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Japan Tour With The Dragon Trip

Ready to discover THE ultimate Japan Tour – experience the best that Japan has to offer, revel in the culture and taste food you never knew existed. Feast your eyes on incredible temples and have a go at activities you would never have thought you would be doing ( like driving through the streets of Tokyo wearing a cartoon character onesie on a go kart!) We spent an incredible 13 days travelling around Japan with The Dragon Trip. Read on to discover why we came back absolutely adoring Japan.

Why Visit Japan?

For years we have wanted to visit Japan, to discover the culture and experience first hand a country that has peaked our interest. All you have to do is browse photographs of the varied landscapes and be amazed, from the wild mountains to the vibrant city scapes. Japan has something for everyone, for single travellers, to couples and families with kids.

When to visit Japan?

We visited in November which was a fantastic time to visit. Although many travel guides will be aimed at focussing on Cherry Blossom season in March-May, we found Autumn with all the trees turning golden and red hues simply fantastic, both for photos and the milder temperatures. The temperature on our trip was between 16-20 degrees which we find is the perfect weather for sightseeing and traveling around.

The summer in Japan gets very hot and humid so if you are one for cooler weather then Autumn could be just the ticket for you. In November there is snow in certain parts of Japan and the temperature is much cooler so its worth checking your must see list and working around your ideal temperatures.

It can be expensive to travel during the Cherry Blossom season so it’s worth pre-booking accommodation etc if you wish to see the pink blossoms. Alternatively, book a space on The Japan Tour with The Dragon Trip and have all of your accommodation included already.

Japan Tour Schedule

We spent 13 days on tour with The Dragon Trip travelling around Japan using Bullet Trains to local buses. Visiting Tokyo, Kamakura, Hakone, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Osaka. We found this a perfect amount of time to see these locations and you can see below what we got up to at each location. The trip is jam packed with activities so get ready to be inspired (and a little surprised at how much you can actually do on this tour).

Tokyo

 Days 1- 4 

We start the tour in Tokyo, and meet our guide at the hostel in Shinjuku that we stay in for the first 4 nights of the trip. It’s here that we meet the rest of the tour group and get an idea of how the trip will play out. Before long we are out and about exploring the streets of Tokyo.

Tokyo is such a vibrant city with so much to offer.  There are so many different districts to visit with a completely different feel to each of them. Our accommodation was located in Shinjuku a perfect choice for a stay in Tokyo. We stayed in a hostel located down a quiet side street – it was a perfect base. What you may find in a lot of accommodations in Japan are “Handy” phones. These are free mobile phones connected to wifi that you can use to help sightsee and google information during your trip. We had one of these in our room in Tokyo and loved the idea.

Shinjuku is full of neon bright lights, bars and shopping and the perfect base for a Tokyo adventure. Shinjuku’s railway station is the busiest in the world transiting up to 2 million passengers a day and is on the JR Yamanote line – if your looking for accommodation in Tokyo stay close to this subway line. The red light district of Kabukicho takes some great photos too.

shinjuku

Never have we been to a cleaner city! Did you know they don’t have bins on the street so you have to take your rubbish home with you. It’s also been said that this has reduced crime rates drastically!

We spent 4 nights in Tokyo on the tour and another 4 nights either side of the tour by ourselves. We still feel like there is so much more of Tokyo to experience just because we loved it so much, BUT we did put a dent in a majority of the attractions that you would want to see plus some extra stuff I don’t think would ever have done on our own thanks to being on The Dragon Trip Tour.

Day 1 in Tokyo:

Our tour started with a walk past some famous sights including Godzilla above the Toho cinema. Since the original movie was filmed by this company they placed a giant Godzilla head above the building as it looks down on to the city. Blink and you will miss it but it is one of those attractions that is worth walking by. We then passed Memory lane, also known as “Piss Alley”. A narrow lane decorated each season in themes matching the weather lined with tiny bars and restaurants that might only fit about 6 people.

We then visited the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, offering 360 degree views of the city, this was the perfect place to begin the tour to get our bearings on the city. It is free to come here and they are also open in the evening if you want to see the city lit up. The line can be pretty long to get in but it does move quickly.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

Tsukiji Outer Market is where it’s at if you want to eat fresh fish, it’s the largest fish market in Asia and they sell Whale meat! There is no stinky fish market smell here since everything gets sold out on the day, it’s that damn tasty. You must try the little octopus on a stick – they are so delicious. Our guide wanted to take us to get fresh tuna that gets blow torched, but they were sold out. He surely knew the best secret spots.

Senso – Ji Temple in Asakusa is an ancient Buddhist Temple. It was here that we had the opportunity to get our fortune. By donating 100 JPY you can then shake a big metal hexagonal box that contains wooden sticks inside. Each stick has characters that correspond to a wooden drawer. Inside your drawer is your fortune, be it The Best, Good or Bad. Care to guess what we got? I got The Best fortune and Phil got a Bad Fortune. We like to think they cancel each other out. 

Senso Ji Temple Entrance

Batting Cage – one of Japan’s surprising favourite sports is Baseball – there have been competitions since the 1920’s but when Japan’s 1934 All-Star team beat the All Star American team featuring legends of the game such as Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, Baseballs popularity in Japan Sky Rocketed!

We visited a batting cage in Shinjuku – you get between 20-25 balls fired at you in either left or right handed cages at various speeds (start with the 80 kph areas). All bats are supplied ready to go along with arcade machines and vending machines. A great experience to enjoy pre-night out or simply for a good laugh with your travel buddies. It is activities like this that made the start of our tour with The Dragon Trip so memorable.

Day 2 in Tokyo:

Sushi Making – if you want to learn how to make sushi, Japan is the place! We joined our chef’s and hosts at their cookery school and under their watchful eye created our very own sushi meal.

From the egg rolls to California rolls we learnt the techniques from the pros. You can pick up the sushi making kits from the markets in most Japanese towns if you want to impress your friends and family. It was such a unique experience, one that we would never have booked for ourselves normally when we travel.

Akihabara and Maid Cafe – Tokyo’s ‘Electric Town’ is a must see for anyone into technology, Manga and Anime (known as the Manga capital of the world). Some of Tokyo’s largest technology shops are in Akiba (the local name for the district) and also a huge range of Anime and Manga shops. It is known as ‘Electric Town’, because after the World War Two depression electric goods were brought into the black market here.

Maid Cafe Ice Cream Sundae

One thing you must try is a Maid Cafe! Our tour took us to ‘Maidreamin’, a chain of maid cafes in Tokyo. We were apprehensive of what to expect but our guide Chipa told us to ‘go with flow’, so we did.

What an experience! Maid cafes sprung up as a sub-genre of Cosplay to cater for ‘Otaku’ which is a person who is into gaming, pop culture, Anime or Manga similar to western geek style. These cafes allow people to socialise and spend time in a fun environment with cosplay maids serving them and performing songs and stage shows. Overall a great fun place to get a great ice-cream sundae and have a good laugh.

Seat charge is 500 yen then they have a wide menu of ice creams and drinks – typically 680 yen for the cutest ice cream sundae you’ll ever see. You cannot take photos inside so there is just the ice cream sundae photo for you. There is no “toilet”, instead it is called a flower garden!

Akiba area has lots of animal cafes with meerkats, hedgehogs, mini pigs, owls, cats, toy poodles and even sheep. Sometimes the animals are on show in the street to entice you to come in.

Mari Car – Starting in Akiba (Akihabara) you zip through the streets of Tokyo in your very own go-kart dressed as a minion, chipmunk or Spiderman! What’s not to like! Our Mari-Car tour started at sun down so we got to experience all the lights of Tokyo’s central districts such as Ginza.

Very easy to drive so suitable for everyone, Tokyo’s streets are very organised and you feel like a celebrity with everyone waving and taking photos as you zoom down the streets. This was a once in a lifetime experience, as an optional extra on the tour, it was one we were so glad we participated in.

Golden Gai + Karaoke – Shinjuku’s Golden Gai’s are a must see! In the 1980’s the owners of these pint sized bars fought the Yakuza to stop them burning the area down to sell as real estate and as such this small area of Tokyo is un changed.

Tiny bars all squeezed in together with seating for approximately 8 clients each have their own theme and style – some bars will say if they are for locals or members only and typically have had the same patrons since the 1990’s, others will be open for visitors. Expect to pay a cover charge in most between 500-1200 Yen, free ones will say on the door.

We visited the Karaoke bar called ‘Champion’, with 500 yen drinks and 100 yen per song, it has a great atmosphere. Choose your song on the iPad, place a 100 yen coin on top and hand it back to the barman to get in the queue. Many expats and foreigners visit this bar for a good old sing song and a plum wine. Our guide Chipa was especially enthusiastic which ended up spreading to the group and I ended up singing Abba in front of a bar full of strangers. When in Japan!

Day 3 in Tokyo:

Tokyo Imperial Palace – Located on a huge stretch of parkland, the Imperial Palace is located on the former site of Edo Castle. It is the primary residence of the Emperor of Japan. When you look on a train map you will notice that they go around in a loop, this is because the Imperial Palace is in the middle and no trains pass through the area. The gardens are so beautifully manicured with the help of local volunteers. The stark contrast between the old and new is visible here with the big sky scrapers behind the gardens.

Harajuku – Takeshita Street is one of the busiest in Tokyo. The Harajuku district is Tokyo’s self proclaimed street wear and fashion capital. Further towards Omotesando the street wear stores turn to larger fashion icons as well as H&M and UniQlo.

Crepe Harajuku

Lots of cafes here aim at youth culture and also include Cat Cafe Mocha- we visited this cat cafe at the start of Takeshita Street and spent a good half an hour enjoying the cutest kitties we’ve ever  seen in the comfortable lounge set up.

Our guide took us for a traditional ‘Tokyo Style’ Okonomiyaki lunch. These Japanese Pancakes of all flavours are a must try. At our restaurant you receive instructions and cook them yourselves on your table over a hot plate. Careful on the flip!

Meiji Shrine – located in Harajuku this Shinto shrine was first completed in 1920 and rebuilt after World War 2. Emperor Meiji was the first emperor of Modern Japan after the end of Japan’s feudal era.

The main shrine buildings are a 10 min walk from the entrance near Harajuku station through a tranquil forest a million miles away from Tokyo’s busy streets. Under the huge Torii Gate you wind your way through to the main shrine. If you come an hour before closing many Japanese couples have their wedding photos taken here in traditional dress. A great place to purchase Onamori, a Japanese Amulet typically available at Shinto shrines – these Amulets made sacred through Shinto or Buddhist rituals can provide prayers and invocations for safe travel and health among other things.

Shibuya Crossing – rumoured to be the busiest intersection in the world anywhere from 2000-3000 people cross at one time during rush hour in a true organised Japanese dance. The best pictures of here can be taken from the Magnet Shopping building on one of it’s corners – the elevated position does cost 600 yen to access though. Free options for pictures include Starbucks and the bridge linking the train buildings.

shibuya crossing

Day 4 in Tokyo:

Edo Tokyo Museum – Our guides favourite museum, the Edo Tokyo Museum is the perfect opportunity to learn about the history of Tokyo. The Edo period (also known at the Tokogawa Period) was between 1603 and 1868, when the country was under the power of the Tokogawa shogunate and 300 Daimyo (Powerful Japanese Feudal lords who ruled most of Japan from their vast land holdings). The museum guides you through Japan’s history including its role in World War 2. We learnt so much information we never knew before, this was a fantastic museum to visit on the tour.

Sumo Experience – I wrestled a real Sumo in Japan! Not many people can say that but I fought (i use the word loosely) Jambo one of our Sumo hosts at our optional lunch with 2 former Sumo Champions.

We learnt about Sumo traditions and matches through demonstrations as well as having the chance to try our hand at being Sumo wrestlers. We had lunch including ‘Chanko’ a Sumo stew and staple meal that accompanies the Sumo’s strict training regime. At the end they answered our many questions on Sumo life and competitions. Including how many pieces of sushi Jambo ate in one sitting? Any guesses? Hint – it’s more than 300.

Samurai Museum – Shinjuku’s Samurai museum has armour and swords on display from Japan’s ancient times and a knowledgeable tour guide took us through the history and design of the Samurai armour as well as weapons. During the tour we got to experience a sword demonstration from 2 sword masters…..with real steel blades! You sit very close so its quite the experience! After the show we had the opportunity to dress up in a Kimono and Samurai outfit.

Robot Show – If you are looking for a crazy Japanese experience then make sure you check out the Robot Show in Shinjuku. A mixture of robots and costume clad dancers, lazer lights and musical instruments make a show like no other. This kitsch show is a must just for the pure crazy atmosphere. It is an optional activity on the tour but an absolute must If you are in Tokyo.

Kamakura

Time in Location: 1 Night

Day 5 in Kamakura

Kamakura is a seaside town just south of Tokyo and a popular spot for people looking to move from the city or go for a surf! 

Our accommodation at the fantastic WeBase in Kamakura had its very own Onsen Bath – we would recommend experiencing an Onsen at least once while you are in Japan. Separated into Male and Female baths Onsens are considered a social place to meet and chat with others. Also its hot water helps with the achy muscles from exploring and jet lag.

At the Kotoku-in Temple you can find the Great Buddha, a 13m-high bronze statue still standing after a tsunami in the 15th-century. You can still spot some of the original gold leaf that covered the buddha on the cheek. There is even the opportunity to go inside the Buddha

Enoshima Island is a great spot in Kamakura to soak up the seaside atmosphere – on the bridge connected island the Enoshima Shrines are dedicated to the goddess of wealth, fortune, music and good knowledge – who doesn’t want some of that? Keep a keen eye out for the local Japanese Racoons that roam the island! 

Hakone

Time in Location: 1 Night

Day 6 in Hakone

Hakone is less than 100km from Tokyo and it is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park – a beautiful wooded valley with Lake Ashinoko. This area feels so tranquil and secluded, famed for its healing hot springs.

Here we stayed in a traditional Ryokan – a type of traditional Japanese Inn. Complete with Yukata to wear in the evenings (a style of pyjamas). It had a fantastic homely feel.

During the day we travelled by bus to an Amazake Chaya – a traditional tea house founded 400 years ago whose Amazake recipe is unchanged since it was opened. Amazake is a sweet alcohol free rice wine made from koji fungi, rice and yeast and was used to fuel and warm travelling Samurai heading to Edo (ancient Tokyo). This sweet hot drink really pops with the addition of fresh ginger for a true winter warmer.

The location of the Amazake Chaya in the hills of Hakone is no coincidence. Hakone was one of the last check points before Tokyo on the ancient Tokaido Road. After we finished our Amazake we headed to a remaining section of this connection to Kyoto.

The Tokaido Road was one of 5 routes that connected Tokyo with the rest of Japan – as you walk on the cobbled route through the forest you can imagine the tales of samurai’s and folk lore surrounding this ancient route. 

The trail led to Lake Ashinoko where you can find the Torii Gates of the Hakone Shrine. A 15 minute walk along the shore of the lake and you will reach this beautiful viewpoint. If you want to take a photo here, you may have to queue for a while with the locals since it is a very popular instagram photo location in Hakone.

Tori Gate Lake Ashi

From here we jumped on to a Pirate Ship that crosses Lake Ashinoko to the Owakudani Volcano. Keep an eye out for Mount Fuji in the distance, it’s a wonderful opportunity to see it in such a beautiful location. 

Once at Owakudani there is a Ropeway (Gondola) that climbs to the top of the Volcano. We came during sunset and it was the most incredible view. The sulphur was particularly thick when we visited so we were unable to go outside the viewing building at the top, but it made the sky incredibly red and hazy in the setting sun.

Once back at the Ryokan we had the opportunity to use their own private Onsen under the stars. I could definitely get used to these.

Wearing our traditional yukatas our guide Chipa arranged some Sake tasting – we tasted a variety from premium to budget to see which we preferred. Apparently those who enjoy a good drink and night out don’t always prefer the premium sake!

Kyoto

Time in Location: 4 Nights

Day 7 in Kyoto

We arrive on our bullet train in Kyoto – once the capital of Japan it was left out of World War bombing efforts due to its cultural significance and removed from a list of options for the dropping of atomic weapons.

Because of this Kyoto retains many old buildings and neighbourhoods unchanged from Japan’s ancient history. This is a great city to experience traditional Japanese buildings and culture. It is considered Japan’s Cultural Capital.

Our first stop was the Kiyomizu Dera Temple or ‘Pure Water Temple’. It is one of Japan’s most respected and celebrated temples – the name relates to the waterfall that the temple was founded on in 780 and is a UNESCO heritage site – the expansive grounds of the temple feature many shrines and statues nestled amongst maple trees and you can get one of the best views of modern Kyoto from the top. Behind the main hall there is Jishu Shrine which is dedicated to Love and Match Making, here you can find two stones, placed 18 metres apart, if you can travel from one to the other with your eyes closed it is believed you will have success finding love, if you need help being guided it is suggested you may need someones help to find your soul mate.

The Ottawa Waterfall from the temples namesake appears below the temple, its stream is divided into 3 separate spouts all with a different meaning, from happy love life, longevity and success, where you can drink from whichever you choose. However, drink from all 3 and it is considered greedy and no effects will be gained.

Kyoto is the home of the Geisha in Japan, when here visiting a traditional Geisha performance is a must and instantly captivating. Our guide took us to a traditional show of the ancient arts which featured a Geisha show and traditional play. A tea ceremony was also performed.

One of our favourite parts of Kyoto was the Gion and Higashiyama Districts around Hanamikoji Street – this is one of the most photographed and popular instagram spots in Kyoto and takes you back to a time when travellers and pilgrims to the shrines would have found lodging and traded in the area. 

Many young Japanese travellers can be found in traditional Kimonos here, find the stunning Yasaka Pagoda for your perfect holiday picture.

Day 8 in Kyoto

Today we travelled to the Hozugawa River – this river was used to transport much of the material used to build Kyoto and Osaka and was later used as the main route for traders to supply food and goods to the areas.

Hozugawa River

We hopped aboard our flat bottom boat and headed off down the river to the start point – this trip is expertly piloted by 3 boatmen through the rapids and stunning valley that the river winds its way through. In Autumn as the leaves on the trees change to red and golden you can get some great pictures. Keep an eye out for Snoopy Rock.

After the 2 hour boat ride we arrived in Arashiyama, a great district in western Kyoto for its natural setting and a popular destination for rich noble lords. Here you can find the Iwatayama Monkey Park after hiking approximately 20 minutes to the summit of the park. 

Home to around 170 Japanese macaque monkeys that have free roam of the area, you can enjoy their funny antics over looking Kyoto. You are able to purchase nuts and bananas for 100 Yen and feed them from inside a safe cage….for humans!

We walked through a beautiful Zen Garden on the way to the famous Arashiyama Bamboo Forest made famous from Instagram. Here is where you want to get your Instagram photos. The bamboo is incredibly tall and a true spectacle. Known as being a great place to escape to during earth quakes since the roots form a large web like structure underground.

You used to be able to walk among the bamboo forest freely however people started carving their names into the bamboo so now there is walk ways to stick to.

In the evening we attended a Calligraphy Class where our expert teachers taught us how to write Kanji characters including our name – luckily they gave us time to practice before attempting our final piece which we could display at home.

The evenings entertainment arranged by our tour guide was Karaoke! A favourite Japanese pastime. A private booth was organised for our group along with all you can drink alcohol which helped everyone get into the spirit. What started as ‘who wants to sing’ turned into ‘give me the mic!’ And there was a few sore heads in the morning – not from singing voices.

Day 9 in Kyoto

Today was our free day to explore Kyoto on our own – after a later than normal start for some after the previous evenings karaoke, we decided to set out to Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine. This is where you can find Kyoto’s famed Torii Gates – there are over 1000 of these gates winding their way through the forest and make a perfect picture for your travel album. Bring your walking shoes as the mountain trails have lots of steps and areas to explore. It is based on a mountain side and the hike to the top is long if you fancy it. Once you reach the view point there is a further optional 40 minute round trip hike to view further mountain shrines.

The main shrine is dedicated to Inari the Shinto God of Rice – and is one of the most important shrines dedicated to this god in Japan.

The 1000’s of Torii Gates at Fushimi Inari Taisha are a favourite instagram location and they are all donated by companies or people who visit the shrine, small ones cost upwards of 350,000 yen and the large can be upto a million.

After hiking around the Torii Gates we headed for the Hokanji Temple or Yasaka Pagoda in the aforementioned Higashiyama District. We spent a few hours exploring the old neighbourhood and snapped some great pictures.

Hokanji Temple

Day 10 in Kyoto

Today was bike riding day in Kyoto – we set off through the city and diverted to the path along the river which was a great cycle ride. You can spot dozens of blue and white heron’s along the river, quite a rare bird in the UK but not in Kyoto.

cycling kyoto

We cycled about an hour to our Zen mediation class with our buddhist monk teacher at the Daisen-In Temple which is one of the oldest Hojo style Zen-Buddhist temples remaining. We mediated in silence as a group under the watchful eye of our instructor.

If you find your mind wandering or wish to flex a little from your lotus position, the monk will provide 4 well placed strikes with a flat wooden cane, 2 to each shoulder. This is optional of course but most of the group tried it and it works wonders.

Following our relaxing meditation session we joined our guide for a tour of the temple and its original screen door paintings and famous Zen garden. We finished our afternoon at Daisen-in with a matcha tea ceremony – you must try matcha in Japan.

After lunch we cycled to Kinkaku-Ji the Golden Pavilion. This Zen Temple’s upper two floors are covered in gold leaf, its position on a beautiful lake is a true show stopper and allows you to take some stunning photographs. The shogun who retired to this holiday villa certainly had a great eye for design.

We caught the Bullet Train to Hiroshima from Kyoto station in the late afternoon.

Hiroshima

Time in Location: 2 Nights

Day 11 in Hiroshima:

Hiroshima’s modern city was a great surprise. It’s bustling neon light alleys and shopping centres are a far cry from what most people know about Hiroshima.

Our first important stop in Hiroshima is the Memorial Peace Park – this area was the epicentre for the atomic bomb explosion that destroyed Hiroshima during the world war. The park is home to the Memorial Peace Museum which documents the life before and after the dropping of the bomb.

It is a stark reminder of the devastating effects that possessing nuclear weapons can have on the people of the world. It serves as a model for peace as it strives to act as a monument to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

Also in the park is the A-Bomb Dome which is the remains of the old Promotions Hall – this building is left as it was after the bomb exploded just above the building as it was one of the only buildings left standing in Hiroshima.

A Bomb Building

After learning the history of the events in Hiroshima we headed to Miyajima Island in Hiroshima Bay about an hour from the city centre. This island is one of the most scenic spots in Japan and was thought to be an Island of Gods.

Miyajima Island is home to the large floating tori gate which has the effect of floating on the water at high tide. The island has a romantic reputation with many visitors choosing to stay over night in its many ryokan’s. Alternatively you can travel over for the day or afternoon as we did.

Although the island is famous for its over water Itsukushima Shrine, its wild roaming deer get almost the same amount of attention. Wandering the streets and beaches of the islands they are quite accustomed to human visitors.

Osaka

Time in Location: 1 night

Day 12 in Osaka

We caught the bullet train to Osaka for our last day of our tour. Our accommodation here was another Japan must – a capsule or pod hotel. These little accommodations have become a Japanese icon with copies springing up all over the world….we even stayed in one in Canada!

Separated into male and female dorms your little home has everything you need from a tv and pyjamas to toiletries. Perfect for budget travellers.

We visited one of the cities most famous sights, Osaka Castle. One of Japans largest castles of its time and now features a museum and viewing deck at its peak. This historic castle played a major role in the unification of Japan in the 16th century. The original castle was commissioned by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a samurai general and is considered one of Japan’s most famous.

That evening we partook in another favourite Japanese pastime….gaming arcades! We raced each other in Mario Cart challenges and battled it out shooting basketball before heading to Osaka’s famous Dotonburi District for a few refreshments.

The Dotonburi district in Osaka is bright lights and party vibes. It features some of Japan’s last remaining Neon Light signs and more bars and restaurants than you can visit. 

Day 13 in Osaka

This was the last day of the tour and the travel day back to Tokyo. Some people stayed on in Osaka and continued on in their travels around Japan or departed from Osaka airport. The remainder travelled back to Tokyo on the Bullet Train. We stayed in Osaka for the day and spent it at Universal Studios. To read all about our incredible day there click here.

Budget Tips for Japan

Japans famous convenience stores are perfect for travellers who need to watch their spends – the most common store brands of Lawsons, 7-Eleven and Family Mart have something for every taste. Noodles, Sushi, Ramen and Sandwiches along with accompanying salads and sides like Gyoza’s mean the thrifty traveller can piece together a great meal for under 500 Yen.

The staff will heat up the meals for you in the microwaves so you are ready to go quick and easy. It’s also a good spot for breakfast pastries and cakes which range from 100 Yen each.

Accommodation types:

The accommodation on the tour ranged from Hostels, to traditional Ryokans and a Pod Hotel. We upgraded to the private double room option(apart from the 1 night in the Pod Hotel). We thought the accommodation was such a high standard, everything was super clean, comfortable and very well looked after. All of the accommodations had a variety of amenities, especially in the bathrooms including moisturiser for your face and body, face cleansing lotion, make up remover, hair spray, razors, tooth brushes and much more. The sheer amount of products you could use was something that we were not used to. Many places offer slippers and some offered Pajamas. Some of the hostels offered breakfast and most had vending machines where you could get snacks including beer! The locations of the hostels were unparalleled, simply fantastic.

Getting around Japan

IC Card – The IC Card (Pasmo) was something that we used on a daily basis and it can be used all over Japan. We used it for the trains, buses and it can even be used in the vending machines at the stations and in town. We were given one of these at the beginning of the trip and took it everywhere with us as we used it several times on a daily basis. It saves you having to pay cash for each journey making it a super convenient thing to have. All travel is included on The Dragon Trip tour so you hardly even need to think about it.

JR Rail Pass – We used the JR Rail Pass to go on the longer train journeys like the bullet train. But it can also be used for the above land trains all over Japan. It just depends on the train route you are wanting to take as the lines are owned by different companies. The good thing is that they are signposted in English so you can tell if it will be a JR Rail Pass journey or not.

Our Guide – as fantastic as it was having an IC Card and JR Rail Pass, I would say a majority of the trip being so amazing was that we had our guide Chipa showing us around the country. Normally I am the one making the decisions and planning the trip so directions would fall on me. I cannot tell you enough how amazing and stress free it felt to just have to follow our guide. It allowed me to take in the surroundings without having my face buried in a map, I didn’t have to get stressed out trying to figure out where I needed to stand in order to get on the train ( and the correct train). I kid you not at the end of the trip we did get on the wrong train, luckily it didn’t leave the station before we realised. All because Chipa our guide was not with us anymore. There are a lot of English signs in Japan which was more than I had expected but I have to say, if you want to make the most out of your time in Japan where you can see as much as possible AND enjoy it at the same time so you don’t feel stressed and exhausted then I recommend having a tour guide.

Suitability for Vegetarians, Vegans or Gluten Free

We had a couple of vegetarians and Gluten Free travellers on the tour which gave me an insight into how easy it is to get this type of food in Japan. You will find that many places offer vegetarian options, however the Vegan diet is a very new concept in Japan and you will find most places won’t cater for this. If you happen to be Gluten intolerant then you will find even fewer options. Since almost everything contains Soy which contains gluten it is hard to remove it. One meal type that did seem easy to cater for GF travellers was Okonomiyaki. If you can find a place that serves this then it can be made to suit your needs.

Why go on a Group Tour

We absolutely loved our experience with The Dragon Trip. As experienced travellers who book independent travel 90% of the time we were pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed being a part of a group trip. The friends we made on the tour, the stress free travel days, the included activities and more. Having the ability to upgrade our room to a private double made it more comfortable for us travelling as a couple. We were one of three couples on the trip so didn’t feel out of place. Given that Japan is so culturally different, we felt this was the perfect opportunity to go on a group trip so that we could make the most of the country.

If you want to book your own trip with The Dragon Trip you can use my unique code:everthewanderer/TDT19 and get a 10% discount

Don’t forget to save for later – Pin to Pinterest

Japan Tour With The Dragon Trip

Thank you to The Dragon Trip for hosting us on the Japan Tour. The trip was sponsored, and as always all opinions are our own. We only ever recommend experiences that we absolutely love.

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Are you planning a trip to Tokyo and looking for a hotel to stay in that offers good value and quality. Check out Hotel Tavinos, a brand new Manga themed hotel in the Hamamatsucho ward of Tokyo.

After much research on affordable Tokyo Accommodation, we came across the trendy and funky new Hotel Tavinos in the Hamamatsucho ward of Tokyo. It only opened its doors in August 2019 and is the perfect choice for your trip to Tokyo. We had not heard of the Hamamatsucho area prior to staying here, but it’s ease to travel on the metro and quieter vibe would have us staying here again. It actually was quite surprising how well situated it was and is a fantastic value option if you cannot afford to stay in the popular areas like Shinjuku and Shibuya.

We wanted somewhere on the JR Yamanote Line of the metro system, as this is the line that all the popular sights of Tokyo are located on. From here it was easy to visit our favourite sites like Shibuya, Harajuku, Akihabara and Shinjuku, all of which will be on your sightseeing check list. This made it super easy to find our way back to our hotel as first time visitors on our days out sightseeing.

The hotel has good access if you are flying into Haneda Airport and is located in a quieter area of Tokyo. We flew into Narita Airport and were able to get here with just one change on the train and a 5 minute walk. The area has great Ramen shops which were recommended to us by the hotel. We ate at Menya Musashi and it had amazing Gyozas and the Ramen was amazing. The place was filled with locals, an easy sign that it’s going to be good.

Ramen Hotel Tavinos
Menya Musashi Ramen Restaurant

Underneath the hotel itself was a large Family Mart – Japan’s well known convenience stores are a perfect spot to refuel for a quick dinner and snacks ( Lawsons and 7/11 are abundant in Tokyo also). They have everything from Ramen, Noodles, Sushi , and Rice Dishes. All theses dishes can be heated up by the staff and make for a great easy introduction to Japan’s quick eats.

Breakfast sweet breads are provided in the morning however we didn’t find these, I think there may be a limited number available and possibly a tour group beat us to it.

The staff at Hotel Tavinos spoke fantastic English and were very welcoming. The electronic check in was breeze to use also and we found ourselves relaxing on our bed within no time.

There is a huge interactive digital “AI concierge” called Tavinoshiori at the hotel that the staff helped us to use. This electronic map board is where you just speak whatever food you are craving and your budget and it shows you live options of all the surrounding eateries and bars in English – great for travellers, I wish more places had this!

We loved the hotels design based on Modern Manga style, it certainly has a very Japanese feel and the artwork is a fantastic welcome to Tokyo. The free tea and coffee in the communal area was a great touch along with the free selection of toiletries from shampoo to body lotion. You can even get pyjamas from downstairs!

We certainly didn’t expect a sea view when visiting Tokyo but our room faced the bay just a stones throw away. Rooms in Japan are smaller than most western travellers are used to, however the clever use of smart storage solutions makes for plenty of space. Our luggage slid underneath the bed so it was all out of the way. There are bedside trays for your beverages and smart charging sockets along with a TV and collapsible table and chairs.

The rooms here are ensuite with great showers and the famed Japanese toilets – heated toilet seat anyone? We heard beds in Japan were very firm but we found them to be super comfy in our room and we had a great nights sleep.

Overall we absolutely loved our stay at Hotel Tavinos and would definitely recommend it to others to stay here given the fantastic nights sleep, comfort, friendly staff and great location. With a huge variety of hotels to choose from in Tokyo, its easy to feel overwhelmed so we hope this review has made the choice a little easier. Book with Booking.com and get 10% back here.

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Thank you Hotel Tavinos for hosting us during our stay in Tokyo. Our stay was complementary but as always, all opinions our own. We truly only recommend places we absolutely love.

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Universal Studios Japan

We have all heard of Universal Studios but did you know that they have a Universal Studios Japan?! Yes the famed theme park has pride of place in Osaka, and let me tell you. It. Is. Amazing!

Phil and I have both been to Universal Studios in Los Angeles and loved our time there so knew we would enjoy it. To get here we hopped on a train from Namba station and after one change found ourselves at Universal Station strolling through the City Walk.

From the iconic Spinning Globe at the entrance to the famous arches you walk under as you arrive. You feel like you are about to enter somewhere special and won’t be able to keep the excitement in. From first glimpse you can see rollercoasters and hear the screams (of joy or fear?!)

We were soon walking through the streets of Hollywood, San Francisco and New York past characters and festively decorated buildings. After stopping to take a few photos for Instagram and feeling like I’m on a living and breathing movie set we made our way to our first ride:

The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man – The Ride 4K3D.  With the Express Pass you can choose to skip the line with several of the rides. You can choose between Jurassic Park – The Ride and Spider – Man. We came across Spider – Man first so hopped in the Express Pass line and awaited the adventure. I won’t give anything away but it was amazing – just as the titles suggest. Be sure to keep a look out when you exit as down one of the alleyways you might spot Spider-Man himself!

A short stroll through the park and we arrive at Jurassic Park. The Flying Dinosaur ride literally flies over your heads creating the feeling that you are in fact actually at the real Jurassic Park. The Screams! Oh the Screams. With Beware of the Dinosaur signs surrounding you and the classic music we all know and love playing, its like stepping back in time.

There is so much to explore walking around the park it’s incredible. We had so much fun in-between the rides. We even popped in to see Water World. Having seen this in LA we knew it was a fantastic show and it did not disappoint. The stunts are spectacular and if you want to sit in the front few rows (which are marked as the wet zone) then be prepared to get wet, it’s all part of the fun!

 We finally reached The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! A highlight of the park for us every time.

We were transformed to Hogsmeade and were browsing the window displays of Ollivanders Wand Shop sipping on a Butter Beer from one of the wagons. Stop in at Honeydukes to stock up on Chocolate Frogs and Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans. Don’t forget to visit Zonkos Joke and Toy Shop.  You can also stop by the Hogwarts Express and meet the Conductor.

Universal Studios Japan Wiseacres

If you have a wand you can cast spells at various locations in Hogsmeade and watch as the magic happens. There are regular performances from class mates from Hogwarts so keep an eye out for these.

With the Universal Studios Japan Express Pass you get given a designated time slot for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey – this means that you can skip the line during your time slot and make the most of your time at Hogwarts and Hogsmeade. The ride is so magical and also a little scary at times (hello – Dementors!).

Universal Studios Japan Hogwarts Castle.JPG

You can walk through Hogwarts on a Castle Walk without needing to go on the ride too so that’s perfect if you have little ones. 

If you are a fan of Harry Potter then this is such a magical place, literally making your HP dreams come true. Take note that if the park is particularly busy then you may need to reserve a time slot to enter The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We had a time slot but we didn’t need it as it wasn’t too busy. 

Next Up – JAWS! As part of the Express Pass you can choose to skip the line between JAWS, Terminator or Backdraft. We are fans of the JAWS franchise and walking into Amity Village it piqued our interest. The ride is pretty fun, you feel like you are in an actual Movie. Without giving away any secrets, be prepared to get wet!

For our last ride of the day we visited Minion Park. Anytime I think of Minions all I can hear in my head is either “Banana” or “Illumination!”. If you have ever wondered what it might feel like to be in an animation then this is the place. With the Express Pass you have access to Despicable Me Minion Mayhem at a specific time slot so you can skip the line and enjoy all the park has to offer. We very much enjoyed walking around Minion Park and seeing all the guests dressed up as Minions, it is clear there is a huge fanbase in Japan. 

In the evening they were offering two different shows – one at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter called Winter in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, from now until February 29th 2020 A magical story takes place this winter! The Hogawrts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is full of Christmas cheer with a magical story unfolding at the Majestic Hogwarts castle.

New this year is the Universal Crystal Christmas and they have a night time show that lights up the Christmas night. Enjoy a moving story of love set in a beautiful and shimmering crystal world with all-new Christmas entertainment! From now until January 13th 2020. 

Universal Studios Japan Crystal Christmas

Final Review:

We love theme parks and we find that Universal Studios Japan is one of the best. Not only is it about visiting for the adrenaline of the rides but the atmosphere. The connection with the movies makes it even more special for me as you are constantly coming across something that is going to leave you in awe. Your senses are in overdrive. We particularly enjoyed having the Express Pass as it gave you more free time to explore the park. If you are planning on visiting Japan, then this will surely be a highlight for you. Get your tickets here.

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Thank you to Universal Studios Japan for having us, our tickets were gifted and as always all opinions are our own.