Visiting Japan

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I'm going to Japan in December for 3 weeks, most possibly via Hong Kong.

(yey, lucky me!).

Tokyo and Kyoto are definites, but am not sure where else to go. Osaka was recommended to me but can't remember why :)

So - have any of you ever had a holiday in Japan and can recommend where to go, what to see, what to try out? I don't want to rush around and see every single thing; I just want to get a feel for the place and try to understand the people and its culture. Thanks!

PS I'm also already looking at the tourist info site, as well as guide books. Personal experiences are always helpful.

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went there in '99 and loved it ... was staying at a mate's place in Tokyo and the highlights were really camping next to Mount Fuji, going to an Onsen near Nagano in the Japanese Alps and visiting Hiroshima ...an amazing place with top -friendly people. Just a shame they built a shopping centre on the epicentre where the A-bomb landed but the Peace Park and Atomic Dome are well interesting. If I go again I'd probably visit Sapporo on the Northern Island ... Would highly recommend a Japanese Rail Pass for travelling around the country as public transport is expensive ...PM me if you want more info ..a lot may have changed though in 6 years..

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I have been there 3 times: 1989, lived there from 1990-1 (attended Japanese HS) and then again in 2000 with my husband. Maybe my opinion is out dated, and maybe skewed because I lived with a Japanese family, but since you asked. . .

 

1. I would do Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Osaka. You’ll be amazed at the difference between them!

2. Do you know any Japanese? Outside of Tokyo people speak very little English. I lived in a medium-sized town (Toyota City!) for my year and I was completely helpless until I knew a bit of Japanese. In the very small country towns you’ll be screwed without a least a bit of the language.

3. Glad to see ACA2B thought the people were friendly. They are, but sometimes, when some people see foreigners, Japanese people can get very nervous and look away or ignore you – which can be quite a problem when you need help! As soon as I started speaking Japanese the situation got noticeably better. The city people are much better about talking to foreigners than the country folks – which I think is a world-wide phenomenon!

4. Most restaurants have little plastic food models in the windows – so eating will be the least of your worries.

 

I could go on and on. PM me if you want more info.

 

@mightypies - Best. Invention. Ever. Along with the temperature knob thingy on the showers.

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I've only ever been on business and don't really have anything good to say about the place. Either stinking hot or pissing with rain in the summer, freezing cold and pissing with rain in the winter.

 

Some very hi-tech toilets as mentioned before (not only can you choose which angle from which to spray your choccie starfish, you can also regulate the water temperature and on some even the amount of cleansing fluid therein), but also the traditional holes in the ground in the majority of places so be careful not to shit in your trousers or on the back of your shoes.

 

If you go to a restaurant and have to take your shoes off, make sure you don't have a hole in your sock - big faux-pas - as is anything to do with bodily fluids so if you blow your snout, do it on a tissue and bung it in the bin, don't put your hankie back in your pocket. If you're going on business, take plenty of business cards and remember to bow lower than your clients. Accept business cards with two hands (gives the impression it is 'weighty' and therefore valuable apparently). Don't expect people, especially taxi drivers, to be able to speak any english, even in Tokyo. Oh, and take plenty of cash because the place is bastard expensive.

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Thanks for the feedback.

I can only say a few words in Japanese, as I've never done a course (but watching animes are a good way to start ;)). I'm going to hopefully do a MVHS course when the next programme starts.

 

The squatting hole-in-the-ground toilets should be no problem ; I used to camp in France a lot as a child, so am used to it :)

 

If the choice was between Nagasaki and Hiroshima, would you pick Hiroshima?

 

The nose-blowing thing I'll really have to watch, as my nose permanently runs when I eat, and I know it's a real offense to blow it in public in a restaurant. So I'll have to keep running off to the toilet. Also, I know that you shouldn't stick your chopsticks in a bowl upright, but lay them on top or on the little rests.

 

As for holes in socks - I'm going to have to go shopping beforehand :D

 

I'm going on holiday, not business.

 

I read in Rough Guide that not many places accept credit cards, even in major cities. How far does that go? i.e. would hotels accept them in Tokyo and other cities? How about department stores and restaurants?

 

Thanks!

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RE: Credit Cards. Thinking back, I never had a problem using credit cards (even "back in the day"). Major hotels, department stores and restaurants take them for sure. If you're out in the country, or staying/eating at a traditional place, you might have a problem. Personally, I have had more problems here in Germany with stores not taking credit than anywhere else! ^_^

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If the choice was between Nagasaki and Hiroshima, would you pick Hiroshima?

 

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

 

I believe the Americans were faced with the same dilema back in 1945 :ph34r:

 

Credit cards are accepted pretty much anywhere. They certainly will be in hotels, department stores and restaurants in the towns.

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I chose Hiroshima because it's more central and was easy to get to from Tokyo but if you're in the vacinity of Nagasaki then why not ...I guess Hiroshima is slightly better known because of the Atomic Dome that 'withstood' the blast from only a quarter of a mile away ...Hiroshima and Nagasaki

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I spent about 10 days in/around Tokyo several years ago but was there on business so didnt have a lot of free time. I did manage to rub a few buddha bellys, eat some great food etc. In addition to the guide books, I'd recommend:

 

1. Check out the supermarkets under the subway stations. The sushi prices come down as closing time draws near, which brings the uni kids (and hungry tourists:-) out to haggle with the counter ladies.

2. Try and find an old fashioned noodle shop. I found one where they still used an old stone grinder - displayed - along with the noodle maker- in the window. Fabulously fresh Soba.

3. I stayed at the Westin in Yebisu Garden Place which is just a bunch of suits walking around, a plaza including a mall, some nice restaurants and a mickeyDs, all located on the site of an old beer factory. Worth checking out there is however the Beer Museum. Interesting history, great adverts, and good beer at the end.

4. Check out the upscale restaurants and bars in the Ginza. Had probably the best Japanese meal of my life there, served by beautiful women in traditional Japanese attire. Real Geishas aplenty at the tables as well. I dont recommend eating there since everywhere seemed really, really pricey but still cool for walking around and people watching. My colleagues and I picked a random nearby bar afterwards. Climbed up 3 rickety floors, opened the door to an amazingly tiny and posh bar. Probably could seat 10-12 people max. Leather and mahogany - liquors, especially bottles of scotch, that were on display like art work. Turned out to be somebody's converted living room. The kitchen was off to the left, the family quarters off to the right. They went to the family quarters to change the musik, opened the door and there was a guy sitting there watching tv in his drawers. Hilarious.

5. Beware the Nato. The only dish in the world I dont like is Nato (fermented mung bean) but it turned out to be my hosts favourite. He ordered me his house Nato, even let me eat it out of his own special bowl. Didnt even know that existed but no way could refuse. I ate it with a smile. Our restaurant was some kinda club and didnt have a price on anything but I think that bowl of vile (IMO) mustve cost a fortune.

 

I think plastic was accepted everywhere - except the noodle shop. Oh and if you need anything, absolutely anything from underwear to a mini-keg, theres likely a vending machine with whatever you want nearby. Those are hilarious. Theres also the local Asia Xpat site for insider info.

 

PS: Check out the shoes on the ladies. Kitten shoes and stilletos everywhere. I dont know how they manage the streets and the subways!

 

HTH

joyce

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Went on a trip in high school to Japan, we spent most of our time in a city called Beppu on the island of Kyushu not too far fron Nagasaki. Beppu was fantastic, it is a pretty touristy city based around its natural hot springs. The thermal baths were pretty expensive but on the "beach" they dig you a hole in the sand and then bury you up to your neck in it, the sand is hot and soooooo relaxing and it was cheap :) (can't remember how much). If you feel homesick there is a beer garden and museum in Sapporro!

 

Watch out for the monkeys. Viscious Bastards.

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If you opt for Hiroshima instead of Nagasaki make sure you pay a visit to Itskushima (aka Miyajima) - it is one of the many islands nearby and is famous for the waterside shrine with the 'floating' Tori gate. There is also a mountain on the island called Misen and the view from the top is beautiful (you see most of the islands in the Seto Inland Sea ... the Japanese call it their Mediterranean) also there are some Monkeys at the top of the mountain ... and tame deer wandering all over the island (well, tamer than the ones at Nara).

 

On the subject of feral wildlife, beware of the Mino monkeys in Osaka (if you should also happen to venture there of course) ... evil evil evil ... a few years ago when all the drinks in the vending machines only cost a single 100 yen coin, people used to give them the coin and the little buggers went to the machines and bought drinks themselves ... now the vending machines require more than just a 100 yen coin so they don't do it any more and resort to less entertaining pastimes (for humans) such as mugging old ladies and children ... and throwing their shit at people ...

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Good post Nixe! UA I googled the evil mino monkey for you, just in case ...

MinoMonkey_0152.jpg

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If you're going to Kyoto, see if you can fit in a trip to Nara as well. Between the two, you'll really get a sense of the "old Japan".

 

Don't worry about language -- be imaginative, take a guide book and map everywhere so you can point at places for help with directions, and you'll be alright. Don't ask people if they speak English first though... just get in there and ask. Unless you get lucky and find someone fluent they'll always say no. It's a modesty thing.

 

I loved Japan. Best trip I ever took.

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Last year I did a three-week Japan Rail pass trip in japan with my wife... starting from Tokyo, down to the southernmost tip of main Japan.

 

Talking about standard destinations, I would definitely add Nara (close to Kyoto) because it is smaller and has a very nice atmosphere.

Additionally, close to Tokyo you have Nikko, which has, in my opinion, the most beautiful temples of Japan (different than the typical ones, with not so many colors, the ones in Nikko are extraordinarily colorful).

 

On the way to the south, the castle of Himeji is the most stunning japanise castle worth a stop of some hours. Visit that one, and you don't have to see the others.

 

After you have seen these cities, you will have enough with the temples/castles, it is now time to discover Japan. Try to travel anywhere outside from the typical routes, the best part of my trip started when I got past Hiroshima. After that, I did not meet a single foreigner for more than 10 days.

I went to Beppu, a city built on a Volcano full of thermal baths of all sorts and I went all the way down to Kagoshima and spent some time at the sea in the region (expecially nice the beaches south of Miyazaki, which are also difficult to reach).

If you go "off the beaten track", people is not used to see foreigners, and their reaction to you is usually extravagant.

One time, for example, the owner of the pension where I stayed overnight found out that my wife and I were on Honeymoon. They decided that the whole thing had to be celebrated, so they offered us an incredible dinner and organised a small party with all the hotel guests. The morning after they closed the pension for few hours and took us by car for some 50 kilometers down the coast. When we finally arrived, we understood the reason of the trip: it was a temple were newly wed couples got the blessing from a local god.

 

This does not mean that you should necessary go to the south, many other travellers tell similar stories of funny things happening when going anywhere outside of the most visited towns, for example fishing villages on the north-east of Japan or on the mountains on the north-west side. I went to the south simply because it was summer and I wanted to spend few days at the seaside.

 

Regarding the language, it is true that, as soon as you leave the biggest cities, English is almost useless, but that can add a bit of fun to the whole thing. I always carried paper and pencil, and communicated with pictures. It is incredible how much you can communicate without words, for example understanding what is the dress code for men and women to enter a public "stone sauna" in Beppu. People will usually take a lot of time to explain you things, because most of them will find it funny to see this strange foreigner trying to do japanise things.

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I'm really grateful for all this information; it's invaluable at the planning stages. Thank you.

 

I've decided on Tyoko, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Nara and Osaka. So will be flying Munich - Hong Kong - JP Narita.

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So did you go in the end, UrbanAngel? If so, how was it? Any feedback?

 

My tips would be as follows:

 

Tokyo Fish Market

 

The Tsukiji Fish Market is is huuuge. The size of the Oktoberfest and just as busy. Apparently it's the largest fish market in the world, and one of the largest livestock markets of any kind. There are signs at the entrance advising visitors not to enter before 10am. This is when it is busiest and the merchants are running around like mentalists processing their catch. You're at risk of getting hit by flying fish or by one of the powered trolleys that rush around everywhere. But I reckon the element of danger is what makes it all the more interesting. Watch giant tuna being sawn up by jigsaws that could have your arm off in a nanosecond, or fish being filleted and packed in ice, or live octopus being sold and eaten raw. An absolute must-see if you're in Tokyo.

 

post-16-1172579505.jpg

 

Japanese bath

 

Go for a soak and a slackening at Azabu-Jüban Onsen. Considering they're so small, the Japanese girls certainly have strong hands. They'll oil you, powder you, and wrap you in hot towels for half an hour for just ¥3,000. They'll massage you using their hands, elbows, knees, and feet all at the same time. My back was going snap, crackle, pop like never before. And if you're lucky (and only if you're a guy, presumably) you might get offered a "happy ending". Whilst not strictly legal, they'll offer it anyway provided you promise not to tell anyone. Partial as I am to a bit of slippery "handarbeit", however, I decided the ¥20,000 "service charge" was a little too much for something that's ordinarily available for free elsewhere.

 

Dinner and cocktails at the Park Hyatt

 

The Park Hyatt Tokyo hotel is where some of "Lost in Translation" was filmed. Ride the elevator up to the 42nd floor and take a window seat. I'd advise going up before sunset so that you can see both the daytime and nighttime views. Unfortunately I got "Lost in the Subway" earlier this evening so only saw the view at night. Still very impressive though. The three course dinner including cocktail is ¥4,300. The cocktail measures are short, but refills are free! I'm currently three sheets to wind as a direct result. The Cassis Sling is particularly tasty.

 

post-16-1172580044.jpg

 

All-in-all, Japan is great. People are amazingly friendly and apologetic. At the risk of sounding like Johnny Norfolk, it makes a refreshing change from Germany.

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Not all ATMs take foreign cards so when you see one that does, stock up on cash.

Great views from top of the city government building in Shinjuku, Tokyo for free.

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Get a JapanRail pass before you go! It will save you a fortune! The trains are amazing! Best way to travel there! You can get everywhere. The Pass will easily pay for itself if you do any traveling there. The Bullet train (shinzucan (sp)) from Tokyo to Kyoto by itself would have been more expensive than the 2 week pass I had!

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