit too tuff to warrant for a lens change, such as raining and stuck in the crowd.
X-Pro1 + XF23mm F1.4 R
As you may know, the X-Pro1 is actually a “new” camera just added into my bag. I have used it occasionally but this was the first time I really put it to pace. I used the X-T1 solely for my trip to Hong Kong, so I have a certain level of expectation in how my camera should perform in order to fulfill my needs. And I have read up on the complaints and so on by others with regards to this camera. Anyway, glad to say that I survived my trip with the X-Pro1 without much issues with it.
X-Pro1 + XF23mm F1.4 R
The first complaint that you generally heard about this camera is the poor auto focusing system. It does lack the phase detection goodness, but I don’t find it difficult to get things into focus. Well, you just need to know the AF system well and pick up those contrast point of your subject to focus on and it should just work fine. In low light condition it sure suffers a little, but it’s more or less the same case for other cameras, and I certainly can live with it.
X-Pro1 + XF23mm F1.4 R
Next is about the general speed of the camera. The writing speed is indeed… Slow. But it’s not something that will bother me as I rarely shoot burst shots. Sometimes I do took a few single shots in a row and that’s when I’ll see the LED keep on flashing, indicating files were being written to the cards. But I still can continue to shoot, so no issue in short. I do encountered a few times of “card error” during my trip in Japan. It usually occurs when I off the camera while the camera is still saving files into the card. I’m not sure is it due to the camera or the card, I’ll keep an eye on this issue some other day.
X-Pro1 + XC50-230mm F4.5-6.7 OIS
Handling wise, it’s more or less the same. Yes, there’s no direct AF point control and customizable Q menu, so it might be a few “button press” slower than newer cameras such as the X-T1. Otherwise, it feels pretty much the same and I don’t encounter situation where I was frustrated by the camera’s handling.
X-Pro1 + XC50-230mm F4.5-6.7 OIS
IQ wise, there’re some subtle differences that I found between X-Pro1 and X-T1, aka X-Trans 1 vs X-Trans 2. I found the colours on X-Pro1 is ever slightly more saturated or punchier. The noise pattern too seems a little different. But all in all, both sensors gave superb IQ. There are people who fell in love with the rendering of X-Trans 1 sensor, for me, some occasions the subtle punch do improve the picture a little, but not all conditions. So it’s something that I need to take note about when I shoot, so that I don’t push the colours too much.
X-Pro1 + XF23mm F1.4 R
All in all, there really isn’t much to complain about the X-Pro1. Until today, it is still a very capable camera that is not being obsoleted yet. I used it in the rain and under cold (but not freezing) weather in Japan. Everything works well as it is. I’m looking forward for more great times with the X-Pro1. Till then 🙂
X-Pro1 + XF56mm F1.2 R