My first Japan trip – QFAN (2023)


April 11 – Afternoon flight from Vancouver airport, Canada.

April 12 – landed in late evening at Haneda airport, Tokyo.

  • Took Monorail, JR Yamonote line, to hotel at Akihabara JR station (JR-East Hotel Mets Akihabara).

April 13 – Tokyo

  • Sensoji
  • Ueno park
  • Tokyo National Museum
  • Ueno Zoo
  • Tokyo Tower

April 14 – Kawaguchiko – Tokyo

  • kosokubus (highway bus) to Kawaguchiko
  • Some walk along the edge of the lake
  • Went to see the ice cave
  • Fujikyu train direct from Kawaguchiko to Shinjuku.
  • Evening walk in Akihabara near the hotel.

April 15 – Tokyo, rainy day.

  • Kanda Myojin Shrine (Akihabara)
  • Went to see some shops in Akihabara
  • Kokyo Gaien (outside of Imperial Palace)
  • Got lost in/under Tokyo Station.

April 16 – To Kyoto

  • Shinkansen to Kyoto
  • Took the Sagano Romantic Train
  • Kinkaguji
  • Kyoto Gyoen
  • Hotel: Gozan Hotel & Serviced Apartment at Higashiyama Sanjo

April 17 – Kyoto back to Tokyo

  • Kiyomizu Dera
  • Fushimi Inari Taisha
  • Tofuku ji
  • Kyoto Railway Museum
  • Kyoto Tower
  • Shinkansen back to Tokyo (system-wide delay, got off early at Shinagawa instead of Tokyo station)

April 18 – Takao san

  • Keio line to Takaosanguchi Station.
  • Took the Cable car up, walk to the top, back down using chair lift.
  • Same Keio line back to Shinjuku
  • Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

April 19 – out

  • Hotel checkout.
  • Nature and Science Museum
  • Maid Cafe
  • Haneda airport.

I did try to make a detailed travel plan but eventually gave up due to weather uncertainty: primarily because I didn’t know which day should I go to Kawaguchiko to see Fuji-san. Also, I didn’t know how much time each place will take.

Some points of interest were identified and I tried to group them into "same day packages" so I can rearrange them depending on weather. But most are not concrete plans, just a rough idea.

My "must see" list is short:

  • Tokyo Tower

"Probably should see":

  • Fujisan
  • Takaosan
  • Kyoto

Kyoto was not initially on my "possible destinations" list. But eventually I thought, well, this is my first ever trip to Japan. I should just go and see if I like Kyoto, so I’ll have a better idea when planning my next Japan trip, if ever. So Kyoto was added.

I did purchase the Tokyo-Kyoto-Tokyo Shinkansen (Nozomi) tickets in advance on Smart EX, since there’s a discount for early purchase. I didn’t choose to buy JR Pass because it can’t get me on the fastest Nozomi line. The round trip green-car Nozomi cost me about CA$330 in total, whereas a normal non-green-car JR Pass would be around CA$300 (30000Yen).

I bought a Tokyo Subway 72-hour Ticket, intended to use it for the first 3 days. But Kawaguchiko (to see Fujisan) day was in the middle and the 3rd day was too rainy. So out of the 1500 yen spent, I probably only used about 800 yen’s worth of toei/metro rides. Not worth it, although trying to pick it up at a small station was an interesting experience in itself…

About the Kawaguchiko trip:

Initial weather report suggested the first full day I was in Japan would be the best (April 13), but then reported a score of 8 for April 13 and a score of 10 for April 14. Eventually I desided to go on the second day (April 14), but by the time I made the decision on the airplane, early morning direct train ticket from Shinjuku to Kawaguchiko (Fuji-Excursion) was sold out. But I found an early morning highway bus ticket on Later I bought a Fuji-Excursion ticket for the return trip (Kawaguchiko to Shinjuku).


I usually don’t walk a lot, and didn’t plan accordingly.

After the first day, I realized I probably couldn’t do this much of walking every day. So I intentionally tried to reduce walking/standing time. Grabbed a seat whenever I could.


To further reduce walking, I started using taxi more liberally. If it’s a long trip, train makes sense. But sometimes for short trips that are only 2 to 5 subway stops away, taxi price isn’t that bad. In some cases a 15-minute train ride requires 15-minute walking and 5-10 minutes wait time for the correct train to arrive, while taxi itself would get me to the destination in 15 to 20 minutes, with a guaranteed seat.

Suica & Pasmo

For in-city transportation I mainly use Apple Wallet Pasmo card. Bought a physical Suica as a souvenir and backup plan in case my phone is dead or lost. In the end I mainly used Apple Wallet Pasmo because it’s just so easy to re-charge. No need to find a charge machine and line up after people and try to figure out if it supports foreign credit cards or just cash.

General Navigation

Used both "JapanTravel" app by Navitime, and Google Maps.

The two apps sometimes provide different routings when selecting train stations and transfer strategies. But both will get you to the destination.

Google Maps’ Live View navigation is quite useful. Sometimes the GPS can be a bit off in the jungle of concrete steel buldings, and sometimes the small allys or even big but strange passways aren’t that obvious. Live View can navigate by recognizing big building’s shapes and precisely show you which way to go using AR (arrow overlay on the captured real time video).

It does, however, sometimes make strange routes, especially when sometimes new pedestrian crossings are added, but Google doesn’t know it. Google Maps may route you to a big intersection hundreds of meters away, while you could actually just press a pedestrian crossing button and get the green light for yourself.

Not a foodie. I didn’t bother checking which restaurant is good. I just avoid all restaurants when they seem busy.

I ate at a few empty sushi/ramen/unagi restaurants and didn’t think they are any better than what we have in Vancouver. Probably they are empty because they aren’t good.

Konbini / Convenience Store

This is my main and backup food source 🙂

To my low non-foodie standard, CA$10 can get me very good food-on-the-go. Get that onigiri, eat it in front of the konbini, and carry that small sandwich to eat 2 hours later on the bench of a park.

No. I’ll not spend even a 1 minute walk dedicated to a restaurant.

Tokyo Tower

It’s just… special. I watched a lot of anime that Tokyo Tower is where significant events happen in the storeis. To many people this is just an old tower that’s disappointing compared to the much taller Skytree. I had my doubts too. But after seeing it, I feel the entire Japan trip is worth it. This is very personal and I doubt many would feel the same.

Tokyo National Museum

This is a good one. It’s not that I want to see any specific national treasures but rather I wanted to see what things the Japanese people think are important to keep in a national museum.

Kyoto Railway Museum

This is a surprise. I really liked it. It wasn’t in my initial research scope but I think I learned a lot about modern era Japan in this museum.

Sensoji and Kiyomizu Dera

I went to both places in the early mornings, about 6 or 7 AM. With fewer tourists in the early morning, these places feel more real as religious and cultural gathering places rather than tourist attractions.

Similar to Kyoto Railway Museum, but older, these places made me realize that the Japanese culture is a continuous living ancient culture. It evolves, it changes, it adapts, but it’s still a continuation of the past without significant interruption or gap. The past and the present is more in harmony than other places I’ve been and seen.

Fushimi Inari Taisha

I visited here mid-day. There are just a lot of people. The Taisha still has that religious feeling but with so many tourists around it also feels more like a tourist attraction. If I go to Kyoto next time, I’ll probably try to get there in the very early monirng and experience it with fewer fellow tourists.

One intersting observation: the vending machine prices get higher as you climb higher. Supplies are carried up the mountain on people’s back.

Oh, yes this is a mountain and… yeah, walking on stairs…

No shopping plan. I can buy almost all the same big brands near home in Vancouver that Japan’s "tax free" stores have. The only possible advantage to buy in Japan "tax free" is to avoid the Japan sales tax through tax-free seal (you can’t open/use them in Japan), while still stay under the 7-day CA$800 tax-exempt rule back to Canada.

Consider the loss of an easy return process, and a possible loss of easy warranty, buying in Japan just doesn’t make much sense unless it’s something special.

I went to Tokyo Station underground to buy a Tokyo Station special edition Traveler’s Notebook. And got lost underground for hours and the more time I got lost the more I wanted to find the shop and the more I got lost…

I booked too late, roughly within 1-month of departure.

Paying CA$4800 for the premium-economy ticket + hotel. I saw the price basically doubled within a week when there was some relaxation of covid rules announced.

On the ground, I spent about CA$1700. Including all in-Japan spending such as purchases, transportation (including pre-purchased Nozomi tickets totalling CA$330), food, and 1 night additional stay (CA$200) in Kyoto.

So total cost is CA$6500.

Paying Methods


Initially I had 50000 JPY cash before departure. In Japan I withdrew another 30000 JPY from ATM. Back home with 29000 JPY in cash. So the total cash spending was about 50000 JPY (CA$500) while the remaining was charged through credit cards and/or PASMO.


Most of my short range train/bus tickets were paid using Apple Wallet Pasmo card. Also, most of my konbini (convenience store) purchases, some restaurant bills, and some taxi rides were paid through Pasmo.

Money was added to the card using American Express card directly on the phone.

Credit Cards

Not all restaurants and taxi take credit cards. But whenever I used a credit card in Japan, I almost always used American Express, because it works whenever it is accepted.

In contrast, my Mastercard (which has a cash-back for foreign spending at the same rate as they charge for foreign exchange fee) from a mid-sized Canadian bank worked randomly, or once in a while, rather.

My no-foreign-exchange-fee VISA from a small bank got its information stolen so I had to cancel it before my trip.

Looking at my transaction records now, it seems that the 2.5% fee at Amex isn’t that bad: their base exchange rate is just good enough, so even after the fee it’s still only 1% worse than VISA international rates, while 1% points back still apply, making it essentially the same as a 0% fx-rate no reward VISA.


I did ran low on cash so I went to a 7-11’s ATM. Chose the "withdraw as JPY" option. Took 30000 out on April 17th. My major Canadian bank posted this transaction as CA$314.07, plus CA$5.00 ATM fee. Even without counting the $5 fee, this rate turned out to be 0.010469, while the same day’s VISA International rate is 0.01014, and AMEX’s same day rate calcualted from a PASMO charge transaction (including 2.5% fee) is 0.010260. So yes, bank’s cash withdraw conversion rate is worse than making purchase using a high fx-fee credit card. (But no, never withdraw cash from Credit Card unless you have no other choise, because cash advance fee and interest charge would start immediately).

I ended up going home with 29000Yen, but I do feel I should always have some cash at hand, in case there’s a major credit card network interruption like we had in Canada last year.

Going to Japan

Vaccine proof was checked by the airline (ANA) in Vancouver as part of the check-in procedure. This probably caused them to refuse online check-in for all foreigners. I had to spent over an hour waiting in the check-in line. YVR security was OK that day. 5 minutes line.

Once landed in Japan (Haneda) it was pretty smooth for me. Nobody checked the vaccine registration. Immigration line was 5 to 10 minutes for me, but as I arrived at the front of line, the line was perhaps 3 to 5 times longer than when I arrived, so I guess some passengers had to wait 20 to 40 minutes.

Immigration officer didn’t even say a word. Just took the QR code, captured photo and fingerprints and waved me through.

After getting the checked luggage the customs control didn’t even have a line. Just scanned the code and they let me through.

Back to Canada

9:25PM boarding, I arrived at Haneda airport at 6:30PM.
Security at Haneda took 5 or 10 minutes.
Immigration or customs control took 1 minute.

I apparently arrived too early but I didn’t want to risk it…

ANA’s regular lounge (for premium economy and above, not first class) was quite busy. Comfortable seats were pretty much all taken. The only advantage over regular passenger waiting area was that taking free food in the lounge didn’t have much of a line. Outside in the general area, restaurants all had long lines.

My other mistake after arriving at the airport too early was going through customs/security too early into the secure area. Haneda international terminal (Terminal 3) has a very nice observation deck, but it’s not accessible once you enter the secured area.

Onboard the plane, I should have skipped the dinner. Immediately falling asleep after (or perhaps during) the dinner gave me some digestive problems after I’m home.

Canada arrival process was OK. Used ArriveCan and there are enough automated kiosks so, no line at all. When finally going out of the secured area, only 1 officer was collecting the automated kiosk slips. Short 1 minute line.

  • Oh, one day I got a guy trying to "pray for your health and well being". Probably the (in)famous Japanese cult thing?
  • I brought a Mirrorless Camera with me and didn’t bring sensor cleaning kit, thinking that since I only have one lens and I wouldn’t pull it off, it would be fine. Then there’s a big dust showing up when I arrived at Fujisan. Trying to blow it off and it just got worse. The next day I bought a sensor cleaning kit in Akihabara.
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