Lessons

I didn’t see it coming.

I was all set for my trip to Kyushu when cough and fever struck me on the very same weekend of my flight.  I’m not really the sickly type, but I was literally bedridden from Saturday to Sunday (and Sunday was supposed to be my flight).  I was so sick I couldn’t even stay awake for 10 minutes straight that I can’t imagine myself making it to the airport.

I feel bad because I’ve been looking forward to this trip for almost a year now; it would have been my first time to ride bullet trains; it would have been my first time to Kyushu.

So I’m confined to my home, focusing on recovering, and by God’s grace, recovering pretty well.  Awful as I still feel, I realized these lessons from this experience:

  1. Cancellation options do matter.  I lost a total of ~500 USD–unused national JR pass, Airbnb accommodation and RT airfare–and neither of them were transferable nor subject to cancellation.   Ah, the airfare was especially a deal, just around 80 usd for the MNL-FUK RT, but I was never able to experience it.  The place I booked is hosted by a superhost and based from a guest’s review is just across Canal City.  I booked my national JR pass from Klook and the transaction was a good experience.  Not perfect though because I wasn’t able to enjoy them nor at least get a refund.
  2. Health IS wealth.  Yes I feel bad for the money I practically wasted and feel even worse for the botched trip, but if I didn’t put my health into consideration, I would have ended up in worse shape.  To be honest, it’s a bit traumatizing, but the best thing to do really is to be extra careful and take care of my health, and be less stingy with medicine.  And finally,
  3. There’s always a bright side to everything.  I have tons of personal errands to take care of so that’s what I chose to focus on in my sudden free time.  The host I contacted is extra nice and offered me a special rate the next time I book his place.  I learned that Klook is a nice service to avail.  I also had more time to talk to my family during the week off.

I honestly don’t know when I can plan a trip again or I’ll have the time to go to Kyushu, but I’m wiser for sure this time.

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Viewing the Majestic Mt. Fuji

Being Japan’s icon and rightfully so, seeing Mt. Fuji is definitely a must for me.  There are so many ways and so many places to enjoy the view, but for my trip, I chose to see Mt. Fuji from three vantage points in two days from the Fuji Five Lakes region.  I tried viewing Mt. Fuji from the Chureito Pagoda, Mt. Shakushi and Lake Kawaguchiko.  So yeah, these are the more nature-leaning sightseeing spots for Mt. Fuji.

I’ve read that Mt. Fuji’s visibility is somewhat unpredictable, so choosing the date to see Mt. Fuji (which I set practically four months in advance) was a gamble for me.  But as you’ll see, it did pay off 🙂

Access to Fuji Five Lakes Region Coming from Tokyo

Let me start though by sharing how to get to the Fuji Five Lakes region.  If you’re coming from Tokyo, the cheapest and fastest way to get to Fuji Five Lakes is via bus from the Shinjuku Bus Terminal.  The trip roughly takes 2 hours and it costs JPY 1750 up to Kawaguchiko.  You may purchase in advance and just approach the counter so you can get your ticket and have your seat assignment, or just purchase upfront. This is a hard lesson learned for me: to make the most of your trip, check the timetable and be at the bus terminal at least half an hour early so you can purchase your ticket.

Shimoyoshida

I was originally going to alight at Kawaguchiko Station, but the bus would stop at Shimoyoshida first, where Chureito Pagoda is, so alight at Shimoyoshida station I did.  And then I wish I didn’t, because I felt I was in the middle of nowhere.  Don’t get me wrong; the town was quiet and lovely, but save from a couple other passengers–a lady and a man–who got off, there was no one else around because the town was covered in snow.  And there were no signage near the bus stop that tells you how far Chureito Pagoda is, or which direction you need to head.  So I mustered up my courage and asked one of the other passengers.  She started telling me that I had to walk, and when I asked how far, she was hesitating.  That got me nervous, for sure, until the other passenger spoke up and told me that he’ll show me the way.  So we kept walking for at least 10 minutes until he spoke up and pointed at the mountain on the other side of the road.  And boy, he did point way up to the mountain’s summit.  For the second time that day, first being the moment I got off the bus, I thought of giving up.  But I didn’t want to waste the gentleman’s kindness so I kept on.  He pointed the way to the train station, i.e., my save point, and then he gave me instructions on how to get to the shrine entrance.  I walked on, but didn’t find the way, so I retraced my steps.  I came across another couple and this time, they took me right at the steps to Arakura Shengen shrine (where Chureito Pagoda is).  So here it is, in pictures:

For a second, I wanted to cry after my phone shut down.  I haven’t texted my host yet to pick me up, and it was about to get dark in the next 10 minutes or so.  But I steeled myself and focused on getting to the train station.  Thankfully, I was able to charge my phone when I got to Shimoyoshida station, texted my host, and then waited at Fujisan station.  I then spent the night at Peace & One resort which I wrote about here.

Mt. Shakushi

Mt. Shakushi’s summit is one of the underrated viewing spots for Mt. Fuji, but when you conquer the two-hour hike, it’s said to be worth it.  Note that I wrote “said to be” because it was too cold for me and I didn’t have enough time. But the trail is beautiful, too:

 

Lake Kawaguchiko

Following my failed quests to reach Chureito Pagoda and Mt. Shakushi’s summit, I had to ask my host several times if Lake Kawaguchiko is at sea level or not.  The lake is one of the most scenic spots to view Mt. Fuji and this spot is the most accessible of the three, and is actually within the busy town.  The lake is just a 5 – 10 minute walk from Kawaguchiko bus station and there are plenty of signs to guide the way.  I was running on a tight schedule so I just managed to take a few shots of Lake Kawaguchiko:

This time, Mt. Fuji wasn’t completely visible at all (or maybe I was just looking at the wrong direction^^;;) In any case, it was still worth checking out Lake Kawaguchiko, mostly because I’d lose sleep for days in regret if I didn’t! Haha!

Two days, three spots, priceless encounters with places and people.

Japan Tourist Visa Tips for Philippine Passport Holders

Have you been wanting to go to Japan, but are intimidated by the visa application?  Read on then as I share with you tips on how to improve your chances of getting a tourist visa!

Before I continue though, let me just remind you that

  1. I’m not guaranteeing 100% approval.  That’s really up to the embassy to decide!
  2. I’ll be talking about how I prepared and what I think helped me bag a multiple entry visa, and most importantly:
  3. Check what’s stated in the Embassy of Japan in the Philippines’ website.  I did, and still do from time to time.

So, let’s continue!  Japan started granting multiple-entry tourist visas for Philippine passport holders residing in the Philippines only in 2013 but they have further relaxed the requirements as of September 30, 2014.  That makes Japan even more accessible for us, and we can be granted a visa valid for up to 5 years with a maximum stay of up to 30 days.  Sweet, huh?  😀

Now, on to the tips:

  1. Whether you’re aiming for a single entry or a multiple entry visa, you need to have a valid passport first.  This may be common sense but I can’t stress enough how important it is.  And, renew your passport six months before it expires!
  2. This is just my personal preference, but my preparation took years.  I didn’t aim for Japan right away; I traveled to other countries first and went to South Korea before attempting my first Japan visa application.  This is to build a good travel record and prove that I’m really just visiting for recreation and not for any other business.
  3. Know the type of visa you intend to apply for.  Check here what best suits you.  What I did was apply for a single entry visa last year and this year, multiple entry.
  4. Gather the documents.
    • Make sure you completely and correctly fill out the visa application form.  Read the instructions carefully!  It doesn’t hurt being neat, either; avoid erasures and corrections as much as possible.  The form is actually editable, so use it to your advantage.
    • For photos, it’s best go to photo studios and tell them you want your picture taken for Japan visa application, and they’ll know what to do.
    • If you’re a first-time applicant, you will most likely need NSO documents such as a copy of your birth certificate and/ or marriage certificate.  If you’re dreading long lines and stress-inducing waiting times, fear no more because you can now order said documents online and be delivered to your doorstep in three working days, for your convenience!
    • In getting your bank certificate, it’s best to do so days before you submit your visa application.  In this case, I believe the more current your document is, the better.  As to how much money you should have in the bank, the Embassy hasn’t really specified; but when I applied for a five-day stay in Osaka last year, I had ~PhP50k and more than ~PhP100k when I applied for my Tokyo trip (also for a 5-day stay).  The rule of thumb is they want proof that you’ll have enough money to cover your expenses for your trip.
    • The daily itinerary need not be too detailed, but it has to show that you do have a pretty concrete plan of what you’re gonna do during your stay.
    • Other documents that are not required but will boost your application are transportation and accommodation bookings (if not staying with a friend or relative).  As much as possible, choose plans that have a flexible cancellation policy.  For first-time applicants who are employed, a certificate of employment (COE) is not required, but it’s a good supporting document nonetheless.
    • In general, remember that the documents should be within the prescribed validity and format, and your documents should be neat.
  5. Submit your requirements.
    • Except for a few cases, visa applications should be submitted through travel agencies accredited by the Japanese Embassy.  This option is actually easier, hassle-free, and they will review your documents before accepting the application.
    • Remember that not all travel agencies process all types of visa application, so read and confirm with the agency/ies of your choice.
    • Visa application itself is free, but the travel agencies charge processing fees.
    • When is the best time to submit?  Personally, for tourist visa application with no guarantor, 6 – 8 weeks before travel is enough.  If you think this is too close to call, I’d say the advantage of applying close to your intended travel dates is that your documents are more up-to-date.  You might want to check with your travel agency of choice as well.
  6. Wait and hope for the best!  Processing time is officially around 7 – 10 working days, but you can get yours in as early as 2 – 3, which I did in my two applications.  If you have a guarantor, expect the processing time to be longer since there will be more papers to verify.  Your travel agency will inform you when your passport is available for pickup.

 

Feeling more confident now?  Great! Now plan, prepare and go for it!

Hello there! It’s been a while.

It’s been really busy these past few weeks but I miss writing.  Hope you’re all doing well 🙂

I went to Tokyo and Yamanashi two weeks ago, and I’m excited to share with you my experience.  For now, here’s a preview, and it’s of the resort I stayed in near Mt. Fuji.

Airbnb listing

The Calm of Osaka Bay

It’s not the first time you’ll hear me say this–or rather read about it in a blog post of mine–I love high places.  You get a bigger picture, it gives you a broader perspective of the landscape, and it’s an escape from the noise that’s on the ground.  Gazing at the view from said perspective both frees and quiets my mind.

When I was looking for my own place, I made sure that the unit I bought had a nice city view.  That way, when I need to clear my head, I’d just gaze at the window.  I’ve certainly enjoyed the fireworks every New Year’s Eve for the last three or four years!  Unfortunately though, my city view is now partially covered with another building, and soon, in place of skylines, I’ll be having an uncomfortable view of neighbors… :/

Now I can’t really do anything about it anymore, so the next best thing when  I don’t have any travel yet would be to revisit pictures.  I found these shots of Osaka Bay very calming, especially now.  I’m loading the pics in full quality so you can enjoy them as much as I do 🙂

Fushimi Inari Shrine

I’ve always been fascinated with photos from Fushimi Inari Shrine, and I felt that my trip to Kyoto wouldn’t be complete without seeing it so I did!

Fushimi Inari Shrine is very accessible.  It’s just a few minutes-walk away from Keihan Electric Railway Mainline’s Fushimi Inari station.  JR’s Nara Line Inari Station is even closer to the shrine itself.

The thousand gates traversing Mt. Inari might be the most popular feature of the shrines, but there are several structures meant for private worship.  More than a photo op or two, Fushimi Inari Shrine certainly offers a taste of Japan’s history and spirituality.

And now, the pics!

There are food stalls and souvenir shops at the foot of the shrine, too.

For me, Fushimi Inari Shrine is definitely a must-see! Just make sure to wear comfortable shoes, get hydrated, and be prepared to climb.

Striking Gold: Kinkakuji

Remember those classic anime scenes wherein the main character oversleeps, hurriedly runs to school, sees the gate starting to close, and revving up to make it in?

That happened to me when I went to Kinkakuji.  There was a monk sounding a bell, and another urging us to hurry up.  The scene looked like the last stop in an Amazing Race episode.  I kid you not, the gates were closed after I got about 10 big steps in.

Probably one of the flashiest temples in Japan along with Kiyomizudera, Kinkakuji is one of the 17 Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto which are World Heritage Sites.  Access to the main temple itself is restricted, though there are better views of the temple from across the pond.  Didn’t get close enough to see the interior, although I noticed the differences in details of how each story is constructed. That, and with a bit of reading, I learned that

  • The exterior of Kinkakuji’s second and third storeys are covered in gold leaf.
  • The first storey is built in the Shinden style during the Heian period, second in Bukke style used in samurai’s residences, and the top floor in Chinese Zen hall style.  Pretty eclectic, and it works.
  • The rooftop ornament is in the shape of a phoenix (and I thought it was supposed to be a rooster!!! >_< )

Well, here’s a look at the temple and its garden, plus a side story or two in the pics:

Kinkakuji is open daily from 9 am – 5 pm.  There’s an entrance fee of 400 yen.

How to get to Kinkakuji:

  • Via bus from Kyoto Station (40 mins).  Take Kyoto City Bus No.  101 or 205 and alight at Kinkakuji-michi stop.  The temple is just a few minutes walk away.
  • Take the Karasuma Subway line and alight at Kitaoji Station (15 mins). Ride the city bus from there (101, 102, 204 or 205), and alight at Kinkakuji-michi stop.  The bus ride will take about 10 mins.