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So what do you all think of a trip to Japan?

I've just finished planning out my spring trip to Europe and my mind has turned to Fall 2016. I'm going to do something different and I was hoping for a little feedback. I know I'm going to opt for an organized tour so I can just show up and relax (as opposed the the Europe itineraries I labor over for months) and I know I want to go somewhere other than Europe. I've weighed endless possibilities. I like the idea of Argentina and Chile for two weeks. I hear awesome things about Thailand and Vietnam. But I keep thinking Japan might be best. It's a nonstop flight from Seattle, I can drink the water, crime is pretty low and the weather will be warm, but not hot. I think it seems like a nice, low-stress way to get a glimpse of a new country.

My travel partner, though, is decidedly lukewarm about Japan. Have any of you done the standard Tokyo, Kanazawa, Takayama, Kyoto two week tour? What did you think?

Posted by
1834 posts

Here's a thought. Go from SeaTac to Narito in Japan and then on to Manila. Stay at the La Corona Hotel. The hotel has(had) a government travel lady who can plan tours for you. She did a wonderful job for us. We used the water but there was a label over the sink saying not to. Its warm. Tourists do not seem to be bothered by criminals at the popular spots. There is shopping close by AND San Miguel beer in 1000 mililiter bottles.

Posted by
2788 posts

Have you posted your question on a web site dedicated to travel in Japan? You would probably get many more and better responses than this web site dedicated to European travel.

Posted by
2133 posts

I haven't posted there yet. I was hoping some similar-minded RS/Europe devotees with similar travel philosophies might be able to weigh in. There's a lot of awesome posters on this site that I've been following for a long time and their input would be extra-helpful. I'll try elsewhere too if I strike out here:)

Posted by
6871 posts

My first thought is how expensive would it be after you get there?

We were wanting to go to Australia and take a cruise over to New Zealand next month. The airfare alone was more than our flight to Copenhagen AND the Baltic Cruise. I just keep on coming up with travel bargains online drawing me back to Europe.

Posted by
13082 posts

I spent three weeks in Japan over Christmas and New year about 15 years ago and absolutely loved it. I was with my college-age son. We did not take a tour; we traveled independently but visited two friends who were living there. We went to Kyoto, Nara, and Ise together; my son also went to Tokyo.

The language barrier makes it interesting but we managed. We found the Japanese people to be very kind and helpful. The food is delicious. Kyoto is a lovely city, very walkable. The palaces, temples, and shrines are all beautiful and interesting to visit. Everything is expensive.

Posted by
2133 posts

@David -

Yep - I can always do bargains to Europe - that's how I ended up with another Europe trip for April 2016 when THAT trip was supposed to be to Asia or South America. But this time I am determined. Prices run the gamut. $4000 each including airfare for 10 nights with SmarTours (used them for Turkey - big group, but it was just fine). Around $5000 for Gate1's 22 person similar group. Overseas Adventure Travel coming in higher, but the trip is two nights longer. It's expensive, absolutely. South America would total out about the same. Thailand and Vietnam at about half the cost. But boy, during Seattle's two-week heat wave, I was a big baby about those high temperatures. I really didn't like them!

Posted by
13082 posts

Valerie, if you do not like heat like we had in the Puget Sound region last week, do not go to Japan in the summer! It can be hot and worse, humid. A Japanese friend who lives here now says she hates going to see her parents in the summertime, because of the heat and humidity.

Spring and fall are supposed to be really nice. We were there in December and it was fine weather-wise, but the leaves were off the trees in many places. It was fun and interesting to see the holiday traditions and celebrations, so that was a good time to go.

Posted by
565 posts

Japan is fantastic! It's not nearly as expensive as everybody thinks it is, nor is it as difficult to navigate as everybody thinks it is. Signs in English are everywhere, and everyone in the hotel industry speaks English. Restaurants almost always have photos or plastic models of food so you can point to what you want.
Crime is not low-it's pretty much non-existent. Tokyo is usually ranked as the safest city in the world and people routinely fall asleep in city parks after the last train has pulled out of Shinjuku station for the night. When in the fall are you planning on going? I went in early/mid-September and it was HOT. At least 85F every day. But a perk to traveling in September is a visit to the sumo tournament at the Ryogoku in Tokyo.
I highly recommend a visit to this fascinating country. PM me with any questions.

Posted by
2133 posts

I was thinking September, but could easily do October or November as it will clearly be cooler and it's also about 10% less to travel. Thanks for your messages so far!

Posted by
809 posts

Valerie, my daughter and I had a great 2-week trip to Japan in January 2011 - our first non-Europe/US sightseeing trip. My niece was working in Kyoto for 2 years, so we seized the chance to visit her and see more of the country. We spent 2 days at the start of our trip in Tokyo, about a week in Kyoto including side trips to Osaka and Kobe, 2 days in Hiroshima, and 3 days at the end back in Tokyo but in a different neighborhood from our first stop. We found it VERY easy to get around in these tourist cities - much signage in English, and easy public transportation. My niece is fluent in Japanese so when we were with her we got a bit off the tourist track, but we really didn't have any problems during the time on our own.

I warmly recommend the book Confucius Lives Next Door, written by the Washington Post bureau chief in Tokyo who lived there with his family for about 5 years. It really whetted my appetite for the trip. Feel free to PM me with any specific questions.

Posted by
1855 posts

A few years ago we took a repositioning cruise from Seattle to Japan and it was a terrific trip. My partner was more than lukewarm about travel to Japan, and said "Maybe" if I could find a cruise. Ha ha. Gotcha. We visited several ports but then stayed 6 nights on our own in Kyoto and it was extraordinary! We took a few day trips and it was wonderful. We stayed at the Westin In Kyoto, which is not our typical style, but nothing comes cheap there and it was within the general price range of most hotels, if not a little better than many. It was great for convenience, location and comfort. The toilet had a dashboard with more buttons than my dishwasher. The subway station is a few feet away. It was an enlightening trip...the first time we really experienced what it felt like to be an instantly recognizable minority. It was the most foreign travel experience we had had. We did not experience hostility, and many people were helpful, but by and large my impression was that the Japanese sense of manners, behaviors, etc. make the Europeans seem downright gushy, gregarious and boisterous in comparison. Far fewer spoke English than we anticipated. However, we managed quite well on our own and with the help of locals. The plastic food models helped, but sometimes not. You'd be surprised at what can look like chicken when presented in polystyrene. I learned to steer my partner toward the models or pictures after I spotted "Squid Guts" and "Chicken tendons" on the few English menus we found. Another shocker was how difficult it was to find wifi locations in a nation we equated with computer technology superstardom. The Japanese DO NOT eat while walking, and we got daggers stared while licking our ice cream cone for 3 seconds before we got to the bench on the street to sit down. Japanese was a daunting language for me, and I learned a few basic phrases. But I soon buckled down to learn the longer, more complex (polite, or formal) forms and the change in attitude that we witnessed was astounding, e.g., Ohayou (good morning) was easy enough, but resulted, at best, in a cool reception, whereas Ohayou gozaimasu brought altogether a different response. I underestimated that one, big time. All in all it was a real learning experience, and the best part of travel in my estimation...learning something. I will return and hope you can make it, too. I took a quick look, and while a cruise might not be your cup of tea, Celebrity Millennium leaves for Shanghai from Vancouver 11 Sept with a few stops in Japan. Sayonara!

Posted by
2133 posts

Ohhhh thank you all for taking the time to reply - I really appreciate the input!!

Posted by
380 posts

Hi, Valerie

You might want to look at Lonely Planet to get an overall view to narrow down where to go in Japan. There're so much to see and do. Also check out Tripadvisior. Be sure to check that your days do not overlap with major Japanese holidays like cherry blossom season, Golden Week, Fall foliage season. It will be very crowded and expensive then.

You can learn some elementary Japanese on Japanesepod101.com. They will teach you the politeness level of the expressions.

In the previous post, the reason why Ohayo by itself got negative reactions is because you would only say this to your family or closest friends. It is rude to say it to strangers. The polite form is adding the gozaimasu at the end.

You will not regret going to Japan. It will be a great experience.

Posted by
9 posts

Valerie,
Reading these replies are encouraging! My husband and I are planning a trip to Japan this coming winter to go snowboarding. A different time of year, but! I want to see and do some cultural things outside of snowboarding too! I will post a separate question for more help :)
Wanted to share, I have the Lonely Planet book for Japan. It's nice for some history and cultural things as well as the highlights. I knew nothing about Japan before looking through the Lonely Planet book, so it's been my introduction. It's no Rick Steves though! My family has enjoyed Europe "with Rick" (his guide books) for years, and I wish he had a book for Japan!
If you find any other good resources for planning a trip to Japan, please share! And I will do the same!
Happy Travels!
Carrie

Posted by
2133 posts

Hi to Carrie just 15 miles north of me:)

I have yet to do extensive research about our trip because I'm still trying to convince myself to take a tour instead of go it alone. I plan almost all of our trips and it's very cost-effective but it's also exhausting. I really feel like my first trip to Japan might be more enjoyable if I tour around with a group. So, while I've looked at Lonely Planet and a few other books, I've really been researching Gate 1, Smartours, Intrepid, InsideJapan and Samurai tours and haven't invested too much time in logistics planning.

Posted by
99 posts

I say Go for it! Japan is unique. It is unlike any other Asian country. I took my husband on a 3 week trip around Honshu by train. in 1992. (I lived there as a child and learned Japanese).

Regarding public transportation. The trains are safe and reliable, but commuter trains are crazy during rush hours. Avoid using them at those times.

Station signs are written in Romaji (English letters) as well as Japanese; in Tokyo and Kyoto English is widely spoken by those in the hospitality industry. Outside the tourist track not so much (Even though Ebglish is taught from 7th grade on)

People can and do travel independently. If you do, you might consider using a travel agency to book short day tours. Taxis are expensive, but they are clean and the driver won't rip you off. Take your hotel's info with you so if you get lost, you can use a taxi to get back.

Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara (an easy day trip from Kyoto) and Nikko would be my suggestions for a two week trip.
You can contact the Japan Travel Bureau for a list of reasonably priced accomodations. The booklet has contact ifo for them. (We enjoyed Turtle Inn in Nikko). The Japan railpass can be a great money saver.

It won't be stress free, but it will be very rewarding. It's a fascinating country with many layers.

Posted by
3304 posts

We traveled to Japan independently, almost 30 years ago. Admittedly, our daughter was living there; and she and a former home-stay student of ours did quite a bit of ushering us around. However, we traveled in Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and some smaller towns by ourselves. People were kind and went out of their way to be helpful. It's probably less expensive now than it was then because of a much weaker yen. You can find inexpensive inns and restaurants if you get away from the big chain hotels and can go without eating much beef.
It's an utterly fascinating country with gorgeous scenery, fabulous art, and many interesting historic sights. Do it!

Posted by
10344 posts

Kyoto has been called the spiritual and cultural capital of Japan.
It's one of the few cities that was not fire-bombed to the ground in WW2, and so most of its historical wooden structures still exist, rare in Japan.

Posted by
1 posts

Rick Steves is the best in the business, but for some reason, he thinks the whole world is Europe. Unfortunately, there aren't that many decent Japan travel guides. Globetrekkers is a joke. This is the only decent Japanese travel guide I could find:

http://www.amazon.com/Lets-Tokyo-Japan-Resource-Media/dp/B001PF73TU/ref=sr_1_sc_2?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1439072959&sr=1-2-spell&keywords=cheryl+gillepsie

Rudy Maxa may have one, but I'm not sure

Posted by
13082 posts

Rudy Maxa does have a Japan program---Tokyo and Kyoyo. You can buy the DVD on the Smart Travels website. I could not find it available for streaming.

Posted by
13082 posts

Rudy Maxa does have a Japan program---Tokyo and Kyoyo. You can buy the DVD on the Smart Travels website. I could not find it available for streaming.

Posted by
4 posts

I spent 10 days in Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima in 2008...it was wonderful. We did not stay in western hotels...we stayed in traditional Japanese inns (ryokans)...They say that if Japan were a person, Tokyo would be the brain, Kyoto the heart and Osaka the stomach! You could check w Yuko Tweed at Sankei Travel for flight and tour information:

Yuko Tweed (Shiozawa)
Sankei Travel of Americas
2033 6th Ave. Suite 251
Seattle, WA 98121
TEL: 206-728-7130
FAX: 206-441-6730
email: yuko@sankeiseattle.com
website: www.sankeiseattle.com

Posted by
19 posts

My husband and I loved Japan. We went for work purposes back in March of 2008 and took an extra 5 days in Kyoto. We had the luxury of having an English-speaking colleague showing us around in several areas (Tochigi, Sapporo, Osaka, Kansai), but not an organized tour, and we were on our own in Kyoto. Kyoto is incredible, absolutely worth your time and should not be missed, and everywhere we went was beautiful, fascinating and friendly. Japan was the first non-European/N. American country I'd visited, and I loved how exotic it was compared to what I was used to, and yet safe and friendly. (The low crime rate took a lot of worry off of the possibility of getting lost and being basically illiterate . . .)
My husband was not all that crazy ahead of time to go to Japan, and I had twisted his arm at the time to join me. Now that we're kicking ideas around on our next trip, guess who has brought up the idea of going back to Japan? Yup, my husband.

Posted by
1180 posts

I went four times to Tokyo for business and my four three-weeks stays have included what the Japanese would call the full experience - a thyphoon, cherries flowering, snow, an heat wave in early September, several earthquakes including the March 2011 big one, and even a small bit of radioactivity from Fukushima.

Tokyo is an incredible metropolis, very safe, at times very confusing (understanding the patterns of metro and private railways interchanges is not easy, and getting lost in the Shinjuku station is also quite easy). Do not expect English to be widely spoken, and even if spoken it is not understood; but you can manage on your own somehow. Shopping is incredible and probably the best part of walking around. There are not so many thing to see - I tell this as I live in Italy where there are so many antiquities to see - but the incredible thing are the very Japanese people and trying to understand their way of thinking. Japan is safe not only because there is a lot of police around - mostly helping everybody and giving directions - but because the society is so structured and polices itself.

As you are considering Argentina and Chile as well: my business brought me also in Santiago once and Buenos Aires two times. Santiago is somewhat a somber and grey city, but for the quarter with the Neruda home. Chileans are somewhat the Germans of South America - the organization is not as bad as in other places and there are not so many poor people around. A postcard made from Santiago to Italy in a few days. But a fellow in my group had his suitcase stolen while we were boarding a bus.

Buenos Aires could be one of the great capitals of the world had not been destroyed by bad politics in the last fifty years. The opera house and the Ateneo bookshop, memories of a bygone era, are astounding. The people are very bright - only in London and New York you can find as many theaters and music places - but the city is very run down. Personal safety is not a concern but making it without being separated from your money or your belongings may be - locals told us to be careful with our suitcases as they get easily stolen. A postcard was very difficult to send - you can buy stamps only from post offices, good luck to find one of them open - and it took four months to reach Italy.

I would go to Japan first.

Posted by
6871 posts

Hi Valerie,
I share your interest in visiting Japan one day as well. If, for whatever reason Japan doesn't work out, I want to put out a recommendation for Argentina. I did the trip with two friends only to the northwestern part of the country (you cannot under-estimate how huge it is) which required a lot of planning on my end, since internal flights (from Buenos Aires to Iguazu Falls, and Buenos Aires to Salta) and a car rental was involved. The weather was great since it was their fall (and hence, May in the US). It was an extremely good value for the money, except for the flights and rental car (gas was really inexpensive but rental was quite pricey). It really wasn't stressful, except that we packed in more than we could chew. The country is vast and the landscape is gorgeous, and it was wonderful to see such a diversity of sites and landscapes. A tour would cost a lot more than a do-it-yourself trip, but do check out Southern Explorations since they are based near you (Seattle area).

http://www.southernexplorations.com/

Posted by
5576 posts

Just FYI: Valerie, the OP, has not posted in this thread since mid-July, so recent comments may not be seen by her. That said, Japan is indeed a wonderful place. I can't wait to go back (going again in a few months).

Posted by
2133 posts

I'm still reading:) I still haven't decided yet, though. My gut feeling is that I want to take a tour but I'm too cheap to shell out the money when it's so much less expensive when I plan my own trips. I'm sure I could figure it out on my own but boy would it be a lot of work. So I'm stalled out, but I totally appreciate all the continuing input.

Posted by
5576 posts

Oh, well, since you're still reading...I'll try and answer some of your initial questions...

Organized tour versus on your own? Tastes vary, of course. I am NOT a tour-group person. After my first trip to Japan about a year ago, I would say that Japan is about as easy to deal with as a tourist as many places in Europe. The language barrier is there but it's not a real limitation - we don't speak any real Japanese beyond the basics of hello, thank you, etc. and never really had trouble. As you say, it's an easy, non-stop flight from Seattle - easier/shorter than flying to Europe. Safe water - check. Safe everything - check. Warm weather? Hmmm. Maybe in September, but if you're really thinking "fall" (October/November) be prepared for cooler weather. Of course, it depends on what part of Japan, but if you stick to the main tourist circuit, don't expect warm sunshine and balmy temps. It was cold (and occasionally rainy) when we were there (late October) - we even got a little snow one day around Hakkone.

We did a little over 2 weeks Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, with a few side trips out of the urban areas (Takayama, Niko, the area around Mt Fuji). It was awesome, and far exceeded my expectations. Going back again for a week in February. IMHO, if you can manage travel to Europe on your own (and really, anybody can with just a little effort), then you can manage the same in Japan. Highly highly recommended.

Posted by
8293 posts

I, on the other hand, advise a tour. We were there for an international congress and for a few days were on our own in Tokyo. It was very difficult due to the language barrier and I know we would have seen and done much more had we been with a group. Just buying a ticket at the train station was a major hassle, the one agent who deals with English speaking tourists being off sick that day. Having travelled all over Europe with only English, French, some Italian and 20 words in German, I was taken aback at how frustrating it was to be almost mute in Japan.

Posted by
2133 posts

I'm still reading even now, but here's the update: I'm still hoping to go to Japan and, while I'm certain I could figure it out on my own, I just want the comfort of being led around for my first trip there. However, none of that is currently relevant because last week a $750 nonstop roundtrip showed up on Kayak, taking me into Beijing and out of Shanghai and so I booked a trip to China!! I'm using Smartours, as I've used them before and I like them, and the trip cost is $1300. So total cost is at about $2400 (including upgraded air to Comfort Class on Delta), once I factor in the visa for China. Japan was going to cost me $5000 no matter how I worked it out and I didn't have $5000 to work with. And believe it or not, my travel partner, who was lukewarm about Japan, has been to China before and really liked it.

Posted by
8293 posts

Good for you. Excellent decision, especially considering the price.

Posted by
3 posts

This will be an amazing trip. Japan is a charming country, for the one to visit or stay in a short time (not live for a long time like me).