Have you heard of JR Seishun 18? It is basically a discount package of 5 days unlimited travel on JR, but here is the catch – it is only limited to local trains! This is like a made-for-kakueki experience, so I’m going to try to take it to the max. More about it here –Seishun 18 Kippu.
My original plan was to go all the way to Nagasaki. However, with some more research, I felt that this was not so practical from Tokyo. My objective was to maximize the value of the ticket but finally decided that I did not want to spend more than 6 or 7 hours on any given day on a train, so after researching all the options, I decided to limit the maximum scope to the Kansai region and take advantage of the prime sakura watching time.
For planning purposes, the Jorudan app was an amazing help. Note that the with a premium subscription, you can select a Seishin 18 mode which excludes all private lines, Limited Express and Shinkansen services which are not included in the ticket. Within the time window, I chose Nagoya as my first destination. Note the special colors for sakura season!
As with any JR routing in Japan, there are often many options to choose from. Note that the travel for each day with Seishun 18 is ¥2,370, so the trip to Nagoya is a great value.
One of the best advantages of the Seishun 18 ticket is the flexibility to take a spontaneous detour any time you feel like it. On the way, I was reading about Shizuoka and Sukuki Plaza caught my eye. Shizuoka is where the main factory is located, and they have a great history museum. I’m a fan of their motorcycles of the 70’s and 80’s, and I really love Japanese Kei cars of which they are the king of, so I decided to take a stop.
Suzuki has a history of making really minimalist and affordable vehicles. Their initial models were all very simple and compact, and until the 1970’s almost exclusively with 2-stroke engines less than 600cc, a technology which would eventually become obsolete due to emissions, but Suzuki was a leader in producing these simple, powerful, low-maintenance and inexpensive engines.
So cute and simple! I really love the Asahi beer truck.
Of course, the motorcycles!
There were so many memorable bikes here, it was hard to find a place to start, but these were my favorites of the 70’s and 80’s
From Shizuoka, I went on to Nagoya to stay the first night. I’m not normally a fan of big cities, but I find that accommodation is more available and can actually be cheaper than staying in a smaller city where there are fewer options.
I found that overall, Nagoya city was pretty boring. A very nice and sprawling city, but it reminded me too much of large Western cities. Great for business, but not particularly lively or interesting.
Also, I when traveling in Japan generally don’t make it a point to visit castles, but Nagoya has quite a nice one, and since it was the middle of sakura season, it was quite beautiful and peaceful.
One of the best things about Seishun 18 is the incredible flexibility to do things on the spur of the moment. Because I got bored with Nagoya, I want to see somewhere more out of the way and by the ocean, so the next morning I went to Wakayama, just south of the Kansai Airport. I did not spend much time there and it was a cooks tour.
I took a bus to what turned out to be a rather touristy place called Marina City. The main feature was an entertainment and shopping complex that looked like a European city.
The highlight of this visit was watching a sushi chef dissect a huge maguro tuna. This is a scheduled demonstration. It was very popular with the Chinese tourists.
It was a gorgeous day in late March. Due to the infrequent bus schedule, I decided to make my way to my next destination – Kobe.
I’m always a fan of mountain parks, so the next morning in Kobe I want up to a to a park that was very close in the city. Just behind the Shin-Kobe station (where the Shinkansen goes) is Nunobiki Park. It is a very accessible and easy walk to the top where there are some beautiful waterfalls and a Meiji-era dam works.
The view from the top was not particularly spectacular, but it is pretty nice having such a nice getaway so close into the city.
From there, the next stop was Chinatown. I always enjoy a visit to Japanese Chinatowns as they all have their very own important historical significance.
I have to say I was a bit disappointed. It is quite touristy and I did not manage to find any significant historical monuments or guides. I had a typical set lunch – it was not too bad.
I also wanted to have some Kobe beef on the cheap, and elected to have a second lunch with at a small stall.
It looks nice in the picture, but it was not all that tasty. Even though I got the middle grade, it was pretty tough and was too lean for Japanese taste. Maybe it was really just beef sold in Kobe rather that real Kobe beef!
The next stop was the port area. There is a lot here to see – you can easily spend the whole day here walking around and exploring the shops and restaurants.
To Japanese diesel submarines were docked at the port.
The following day, it was deeper into Kansai – off to Okayama, just west of Kobe.
I wanted to experience some typical Kansai food – so I went to a small okonomiyaki place in Okayama.
This place was called Maromaro – a little bit of fusion so this one was the house specialty and a bit more like a crepe with a beef stew in it. Not what I was expecting, but very tasty nonetheless.
I stayed in a pretty affordable hotel, the Maira. It was originally a business hotel, but they added a lot of nice little perks like free drinks and light breakfast and it was very tourist friendly, centrally located and affordable at only ¥4,500 a night.
The hotel was right next to the beautiful canal that runs right through the city.
The Korakuen park is the main attraction in Okayama.
At Okayama station, there is a very nice new Aeon Mall. This place had a very good number of F&B choices, and I could not pass up this Shikoku style braised katsuo (bonito). It’s bascially seared on the outside, while the inside remains very rare and tender – think of it as a super-rare sashimi steak. The chef was visible preparing this fish over the burning reeds.
I had the most simple version – the outside just lightly salted. A yuzu sauce is provided – delicious!
The next morning, I made my way to Osaka. It was really perfecting timing to see the full sakura and full bloom.
Since I have been living in Tokyo, it’s not too hard to become infected by the Tokyo-Osaka rivalry. It has been a very long time since I was here, but the stereotypes of Osaka people being loud and impolite seemed to have an element of truth.
Ok, at night I had to do the customary visit to the Dotonbori district. I have been to nearly every major city in Asia, but nothing tops Dotonburi for crowd density. Keep in mind, this was a weekday (Wednesday) and it was still abolute chaos, and it seemed to go on forever. It was full of tourists from everywhere, and it was nearly impossible to find somewhere to eat without a long queue. I ended up going to a small and noisy pub for some karage and beer. I had to leave early as I could only stand so much of this place! You really have to see it to believe it.
The next day, I started my journey home and took a long kakueki ride from Osaka to Matusmoto in Yamanashi prefecture. It was actually a pretty complicated course, as it required several changes to get there via Nagoya and Gifu.
One of the benefits of traveling kakueki style is sometimes you can have the whole car to yourself! This picture was taken just outside of Matsumoto around 9 pm. For the rest of the journey, I had similar ease of finding a comfortable seat in uncrowded cars.
A really charming town for a walkabout, with a good view of the Southern Alps from most parts of the city.
In the center of town next to the river, there is a cute tourist street – Nawate Dori – that has really emphasised a frog theme. Because it was not the season yet, I did not see any frogs but it was cute nonetheless.
There was some really interesting architecture around this area. I really found this asymmetric building interesting. It was still being used – it appeared to be a traditional confectionary manufacture.
I took a short walk out of the centre of town to a small mountain park – Koboyama. I thought it would be higher, but it was still a pleasant view.
On the way back, I had to stop and take a look at this huge resale shop.
It was a pretty decent walk that day – about 12 km in total, and I decided to head back home in the afternoon.
A beautiful ride back in the evening through Yamanashi. There is still much to see!