>You all know KH has got this thing about the Italian curse – believing that the second time you visit a place would not be as good as the first, and in fact, the trip might be so bad, it would mar all your original memories of the place. Happened to us when we visited Italy for the second time. First time we went, the weather was great, we had surprise experiences that we treasured (like a mass in St Peter’s conducted by the late Pope John Paull II), awesome places like Venice, the Cinque Terra etc, great accomodation and food and so on. Second time we went, hoping to re-capture the magic, it all flopped. The weather sucked, the accomodation choices lost their zing. Even places that captured our hearts the first time round, like Siena, seemed to have lost the mojo for us.
So understandably, he was worried about the Italian curse manifesting as the Japanese curse.
I am happy to say that it did not happen that way. In fact, I think this second trip was even better than the first.
1) We covered a great deal more ground, saw more of Japan than we did the first time round. There is a great deal more to Japan than the usual Tokyo-Kyoto circuit. I would really urge travellers to go further afield even though there is plenty to keep one occupied for weeks in these great places alone. I liked that we had time in the great metropolis of Tokyo and Osaka as well as contemplative, quiet time in Koyasan. While we enjoyed the rides in Disney resort, we also enjoyed the rituals we performed at the temples and shrines.
2) Accomodation choices really shone this time. We had such good accomodation, in top-notch places, with prices that did not bust our budget. In many places, we lived really really well. Kokuya, Auberge Watanabe, Hotel Villa Fontaine etc all provided different, unique experiences in their own way. I am glad that we experienced the full range of accomodation choices that Japan had to offer – from hostels to family-run inns, elegant ryokans to business hotels.
3) We visited lots of 5-star sights – Himeji, Itsukushima shrine, the Peace Park in Hiroshima, Okunoin on Koyasan, Kenrokoen in Kanazawa etc.
4) Great unforgettable experiences – onsen and kaiseki in Kokuya, snow in Zenkoji, shojin ryori and our own personal hanare in Koyasan, henro and omikuji in the temples and shrines etc.
5) The weather for the most part, co-operated, except for unpredictable Kyoto weather and the one day it poured in Disneysea. I think, even on hindsight, the wet nasty evening in Kyoto which was the lowest point for me, was an interesting experience. At least, it would be something I would not forget in a hurry! But this is travel isn’t it? You take the good with the bad and it all adds up to what makes your trip so unique and interesting.
6) We familiarised ourselves with the train system and the timetables, enough to understand it well enough to optimise our time. By the end of the trip, we’d become savvy enough to hop on and off the shinkansen like it was the Toa Payoh feeder bus.
7) We were lucky enough to grab a very good MAS deal. At S$398 per person, this is still hard to beat. Right now, looking at fares coming out of NATAS, the cheapest is S$559 and even that is far off from the MAS deal.
When we arrived home and did our sums, and wept at our credit card bills, we realised that we had spent the better part of $17,000. But if you think about it – 15 days, a wide range of experiences, great accomodation, train travel, all food and incidental expenses in – for a family of seven! It could not be considered expensive. Especially when I just came from the NATAS fair and saw tour packages of about 6D5N to central Japan going for more than S$2200 per person! Had we taken a conventional tour package, extrapolating from the cost of one of these, it would have easily cost us about S$50,000 and that does not include ALL food/incidental costs either.
So I am very happy to say that we had a great trip, many unforgettable moments, we ate well, slept in lovely places and did not have to take out a second mortgage on my little yellow house for it.
Would I go back to Japan? Yes. Maybe not immediately, but I do want to return. Maybe next time I’d visit the places I didn’t get to visit this time – Kamikochi in the Japanese alps, Takayama, Iya valley in Shikoku, Kinosaki Onsen on the Sea of Japan coast, Kusatsu Onsen and so on. I think the next time I go, it will be in spring. Autumn is very beautiful and the red leaves can be dramatic and showy but next time, it will be cherry blossom season and hanami!
The crowds are all heading to Hokkaido and the place is really being promoted at the travel fair. People I meet who say they are going to Japan, all say they are heading for Hokkaido! Don’t know about you, but I just dislike heading to a place where the odds of me bumping into another Singaporean are higher than spotting the brown bears of the island. Nope, I’ll stick to Honshu or Shikoku or Kyushu for now. I’ll leave the pastures of Hokkaido for when the Singaporean crowd dwindles.
But whenever that will be, you can be sure I’ll be back!