JapanDopers: Tips on visiting Yokohama and area in early August?

Well, it’s time to admit it: there’s a very good chance I will be atending the 92nd World Congress of Esperanto in Yokohama between the 4th and the 11th of August.

This will be my first visit to Japan. Can some kind Japan-dwelling Dopers give me tips on visiting, especially on hotels and such? I think I’ll be able to afford the trip, but it’s going to be a tight squeeze financially, even with my much-improved financial situation.

Now my usual tactic is to stay at youth hostels and take buses and trains everywhere. How doable is the hostel thing in Japan? (I know the train/subway/etc system is excellent–that’s one of the things I want to explore.)

What are typical hotel rates? I’ll look into staying at the official Congress hotel, which I expect will be adjacent to the venue, but I suspect it will be extremely expensive.

What are typical transit costs? Taxis? How do I get from the airport to Yokohama?

I am assuming I’ll be arriving at Narita airport, on one of the Air Canada nonstops from Toronto. (This is around $1700 return Canadian. If I can find something cheaper, I’ll use it, unles I have to connect through the States. That’s just another level of hassle I’d prefer to avoid.)

What’s the weather like at that time of year? Any important customs I should be aware of? What kinds of clothes are recommended? Should I gring gifts? Business cards?

Can I buy food and prepare it myself at the hostel, this saving money over restaurant meals?

(Yes, I am going to get a travel guide.)

Thanks!

Paging TokyoPlayer! (that’s more his neck of the woods than mine, despite the name)

Hotels can vary wildly, just like any other city, but the cheapo hotels are surprisingly good quality. I don’t know if there are any in Yokohama, but if you find a little family-run hostel, they will probably be very foreigner-friendly, as many young tourists have started using them in recent years. A low-cost one can be around JPY3000-5000 (US$25-40) per night, but you may be sharing a shower. Business hotels provide all the basics for about 5000-7000yen per night.

If you want the novelty and aren’t claustrophobic, the famous capsule hotels are about the same price as the hostels and are surprisingly comfortable. They are also more likely to be located close to the conference venue. The one time I stayed at one, however, it had a ‘Japanese-speakers only’ rule. Dunno why, but that may be an issue (it has never been at any other type of hotel I’ve been to).

I just re-read your OP an noticed you’re travelling in mid-August. Tokyo-Yokohama is hot and very humid that time of year. Generally over 35 degrees. Indoors, everything is air-conditioned and drinks are usually easy to find, but be aware if you plan to do any touring around. Hotels usually have good climate control for each room, but hostels may be a crapshoot.

Since you mentioned you’re interested in the trains and buses, remember that Yokohama and Tokyo are almost right on top of each other, so commuting between the two is quite easy. Tokyo station is a 30-minute, 450-yen ride from Yokohama station, Shibuya is 25 minutes and 260 yen, and pretty much anywhere else in the city can be reached in a similar amount of time with minimal transfers. Here’s a decent English-language timetable program that shows how long and how expensive each possible route is.

You’ll probably be landing at Narita airport, which is a long way from Yokohama, but there are occasionally direct trains (2 hours) and buses (2-3 hours) to Yokohama Station, for about 2000 yen. Don’t take a taxi; it will easily cost ten times as much. Inside the city, taxis are handy if you don’t know exactly where you are, or the trains have stopped (they close from around 1am to 5am). The minimum cost is 660 yen, and a ten-minute ride will be about 1000-1500 yen. There’s no tipping, and the drivers are usually pretty good about taking fast routes.

Business cards could be helpful, since it’s pretty common to exchange them at anything even remotely business-related. Gifts aren’t necessary unless you’re staying with someone in their home. T-shirts and shorts are perfectly acceptable anywhere that they’d be ok in Canada. Cheap restaurant food isn’t too hard to find (plus just about all places have menus posted outside), so it will probably be easier to eat out than prepare your own food (although most department stores have supermarkets in the basement that sell some really good prepared foods you could take back to the hotel).

Oh, and here’s a timetable for the Narita Express from the airport. The trains bound for Ofuna also stop at Yokohama. Don’t sweat the reservations, you can buy tickets at the station right up until the train leaves for the same price as buying them in advance.

http://www.jreast.co.jp/nex/e_TimeTable/e_sobu_narita_u/e_sobu_narita2_u/index.html

I’m not a JapanDoper, but here’s my advice! (I studied abroad in Japan for a few months this year).

Youth hostels are perfectly doable in Japan. I stayed at one in Kyoto; it cost 2300 yen (about $21 per night for a bed in a 4 person room. It was small–smaller than any youth hostel I’ve ever stayed in (there was only like 2 showers for everyone)–but clean, pleasant, and convenient. I can’t give you advice about specific hostels in Yokohama, but do keep in mind they sometimes have curfews, unlike in many other countries. So if you’re planning to be out late check that out, and always read reviews from other users, etc. If you don’t do a youth hostel it can, of course, be crazy-expensive. However you can sometimes can a place in a cheap-ass ryokan (actually a minshukan–ryokan are priiiiicey) which are like cheap traditional Japanese guesthouses. I stayed in one in Kyoto as well; it was about 5000 yen per night. Considerably more than a youth hostel, but you get the whole tatami mat/futon experience. If you want that, of course! There may be some food preparing facilities at either of these places, but I would recommend eating at convenience stores and ramen/dollar sushi places. They have really quite tasty bento there, and for a cheap snack I strongly recommend nikumon, which are delicious (a kind of steamed dumpling with unidentifiable meat in it. You can just ask the cashier for nikumon.) It’s filling and only costs about 100 yen. Also, eating out is really almost as cheap as buying groceries because they are very expensive. A small 1-serving pack of chicken can cost around 200 yen; an apple costs 100 yen if you’re lucky and go to a 100 yen shop. Rice is also very expensive and mostly only comes in big honking bags that cost like $20 bucks. Definitely go to these if you do shop, by the way–it’s really not as sketchy as it sounds. They also have 99 yen shops with a lot of food. They have green signs with a big 99 on it–hard to miss!

Buses aren’t quite as great (and considerably more difficult for a non-Japanese speaker), but the train system is amazing and fairly cheap (as you know). Definitely do the train thing–it’s an important part of Japanese culture. Depending on how much luggage you have and bother you want to go to, there’s a large price range in transportation from the airport to Yokohama/Tokyo. Here’s my advice: there’s a great site called japan-guide.com that will tell you practically everything you need to know. If you want train schedules there’s quite a few great sites. Here are 2:

http://grace.hyperdia.com/cgi-english/hyperWeb.cgi

and

http://www.jorudan.co.jp/english/norikae/

Type in Narita on one field and the station closest to wherever you stay in the other field and you should be able to easily find your way around. Seriously: the Japanese train station in the Tokyo metropolitan area is insanely convenient and insanely easy to navigate. It can be crowded but that’s pretty much the only downside. Virtually all the stops will have signs in English; that’s definitely the case for the ride out of Narita. Keep in mind Narita is quite far from Tokyo, and then it’s further on to Yokohama, but it shouldn’t take too long still. There is an express train (the Narita express) that runs between Narita and Yokohama station, but it’s expensive. Really fast though–you pay the premium.

Taxis are very expensive (as a poor student, way out of my price range. I was only in one once, when a rich friend paid.) From the airport, it would be obscene. $100s of dollars.

Not sure about the weather–real JapanDopers can help you there–but in mid-September it was still really hot and very, very humid. Pack light.

About customs–well, there are plenty. But frankly, people don’t really care if you violate them, because you are a foreigner. The only really important one I can think of is: do not walk on a tatami mat floor if you are wearing shoes or slippers; it can damage the floor and is pretty much a no-no. There are others–you’re not supposed to walk while eating, drinking, or smoking, for example. (But people do). And you’re not supposed to place your chopsticks upright in rice… etc. etc. You can read all about that in your guidebook. Just remember, if you see shoes lying around somewhere… you should probably take yours off as well at that point.

Now, if you will be doing sightseeing, you should most definitely go to Tokyo. Yokohama is the second biggest city in Japan, but it can’t compare–nothing can. Also, the big tourist attraction in Yokohama is the Chinatown which would be a little counterintuitive for your first (I’m assuming) trip to Japan. It’s mostly famous for the over-priced food. There’s a ramen museum there though, as well. I never went but it sounded entertaining… I love ramen. There’s also an amusement park with the biggest ferrywheel in the world, if you’re into that kind of thing.

On preview I see Sublight has posted a lot of the same things–but here it is again, if you want confirmation!

You called? funny, because I rarely visit IMHO much, but stumbled here today.

I’ll need to talk to the Moderators about changing my name to YokohamaExPlayer, since I’ve moved, settled down and not longer play!

First, I would recommend this hostel: I haven’t stayed there, but it looks good from their web site and it’s in a really good location. Really reasonable rates, with air conditioning. It looks like they have shared kitchen. Ramen places and other cheap restaurants can be had for about US$10, (without drinks) so eating out doesn’t have to be that expensive.

I usually take the limousine bus from Narita to Yokohama. Web site here because it’s convenient and the busses run more frequently than the train. If you can get the train at the right time, it’s OK, but you sometimes have to wait an hour.

Second what Sublight says, except to emphsize you must bring business cards. I go through them by the hundreds. Also, conventions tend to be more formal than in the States, so you may need to dress a little better than what you would for something in LA, for example. (Not to diss our CA friends.) No problem for shorts and t-shirts for sightseeing, though.

email me (my address is in my profile) and I can send you some sightseeing recommendations and answer any other questions you have.

Thanks, everyone! I’ve looked at the links and I’m starting to get both excited and apprehensive. This would be a huge jump for me in terms of solo travel. The only other overseas place I’ve been was northern Europe in 2000. Much closer to my home in customs and language.

Maybe I will take that intro Japanese class, so I can at least read the signs for “Entrance”, “Exit”, and “Men’s Washroom”…

And maybe we can meet for a mini DopeFest! :slight_smile:

Mini-bulp…

The Congress has put out its second bulletin (warning: PDF, not in English) giving listings of hotels and other events. Lots of choices, but I’ll keep your recommendations in mind too.

I’d definitely look into the 'manga kissaten’s (literally 'manga cafe). Check outa this link on them.

They used to be a bit skeavy, but I’ve been in some that have been downright comfy; the gf and I actually spent about five hours in one when we had some downtime checking out magazines, DVDs, I got in some gaming action - most places are well-lit, will have non-smoking sections (that may or may not be right next to the smoking sections) , will have a place to shower, and will be big enough to stretch out/lie down for the night, all for about $50 or so. Smaller than a hotel room? Sure. But most hotel rooms don’t come with as many amenities, plus free coffee/soft drinks.

I don’t know any places in Yokohama, but I’m sure there are some anywhere near the major stations.

Beware - walking outside in Early August will be like swimming through an ocean of sweat. The heat and humidity can be unbearable - sandals (you can buy some nice tatami ones here) and lots of changes of underwear and socks are absolutely essential.

If you’re going to travel outside Kanto (the Tokyo area), I suggest a JR Pass - one week’s unlimited travel is cheaper than a regular return fare to Kyoto.

Here’s my brief opinion on some places in Japan:

  • Tokyo. Unmissable. Makes New York look provincial. Don’t miss the (free) Tokyo Metropolitan Govt towers, tsukiji fish market and the Tokyo National Museum.

  • Mount Fuji. Overnight climbing in august. A memorable experience.

  • Osaka. Also cool but just another big city really.

  • Kyoto. overrated tourist trap - and will be jam packed in August. Instead, try…

  • Nara. Stunning, much less crowded than Kyoto and the deer roam free. Beautiful.

  • Hiroshima/miyajima. A bit of a trek but free on the JR Pass and it’d be a shame to visit Japan and not go.

  • Hokkaido. More out of the way but a nice change from the oppressive August humidity.

Absolutely no need to learn the Japanese language. Your attempts at incomprehensible Japanese will be met with equally incomprehensible English.

Japan will always be a cripplingly expensive place to visit compared to the rest of East Asia (except the DPRK, I guess) - but with the weak yen now’s the time.

Cymro