Budget guide and itinerary: Cherry blossom season in central Japan
I recently took my third trip to Japan and my experiences of this country just keep getting better and better. I’m so grateful to have experienced Japan in the springtime, over my birthday weekend, and with my mom. (READ: Planning your cherry blossom Japan adventure: 5 beautiful viewing spots)
I learned a lot from this trip – and hopefully this will help you learn more about central Japan, too. If you have questions, just share them with us in the comments below and I’ll try to answer as soon as I can. Let's begin:
Last February 2016, Jetstar Asia announced that it will be flying directly from Manila to 3 Japan destinations – Osaka, Tokyo, and Nagoya. Along with this announcement, they had a seat sale.
Since the travel period was within my 26th birthday weekend and the sakura or cherry blossom season, we immediately booked flights to Nagoya. The price was slightly more expensive than our Tokyo flight because web admin, booking, and check in baggage fees are more expensive for Jetstar Asia than Cebu Pacific.
Our flights were red eye so we were able to maximize 3 full days in Central Japan. The flights were okay, just a lot of air turbulence going back home to Manila. I really loved the Japanese flight attendants though! They were just so happy and full of energy.
Even though it was a red eye flight, they were really active. They just had the biggest smiles and they really showed a lot of enthusiasm giving out immigration cards, answering queries, giving passengers what they needed, etc.
At the end of the flight, every flight attendant said thank you in the happiest way, even the pilot opened the cockpit door and bowed his head to passengers queuing out of the airplane.
Heads up: If you’ll be flying with them, Jetstar Asia is very strict with the weight of carry on bags and luggage. If they see you at the boarding gate with more than 7 kg of carry on [this includes whatever gift items you bought at duty free stores], they will ask you to check them in and pay fees.
Since we were only going to be in Central Japan for 3 days, the Shoryudo 3-day pass was the perfect discount transportation pass. It includes a round trip train ride to/from Chubu International Airport and Nagoya Station, unlimited highway bus rides to/from Nagoya/Takayama/Shirakawago (Gifu Prefecture) and there are even discounts/freebies from participating establishments. You can only buy the ticket outside Japan through here.
To check out the discounts and freebies you are entitled to, click here. On our end, we were able to get a ¥100 discount for our entrance ticket to Nagoya castle and a free drink at one of the airport restaurants.
When buying something or doing an activity around Central Japan, just show your Shoryudo pass and ask if there’s anything you can avail of.
For the unlimited highway bus rides, please check out the bus schedules beforehand as some time slots require reservations.
For our bus to/from Nagoya and Takayama, we made a reservation through this link. Print the reservation ticket and show this along with your Shoryudo pass to claim your bus tickets when you arrive in Japan. We reserved beforehand because we wanted to take the earliest bus to Takayama and latest bus back to Nagoya. Be at the bus gates 10 minutes before your time slot.
For our bus to/from Takayama and Shirakawago, we just rode the non-reserved bus seat time slots. Be at the bus gate 10 minutes before your time slot. When the bus arrives, you just need to show your Shoryudo pass and you can board the bus already.
Here is a comparison when you buy a Shoryudo 3 Day Pass VS buying individual tickets needed for your airport trips and Gifu Prefecture day trips (Amount is for 1 person only):
The train to/from airport and Nagoya station takes around 35-40 minutes depending on the type of train you take (Limited Express, Semi-Express).
The highway buses are crazy amazing! The bus leaves and arrives ON TIME. The bus to/from Nagoya has a 5-minute bathroom break stop. It’s pretty efficient because the break is EXACTLY 5 minutes. Everyone who went to the bathroom were really rushing back to meet the 5 minute mark.
My mom said it felt like a race. She didn’t even have any time to buy anything at the stores at the bus stop. I am so grateful to have experienced such efficiency! The bus to/from Takayama and Nagoya has foot rests, plastic bags, magazines, and free Wi-Fi.
In exploring Nagoya by subway, we availed the MANACA Card. Sadly, subway rides are not included in the Shoryudo Pass. The MANACA card can be comparable to ICOCA card in Osaka and PASMO card in Tokyo. You can use the card in all Nagoya subways and convenience stores. To know more about the Manaca card, check this link.
You can get the MANACA card by buying it through the ticket booth. You have to buy it directly from the main officer by the gates. There is a ¥500 card usage fee but this is returned once you give back the card before your departure. When you run out of credits, you can easily reload it at the ticket machines. There are English instructions so it’s really easy.
There is a Nagoya subway pass for 1 day’s worth of unlimited rides and costs around ¥700 - ¥900. Since we were only riding subways 2-3 times a day which would only cost us around ¥200 to ¥300 per ride, the MANACA card would be cheaper. We studied our train routes through this link.
The busiest station was Nagoya station. This can be compared to the what we saw in Tokyo station. There are a lot of food stalls, restaurants, and shops. There are English signs and directions everywhere so don’t worry about getting lost. Take note that almost all Nagoya subways have no escalators or walkalators, so expect to be walking long hallways and up and down a lot of stairs.
How to get to/from Meitetsu Inn Nishiki Nagoya and Nagoya Station: Nagoya Sakuradori Line – Kokusaicenter – Marunouchi – Hisayaodori
We booked this hotel, Meitetsu Inn Nishiki Nagoya, through Agoda. I really had a hard time choosing a hotel in Nagoya because there were a lot of good hotels and they were all quite affordable. Here are some points to consider when you book this hotel:
- Hisayaodori station Exit #4 is a 2 minute walk away (This station has a direct line from Nagoya Station – Sakuradori)
- Sakae (Aichi) station Exit #1 is a 5 minute walk away. We used this station going to one of the best Cherry Blossom spots in Nagoya.
- There is free buffet breakfast. There is a variety of Japanese food, salads, breads & jam, soups, and dessert. My mom secretly hoarded jams and green tea bags. Try eating breakfast before 8:00am or after 8:30am as the buffet area tends to get packed by businessmen and families.
- Check in is at 3:00pm and Check out is 10:00am. They are strict about this. If you arrive early or have a late flight after check out, you can leave your bags at the lobby.
- The room is very, very, very clean but really small. Not that spacious.
- I loved the toiletries! They have Shiseido products – body wash, shampoo, and conditioner. They smelled so good and the effect was really nice! We really wanted to take these home but they were in big bottles.
- There are hangers, towels, toiletries, hair dryer, refrigerator, desk, TV (Japanese channels) for your needs.
- The room is cleaned every day.
- There is strong and fast Wi-Fi inside the room. You do not need to go to the lobby or common areas for internet.
- At the lobby, they give out free samples of toiletries. Take as many as you can, we did!
- There are so many shops and restaurants around.
- The hotel is walking distance to Sakae shopping area, Oasis 21, Mitsukoshi, Don Quijote, convenience stores, and the Nagoya TV tower.
- The staff is really accommodating with queries. They have tourist maps to help you explore the area.
I really recommend this hotel if you don’t mind a small room. All else is great!
For more details on this hotel, check out this link.
We went in April 2016, during my birthday weekend! We booked the flight a week after the forecast of full sakura bloom in Nagoya. It was our first time to experience spring! It was still very cold but not the super icy cold feeling we experienced in Seoul or Tokyo. The weather can be comparable to Baguio’s – sunny-cold-weather in the morning and a I-need-a-thick-blanket level at night.
The weather in Takayama and Shirakawago was colder than Nagoya but sunnier. Make sure to bring sun block and moisturizer! There are also very strong winds at times especially in Shirakawago so it’s good to bring a balm to prevent or soothe wind burns. Highest temperature we experienced was 15 degrees and the lowest was around 7 degrees.
To check the bloom forecast of Cherry Blossoms (Sakura), view this link.
Exploring central Japan
Even though we were just there for 3 days, we maximized our time as much as possible. We visited popular tourist destinations as well as places that suited our preferences. Here is our 3-day itinerary in central Japan:
Chubu Centrair International Airport
The airport can also be considered a tourist site. There are a lot of shops and restaurants. When we were there, there was a Japanese event of kids dancing. The best part about the airport is the Sky View Deck. It’s a long wooden platform with benches wherein you can watch airplanes depart and arrive. Since it was spring time, it was cold. Don’t miss out on this view once you arrive or depart at the airport.
JUST A TIP: Buy your gift items before the immigration counters. As our flight was 8:30PM and we were only able to finish immigration processing around 6:30PM, almost all duty free stores and restaurants were already closed. The latest closing time of shops is 5:00PM so do your shopping and eat at the 4F airport shops and restaurants before immigration.
For more information, check out this link for more.
I’ve read that most people prefer to travel to Tokyo & Osaka because there is not much to do in Nagoya. If their airplane lands in Nagoya, they’ll just take a connecting flight or ride a bullet train to Tokyo & Osaka. But after doing much research and experienced it first hand, there are so many amazing things to do in and around Nagoya. 3 days wasn’t even enough for us to truly explore this amazing place.
How to get to Yamazakigawa Riverside from Meitetsu Inn Nishiki Nagoya: Sakae (Aichi) Nagoya Subway Meijo [Counterclockwise route] – Yabacho – Kamimaezu – Higashibetsuin - Kanayama(Aichi) – Nishitakakura – Jingunish - Temmacho(Aichi) - Horita(Subway) – Myoondori – Aratamabashi – Mizuho undojo higashi – Walk (10 mins)
This river is included in many lists of where the view cherry blossoms in Japan and it truly deserves that name. When we arrived, we were just at awe. We stayed here for a while watching the river stream flow and the petals falling from the Sakura trees because of the cold wind. It was such a beautiful sight!
How to get to Tsurumai Park from Yamazakigawa Riverside: Mizuho undojo higashi Nagoya Subway Meijo – (Sogorihabiricenter) Yagoto Nagoya Subway Tsurumai – Irinaka - Kawana(Aichi) – Gokiso – Arahata – Tsurumai Koen – Exit Gate 4 Walk (1 min)
Make sure to visit this cherry blossom spot! You can chill here under the pink trees surrounded by pink petals on the ground. There are so many options for photos as well! Don’t worry about food because there are so many food trucks around selling fruit sticks, long fries, shawarma, hot pots, ice cream, takoyaki, beef sticks, and many more!
This place is free. You just need to bring a mat or cloth to place on the grass. There were a lot of blue plastic mats around the park, my mom and I though that we could freely sit on the ones where there were no people. But after 10 minutes, the owners came and we immediately apologized and laid out our own mat at another spot.
We loved our hotel because it was walking distance to the famous Sakae area. There are so many shopping malls and restaurants around. The best one was Mitsukoshi! Make sure to go to the basement where all the food are, you’ll be truly overwhelmed by everything that you will see. Go at around 7pm where in all food stalls are trying to sell all their cooked meals for half the price! There is also Harrods and Godiva ice cream! You also need to try the bread selection from Johan Paris.
Around Mitsukoshi, you’ll find Marueki, ABC Store, GU, Forever 21, and so much more! Allot one day for shopping here if you’re looking to buy. Don’t forget to check if you can get tax refunds!
You can also find the famous Oasis 21 and Nagoya TV structures in Sakae. The Nagoya TV tower is surrounded by Central park where you’ll find amateur bands performing. Oasis 21 consists of a garden, art center, and a shopping level (basement). Make sure to go to the top of Oasis 21 where you’ll see breathtaking views of the Nagoya TV tower, cherry blossom trees, parks, and buildings.
In visiting Nagoya castle, we just wanted to take a picture around it so that we didn’t have to pay the entrance fee. My mom said this is what she did at Osaka castle. But for Nagoya castle, it is surrounded and covered by walls and trees that you can’t see it fully unless you pay the entrance fee. Good thing we got to save a little because of the Shoryudo pass.
The Nagoya castle was a 30-minute walk from our hotel. Along the way, we found a lot of beautiful cherry blossom trees so there are a lot of opportunities for photo ops. There are also a lot of locals that visit this castle. After entering the gates, you’ll be met with vast walkways and food trucks. You can walk around the castle, find other Japanese structures, and a lot of cherry blossoms trees.
When we were there, we also witnessed a show, with kids playing on Japanese beat drums. The kids were amazing. Their talent, having that developed sense of rhythm so early in life was really admirable.
In Nagoya, to save money we mostly bought food at convenience stores. When we did eat at a restaurant, we ate what Nagoya is known for, eel, and I was really happy I got to drink Ilohas water again. For our snacks, we just bought at malls and stations that we went to. Some of the snacks we tried were avocado French bread from JR Takashimaya, Godiva ice cream and Johan Paris mochi pastries from Mitsukoshi.
Foodie heaven in Takayama
We took a 2.5-hour highway bus from Nagoya to Takayama. When we arrived, we saw a lot of tourists. Tourists of different nationalities – this we failed to see in Nagoya. Takayama is a really popular place among tourists as it gives off a traditional Japanese vibe and it also has a lot of street food choices. From Takayama, you can visit so many amazing places that are just a few hours away like Shirakawago, Kanazawa, Toteyama, Kurobe Alpine Route, Shinhotaka Ropeway, and many more.
This was supposed to be a popular cherry blossom spot but when we arrived, some of the trees had no more blossoms and others only had a few petals. There were a few pink trees but not like the ones in full bloom, like what I saw online.
Jingya-mae Morning Market
This market is just like the ones you find here in Manila. It’s just an open space with tarp-roofed stalls. They sell fruits and vegetables, Japanese condiments, spices, and many more.
Old town is the best because you really experience Japanese culture here, plus there are a lot of food stalls that sell plenty of food.
Takayama is known for its Hida beef. Don’t forget to try the Hida beef sushi, beef buns, beef sticks! We also had sakura ice cream, ice cream sandwiches, and mochi sticks. We ate at Heiranku which is a great Chinese local food restaurant with the best staff – super active and accommodating. If you want to try the best beef in Takayama, eat at Maruaki and try the A5 level beef. There are lots of food options here.
For more information on Takayama, visit this site.
After an hour’s bus ride from Takayama, we get to Shirakawago. Amazing mountains, grass-roofed farm homes, a beautiful river – this is your backdrop. There are a few cherry blossom trees and the weather is very sunny.
The food you’ll find here is just the same as those you’ll find in Takayama. There are a few restaurants here so I advise you to just eat lunch at Takayama and have snacks (ice cream, mochi sticks, beef sticks, beers, sakae, etc) here.
The Ogimachi Village viewpoint is a must see! You can walk up to the viewpoint or you can ride a shuttle up for ¥200 (₱85+). There are cherry blossoms up there as well. The best time to go is during the winter season where all the grass roofed homes are covered in snow. What an amazing sight that would be, right? The walk going down from the viewpoint is around 20 minutes.
For more information on Shirakawago, click here.
Japan never fails to surprise me. It leaves me feeling my most grateful. There are just so many places to experience and explore.
The culture is really admirable. The people maximize everything! They make use of their time by arriving and departing when they say they will.
The Japanese make use of every space. We saw a lot of parking buildings – the ones we see on social media videos where in cards are parked horizontally like a vending machine.
There was hardly any traffic on highways and toll gates. No traffic in business districts. Everything was so clean as well! Even the canals in Takayama were so clean. My mom said it even looked good to drink! Even if we were in the city, the air felt so clean. No hint of smoke or pollution from my perspective. And I can’t say enough good things about the trains.
My trip to Japan made me realize that we, Filipinos, truly deserve more from our government. But as citizens, we should also do our part in making the Philippines a much better place for EVERYONE to live in. We should elect leaders that have passion for service, genuine intentions, and the best credentials. We should abide by laws and rules. We should respect and be kind to each other. If we help one another, if we instill hope and faith with each other, I believe we can not only be at par with Japan, but we can create our own Philippine legacy that other countries can admire.
Here's the breakdown of costs for my trip:
Have you ever visited Japan during cherry blossom season? Share your tips with us in the comments below. – Rappler.com
Note: This story was originally published on Irene's blog.
Irene Maligat is a grateful traveler. One of her main goals in life is to inspire and empower a lot of people to travel gratefully. Her passions are sports, reading, motivational writing, travelling, and events planning & management. Visit her website at Inspiring Grateful Travels