Planning vacation in Japan - seeking advice

Discussion in 'Fine Living, Home, Design & Auto' started by TintinATL, Jan 2, 2010.

  1. TintinATL

    TintinATL Senior member

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    I have always been fascinated by Japan but have never visited. Since it seems unlikely I will ever have a business excuse to visit, I've decided to make 2010 the year I take a vacation there.

    But honestly, I don't really know where to start. I'd welcome any suggestions and advice, including some basic questions such as:

    - what's the best time of year to go?
    - is it realistic to put together one's own trip (which I like the idea of), or is it smarter to get a travel agent to put together a package where all the thinking/work has been done?
    - is it worthwhile stopping elsewhere in the region (e.g. Hong Kong, Singapore)? I will have 10-12 days for the entire trip
    - is it worth trying to learn some basic Japanese, and is such a thing even feasible given the complexities of the language, writing systems etc?
    - any advice on "must sees" and/or things that are worthwhile but might not be on a typical tourist itinerary?
    - conversely, any advice on over-rated tourist traps that can be avoided without missing much?

    Thanks in advance for your thoughts, gents.
     


  2. Alter

    Alter Senior member

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    Happy to give some advice.....but it would help to know what interests you about Japan? What makes you want to visit here?
     


  3. Brian SD

    Brian SD Moderator

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    Spring and fall are both good times because of the mild weather. The downside of both is that tourist attractions and the like are extremely crowded - in particular, Golden Week (a week in spring of Japanese national holidays) may sound like a great idea on paper, but in reality everywhere in Japan is jam-packed with people during this time. Of course, another benefit of going during spring is that you can view the cherry blossoms.

    This is a pretty general travel question, isn't it? I'd recommend doing it on your own, but it may be safer to have a travel agent do it for you. I'd probably recommend 3-5 days in the Kanto region and 3-5 days in Kansai region, and a day or two in northern Honshu.

    Spend the 10 days in Japan. There's a LOT to see here.

    You can learn the two phonetic Japanese alphabets, Hiragana and Katakana, if you start practicing NOW and put in some good amount of study time every day. However this is pretty much a futile endeavor since nearly everything you encounter will be written in Kanji, which takes years of study to read and write fluently. I'd recommend learning simple phrases and things you can use to answer questions that Japanese will undoubtedly ask you in more rural areas (like What country are you from, how long have you been in Japan, etc.).

    Depends on the area and the kind of thing you want to do. Japanese people are pretty avid continental travelers, so even if you don't encounter American or other foreign tourists, you're bound to encounter Japanese out-of-towners.

    The one thing I highly recommend is checking out some of the smaller sushi bars right outside the fish market in Tsukiji, though I heard that these days foreigners are frequently getting refused service.

    Everyone goes to Sensoji temple (in Asakusa, Tokyo) - it's always crawling with foreign tourists. Problem is, it's a nice looking place so I wouldn't really want to miss it.

    Roppongi (Tokyo) is like downtown LA. Just don't even bother with it. I feel like you'd be missing out on a big part of Japan's pop culture melting pot if you didn't check out Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku and Daikanyama (highly recommended, Daikanyama is my favorite place in Tokyo), even though they're always mobbed with tourists, shoppers, and working people alike.
     


  4. TintinATL

    TintinATL Senior member

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    Happy to give some advice.....but it would help to know what interests you about Japan? What makes you want to visit here?
    I'm interested in Japanese culture, both the old and the new, and in fact the juxtaposition of the two is what intrigues me most. I'm generally interested in architecture, design (industrial, product, graphic), fashion, food, crafts, art. More of a city type than country. Not especially interested in technology. Other than that I'm just fascinated by the country. I have no idea why – can't explain it, but always have been. Brian SD, thanks, that's very helpful stuff!
     


  5. Alter

    Alter Senior member

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    I'm interested in Japanese culture, both the old and the new, and in fact the juxtaposition of the two is what intrigues me most. I'm generally interested in architecture, design (industrial, product, graphic), fashion, food, crafts, art. More of a city type than country. Not especially interested in technology. Other than that I'm just fascinated by the country. I have no idea why – can't explain it, but always have been. Brian SD, thanks, that's very helpful stuff!
    Gotcha. Well, I will second a lot of what Brian said. The best months for the weather would be April, May or October, November. You definitely want to spend time in Tokyo and I also recommend a trip to Kyoto for the historic architecture and that juxtaposition you mentioned....probably two days would be enough....and Osaka for a day or so as well. The gov't is trying to promote tourism at the moment and there is a lot of info available on their website http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/ For hotels...there is a lot of information on Tripadvisor and other websites that should make the tour planning doable on your own. You should look into getting a train pass for the bullet train (shinkansen) as they offer a special price for tourists if it is purchased outside Japan. I don't think learning the language is necessary if you are only visiting major cities but having a phrasebook with you may come in handy. Hope that helps...keep the questions coming.
     


  6. Brian SD

    Brian SD Moderator

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    I'm interested in Japanese culture, both the old and the new, and in fact the juxtaposition of the two is what intrigues me most. I'm generally interested in architecture, design (industrial, product, graphic), fashion, food, crafts, art. More of a city type than country. Not especially interested in technology.

    Other than that I'm just fascinated by the country. I have no idea why - can't explain it, but always have been.

    Brian SD, thanks, that's very helpful stuff!


    Then you'll be enthralled with Tokyo. No doubt about it.
     


  7. Svenn

    Svenn Senior member

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    - is it worthwhile stopping elsewhere in the region (e.g. Hong Kong, Singapore)? I will have 10-12 days for the entire trip
    I've been to almost every country in Asia and I certainly would recommend going to one of those more exciting places rather than Japan. You have to be financially secure to have a good time in Tokyo, and I mean probably more than $200 a day for (acceptable) food and lodging. Japan also gets very monotonous very quickly, which is why I would prefer the chaos of Hong Kong and its hiking trails in the city or the multi-cultural blend of Singapore... both of those cities being cheaper than Tokyo of course (e.g. $60 a day). Plus you can get suits in HK or Sing! But everyone's different I guess, and maybe you're older so money isn't an issue.

    One thing to mention is that my time in Japan dramatically improved when I had a native friend to travel with.

    Also, it seems like every frickin' day is some special 'holiday' in japan so the sites are always crowded...
     


  8. TintinATL

    TintinATL Senior member

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    Thanks for those thoughts Svenn. I'm aware Tokyo is expensive and that is something I have to consider, but I'm not one for roughing it [​IMG] But I'm interested to better understand what you mean by exciting - what makes Hong Kong or Singapore more exciting?
     


  9. Nataku

    Nataku Senior member

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    My mom's side of the family is from Japan, so we go every 2-3 years. I'll recommend a lot of what Brian said. Summer can be very humid and very uncomfortable. Winter isn't the best for tourism. You'' definately need your 10-12 days for Japan. Tokyo is great - they even have a Barneys there. Tons of excellent resturants as well. The hot springs are excellent and there is lots of trails for hiking/camping out as well. I'd recommend learning a few important words/phrases that will help you if you get lost. Have fun!
     


  10. Tokyo Slim

    Tokyo Slim In Time Out

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    - what's the best time of year to go?

    Weather wise, as has been mentioned, spring and fall are the best, most temperate times of the year. I tend however, to go in the Summertime. It is frequently hotter and muggier than I like, and there are sometimes typhoons that make life interesting - but this is offset by the cheaper travel costs. I am usually budget above all else. I have also been in the winter time, and while cold, it is manageable in Tokyo. It usually doesn't snow, but it can be windy. Not any worse than in Seattle, for example.

    Putting together your own trip to Japan is rather rewarding, and also gives you the flexibility to alter your schedule to explore things you are going to want to do while you are there that don't automatically fall under the umbrella of "basic tourist experiences".

    In all honesty, I'd probably recommend spending the bulk of your time in Tokyo. I'd say that if you are really interested in temples and museums, 1-2 days in Kyoto would be sufficient. If you are there in the summertime, I'd recommend visiting some of the smaller coastal towns south of Tokyo/Yokohama. the upper parts of Kamakura has some nice restaurants, temples, and etc. and the lower part is a pretty cool fishing and surfing town. Just about an hour from Tokyo by local train.

    Something to look at for travel outside of Tokyo if you think you may be traveling any more than Tokyo-Kyoto-Osaka is a rail pass.

    Oh yeah. TONS. [​IMG]

    Depends on when you are there though.

    Tokyo Design Festa


    As someone else mentioned, there will be "Matsuri" or different festivals in different places around Tokyo at different times of the year. This one happens to be a fertility festival where giant penises are carried around on shrines by trannies:
    IMPORTANT NOTICE: No media files are hosted on these forums. By clicking the link below you agree to view content from an external website. We can not be held responsible for the suitability or legality of this material. If the video does not play, wait a minute or try again later. I AGREE

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    Yoyogi park/Harajuku/Omotesando on a sunday.
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    Go to a baseball game.
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    Explore Kabukicho, especiallyDon Quijote. Basically six floors of mostly useless shit to bring back as presents. Loud, chaotic, and beautiful. It's pretty much my favorite area of town to hang out in at night. Though it is the "shady" part of town. That basically means there are a lot of soaplands and hostess bars around, as well as low level yakuza wannabe posing on the street corners and annoying Rastafarians who might try to kidnap you. It's about as colorful as Tokyo gets in every sense of the word. [​IMG]

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    Sumo tournament
    :
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    Visit at least one Depachika.
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    I dunno, I'm full of this shit. I can recommend restaurants, walking around and window shopping places,


    Welll... if you aren't really a tech/electronics/gaming person, you can pretty much avoid Akihabara completely. Tokyo tower is overrated, but its also pretty cheap, so while taking an elevator to an observation deck is inherently overrated, it's still worth the six bucks.
     


  11. Tokyo Slim

    Tokyo Slim In Time Out

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  12. Dragon

    Dragon Senior member

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    - I would recommend staying at a convenient hotel in Tokyo as the main stay. Hyatt in Roppongi Hills or Ritz in Midtown is nice and very convenient to get around the city (just walk downstairs and you can hop on the train to get anywhere throughout the city). You will basically be in the center of all the action, staying right in the heart of the new, modern Japan.

    - Since you`re staying for a long time, I strongly recommend you stay a few nights in the country. If you spend over $500/night on a nice ryokan (Japanese style inn), you can enjoy traditional Japanese service, and real Japanese food (the real deal). Unfortunately, Japanese Ryokans charge per/person and not per room [​IMG]. Once you get to see all the old Japanese stuff, I think you will find that a lot of the modern we see today is nothing new.

    - If you plan on eating at the one of the Michelin top rated restaurants (like the 3 star sushi places), you should make a reservation well in advance (in some cases months).

    - You could easily get by and plan everything yourself, but maybe you should take a few day tours as well. It`s not difficult to get around yourself, but I think the commentary would be interesting on the tours. For example, when visiting the Imperial Palace, you will notice that whole palace is surrounded by gravel rock, and they will explain that it was so intruders could be easily heard when they tried to sneak in. You won`t be able to get these little tidbits of interesting info if you visit on your own.

    - A lot of people speak English, so I don`t think you should try too hard to learn Japanese.

    - Since you`re staying a long time, maybe you shouldn`t limit yourself to Japanese food. I think you will get bored of the flavors if you eat it everyday for so long. Personally, I think the reason Tokyo is one of the greatest cities in the world is because you can get anything you want. If you feel like eating at one of the best French restaurants in the world (including France) you can in Tokyo. Same goes for Italian or any other cuisine. You can`t do that in other cities.
     


  13. Tokyo Slim

    Tokyo Slim In Time Out

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    You could easily get by and plan everything yourself, but maybe you should take a few day tours as well. It`s not difficult to get around yourself, but I think the commentary would be interesting on the tours. For example, when visiting the Imperial Palace, you will notice that whole palace is surrounded by gravel rock, and they will explain that it was so intruders could be easily heard when they tried to sneak in. You won`t be able to get these little tidbits of interesting info if you visit on your own.
    This is a good point. http://www.hatobus.com/en/index.html To be clear, I was just recommending that he not let a travel agent plan his entire itinerary or get one of those horrid "package" deals. (three days in tokyo, three days in Kyoto, three days in Osaka! All meals included! Walk around with 20 other Americans for nine days! Be shuffled around to every tourist spot imaginable! Only have 1/3 of your vacation be open to do what you want!)
     


  14. Svenn

    Svenn Senior member

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    Thanks for those thoughts Svenn. I'm aware Tokyo is expensive and that is something I have to consider, but I'm not one for roughing it [​IMG] But I'm interested to better understand what you mean by exciting - what makes Hong Kong or Singapore more exciting?
    I'm not sure, but there's something about all the construction in HK, busy food stalls, throngs of people on the street, larger underclass of recent migrants and maybe the colonial past that make it a more interesting and messy place to be. Even in Shibuya most of the Japanese men are quietly wearing their suits going about their routine, and everybody just seems really reserved... just concrete and bland buildings to the horizon. Even though I had a girlfriend from Tokyo showing me around, it was the loneliest few months of my life living there. Singapore is similar to HK- but you get the Malay and Indian flavor in there as well. Again it's all relative, I'm sure Tokyo has some pretty exciting clubs to go to and who knows you could meet someone who'll take you to all the penthouse parties around there or something [​IMG]
     


  15. TintinATL

    TintinATL Senior member

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    Wow, gentlemen, thank you for all this great advice! You have given me a lot to digest, and helped me start doing my own research and planning. Svenn, thanks for clarification... I will definitely consider a stop in Hong Kong or SIngapore, even if just for a day or two. Tokyo Slim and Dragon, thanks for a ton of information there - really helpful, especially the links and videos. Very much appreciate your help. Once I have some planning done, I think I'll post my proposed itinerary for you all to comment on!
     


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