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5 Tips for Visiting the Sapporo Snow Festival

The Sapporo Snow Festival

The Sapporo Snow Festival is an annual event held in the city of Sapporo, the largest city on Japan’s Hokkaido island. The Japanese name for this festival is Yuki Matsuri, with yuki meaning snow and matsuri meaning festival in the Japanese language.

The Sapporo Snow Festival brings around 2 million visitors to the city each February. Visitors come from all over Japan — and from all over the world — to experience this winter wonderland. The festival is spread throughout three locations in Sapporo:

The Odori Site

The Odori site, located in Odori Park, is the main festival site. This is where you can see the huge snow and ice sculptures that the Sapporo Snow Festival is famous for. Don’t miss Odori Park at night, when the sculptures are lit up. This park is huge and is filled with different areas to explore. It is where you will (most likely) spend the majority of your time during the Sapporo Snow Festival.

The Susukino Site (SUSUKINO ICE WORLD)

The Susukino site is where you will find the festival’s ice sculptures. Susukino is in downtown Sapporo and is easily accessible by subway. When you’re done admiring the intricate sculptures, be sure to duck into Ramen Alley for some famous Hokkaido ramen!

The Tsudome Site

The Tsudome Site is the second largest site of the Sapporo Snow Festival and is where you will find numerous outdoor activities: snow and ice slides, snowrafting, snowball target practice, and more. This site is a 10 minute walk from Sakaemachi station, which is a 30 minutes ride from Sapporo Station. There is a shuttle bus that will take you from Sakaemachi station to the Tsudome site. The cost of the shuttle was 100 yen/person each way — cash only.

It was difficult to find useful information in English when we were planning our visit to the 2017 Sapporo Snow Festival, so thought I’d share a few tips here. I hope they will be helpful for your future Yuki Matsuri visit!

5 tips visit Sapporo snow festival

Tips for Visiting the Sapporo Snow Festival

If you are planning to visit the Sapporo Snow Festival, here are a few things to keep in mind:


We travel a lot, and it’s not unheard of for us to book a big trip a trip the month before we leave. For example, I started planning my solo Bali trip about six weeks before I went. This strategy (or lack thereof) will not work for the Sapporo Snow Festival.

In fact, we tried to visit the Sapporo Snow Festival in 2016. I started looking into flights in October 2015, and they were completely full. This was quite a shock when we’ve gotten used to showing up at the train station, buying a ticket, and arriving in a new city in Japan within the span of a few hours.

Needless to say, this year I had it marked on my calendar to book this trip in early August. I wasn’t going to miss out two years in a row!

Moral of the story: book your flights and accommodation at least 6 months in advance. This advice isn’t only for the budget travelers out there. Even if you aren’t necessarily concerned with the cost, you will need to book early because flights and accommodation will fill up.

Tip #2: Plan Around the Crowds

To experience the festival with fewer crowds, plan to visit on a weekday if possible.

We visited the main site of the Sapporo Snow Festival, Odori, just after arriving in Sapporo on Friday afternoon and found the crowds to be quite manageable. Keep in mind that we have lived in Japan for nearly two years so our tolerance for crowds may be a little skewed.

Even though we have gotten used to crowds, we know our tolerance level is still set at “American”. We purposely avoided the main Odori site on Saturday and Sunday for this exact reason. Thankfully we decided that an afternoon and evening was plenty of time to enjoy the Odori site.

If you think the crowds will affect your enjoyment of the festival, I recommend visiting on weekdays only.

Tip #3: Stay Near the Festival Sites

As you can imagine, accommodation near the festival can be quite expensive, even if you book early. If staying near Odori Park isn’t within your budget — or simply isn’t available — then I suggest that you stay as close to a subway station as possible. This would be my advice for traveling to any major city, obviously, but it’s especially important when visiting the Sapporo Snow Festival. February is cold and windy in Sapporo, so you will appreciate being able to get back to your accommodation to thaw out as soon as possible after you’re done with the day’s activities.

I’d also suggest booking your accommodation through Airbnb. <– use this link to save $37 off of your first Airbnb stay! We paid considerably less for an apartment than it would have cost us for a hotel room, and we had an entire apartment to ourselves including a full kitchen and laundry.

Another thing to consider:

The sidewalks in Sapporo can be extremely slippery and snow-packed. This was the case everywhere we went with very, very few exceptions. Don’t assume that the sidewalks near your accommodation will be completely clear. We’ve gotten quite used to walking everywhere since moving to Japan, but what may be considered to be a normal, easy walk in Japan (and beyond) may not be safe in Sapporo. Because of the condition of the sidewalks, it also was quite difficult to use our rolling suitcases on the sidewalks in Sapporo, so keep that in mind as well. We ended up carrying our suitcases most of the way from the subway station to our accommodation, which is another reason to stay as close to the station as possible!

On this note, I saw very few strollers at the festival and around Sapporo, which I assume was due to the snow-packed ground and the crowds. Most people were wearing their little ones in a carrier, which seems to be the most common method of child transportation in Japan anyway. With this in mind, if you are traveling with small children you will probably want to leave the stroller at home.

Tip #4: Don’t just visit the Snow Festival

Sapporo is such a cool city and the surrounding area is stunningly beautiful. It would be a shame for you to travel all that way and only see the 3 festival sites. Plan to take a day trip out to the mountains to ski, visit one of the charming towns nearby, or simply rent a car and hit the road to admire the scenery.

Don’t believe me? Check out this video we took of the Hokkaido coastline with our drone:

Tip #5: What to Wear

One of the biggest concerns I had about visiting the Sapporo Snow Festival was about what to wear. That may sound a little silly, but hear me out:

I knew that we would be spending a substantial amount of time outdoors, but I didn’t want to be uncomfortable when going inside. If you are a Westerner who has spent time traveling in Japan, especially in winter, then you will know exactly what I am talking about. When it’s freezing outside it will be sweltering inside. You can not escape blasting heaters! This includes being inside buildings and while riding the train. I assumed that I would be peeling every layer possible each time we ducked inside to warm up. I was right.

My suggestion is to dress in thin, warm layers. On the bottom, I layered leggings under my jeans. I wore wool socks and warm boots on my feet. On top, I wore a moisture-wicking tank top, a thin cashmere sweater, my down jacket, a hat, and wool gloves.

This wardrobe formula kept me perfectly comfortable while walking around outside for hours, but at the same time I wasn’t too hot when ducking inside a steamy ramen shop.

A little more on footwear: any pair of warm, well-soled boots will be perfect. I wore my Ugg boots and they were great. However, if I wasn’t a hardy Midwesterner who grew up walking around in the tundra all winter, I may have opted for something with a bit more grip. There’s an art to walking over snow and ice without slipping, and if you’re not accustomed to it it can be quite treacherous.

Enjoy your trip to the Sapporo Snow Festival!

If you stick to these 5 tips for visiting the Sapporo Snow Festival, you’re sure to enjoy your trip!

I want to hear from you: if you’ve visited the Sapporo Snow Festival, do you agree with these suggestions? Please leave your tips in the comments below!



The Sapporo Snow Festival

Like most expats, we have a long list of places we want to visit before we repatriate. Many of the destinations that are on our list are outside of Japan, but there are still many places in Japan that we want to check out, too. In fact, we’ve spent so much time (and money) focusing on our trips abroad that it’s been awhile since we took a trip within Japan. I’m happy to report that this (unintentional) travel break was remedied last weekend with a trip north to Hokkaido to visit the Sapporo Snow Festival.

Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s main islands, has been on our list of destinations since before we moved to Japan in 2015. Jason has wanted to visit Hokkaido ever since he started traveling to Japan for work back in 2013, and he put The Sapporo Snow Festival on his bucket list as soon as we found out that we were moving to Japan.

I am happy to report that we officially crossed this trip off of the list last weekend!

The Sapporo Snow Festival SeeLayne

Day 1: Friday, February 10

On Friday afternoon, we all flew to Sapporo from Nagoya via SkyMark Airlines. I’ve heard horror stories from people traveling on budget airlines, so I want to take a moment to gush about SkyMark. Our flights cost $130 round trip per person and included 20kg of checked luggage each (you can check skis, snowboards, and surfboards as part of your 20kg as long as they are shorter than 280cm) for no extra charge.

The direct flight from Nagoya to New Chitose Airport in Hokkaido was 90 minutes, and was the smoothest flight we’ve been on in a long time. My expectations for comfort were quite low, but decided that it was worth it for the low price and short flight. Boy, was I wrong! This is the first economy flight I’ve ever been on with extra legroom. One thing to note: they charged for refreshments on the flight, even for water. They did give out complementary Kit-Kats, which definitely made up for it. Chocolate > water. Duh.

skymark airlines japan kitkat

After our uneventful flight (the best kind!), we made our way into the city. It took us about an hour by train to get from New Chitose Airport to our accommodation.

Our Accommodation

We almost exclusively use Airbnb when we travel, and this trip was no exception. Our Airbnb apartment was in the perfect location: only steps away from Nakajima Park and Nakajima Koen subway station. The apartment was huge, especially for Japan: two bedrooms, living area, full kitchen, laundry, balcony. Much more comfortable for the three of us than a hotel room.

Note: you can use one of the Airbnb links above to save $37 on your very first Airbnb stay!

After getting checked in to our apartment, we turned right around to venture out. Right outside our building was a man selling Amazake, a hot drink made from rice — kind of like warm, sweet, sake. Jason enjoyed it, but decided that he wouldn’t have been able to drink more than one small cup.

amazake seller sapporo snow festival hokkaido japan

Sapporo made us feel right at home with the snow and the cold. We didn’t realize how much we missed it until we got here!

bike buried snow sapporo

Odori Park

Our first stop was the main festival location: Odori Park. Like (pretty much) everywhere else in Japan, the subway is the most efficient way to get around Sapporo. We walked about a minute to get to Nakajima Koen station, got on a train, and were at Odori park in less than 10 minutes. We came out of the station and were at the festival. It was busy, but the crowds were still manageable at this point. I was happy that we were able to visit the festival Friday night rather than waiting until Saturday because of the expected weekend crowds.

I didn’t get too many photos of the festival as I was Snapchatting most of the time (follow me on Snapchat: seelayne).

Odori Park is home to the festival’s huge snow and ice sculptures. This is the main location for the Snow Festival, and the enormous sculptures draw the most visitors of any of the three locations. Here are some of the photos I took from Odori Park:

sapporo snow festival hokkaido japan

sapporo snow festival japan

I wish someone had been standing in front of this one so you could see how big it was! It was nearly 20 feet tall:

cup noodle sapporo snow festival hokkaido japan

donald trum sapporo snow festival hokkaido japan

We spent a few hours admiring the sculptures, people watching, trying not to slip on the ice, and sampling the festival food. We were ready to warm up at this point, so we decided to search for some dinner.

Next Stop: Dinner

The three of us had a difficult time agreeing on where (and what) to eat, so we finally wandered into Bacchus Meat Cafe near Susukino station.

By this point we were cold, hungry, and cranky — a terrible combination for our first evening in Sapporo. All was forgotten as soon as we looked at the menu! We ended up sharing a huge platter of assorted grilled meats, a Caesar salad, and Racklett, a slab of melted cheese you pour over potatoes, vegetables, and bread. The food was DELICIOUS. We are usually happy to try local Japanese restaurants whenever we travel, but sometimes you just need to go for the meat and cheese!

Day 2: Saturday, February 11

We all wanted to do slightly different things on this trip, so we split up for the morning hours on Saturday. Jason loves Japanese whiskey, so he made plans to visit Yoichi distillery. The distillery is located about an hour by train from Sapporo.

yoichi distillery hokkaido japan

yoichi cafe tasting hokkaido japan

yoichi distillery tasting set

Em and I went to Shiroi Koibito Park for a tour of how they make the famous Shiroi Koibito cookies.

shiroi koibito factory tour

shiroi koibito park hokkaido


We met up again in the afternoon to do some shopping and to visit the other downtown location of the festival: Susukino. The Susukino site is where you can view the festival’s ice sculptures. Some of the sculptures were so detailed!

sapporo hokkaido snow festival ice sculpture susukino

This site was a fraction of the size of the Odori location, so it didn’t take as long to see everything. There were tons of ice sculptures here, as well as an Ice Bar where you could get a hot drink (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic). We also saw an ice slide that looked like it was a lot of fun for the kids in the crowd!

Ramen Alley

After walking around for about an hour, our hunger led us towards Ramen Alley, a famous Sapporo alleyway filled with, you guessed it: ramen restaurants. We walked up and down the alley for about 15 minutes before deciding on the winning ramen shop. It was so hard to decide! There were so many great options, and in the end we chose the shop with the longest line.

We waited for about 20 minutes before we were invited in. We took up 3 of the 8 seats in the shop. The shop was cozy and warm, and the ramen was tasty. It was the perfect remedy for spending too much time out in the cold!

ramen alley susukino sapporo hokkaido japan

With full bellies, we decided to head back for a relaxing evening.

Nakajima Koen

We thought we were done exploring for the day, but we were wrong! When we emerged from the subway station, we saw a glow coming from Nakajima Koen (koen means park in Japanese) across the street that stopped us in our tracks. We were so excited to see that the park was lit up with hundreds of lanterns and snow sculptures! It started to snow while we were exploring the park, which only added to the atmosphere. It was magical.

Nakajima Koen Sapporo snow festival

nakajima koen sapporo

nakajima koen sapporo snow festival

ice lanterns nakajima koen sapporo snow festival

After spending about an hour in the park we were finally ready to head back. But not before stopping at the conbini (convenience store) for a bottle of wine and some snacks first!

Day 3: Sunday, February 12

Sunday was our last full day in Sapporo. In the morning, we decided to make our way out to the third location of the Sapporo Snow Festival: Tsudome.


This location was not in downtown Sapporo, but about 30 minutes away. The site is a 10 minute walk from Sakamachi station on the Toho line, but there are shuttle buses ready to take you there. The shuttle bus isn’t free (100 yen per person each way – cash only!), but taking the bus was totally worth it to stay out of the cold and off of the icy sidewalks.

This location was more for families with younger children. There were ice slides, sledding hills, a chance to ride in a raft behind a snowmobile, snowball throwing challenges, a snow blower station (where you can operate huge snowblowers) and much more.

Growing up in the tundra of northern Minnesota, these activities weren’t all that appealing to us. Plus, there were lines of at least 30 minutes for the hill, slide, and the snow rafting. I could see that others were REALLY excited about all of this, though! We only spent about 30 minutes here before making our way to our next activity.

We wanted to get out of Sapporo for the afternoon, so we made plans to visit Otaru, located about an hour away by train.

But first, Asari

On the way to Otaru, we had to make a pit stop at Asari station so that we could fly our new drone!

We were excited to find a secluded location on this trip so that we could take it out for a flight! You have to be super careful about following the local laws when flying, especially in such a densely populated country like Japan. For example, there is only one place we found that is easily accessible by public transport near Nagoya where we can legally fly.

This drone is so compact that it fits into a case the size of a lunchbox, which means that it will be coming with us wherever we travel from now on. I can’t wait to share future videos with you all!

Here is the footage we were able to capture in Sapporo:

We were in awe of the scenery here, especially since this was the first time I’d ever seen the sea and snow at the same time. It was seriously incredible.


After our pit stop, we got back on the train and soon arrived in Otaru.  We were there to see the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival, when the town glows with thousands of flickering candles and illuminations. In addition, they float candles on the canal each night at 5:00 PM.

otaru canal hokkaido lantern festival

It started snowing pretty heavily as soon as we arrived in Otaru, and it didn’t stop until we left. The snow made us northerners pretty happy, especially since we hadn’t gotten to enjoy the snow much so far this winter. Otaru was lovely, but it was PACKED with tourists. We saw the canal, did a little shopping, and ate some (more) ramen to warm up. At this point we were all getting pretty tired. We decided that were were done being outside and got on the train back to Sapporo.

Day 4: Monday, February 13

Time to go home! We checked out of our Airbnb at 10:00 AM and went straight to the airport.

We knew that the New Chitose Airport has its own ramen alley, and we couldn’t resist checking it out. The restaurants are before security, so we got checked in for our flight, dropped off our bags, and went in search of the perfect bowl.

ramen alley new chitose airport sapporo

At this point I decided that it would be a shame to leave without having some seafood ramen! I tried a seafood ramen piled high with crab (which sank to the bottom of my bowl by the time I got my camera out!). Delicious.

After lunch we flew back to Nagoya. After a busy weekend, we were happy to be home again! We really enjoyed Hokkaido and the Sapporo Snow Festival! We would definitely go back to visit — perhaps during the sweltering late-summer months to escape the heat?

Do you like seeing trip reports like this? Want to see something different? Have a question about Sapporo or the Sapporo Snow Festival? Leave me a comment to let me know! I’d love to hear from you!

Platt Kodama – Discount Shinkansen Tickets in Japan

Platt Kodama Discount Shinkansen Travel Japan

It’s no secret that traveling by Shinkansen — aka the bullet train — can be an expensive way to travel in Japan. But it doesn’t have to be so expensive! You can get discounts on Shinkansen tickets by using Platt Kodama.

Platt Kodama Discount Shinkansen Travel Japan

As I shared in my 2016 Travel Highlights, I did a lot of Shinkansen travel last year. I personally took 17 one-way Shinkansen trips, but the total number of Shinkansen tickets we purchased in 2016 was 43! This number reflects the number of tickets we bought for our family of 3, but also includes any tickets we purchased for our visitors.

At around $100 each, that’s a lot of money spent on train tickets!

We rarely pay full price for our Shinkansen tickets, however. No, I don’t have an in with someone in the JR office. I wish! We were able to save hundreds of dollars on Shinkansen tickets last year simply by using the Platt Kodama (aka Puratto Kodama) program offered by JR Tours.

What is the Platt Kodama?

First of all, let me say that this post is not sponsored. JR has no idea who I am, unless my name is on a list because of how much money I gave them last year. Ha. I am simply sharing this information so that you can save money, too.

The Platt Kodama program offers savings on Tokaido Shinkansen tickets between Tokyo and Osaka. This allows travelers to save big on travel between Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, and Tokyo — cities that happen to be the most popular destinations for Japan travelers.

Platt Kodama Benefits

The Platt Kodama program is an easy solution to saving big on one-way Shinkansen tickets.

Discounted Shinkansen Tickets

As I said before, traveling by Shinkansen can be expensive! The Platt Kodama program is a great option for saving money on train travel in Japan.

For a trip from Osaka to Tokyo, the savings is ¥3,840 (about $33 at the time of this writing) over the cost of a regular ticket. For the green car, the savings is ¥7,120 (over $60). This is depending on the route and the exchange rate, of course. Those savings add up quickly!

For example: We bought 4 tickets for a trip from Nagoya to Tokyo last spring. With the Platt Kodama discount, we were able to save ¥11,120 (almost $100) over the regular cost of ¥43,520 (nearly $400). All because I bought the tickets ahead of time and purchased them from the JR Tours office instead of the usual ticket counter.

Free Drink Included

When you buy your Platt Kodama ticket, you will get a voucher for a free drink. This voucher can be redeemed for a soft drink or a 350 ml can of beer/Chu-hi at one of the convenience stores in the train station. This voucher CAN NOT be redeemed on board the train.

Platt Kodama Drawbacks

The Platt Kodama isn’t necessarily the best option for every trip. You need to weigh the options to make sure that it is the best choice for you.

You Must Plan Ahead

One of the benefits of train travel in Japan is being able to turn up at the train station 30 minutes before leaving, buying your ticket for the next train, and hopping on the train — after grabbing your bento box + chu-hi, of course.

With the Platt Kodama, you can not buy your tickets on the same day of travel. You must buy your tickets in advance. You can buy your tickets the day before you plan to travel, however, I recommend getting your tickets at least a few days before. Especially if you are traveling with multiple people or need to get on a specific train.

The Kodama Train is Slow

The Kodama train is the slowest option for Shinkansen travel between Tokyo and Osaka. For example, I can get from Nagoya Station to Tokyo Station in about 90 minutes on the Nozomi train. However, on the Kodama train, this same journey will take me over 3 hours. This is because the Kodama train stops at every stop between Nagoya and Tokyo. This generally isn’t a problem, but I usually choose to buy the more expensive ticket if I need to be somewhere early or if I want more time at my destination.

For example, if we are planning to weekend in Tokyo and can’t leave until my husband gets home from work at 5:00 PM, we will probably choose the faster train out of Nagoya in order to get to Tokyo in time for dinner. In this case the time savings is more important to us than the lower cost.

You Can Not Change Your Kodama Ticket

Another thing to note is that, unlike a regular Shinkansen ticket, you can not make changes to your Platt Kodama reservation. If you miss your train or can not travel, you can not get a refund. Like most rules in Japan, there are NO EXCEPTIONS.

For this reason, I very rarely choose the Platt Kodama when returning to Nagoya after flying into Tokyo (Narita or Haneda) or Osaka (Kansai). The ticket savings is not worth the potential of losing the entire purchase price due to a delayed flight. In these cases I opt to buy a ticket at the airport after I land instead. I’d much rather pay a little more than miss the Kodama and still need to buy a Shinkansen ticket.

I also make sure to plan for more than enough time to catch the train, especially if I am not traveling by myself.

Even with these potential hassles, we tend to choose the Platt Kodama about half of the time.

How to Buy Platt Kodama Tickets

Platt Kodama tickets need to be purchased from a JR Tours office. Since we live in Nagoya, we generally buy our tickets from the JR Tours office located in Nagoya Station. The purchase procedure may differ between each JR Tour office, but this the procedure for the JR Tour office at Nagoya Station.

JR Tour Office Nagoya Station

You do not need an appointment to buy your Platt Kodama tickets. Simply walk in to the office and take a number from the machine located right inside the door.

Buy Platt Kodama Tickets JR Tours

Selecting English will tell the JR Tours employees that you would like to work with an employee who speaks English. If you feel comfortable with Japanese, you can skip this step. I recommend asking for English the first time you visit the JR Tours office, or if you are trying to plan a multi-person or multi-destination trip.

As you can see in the photo above, you can also book other tour packages through the JR Tours office. We haven’t ever used this service to book travel in Japan, but I would love to hear from anyone who has!

Fill Out the Platt Kodama Form

To make buying your Platt Kodama tickets easier, fill out the Platt Kodama form. I’m sure you can buy tickets without filling this form out at all, but I haven’t ever done so.

You do not need to fill this form out ahead of time. They will have a stack of these forms in the JR Tours office, along with clipboards and pens for you to use. Filling the form out at home is especially helpful if you are buying tickets for multiple people (or multiple trips) at the same time.

You can find the Kodama timetables on the Platt Kodama website. I write my first choice (train number/route/time) on the form, but it’s also a good idea to have at least a couple of backup trains that you would be willing to take as well in case the train you want is full.

Buying Your Platt Kodama Tickets

Once you have taken your number from the machine, have a seat in the waiting area and wait for your number to be called. They will announce the next number over the loud speaker, and your number will flash on the screens located around the waiting room. The attendant who will assist you will also raise their hand. You will not have any trouble knowing when it’s your turn to buy your ticket(s)!

When your number is called, you will go to the counter and hand your form to the employee. They will then look over your information and confirm the date and train times with you. They will check to see if there are tickets available for your requested train. After the employee has confirmed your tickets, they may either ask you to wait while they print your tickets or they may print them when while you wait at the counter.

You can pay with cash or credit card. I always use my Chase Sapphire Preferred* card so that I get double points on travel purchases.

It’s that easy!

Traveling with your Platt Kodama Ticket

Traveling with your Kodama ticket is easy! On the day of travel, you will turn up at the station, go get your free drink using your drink voucher, and then go to the Shinkansen wicket. Instead of putting your ticket through the machine, simply hand your Kodama ticket to the attendant. He or she will stamp your ticket and then you’ll be on your way.

When you get to your destination, simply hand your Kodama ticket to the attendant when you exit.

Other Ways to Save on Shinkansen Tickets

The Platt Kodama program isn’t the only way to save money on Shinkansen tickets in Japan. Here are a few other ideas:

Book an Unreserved Seat

If you are traveling alone — or don’t mind not sitting with your travel partner — you can save some cash on your Shinkansen tickets by purchasing an unreserved ticket. You can save about 700 yen per ticket by booking an unreserved Shinkansen ticket, depending on your route. It’s not a huge savings per ticket, but for three people round trip it can add up quickly. We have done this a few times and have always been able to find seats together.

However, there is always a chance that you won’t find seats together — or you might not get a seat at all. This isn’t a huge deal if you’re going from Nagoya to Kyoto (about 35 minutes on the Nozomi), but standing for even part of the trip from Osaka to Tokyo could be a pain. Buy an unreserved Shinkansen ticket at your own risk.

Buy the Japan Rail Pass

The Japan Rail Pass is a popular option for foreign visitors to Japan. Passes are sold for different lengths of time and, depending on travel plans, may or may not be worth the cost.

Expats in Japan can not take advantage of the JR Rail pass, unfortunately. However, if you have visitors coming, it could be a great option for them. You can find more information about the Japan Rail pass here.

Please note that the pass must be purchased outside of Japan and the voucher needs to be exchanged at a Japan Rail Pass exchange office upon arrival. However, they are experimenting with a pass that can be purchased after arriving in Japan! This program will begin on March 8, 2017 and will run for one year. You can find more information here.

I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever used the Platt Kodama program? Do you have any other suggestions for saving money on Shinkansen tickets?

* referral link




2016 Travel Highlights

I realize that 2017 is well underway, and many of you may have already broken all of your New Years resolutions. I meant to have this post up before the new year, but I couldn’t be bothered to open my laptop while we were traveling over the holidays. Oops!

2016 Travel Highlights Seelayne

2016 was overflowing with new experiences, and I took some time to gather my favorites to share with you. Even though it’s a little late, I still wanted to take a few moments to share my 2016 travel highlights. I hope you enjoy!

2016 Travel Summary

Cities visited – 21 total, some multiple times

Flights taken – 17

Miles flown – 41,945

Countries visited – 6

Continents visited – 3

AirBnb stays – 35 nights

Hotel stays – 22 nights

Shinkansen (bullet train) rides – 17

2016 Travel Highlights


We spent Golden Week (a week full of Japanese holidays at the end of April/beginning of May) in Thailand! The first 3 days were spent in Bangkok (at the Conrad Bangkok – gorgeous!), then made our way up to Chiang Mai. We finished our trip with 6 days on Ko Samui.


One of the highlights on this trip included the food tour we took that started at 9:00 AM on our first morning in Bangkok.

Historic Bangrak Food Tasting Culture Tour

We took the Historic Bangrak Food Tasting and Culture Tour with Bangkok Food Tours and would definitely recommend it! It was a perfect way to begin our Thailand trip.

Chiang Mai

After Bangkok, we flew north to Chinag Mai. The purpose of visiting this city was so that we could visit the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai:

Elephant Nature Park Chiang Mai Thaliand

This was a must-do experience for me in Thailand, especially after reading Diana Edelman’s blog post titled The Truth About Riding Elephants. Reading the truth about this gorgeous creature’s mistreatment in Asian cultures was utterly appalling, and I knew that I wanted no part of it. I was happy to visit this inspiring park and see firsthand the great work that they are doing to save elephants (and tons of other animals!) and educate others about why it’s a terrible idea to use animals for human entertainment. Seeing these animals roaming free on the property and hearing their rescue stories is not something I will soon forget.

Honarable Mention

I can’t talk about our trip to Chiang Mai without mentioning the interesting meal we had one evening.. We don’t often sit down without checking a restaurant’s reviews (and usually never even go inside unless a place has 3.5 stars — there are just too many great dining options to waste one!), and I guarantee that we would have passed had we taken a moment to see what previous diners had to say about this place.

The food was decent but the service was terrible, albeit hilarious. The owner was rude but highly entertaining. Thankfully (for us) there was a German couple who ended up getting the brunt of the owner’s antics, and all we could do was watch. We didn’t dare leave without eating all of our food. I don’t think my writing can do justice to the craziness, but I will leave you with this (terrible quality) photo Jason snapped while it was happening:

Chiang Mai Dinner

We also enjoyed our time on Ko Samui. We basically showed up at our hotel (the Baan Bophut Beach Hotel for anyone interested) and relaxed. Jason took a dive course that had him walking down the beach for a few mornings to catch the boat out to the reef, and returning happy and tired just before dinner. He took some awesome video during his dives at Koh Tao. Em and I joined him for a day snorkeling trip, and it was some of the best snorkeling we’ve done…anywhere. Our relaxing week ended with Jason and Em renting a scooter for $5 and venturing around the island while I planted myself with a book, a cocktail, and this view from our room:

Ko Samui Baan Bophut Beach Hotel Room View

Which is pretty much the best way to spend a vacation in my opinion!

Family Visits

We were lucky enough to have a flurry of family visits in the spring of 2016. We traveled all over Japan in April, but one of the highlights was getting a chance to rent and be dressed in a kimono in Kyoto. This was something I had wanted to do ever since my first visit to Japan. We visited the Okamoto Kimono Main Shop, and everything from making a reservation to returning our kimonos at the end of the day was perfect. After we were dressed, we walked over to Kiyomizu-dera temple to snap some more pictures:

Okamoto Kimono Rental Kyoto

Another highlight was a trip to Hiroshima. This wasn’t my first trip; we visited the previous summer, but this time the spring weather was a lot more enjoyable than our sweltering trip the previous July. I made the trip to Hiroshima with my sister-in-law, and was happy to have a second chance to experience the city as well as a mini girls’ getaway! 

Hiroshima Dome

{Photo by Megan Blakely}

We also hopped on the ferry to Miyajima Island to see the famous torii gates, the deer, and Istukushima Shrine:

Miyajima Torii Gate

Istukushima Shrine Miyajima Island

Solo Travel

Towards the end of 2016, I decided that it was time to start traveling on my own. I booked two trips: one to Bangkok and the other to Bali.


I spent 4 days in Bangkok at the end of November to attend the 7 in 7 conference. The conference gave me a chance to learn more about the digital nomad/remote work community of which I find myself a part of now that I am freelancing. The conference was a great excuse to take my first trip solo, and it was inspiring to meet other people who are working on cool projects. This was my second trip to Bangkok, and it was fun being able to experience a different neighborhood. I stayed at the Beat Hotel Bangkok, and it was an artsy hotel next to the Conference venue: the coworking space, E88 Bangkok.

Beat Hotel Bangkok


About a week after returning from Bangkok, I left for Bali! I had such an amazing time in Bali and fell completely in love with it. Seriously, I am sure everyone I know is sick of hearing me talk about how much I love Bali. I am constantly checking flights to figure out how/when I can go back. Here are a few of my favorite pictures from my trip:

Bali Beach Seelayne

Satay Bali Seelayne

Tegalalang Rice Terrace Ubud Indonesia

Christmas Holidays

The Christmas holidays were a little different for us this year: instead of heading back home to the States during Em’s school break, we decided to make a proper holiday of it and booked a trip to Australia.

Hong Kong

We had to have an overnight stopover in Hong Kong on the way, so we decided to extend it for a few days in order to explore the city. The highlights of Hong Kong included a taking a food tour where we explored the Central and Sheung Wan neighborhoods by stopping at markets and local eateries to sample dim sum, barbecued pork, wonton soup, and more. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures to show of the food tour as I was too busy eating! Jason took a lot of video, so hopefully I will have more to share soon.

I can share this plate of barbecued pork — we sampled this dish during the tour and loved it so much that we stopped by on our way to the airport to get another fix:

char siu pork lung kee restaurant hong kong

We also took a day to check out Hong Kong Disney since Em and I are on a mission to visit all of the international parks. 3 down (Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo DisneySea, Hong Kong Disney), and Disneyland Paris and Shanghai Disney to go! We were some of the first people in line that morning and we practically had the place to ourselves for the first 4 hours after the park opened.

Front of the line Hong Kong Disney

Hong Kong Disney Christmas



After Hong Kong we made our way to Australia. We spent 6 days in Sydney, and enjoyed the sights, the vibe, the beaches, the food, the coffee, the….everything! Here’s my favorite photo from Sydney:

Sydney Harbor Opera House Bridge

After Sydney, we flew up to spend 7 days in Cairns, of which 4 were spent on a boat with this view: 

morning view reef encounter cairns

I wasn’t sure what to expect when we booked this part of our trip with Reef Encounter (we did the 4 day/3 night Top Deck Club package and would 100% recommend it), but I went along because doing a liveaboard on the Great Barrier Reef was on Jason’s bucket list. I (wrongly) assumed that we would get antsy being stuck on a boat for 4 days. This part of our trip turned out to be both incredibly entertaining and relaxing. Jason dove, Em and I snorkeled, we met other world travelers, we ate amazing food, and we relaxed. It was the perfect way to ring in the new year. 

As you can see from the highlights, it was an incredible year. I feel very lucky to be able to discover so many new places and most of all, to visit said places with the people I love most.

Here’s to more adventures to come in 2017!

My Solo Trip to Bali

Tegalalang rice terraces Ubud Bali

This fall, I finally got a chance to travel solo. I spent a few days in Bangkok, Thailand for my first trip. My second destination for solo travel: Bali.

Tegalalang rice terraces Ubud Bali

I’ve touched on this before, but lesson #1 of the expat experience (at least for me) is that you need to figure out how to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.

When you learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, you can do anything.

Some days, this looks like me trying to ask a stranger a question while butchering the Japanese language.

Other days, it looks like getting lost and then finally finding my way back home.

Lately, it looks like me going ever farther outside my comfort zone and traveling internationally…solo.

I finally realized that waiting until someone has the time/money/inclination to travel with me is actually holding me back from exploring some of the many countries I can easily access from Japan.

Don’t get me wrong, traveling with my family is one of my favorite things to do. In fact, we have had some pretty epic adventures so far (with many more to come)!

But I can’t sit around and wait for them to have time off work and school to join me. I mean, I could….but life is way too short and there are simply too many places I need to see in this world. Thankfully I have a partner who agrees and is happy to see me go off on an adventure without him now and then. And as for the teenager? I’m pretty sure she barely notices when I’m gone — unless she’s out of clean laundry or needs some lunch money. Ha.

There was a time when I would have been too afraid to travel to an unfamiliar country by myself, but that is precisely why I needed to do it.

So his has been my new mission.

I want to go places…so I’m going.

I wanted to go to Bali this fall.

So I did.

I will write about this trip in more detail later, but for now I want to share this recap with you. I hope you enjoy it!


36 Hours in Tokyo

36 Hours in Tokyo

J and I were able to get away by ourselves last week, just the two of us. Miss E was out of town on a school trip, so we found ourselves with a couple of days to do whatever we wanted. Rather than spending it relaxing at home, we decided to hop on the Shinkansen (aka the bullet train) and spend that time in Tokyo! We ended up having only 36 hours in Tokyo, but we were up for the challenge.

36 hours Tokyo travel itinerary

Returning to Tokyo

This wasn’t the first time I had been to Tokyo. We actually stayed in Tokyo on the day arrived in Japan, before traveling on to Nagoya. I don’t know that I really count that as a “visit to Tokyo” because we were kind of a mess and weren’t in any condition to experience the city.

We landed late in the afternoon, took a train from the airport to Tokyo station, and then took a taxi from there to our hotel. If it had been up to us girls, we would have called it a night and face planted into our beds. But since that’s the #1 worst thing you can do when attempting to combat jet lag, J dragged us we ventured out. And we were cranky, hungry and on sensory overload. So much so that after a mini-meltdown (I’m not going to say whose meltdown it was), we ended up eating dinner —our very first meal in Japan—at….McDonald’s. Yep. Judge away.

My second time in-Tokyo-but-really-not was this summer when Miss E and I took a last-minute trip to Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea. It was a last-minute trip: I happened to check the crowd calendar one day in June only to find that later that week would be the only (yes, the ONLY) week during the summer that the crowd levels would be under 50% capacity – and so off we went. And it was an awesome girls trip! But since we didn’t actually make it into the city, I don’t really count that as a trip to Tokyo.

So, third time’s a charm, yes?

Because we had already been to Tokyo before, there are some pretty obvious stops missing from this itinerary. We did not visit Shibuya Crossing, the Tokyo Sky Tree, Tokyo Tower, Sensō-ji Temple, just to name a few. I will cover those in future posts, but if you are trying to plan your first trip to Tokyo, those definitely need to be on your list.

Tokyo Trip: Day 1

We took off last Wednesday afternoon, and after a quick 90 minute trip on the Shinkansen we made it to the city. We made our way to our hotel, dropped off our bags, and headed out to dinner.

Ramen at Afuri

We made up for our first meal in Japan by visiting a nearby ramen restaurant, Afuri. We were able to sit right down at the counter after purchasing our meal via the vending machine located right inside the restaurant’s entrance.

The ramen was so different from ramen varieties we had previously tried. The chicken, fish and seaweed-based broth was served with pork, seaweed, an egg, and yuzu (a type of citrus fruit) peel, which sounds a little strange but ended up being delicious.

As we sat at the counter slurping our noodles, the restaurant filled up, making us glad that we got there when we did! There was a line about 7 people deep when we left — a pretty good indicator of a great restaurant in Japan. We would definitely go back again.

Afuri Ramen Tokyo

Tokyo Trip: Day 2

Since we really only had one full day to spend in Tokyo, we wanted to pack as much activity in as we could on Thursday. Our plan was to do a few of the super touristy things (especially the things Miss E probably wouldn’t enjoy) so that we won’t feel need to do them the next time we visit:

Tsukiji Fish Market

Tsukiji market is one of the largest markets in the world. It is a wholesale market; whole fish and other goods are bought at auction in the early morning hours and are then cut up and packaged to be sold to restaurants, catering companies, and the public afterward.

Each morning, a small number of tourists are allowed to witness the tuna auction, which happens to be the most famous. Reservations are not available in advance; If you want to witness it you need to wait in line and hope you’re one of the first 120 people there. Each group is taken to see the tuna auction for about 25 minutes. We decided to forego the tuna auction on this trip because we didn’t want to be up at 3:00 AM for the 25 minute experience.

Even though we missed the earlier auction, the market itself was quite an adrenaline rush! Everyone is buzzing around, the energy palpable. You can both hear and feel the the motorized vehicles as they sped by. It is important to listen for the sound of a vehicle backing up in case you happen to be in the exact spot it needs to be in. Don’t forget that there are actually people working and shopping at the market — not just gawking at the scene. You have to constantly watch where you step, because there are puddles of water and…other stuff…everywhere.

We were most definitely in the way no matter where we walked or stood, and I couldn’t help but think about how annoying it must be for the people trying to do their work and shopping with all of us clueless tourists in the way.

Tsukiji Market Tokyo

Kappabashi Street

One of the items on my Japan bucket list is to invest in Japanese knives. I did some research before we left and found that the best place to find a knife in Tokyo is Kappabashi Street.

Kappabashi Street, or Kitchen Town, is an area in Tokyo where you can find any type of restaurant or home kitchen equipment: dishes, cookware, display cases, uniforms, the plastic food you see outside of every restaurant in Japan, and so much more. We walked up and down the street, ducking into a store here and there. But I was on a mission to find a knife so we didn’t spend too much time browsing.

Kamata Knife Shop

I ended up buying my knife at a store called Kamata. The store was packed with shoppers when we arrived. The woman who helped me choose my knife was very attentive and patient while I went back and forth trying to choose. She was able to give good suggestions in my price range, and she spoke near-perfect English. I probably held about 10 knives before finding the right one.

I ended up choosing a santoku knife, which is a Japanese-style, all-purpose knife that is most often used in home kitchens. It is made from Damascus steel with a polished wood handle. And it’s gorgeous. After I made my decision and paid for my new knife, they engraved my name — in Japanese — on the handle.

Kamata Knife Shop Kappabashi

Sushi Lunch

For lunch we stopped in a random sushi restaurant. We had grand plans to have a sushi breakfast while we were at Tsukiji market earlier, but we weren’t hungry and the lines were pretty insane. The good news is that even a random sushi place in Tokyo is pretty awesome. We each got a sushi set and split a small bottle of sake.



After lunch, we did some more exploring. We ended up in Harajuku, and decided to take an afternoon break at Double Tall Cafe. The coffee I had was perfect. I haven’t found great coffee in Nagoya yet, so it tasted especially great. The cafe also had outdoor seating on the second level overlooking the main street, which was perfect for people watching. While we didn’t see any stereotypical Harajuku girls (worth a Google), we did see some pretty great fashion. Miss E would have been in her element for sure. I can’t wait to take her back to check it out!

Yoyogi Park

After our afternoon dose of caffeine, we walked over to Yoyogi Park. It wasn’t very busy since it was a weekday afternoon, but there were some people out and about. Yoyogi park is known for attracting some interesting characters. It’s a great place to sit and do some people watching. We watched a bartender practicing his tricks and a group of kids rehearsing a dance routine. It was a beautiful fall day, perfect for enjoying some green space in the middle of the city.

After that we were ready to stop back at the hotel to unload our purchases and freshen up a bit. All of our exploring had worn us out…and we were starving!

Yakiniku Dinner

We headed out on foot to find some dinner. Armed with a recommendation and a map from our hotel, we went in search of a yakiniku restaurant. Yakiniku is a Japanese word for the style of cooking small pieces of meat and vegetables on a tabletop, often charcoal, grill. I hadn’t tried it before, and it was actually pretty fun!

Our dinner was delicious, especially the beef. Besides some chicken, pork, and vegetables, we also ordered a set plate with various cuts of wagyu beef. The beef was a splurge, but it was worth it. We left full and happy.

Tokyo Trip: Day 3

The next morning we slept in and ate breakfast at our hotel. Since we had been so busy the day before, we took our time checking out and getting to the train station. We found a storage locker for our bags and then bought our tickets for our afternoon train before venturing out again. We didn’t have much time, but we wanted to fit at least one more attraction before leaving Tokyo.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

The TMGB has free observation decks that give you a view of Tokyo (and beyond) from 45 stories up. It really is incredible to see just how enormous the city really is. I mean, it’s pretty obvious when it takes a 30 minute ride on the subway to get from one part of the city to another, but to actually see it from so high up is really, really cool.

I’m sure the view isn’t as great as the Tokyo Sky Tree, but we decided to save that for the next trip. We only ended up with one non-blurry picture from up there, but you can still get an idea of the size of the city. You can also see the Tokyo Sky Tree in the distance.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

Burgers for Lunch

We only had about two hours left until we needed to get on our train and head home, so we went on a mission to find some lunch.

We headed back towards Harajuku to hunt down a burger place that seemed to get great reviews online. Sadly, the burgers ended up being pretty disappointing. I don’t think we realized how spoiled we were while we were living in Texas, and apparently we have become pretty picky when it comes to burgers.

In our experience, the beef that they use for burgers here in Japan just isn’t great. And adding interesting toppings it doesn’t change the quality of the burger much. It only took us six months of trying to hunt down a great burger in Japan to figure out that it’s just not worth it to us. Lesson learned. Another thing to add to the list for when we’re back in the US!

Heading Home

After lunch, we started back to the station to catch the Shinkansen. Less than two hours later we were walking in our apartment door, about 20 minutes before Miss E got home. Perfect timing!

And as great as it was to get away, it’s even better to come home! I’m glad we were able to spend a couple of days enjoying Tokyo, but spending so little time there makes me just want to go back!


Reflecting on Expat Life: 6 Months

This week marks six months since we left the United States and moved to Japan. It is strange to realize that I have been an expat for 6 months already. 6 months feels like an eternity, but also like it went by in the blink of an eye.

expat life 6 months

Before moving here – during all of the planning, packing, and goodbye-ing – I spent very little time thinking about what it would mean for us to finally step onto that plane – to leave behind our life, our family, our dog, and everything we were familiar with. I spent approximately 0% of my time thinking about the fact that walking through that airplane door would actually change the trajectory of my life and the lives of my immediate family members.

Instead of thinking about the magnitude of stepping onto the airplane, I focused on the details: the passports, the tickets, the visas, the packing, the hotel reservations, etc. I distracted myself with those details so that I wouldn’t think about the rest.

The First Weeks as an Expat

Like any move, the first weeks were all about checking off the most necessary of tasks. We found a place to live, we enrolled our preteen daughter in school, we bought cell phones, we picked out furniture, and we navigated our new city’s transportation system. Those tasks acted as a nice little distraction from the big stuff. There’s no time to question whether or not you’ve made a huge mistake when there is an apartment to furnish!

We spent our first month living in a hotel, another distraction. Hotel living certainly wasn’t terrible; it was a most welcome distraction that came with English-speaking staff, executive lounge access, endless food and champagne, and laundry service. This wasn’t our new life, it was too comfortable. It was the in-between of our previous life and our new one. But when you uproot your life and transport your family to the opposite side of the globe you learn to cling to any comfort you can get. Especially in the form of laundry service. And champagne.

In reality, I needed the distractions in those early days. After those first few weeks – filled with travel, jet lag, and mini-tantrums – the magnitude of this change would start to creep in.

We are expats.

We are living in Japan.

Holy shit.

Expat Struggles

The distractions were fading away, and the discomfort came roaring in to fill the void. The struggles came in many forms…like not being able to read labels at the grocery store.

…and not understanding that the person at the checkout is asking you if you need a bag, so you just say in your terrible Japanese that you don’t understand (because you definitely do know how to say that) while trying to look repentant.

…and having to play a game of charades in order to buy tickets to a baseball game.

Embracing Discomfort

If I had to choose to share just one thing I have learned during my first six months as an expat it would be this: that discomfort is necessary. In fact, I would argue that it is actually good for you. It has been my experience that living life in a near-constant state of discomfort tends to cause a person to get used to it. And when you start to feel okay with feeling uncomfortable, you begin to take risks. When you spend your days doing things that scare you, you actually end up doing some pretty amazing things.

And perhaps the best part is that once you are so used to your life being uncomfortable, then you actually take notice when things start to become a little bit comfortable again. The day you don’t shed any tears in the grocery store is a momentous occasion. You notice the first time you are able to ask the train attendant if the train you’re about to get on is actually going where you need to go, and the first time you leave the house and return without getting lost is cause for celebration. I have found that spending my days being grateful for the things that seemed insignificant before is actually leading me to become a happier, more grateful person.

The First 6 Months Will Make or Break You

I have heard that how a person handles the first six months of an expat posting will make or break the overall experience for them, their spouse and/or their family members, and their coworkers.

Many companies, my husband’s included, will send their overseas employees home for visits each year…but not before that six month mark. The belief is that if you go back “home” before that six month mark there is a pretty good chance that you may not come back. I had read about it and knew that was the case, but I never really understood it until coming here.

It Hasn’t Always Been Easy (and it Still Isn’t)

I will admit that there have been a few times when, if someone had slipped a one-way ticket to the US under my door, I would have been on the next train to the airport. But I am extremely glad that that didn’t happen. Because getting on that Japan-bound plane a second time when I knew what was waiting for me on the other side would have been more than I could handle. I also wouldn’t have known that it would get better than those early days and weeks if I hadn’t gone through it and come out (mostly) unscathed. I wouldn’t have known that I could be okay with being uncomfortable. And I certainly wouldn’t have known how amazing it feels to be comfortable again.

So here we are. Six months in. Life is becoming more comfortable each day, and in turn, we are feeling more grateful than ever before. We’re feeling (mostly) settled in our Japanese apartment; eating our Japanese food from the neighborhood market; paying our Japanese bills with Japanese yen; learning this new language — some of us more quickly than others.

The homesickness comes and goes, and the culture shock is a real bitch sometimes. But I couldn’t be happier with where we are at this moment.

Here in Japan.