Planning my Japan trip, part trois: what to do when I get there?

Yet another thread in my series* setting up a trip to Japan next year.

I’ve naiiled down a time: the last two weeks of October and the first week of November. Some exploration of Air Canada’s site reveals that I can get a return ticket Toronto to Tokyo for $1200 Canadian (it’s at the extreme end of allowable bookings, so I couldn’t actually book a date a year from now).

I plan to stay in youth hostels and inns (ryokan). These seem to be around $40/night. I’ll assume $50 to get some breathing room. For 15 nights, that’s $750. I’ll allot $1000 to be safe. If I’m lucky, I might get to stay a night with someone for free via Pasporta Servo; a few years ago I had a guy from Japan stay at my place in Toronto through that service.

I plan to be traveling with my friend, who is of anime-geek persuasion. We’ll probably want to visit things like the Studio Ghibli museum.

What can I expect to pay for transport and food? I see Japan Rail passes for around $500 Canadian for a week for the most expensive one. But also what about things like tourist passes for the subway, etc? What are good places to buy food for making it yourself at the youth hostel?

Also, I’ll have to set some money aside for souvenirs.

Is late October too late in the year to climb Mt. Fuji?

I’m a railway geek; I definitely want to take a journey on the shinkansen. I need to read up on possible destinations.

And lastly, but definitely not least, perhaps some JapanDopers would be available for a get-together? :slight_smile:

[sub]*The Japan Series:
Try the Japanese! It’s Invigorating! (2006)
I signed up for Japanese lessons! (June 2009)
Weather: what’s the best time to travel to Japan? (Nov 2009)
Will a Canadian iPhone 3G work in Japan? (Nov 2009)

Weather-wise you are in great shape. The hot summer months have passed and the snow hasn’t started to fall up north.

October is also good for the hostels. The university students are back in school so finding a bed shouldn’t be a problem.

A rail pass is a must. The shinkansen trains are so fast that you can go almost anywhere in country in a matter of hours.

Try to get up to northern Honshu. The scenery from the train is fantastic and it is one of the most traditional areas of the country. Hiraizumi is especially beautiful.

Skip Nikko! There are many other places that are less touristy and much more interesting.

Train stations are great places to find something to eat. The food is tasty, cheap and you get it fast. Department stores are also good for getting something to eat.

See Kyoto and Nara, but also try to get to Takayama and Himeji Castle. Its the finest original wooden castle. Most of the others in the country were bombed during WWII and rebuilt with concrete.

Get an English/Japanese dictionary with lots of useful sentences in it. Unlike most languages, you can read the Japanese sentences to the local people and they will actually understand you!

Mt Fuji is open for climbing in July and August only. So yes, October is too late.

Check out this thread:

You might be interested in seeing the snow monkeys. Monkeys that lounge in the hot springs. It is in a place that is called, if I remember correctly, Jigokudani.

If food interests you, every department store has a food wonderland in its basement.

And don’t expect people to speak English. They study it, but that’s different from practicing speaking it. Very different.

If you want to do the shinkhansen a lot, definitely get the 14-day “ordinary” Japan Rail Pass. Unlike the Eurailpass, this pass is good for consecutive days, whether you use them or not. For instance, if you want to travel on the first and tenth days of your trip, you’d need the 14-day pass. Book bullet train travel at the station. Local travel in Tokyo, just flash the pass at the guy in the booth. It doesn’t work at the turnstyles. On my last trip I got the pass because it was almost $100 USD less expensive than the one round-trip fare from Tokyo Narita to Hakodate. Pass on the green car. It’s a waste of money.

Cheap food? Instant noodles (ramen). You’ll find them for about 100-200 yen for the basic ramen in a bowl and around 500 yen for the ones with more vegetables/meat in them. While you’d think the 100-yen shops would be the place to get them cheaply, I often found them at the grocery store cheaper. Convenience stores aren’t as outrageously priced on food as in the US. They also have fresh sandwiches, noodles, and cooked food.

How could I forget? One of the other Japan Dopers can give more details but grocery stores mark down their fresh bread and bread-related products (pizza, rolls), sushi and similar prepared foods at night. In my village the discounting started after 6pm. After 9pm or so there was another round of markdowns. If you’re not picky you can get some great deals late in the evening. Look for the damaged vegetable bin, too, for savings.

Souvenirs, plan on 1000 yen per item at landmarks. You may find less expensive but, realistically, for budgeting allow at least that much. You can cheap out by raiding the 100 yen stores, but the items will be rather generic. Here’s a for instance: I got a box of Hokkaido Kit Kat bars (yes, candy bars specific to that prefecture) for about $12 USD. There were eight 2-bar packs inside.

Lastly, I’m going to do what I do with every Japan visit thread: recommend the temple at Kamakura and heading over to Diabutsu (the Big Buddha). There are many temples in the area around the Big Buddha to explore and there’s even a beach.

I found the rail system in Tokyo very easy to use despite not knowing any Japanese. Everything was fairly logical and the fare vending machines even had an English button in the JR stations. After a day I was quite confident about getting where I needed to go without assistance.

I was staying with friends most of the time and going out to eat when I wasn’t so didn’t really do any grocery shopping.

One thing to note (although you may know already) is that Japan is very much a cash society still. Most places don’t seem to take plastic at all. The Japan Post money machines accepted my New Zealand cards alright (and also had an English button) so I tended to take out a stack of yen when my wallet got low. Oh and I’ve already put my highlights to see in the Cafe society thread.