Japan in 2 weeks!

Ok millions,

im going on a trip to japan in 2 weeks! :eek:
i want the straight dope from everyone whos been and/or lives there!

Im going to Tokyo (3 days) , Nagoya (1 day) , Hiroshima (4 days) then 5 days in Kyoto with mabye a day or 2 in nara

It’s gona be me and a friend (both canadian, english speakers, male) alone for the most part!

so I want it all! tales, tricks, and tips and anything else you think is important!


General Questions is for questions with factual answers. You’re looking for opinions, albeit informed ones.

So, let’s move this to IMHO.

samclem GQ moderator

My #1 tip: don’t expect anyone to speak English. Get a good guidebook (I found Lonely Planet to be okay).

What are you going to be doing in Hiroshima for 4 days? I can see spending a day doing the city itself, and another day doing Miyajima, but I’m not sure what else there really is. You might want to use one of those days to go see Himeji-jo. While in Hiroshima you should go eat some Okonomiyaki at Okonomiyaki-mura.

Nara’s only worth a day.

How are you planning on travelling? You should get a JR rail pass if you haven’t already. If you’re planning on going around the country via the Shinkansen (which I assume you are), it’ll save you a lot of money.

If you don’t know how to use chopsticks – learn!

Go to Tsukiji in Tokyo.

Bring light clothes and lots of handkerchiefs – it’s hot in Tokyo, and the air conditioning even inside modern buildings is not great. You’ll likely be mopping your brow a lot.

Go to the travel section of your favorite bookstore and browse the travel guides to Japan. Find the one you like best (I liked Fodor’s myself). And read, read, read before you go. Mark the pages of what you want to see, where you want to stay, what you want to eat. Carry it with you.

I spent 10 days in Japan at Christmas, visiting my son who was studying there, so I had the advantage of a fairly fluent personal tour guide. But I had studied my Fodor’s guide and knew what I wanted to see in each place we went.

Alot of the signs in the big cities are in English and Japanese, which makes it easier to get around. And the Japanese do like to practice their english. (My son wanted to use his Japanese, and the Japanese wanted to use their English)

If you plan to travel by train, you must buy a voucher for your Japan Rail Pass before you go, and exchange it at the airport in Japan for the Rail Pass. This should be explained to you in whatever guide book you buy (In Fodor’s guide , this information is in "Smart travel tips from A to Z " at the back of the book.

You might want to allow more time in Nagoya. There is a World’s Fair going on near there with some interesting things on Robots and Nature. Here is the web site:

Not much advice here beyond explore and have fun.

If you’re looking to party in Tokyo, go to Roppongi. If you want to wake up with your wallet, don’t go to Roppongi. Outside of that Tokyo is safe and a karaoke heaven.
The emperor’s palace is impressive.
And definitely get some okonomiyaki.

Kabuki-cho is pretty dodgy, too.

Dunno, always just looked like strip clubs to me. Roppongi is, I think, the only place where you can do American-style clubbing.
Of course, I have never been to Roppongi, and only to the movie theaters* in Kabuki-cho. So I’m going by third-person statements and street-level impression.

  • No not the dirty ones

to the poster regarding why 4 days in hiroshima, the first half of the trip is with an orchestra im playing in and the main concert is in hiroshima :slight_smile:

thanks for all the posts so far, all great info

I have the lonely planet guide and its very very helpful as well as a bunch of friends who travel to Japan often

Im more intrested in the old school side of japan hence me staying in kyoto for 5 days after the orchestra leaves, but i deffantaly want to have some party times happening in tokyo and else where :slight_smile:

keep the suggestions comming!!

Spend at least 1 night in a traditional hotel (ryokan) at a hot spring resort. IMHO that’s about the only touristy thing you can do in Japan that you can’t do elsewhere. A major hot spring town like Kusazu or Hakone would be nice, but there are many others.

Kyoto is at the end of the day a big city. It’s really cool and lots to see, but its a big place. Nara was quite enjoyable, but I’ve only been there on day trips. Might be really cool to go to Nara, stay in a ryokan.

BTW, do you understand how expensive Japan is? What’s your budget like?

Hey, you could be in Kyoto during the Gion festival. I saw it about 20 years ago and it’s pretty cool. Happens on 17 July every year, and IIRC there is about 1 month worth of activities, street fairs, neighborhood things, etc.

Google Gion Matsuri

Gion Matsuri - The Yamahoko Junko

17 July 2005 (Every year)

The annual Gion Matsuri in Kyoto, considered one of Japan’s three most important festivals, is a truly awesome sight to behold. The highlight is the Yamahoko Junko, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

The origins of the festival can be traced back more than 1100 years, to a procession led by a Shinto priest in 869AD to try and appease the gods and halt an outbreak of the plague that was devastating the city. The plague stopped soon after, but the procession remained a popular event and was repeated year after year. In 970AD it was institutionalised and became an official festival of the city.

There are festivities lasting from the first to the last day of July, with street fairs, games and stalls all over the city. However the high point is without doubt the Yamahoko Junko, an incredible procession featuring 32 magnificent floats, divided into two types. The nine enormous Hoko (incredible towering structures up to 24 metres high, with wheels three metres in diameter and weighing up to 12 tons) and the 23 smaller Yama, weighing between one and two tons.

Every float in the parade has a particular meaning, though the order of the floats in the procession is decided anew every year. Many are decorated with ornaments provided by past wealthy citizens, including 15th-century Dutch and Turkish tapestries, making the parade even more colourful and adding historical richness to the spectacle.

The incredible procession, accompanied by the cheers and festive antics of the onlookers, proceeds to roll through Kyoto, passing through the downtown commercial district. The juxtaposition of these ancient, symbolically-charged constructs against the backdrop of high-tech consumer-oriented stores is something to both take your breath away and make you think.

Bring a small hand towel. Bring a pack of tissues too since not all the toilets have TP.

I’m a big baseball fan, so I would recommend going to at least one game in Japan. It’s worth it for the cultural experience. They all start around 6 pm. Since it will be so hot, try to go one in one of the many domed stadiums if need be. Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka all have domed stadiums.

But the most fun stadium is Koshien in Nishinomiya, which is outside Osaka. But the home team, the Hanshin Tigers, are in first place so the stadium will likely be close to sold out every game. But the crowd at Koshien is uniquely Japanese.

I’m not sure of your days in Japan, but the Hanshin Tigers will be playing at home at Koshien Stadium, July 15-20.

It will definitely be a unique Japanese cultural experience. If you’re in Kyoto, you can take one of the many trains to Osaka station, where you get on a Hanshin train and ride it out to Koshien stadium. You would just follow the huge crowds of people dressed up in Hanshin gear. It would be impossible to miss.

no baseball here :confused: I dont leave untill the 22nd, im not in Kyoto untill the 29th

My budget is around the $1800 range, my accomdation and majority of meals and travel from the 22-29th is paid for, i hope thats enough cash!

The Hanshin Tigers will also be at home from July 29-31.

Japan isn’t (doesn’t have to be) AWFULLY expensive (at least since the bubble burst). I was there two years ago and found it . . . almost cheap at times, that is, compared to big cities in the U.S. (this was when the yen/USD ratio was like 135:1). Two weeks ago, when it was down to 108:1 (at least that’s what I got), it was a little tougher, but still not preposterous. If you’re eating Kobe beef, yes, you’ll pay a lot. If you’re getting udon or even sushi, using public transit, etc., it’s not ridiculously expensive at all. As for lodging, I stayed at an over-the-top business hotel, and it was still “only” $USD289 – you could easily pay that in London or New York. More relevantly for your purposes, while booking that, I noted that there were plenty of nice midrange hotels in Tokyo available for far less that that – maybe $80 for something reasonably close to the center/transit.


I don’t know about spending all that time in Kyoto- when I went there all we did was see temples, which were really pretty but monotonous. I’m kind of biased against Kyoto, though. At that point in my trip it was constantly raining and I had begn to find everyone who was there with me extremely obnoxious.

Don’t eat the crackers in Nara, they’re for the deer! (Um… a friend did that… yeah…)

Try to fit in a day or two in Osaka, I had a ton of fun there just wandering around, exploring the different stores.

Eat shabu-shabu and buy lots of things with bad english on them.

Hi, I lived in Japan eight years, including a year in Osaka (near Kyoto). I’ve hosted several American friends and shown them the place. Here is my advice.

**Most important advice first:**In Kyoto, go to Nijojo.. It is one of the few truly impressive tourist attractions in Japan, but it will make your trip worth it. An aboslute must!

OK, let’s look globally at your itinerary. I think I can save you money while greatly increasing the efficiency of your trip. Global advice:

*One week in Tokyo. Then one week in Kyoto/Osaka/Nara. Note that the latter three cities are close together and easily accessible by local trains. In these four cities you can cover 90% of the good tourist spots while getting the best of east and west (two distinct regions in Japan).

*Blow off Hiroshima. It is out of the way and there is not much to see there (admission: I’ve never been there). For the same reason, blow off Nagoya, which really only has the castle (a rather underwhelming reconstruction). I’m not saying that these cities aren’t cool, just that they aren’t great tourist destinations and will suck time away from better stuff.

*Blow off the Japan rail pass. The application process is inconvenient BS, and it is not a great deal unless you are going to wander all over Japan by train, wasting lots of time inside a rail car. Traveling by Shinkansen is not very romantic. The trip between Tokyo and Kyoto is about 2:15, and it is a ripping pain to drag luggage to Tokyo station and lug it onto the train. You will find Haneda airport more user friendly and you will arrive in Osaka in about an hour.

Possible Itinerary
Tokyo is worth a week, especially since you’ll have jet lag and will likely waste a day. Here is what I’d recommend.

Day 1
Arrive at Narita airport, which is out in the sticks. Do NOT take express trains into Tokyo, take the bus directly to where your hotel is. You should stay in Hibiya or Giza (both close to each other). How about the Imperial in Hibiya? It is top class. This area of Tokyo is very safe and is also active at night, letting you get the most of your time.

Spend your first day/night close to the hotel. See the Hibiya Garden and do some excellent people watching in Ginza, Tokyo’s toniest shopping district. Note, because you are staying at a hotel in this area, you can leisurely spend time here at night.

Day 2
Asakusa. This has Tokyo’s most impressive temple, lots of good, old-fashioned restaurants, and a cheesy but interesting shopping area (nakamise).

Day 3
Harajuku, Shibuya, and Shinjuku. This is good especially if this is a Friday or Saturday. These three places (close to each other), are gathering place of Tokyo’s youth. Interesting shopping and people-watching. In Shinjuku, go to Tocho, the capitol of the metropolitan government. It is one of Tokyo’s tallest buildings, and the observation deck is free.

Day 4
Takao Mountain. Tokyo ain’t just city. This easily climbable mountain is in the eastern part of the metropolis, out in the sticks. It’s beautiful, fun, and great exercise. You’ll be up for it by day 4, and you’ll see Tokyo in a whole new light.

Day 5
Tsukiji, Akihabara, Ueno. Tsukiji is a good recommendation from Huerta88. Go early and see the fish market in action. Look at all the crazy vendor stalls. There is also a tremendous Buddhist temple near the station that welcomes tourists. Then go to Akihabara and see all the weird electronics stores and stuff they have there. You can walk from there to Ueno, which has one of Tokyo’s biggest parks and more interesting shopping. In your meanderings in this area, you will also see the poverty of the city: many homeless people and scuzzy areas. In general, however, it is not too dangerous. Try to get to Takenoko restaurant in Akihabara, located in Taito-ku 1-choume. It’s in the back streets and offers a chicken-katsu dinner that is to die for. No tourist knows this place!

Day 6
Sakuragicho, Yokohama. Yokohama is right next to Tokyo, and Sakuragicho is one of my favorite places. At 75 stories, Landmark Tower is one of Asia’s tallest buildings and features a great mall, too. The French restaurant high up on top offers a majestic view of the city and has served me some of the best food I’ve ever had (warning: expensive as hell but worth it!). Your eyes will guide you elsewhere. There is an amusement park with a Ferris wheel, and beyond that is World Porters, another great mall.

Day 7
Time to go to Osaka. If you have time, wander around Ginza some more. It doesn’t get old very easily. Now get your stuff and go to Haneda. You could even take a taxi if traffic is light. Fly to Osaka. Your hotel should be in Umeda area. This is pretty much the Ginza of Osaka. Good wandering is possible.

Day 8
Osaka Castle. It’s a reconstruction (and I’ve never been inside the keep proper, to be frank), but the grounds alone are fantastic and hint at what midaevil Japan was like. Go to Shinsaibashi–this is the Shinjuku of Osaka. Then back to Umeda for nighttime fun.

Day 9
In the morning go to Kyoto and check into your hotel. Let’s make today random temple and attraction day. Frankly, I was never impressed by anything there except Nijyojo, but if you’re going to Japan, you’ve got to do it. Kinkkakuji is a must, and there’s one temple that’s really high up and–oh, I forget the name. All of these places aren’t really active temples anymore; they charge admission. I’m rather cynical.

Now here is some important general advice about Kyoto. The trains suck, and it’s mostly buses. Prepare to walk a lot. The good news is that wandering around Kyoto rewards you. More than the temples, I always enjoyed more the antique stores and various doodads around the city. To me, that’s the real Kyoto. In fact, unless you go out of your way to visit them, you don’t notice the temples all that much.

Here is a culinary tip. Go to Ponta-cho; it’s famous and people will know how to get you there. It’s one narrow street, so you’ll definitely be able to find a restaurant called Shin-Genji. Ask for it if you have to. Get the highest-priced course (last time I checked, ¥5,500 yen). There, you’ve just had the ultimate Japanese meal (with sashimi, fish, tempura, chawanmushi, the works) for a very reasonable price. A must! Sometimes the whole place is rented out for a party. Don’t be discouraged, go back, go back!

Day 10
Nijyjo. Everything else is secondary.

Day 11
I would make this random wandering around Kyoto day.

Day 12
Nara. I only went there on business, but everyone says it’s worth a day, so I believe them.

Day 13
Your choice. There’s Kobe, or more Nara or more Kyoto. I have less advice to offer about these cities because I only lived in that area for a year. You may find Kyoto totally thrilling and want to spend extra time there. You could spend a week just doing different restaurants in Osaka or Kyoto. I do NOT want to give the impression here that there is enough slack to support a trip to Hiroshima or Nagoya. I think that would kill the pace of your trip.

Day 14
The return home! Now, you could fly from Kansai Int’l back to Narita (note: there are very few flights in a day; plan carefully). But a better way would just be to fly out of Kansai. It is a very nice airport and not very crowded. If you can’t fly in to Narita and then out of Kansai, it might even be better to fly into Kansai in the first place and then fly to Haneda from there to start your trip. The reason is that Narita is waaaay out in the boonies, whereas both Kansai and Haneda are fairly close to where you want to be.

Note that the respective int’l airports are separate from the local airports. If you fly into Narita, you’ll have to go into the city and then later use Haneda to fly to the local Osaka airport (both of which are nice and convenient; Kyoto does not have its own airport). If you fly into Kansai Int’l (slightly out of the way, but nowhere near as bad as Narita), you’ll later use the local Osaka airport to fly to Haneda.

I think the flight options, as complicated as they sound, are much better than travel by Shinkansen. If you really want to see what the Shinkansen is like, there’s an easy and cheap way to try it: Take it from Osaka to Kyoto. The trip takes about 15 minutes and is one of the cheapest Shinkansen tickets you can buy. Note: The local train (Hankyu) will get you from Osaka to Kyoto in about 45 min. and at a cost of less than $5.

If you follow the above advice, I think you will have a truly kickass trip that shows a lot of really neat stuff. Happy travels, and please let us know how things turn out for you!

I’ve lived in Tokyo for 15 years now,** Aeschines ** has some great advice. Some comments:

*One week in Tokyo. Then one week in Kyoto/Osaka/Nara./QUOTE]
That’s a pretty good idea. It’s less travel around on the trains, but you get the two major areas. I really do like Hiroshima, though, with a great island nearby Miyajima here . When I brought my mother over, she said that was one of the highlights of her trip. You can also see the Himeji Castle, as mentioned above Here . It’s outstanding.

I agree about skipping Nagoya, although there is a World Expo going on now there, if you’re into that type of thing.

. If you plan your trip right, flying and plans are as cheap as the rail pass. Look into it though.

Far too expensive. I’d recommend the Prince Hotel in Shinjuku. Link Warning! Tiny rooms, but lots cheaper. It’s in Shinjuku, which is a much more happening place.

Note that the Tsukiji fish market is no longer open to the public.

Also note that most Japanese don’t speak English. A friend said that he had better luck asking young women rather than young men. I would think so. Also, more Japanese can read English than speak it (or can understand a native’s pronunciation) so if you have a question, write it on a piece of paper. Also, I’ve seen guide books with bilingual questions (How do I get to (fill in the blank)). They would be useful if you can find one.

Tokyo and Osaka have citibank branches with ATMs that you can get withdraw from overseas accounts. Most other banks do not. More and more places take plastic, but some places don’t work with overseas cards. DON’T exchange money in US airports! They will rip you off. Wait until you arrive in Narita. Citibank ATMs give decent rates. Plan on carrying around several hundred dollars in cash. Don’t bother taking travelers’ checks, even in yen. They aren’t accepted anywhere and will have to be exchanged in a bank. You are better off visiting citibank.

You need to visit Roppogi at night. email me for details. :smiley: