I recently went on holiday to Japan. It was my second time going – the first time I went was a fairly rushed trip in 2017.

I (accidentally) booked during Golden Week – a week or so when there are a number of national holidays, and hence domestic tourism. I planned my itinerary around this to avoid the crowds, so it wasn’t a major problem. It did also mean that there were a few things going on that wouldn’t otherwise have been.

Anyway, here are some photos from the trip.

Kamakura

Kamakura, Japan, taken from Hasa-dera
The coastal city of Kamakura, as viewed from Hasa-dera (a Buddhist temple in Kamakura)
A photo of Kamakura Daibutsu (Great Buddha of Kamakura)
Kamakura Daibutsu (Great Buddha of Kamakura)

Tokyo

A photo of Tokyo and Rainbow Bridge, from Odaiba beach
Tokyo and Rainbow Bridge, viewed from Odaiba beach (I needed a tripod here really, alas I didn’t have one)

The Shinkansen

A photo of a Shinkansen platform at Tokyo station
A Shinkansen platform (called a track) at Tokyo station

I took the Shinkansen (bullet train) four times on this trip, paying a bit extra to travel in a green car (the equivalent of first class in the UK) on some of those journeys.

Here’s the interior of a Shinkansen green car:

The interior of a Shinkansen green car
The interior of a Shinkansen green car

The green cars were very quiet on my journeys. In green cars, snacks, drinks and a bento box are available to order on a mobile website that can be accessed by scanning a QR code. (As I discovered, you have to be connected to the train or station Wi-Fi to place an order – otherwise you’ll get a ‘Forbidden’ error when clicking through to the menu.)

Items ordered are brought to you and have to be paid for by cash.

I ordered a special Makunouchi bento on one of my journeys, which was filled with various food items from around Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka. The black beans (I’m guessing they were kuromame beans) were delicious (and unfortunately don’t really seem to be available in the UK).

Mount Fuji was visible on my journey from Tokyo to Kyoto, and again on the way back.

Mount Fuji, as seen from the Skinkansen between Tokyo and Kyoto
Mount Fuji, as seen from the Skinkansen between Tokyo and Kyoto

Nara

Tame deer in Nara
Tame deer in Nara
A sign saying ‘Regular closing day’
Maybe next time? (Places in Japan can be closed on certain weekdays, and you can easily be caught out if you don’t check in advance.)

Himeji

Undoubtedly, my favourite photo from the trip was of Himeji Castle, a hilltop castle in Himeji.

A photo of Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle, Himeji

Kyoto

I prioritised places I didn’t go to in 2017 (and so some famous sights are missing from these).

A photo of Ninomaru Garden in Nijō Castle, Kyoto
Ninomaru Garden in Nijō Castle, Kyoto
Ginkaku-ji, Kyoto
Ginkaku-ji, Kyoto
Supermarket shelves with various KitKat varieties
Yes, there are lots of curious KitKat flavours available
Hōkan-ji, Kyoto
Hōkan-ji, Kyoto
Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto
Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto

During my last evening in Kyoto, I visited Fushimi Inari Taisha and climbed the steps up Mount Inari to the viewpoint at Yotsutsuji intersection. It was roughly a 30-minute climb and the viewpoint was reasonably quiet at sunset (unlike the lower parts of the shrine).

Unfortunately, I had an early start the next morning (to get back to the UK) so I couldn’t stay at the viewpoint long. I did manage to snap a few photos, at least.

A photo of Kyoto from high ground, just after sunset
Kyoto from Yotsutsuji intersection on Mount Inari, just after sunset

Food

Everyone likes photos of Japanese food, so here are some more.

Being a tourist in Japan

There’s plenty of tourist advice online, so I’m only going to cover a few points from my experience that might be helpful to others (particularly people from the UK visiting Japan).

Withdrawing cash

There are mixed reports online about whether you’ll be charged for withdrawing cash from a Seven Bank (7-Eleven) cash machine. I did see some reports that Mastercard cards don’t incur a fee. And indeed, I wasn’t charged to withdraw yen using Chase UK and Starling Bank debit cards (both of which are Mastercards).

Paying by card

I had no problem paying with a UK Visa credit card in restaurants and most shops in Tokyo and Kyoto. In most cases, the transaction goes through in yen without a currency selection step.

Contactless (called touch there) was only accepted at some places (maybe 50% of the places that accepted credit and debit cards) but when it was available, it worked fine with the Google Wallet app on my Android phone.

(I did discover though that the Panasonic contactless card readers I encountered work from some distance away. When I first tried to use one, I did what I do in the UK and held my phone several inches above the reader, waiting until the reader was ready and displaying the amount before moving my phone closer. And, of course, what actually happened was that the transaction just went through while my phone was still several inches away.)

IC cards

IC cards in Japan are similar to Oyster cards in London (except that IC cards can also be used to pay for things in shops, at vending machines and in other places).

The machines that sell Welcome Suica card at Haneda Airport (plus some other ticket machines)

As my Android phone isn’t compatible with a digital IC card, I picked up a physical Welcome Suica card from the machine near the monorail station at Haneda Airport when I arrived. I paid for it with my UK credit card without a problem (though note that physical cards can normally only be topped up with cash). (I didn’t bother trying to get one of the normal (non-Welcome) Suica cards aimed at residents, as I was staying for less than 28 days, and didn’t fancy the bother of having to return the card to get my deposit back.)

smart EX Shinkansen tickets

I booked my Shinkansen tickets using the smart EX website (which has some advantages over other methods, such as discounted tickets and QR code and IC card boarding).

Unfortunately, the site is particularly fussy about which cards it accepts. It didn’t accept my UK Nationwide Visa credit card but it did accept a Curve card I had.

I had no problem using the ‘designate IC card’ feature with my Welcome Suica card. That meant I could pass through the Shinkansen gates using my Welcome Suica card instead of QR codes (which I found a bit more convenient). (It wasn’t obvious where I was meant to tap my card at one of the gates, but it was the same place the QR codes are scanned.)

The end

It’s a long flight from the UK (around 14 hours, as planes from the UK no longer travel through Russian airspace). Perhaps I’ll go for a third trip at some point though.