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Going to Japan, where to begin

(62 Posts)
greyfriarskitty Wed 15-Nov-17 22:08:06

We are thinking of going to Japan for three weeks in the spring with DD who is 11. We would like to travel outside Tokyo and possibly go to a theme park; that's about as far as we have got. DD is obsessed with manga and kawaii and so as long as she goes to some shops will be happy beyond belief.

I know that our dates (not in our control) may mean that we hit cherry blossom season - will that make it really difficult?
Also, should we start in a hotel and ride out the jet lag there? We are considering doing AirBnB as well, but will we cope/eat?
What else do we need to know? When do we book? I'm used to going to Europe and knowing my way around, so am out of my depth.

Thank you in advance!

loveablether Wed 15-Nov-17 22:17:02

Things I learned from a recent conversation with people about their Japan business trip

The trains are excellent - everyone stands in line and there’s no pushing
They have a huge amount of flavours of kitkats
The vending machine sell some crazy things including iPads
The face masks are more about them keeping their germs away from everyone else instead of fearing catching something
The car parks are crazy machines that store and recover your car
You see some pretty weird and wonderful outfits

I found it fascinating! Good luck on your plans!

LikeTheShoes Wed 15-Nov-17 22:30:25

Japan is amazing. It is HOT and HUMID in the summer, I'm not sure about blossom time although apparently it can be really busy.

The trains are fantastic, get a JR pass (you have to get it before you go) but it will be cheaper than 1 long journey, it isn't much more expensive to go 1st class about £30 more (green car) but I don't think it was really worth it tbh (although if it's super busy, maybe it would be)

Go to Nara and see the deer. It is completely magical.

There is an amazing island called Naoshima, we stayed in a yurt on the beach, the island was covered in modern art, I've never been anywhere like it. (The food was interesting... -but I am fussy)

Absolutely everyone we met was lovely, so so lovely they couldn't do enough for us, we spoke very little Japanese and it wasn't really a problem at all.

We went to Disney Sea and it was fantastic!

Do not fly Aeroflot. It is not worth the saving! (Although if you do, when they loose your luggage you can just replace it all in Uniqlo for pennies and it's all great!)

I was quite reluctant to go and totally fell in love with everything and can't wait to go back!

Halsall Wed 15-Nov-17 22:33:51

If you're going to travel around a lot on trains (including bullet trains - shinkansen) you should buy a Japan Rail Pass. They can only be bought in advance from outside Japan and give free travel (or sometimes you need to pay a supplement for some bullet trains). They may not seem especially cheap upfront but they could save you a lot of money if you plan to make a few trips. You don't need to make that many trips for it to pay for itself, actually.

Cherry blossom season is very busy I believe, and yes, you'd need to get accommodation booked well in advance (I've never travelled at that time of year but I've heard it's very, very booked up). I'm sure other posters will know more about that.

Eating will be fine. There are a million places. Every department store has a top floor that consists of lots of different restaurants; every (enormous) railway station has dozens of places to eat. It's brilliant fun.

You'll have a great time, OP. Look out for any festivals local to where you're staying - these are great things to experience and full of colour and excitement. I'm hugely jealous grin

Ask away and I'll try to answer any more questions you have. I've been a few times and loved it.

goingbonkers123 Wed 15-Nov-17 22:39:15

Haijuku street in Tokyo is where you’ll find the crazy outfits
Try booking a ryokan for a few nights for the traditional Japanese experience (one with an onsen if possible)
It’s a very safe city and very respectful- people go out of their way to help.
Kyoto for the geisha/Maiko - fascinating
Look at organised tours (without flights if your organising your own) as they pack a huge amount in.
Lake ashi is good and you can do a nice boat trip
Underground is big but manageable and commuters very polite
Try a karaoke bar and sushi belt restaurant
The fish market in Tokyo is interesting
The food is brilliant but learn how to use chopsticks now.
Could you book a night in a capsule hotel?
Enjoy it’s awesome

LikeTheShoes Wed 15-Nov-17 22:41:28

Oh, there is basically no free WiFi anywhere. We got a portable hotspot to share for about £10 for 10 days.

A 1 yen coin floats* on water

* Actually it doesn't, but it is so light that it can be held up by the surface tension of the water. It is really cool!

WiseDad Wed 15-Nov-17 22:42:26

I did this with my six year old once and then again thr next year. Things to do are limitless. There is a huge robot in a Japanese street somewhere if I can dig out the reference.

It's worth going to visit a castle just to see the scale of the things. Himeji is great and iconic. Osaka is rebuilt but has a great museum about the battles which all boys will love. Girls perhaps less so!

Osaka has a world class acquarium, and a transport museum nearby that has a train simulator with a real train compartment.

Cherry blossom leads to lots of opportunities for people watching. There is a webpage that shows the status of cherry blossom across thr country. - google and you will find it. Just remember Japan is long so north and south will have different timings for blossom so if you move up it is later so you should catch some.

Train pass is essential. You can be a more expensive version in Japan but best to get it before you travel as will cover all of Japan rather than just a section.

Kyoto is likely to be dull for an eleven year old as it is mostly temples rather than sights. My son's were not impressed except when we went out late one evening and stayed In a small restaurant where err.. businessmen met their young lady friends.

Try to find a volcano or two to visit. Mt Aso is good but often closed as too dangerous. We collected volcanic dust from Kagoshima streets as it was thick everywhere.

We loved staying in a temple lodging in Koyasan. The train ride is brilliant and ends in a cable car journey up the mountain. Maybe a little too temple focused though but my son found it interesting and loved the unusual cemetery with company mausoleums.

On jet lag, it sucks so best to try to change time zone as soon as you can otherwise you find you have missed large chunks of days you have planned to do things.

Travel takes no time by the trains provided you stick to the bullet train routes. Once off those things slow down significantly so planning ahead is important.

There is a manga museum in Osaka if I recall but there is bound to be something similar in Tokyo. Tokyo is just huge though so just because its in Tokyo might mean it will take ages to get there.

Try to eat out with Japanese food before you go to get the idea. Just not sushi as that isn't as typical as we imagine. Yakitori are worth a try. Curry is a fall back. Noodles with lots of different options. Try a bento box or two just to get familiar before you go. You are capable with chopsticks? It isn't a big deal and just remember "forku" plus a smile works to get a fork.

There is a great kindle book called something like "15 minute Japanese" which breaks down the language to essentials and was very useful to us so we could make more structured requests other than just pointing. Oh and helpful for reselling allergies as well.

Have a great time. We loved it and want to go back but with so much of the world to explore who knows when we will get a chance.

Halsall Wed 15-Nov-17 22:52:17

Incidentally OP, the underground in Tokyo has announcements in English as well as Japanese; the route maps are also in English so it's easier to get around - though getting your head round the subway system might take a bit of doing. The main train stations are vast and have multiple entrances/exits. But people are very helpful.

Todamhottoday Thu 16-Nov-17 02:45:37

I have been to Japan many many times, had the pleasure of covering the whole country from the top of Hokkaido right down to the small Islands in the South and everything in-between. Lived in Kyoto for a short while as well.

We have never used a travel agent and do everything ourselves, it gives you the flexibility of going at your own pace.

Its a wonderful country to visit and so much to do. As a first time visitor it can seem overwhelming and some places in Tokyo are just so blade-runner!

As you will be there in blossom time it will be busy and more expensive, however if you do your homework and book ahead you can get reasonable accommodation. Also as the blossom changes due to dates, thats a whole other story...

What I would do first is get a good guide book, have a look at what appeals to you and your family. Work out a plane of whats important and have a mix of temples/shopping/theme park/general walking about.

You can cover a lot in 3 weeks and with the excellent trains you can get around very easy. You will find staff in stations helpful and many signs and info is in English.

If your planning to use trains a lot the JR Pass (Japan Rail) is a great investment. But to get the most out of it you need a plan of where your wanting to go. Initially the cost may appear expensive but the cost of trains is expensive. But you cannot use it on all Bullet train, the fastest ones charge more. You buy the passes before you arrive in Japan as they are only available to foreigners. Reserving seats is also advisable esp during blossom time, passes can be purchased for 7, 14, & 21 days usage. There is a website where you can plan and check prices of tickets, but dont want to bog you down putting links and so on just yet.

Foreigners can also get cheaper airfares with some airlines, but dont think you will need that on this visit!

As far as AirBnB goes look carefully as to where the accommodation is, you need to be near transport and not out in the outskirts of places making it difficult to get around. Also remember Japanese accommodation will be small and not have all the facilities you want, and they are very big on noise and keeping quiet in apartments and dealing with rubbish and the like!

But its fun to wander round the supermarkets, and the department stores who sell food (and lots of reductions at the end of the day). Oh and I love the 100yen shops,you will find lots of 'stuff' to bring back, a great place for Japanese kitchenware and things you never knew you needed, some are better than others but there all over the place.

I could go on and on, but you need a solid route in place and really time is moving along if its next spring your looking at.

If you need any help just ask!

Todamhottoday Thu 16-Nov-17 02:48:02

...and sorry for any spelling/grammar mistakes, multi tasking !

nooka Thu 16-Nov-17 03:12:14

We did a three week trip just before cherry blossom season a couple of years ago with ds and dd (then 15 and 14). It was a really fun experience. We got a JR pass, started in Tokyo, then went to a ryokun in the Japanese Alps (dd's choice and one of the highlights of the trip), then down to Kyoto (a bit disappointing, although your dd will love the manga museum), Nara (fun), Osaka (crowded and hot but also fun and the aquarium is cool), Hiroshima (lovely town, the museum is a bit harrowing), Miyajima (beautiful and relaxing), Kagoshima and on to Yakushima (for the forests and a bit of countryside) and then back to Tokyo.

We'd love to go back, spend some more time in Tokyo and see the North. ds, dd and dh are all learning Japanese which would make it even better as while lots of people have some English it is a bit of a barrier. You'll have a fantastic time smile The only thing we'd do differently I think is not get over jetlag in Tokyo as it's a bit overwhelming, somewhere smaller would be easier for the adjustment.

Shadow666 Thu 16-Nov-17 03:12:55

I also recommend the rail pass. If I were you, I’d spend around a week based in Tokyo and do the sights there including Tokyo Disneyland, Yokohama, Kamakura etc. Thrn a week based in Osaka and go to Kobe, Kyoto, Nara, Himeji, Hiroshima. Then around 5 days touring Kyushu.

ninnynono Thu 16-Nov-17 04:04:17

We went with our baby and it was great.

Second getting a Japan Rail pass. We stayed in airbnbs (easier with said baby!) and they were excellent, especially one in Kyoto which was very traditional. We ate in most evenings, getting bento boxes no Japanese beers from the supermarket / excellent railway station stops. We even cooked a few times! We found the lack of English no problem, most people could speak a small amount. We found the metro easy to navigate, even with a puschair. Oh and the cakes are excellent blush.

We hope to go back with our dd who is now older. Have a fantastic time!

Nessalina Thu 16-Nov-17 04:23:35

Japan is marvellous! I'd really recommend Inside Japan, a small tour company that can help you put together an itinerary if you're wanting a bit of professional guidance. We did a full guided tour with them, which was amazing, but they also do 'self guided adventures' where they can make bookings for accommodation and experiences for you, advise on trains, and set you up with a guide for one off days if you'd like, using whatever budget you have to work with.

Definitely stay in a proper ryokan, ideally with a good bathhouse. Visit an onsen - get naked and mingle with the locals grin If you want to see some traditional Japan, Takayama is a beautiful town with a lot of history, lovely walks, and great shopping. Go on a geisha walk in Kyoto. The Edo museum in Tokyo is great for a rainy day, as is the Peace museum in Hiroshima. Miyajima island near Hiroshima with its iconic Torii gate is magical. Aaaaaah I want to go back again now! I'm saving my pennies for a trip in 2/3yrs smile

Rainbowqueeen Thu 16-Nov-17 04:49:20

I came across a blog by a couple of guys who blog about Disney all over the world and in their view Disney Sea is on of the top 2 parks in the world.

Sorry can't remember where I found it! I do remember that there is a limit on the number of tickets they sell per day, it is famous for its different flavoured popcorns and they have an express pass system where they are free but first in best dressed. The blog tells you where to run and grab express passes from for the most popular rides as soon as the park opens. Maybe try googling and see what you come up with.

Hope you have a brilliant time

Whisky2014 Thu 16-Nov-17 04:56:59

Marking place as we want to go for rugby world cup in 2019

greyfriarskitty Thu 16-Nov-17 09:25:15

Thank you everyone, this are exactly the kind of pointers I needed to get us thinking and started.

All of this is brilliant, but Inside Japan look like a really good bet because I'm pretty busy in the run up to the trip, and they're based less than an hour from us so I might even just go and see them to chat about what we might do.

Also, rainbowqueen that genuinely is the most bonkers description of any theme park ever and made me roar with laughter, so we are definitely going.

DD is quite into her art, so we may get her into a few temples as well as manga shops; she also loves sushi and noodles and curry, so I'm hoping that the food won't be too challenging.

Ryokans in the Japanese Alps also sounds amazing so if anyone has had any more off-beat experiences like that, please do say: we'd like to do a mix of obvious tourist stuff and a few more unexpected things.

ChocoLeibnizAddict Thu 16-Nov-17 09:27:24

Sounds like a trip of a lifetime.

Hope you have a wonderful time OP. How much have you roughly spent on hotel and flights? If you don't mind me asking. I want to start saving smile

greyfriarskitty Thu 16-Nov-17 09:34:49

We're nothing like close to that yet, but looking at the Inside Japan website it is going to be several thousand pounds each. (DH's father died last year and while we are going to be sensible with most of what he left us, we are also going to do this!)

greyfriarskitty Thu 16-Nov-17 09:39:34

Oh, also if anyone can recommend a good guide book for me to get reading now to help work out what our priorities are, that would be so helpful.

MyVisionsComeFromSoup Thu 16-Nov-17 09:39:34

we found plenty of free wifi this September - most of the shopping centres and tourist places had free wifi. This was in Hokkaido, so mainly pretty small towns. I'd imagine bigger places would have more

Halsall Thu 16-Nov-17 10:19:01

If your DD loves noodles then you have to go to Yokohama (a very easy train ride from Tokyo) and visit the ramen museum. It's bonkers but lots of fun. The whole place is a temple to the mighty ramen and includes a painstaking reconstruction of a 40's/50's street lined with fully functioning little restaurants serving different styles of ramen. A condition of entry is that you have to eat at least one bowl of ramen.

They also have a crazy gift shop where you can buy an assortment of items shaped as bowls of ramen grin

There won't be any problem visiting temples because they're literally everywhere you look, even in the biggest city. But if you go to one of the biggest and best-known in Tokyo, the Sensō-ji temple at Asakusa (which I'd recommend), you can walk from there to the famous Kappabashi-dori, or Kitchen Town, where they sell all the kitchen supplies, including the amazingly realistic plastic food you see outside all the restaurants. It's touristy but really well worth seeing.

And by the way, most of the other tourists are likely to be Japanese. There are still relatively few Europeans/Americans around. We went to one festival where the tourist information office were thrilled to see us because we were the only non-Japanese people who'd been in all day - so thrilled, in fact, that they insisted on taking our picture to put in the local paper.....

TheFaerieQueene Thu 16-Nov-17 10:28:13

I’m not sure if anyone else has suggested seeing the monkeys in the hot springs in Nagano. I’m going back to Japan next year and that is on my list. I love Tokyo it is wonderful. If you go to Shinjuku be aware that there are lots of lap dancing type places around on the back streets.
I live the quirkiness of Japan. They have Hello Kitty traffic cone for example!

Todamhottoday Thu 16-Nov-17 10:31:37

Guide book have a look at the Rough Guide for Japan.

Huge onsen in Tokyo, great fun but remember male/females are separated, it does get quite busy, and please read up on the etiquette of using them.

This is in the sticks so to speak, but loved it here and as a couple we were allowed to have private time together in the springs

On the coast, loved this hotel hot spring bath on the balcony...

I have stayed in plenty of places in Hokkaido up in the mountains, with some fab onsens in the snow, but really I could post loads of places to recommend that I have visited and stayed at inc the Pacific Islands in the very South of Japan, but no good really until you have decided where you want to visit . I may give you a whole bunch of places see/do but it might not suit your times/budget/interests, but you have to pull in at least a basic plan first.

Think you may need to do all the more well know bits maybe first , you know parts of Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, then perhaps venture out, depending on what kind of travellers you are, you may not be happy getting on with all your luggage say to Yufin on the one man yellow diesel car.

Good websites to have a look at are

Many others as well

Info re trains, the website can be a bit clunky but its very good.

Or take a look at what maybe Trailfinders can suggest for you, if you dont feel confident booking yourself

CMOTDibbler Thu 16-Nov-17 10:40:54

I had a long business trip to Japan last November - Kyoto, Osaka, Okinawa, Tokyo, and Matsumoto.

I loved the temples in Kyoto, and my colleagues were upset they couldn't get a hire kimono for me (on a Saturday night, the hire shops were v busy as young people hire them and then go out to the temple). I would have loved to have gone to the pagoda.

Okinawa was fabulous. For a start, an airport which is both military and public, so they were taking off fast fighter jets on the same runway as we came in on! Really interesting culture there and beautiful sea.

Matsumoto castle is incredible

I found getting round by train and subway was very easy, and it was fun getting food in the train stations - I quite like the plastic models of food to point at smile

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