Off to Japan!

The die is cast: it was about time to put those FF miles to work, and we finally decided to head to Japan for a winter vacation, flying in Jan 31st to Tokyo and getting back Feb 11th from Osaka. Probably it isn’t the best time of the year to visit the country, as I understand we’ll have no cherry blossoms and we are pretty much going to freeze our butts off, but it was actually the only timeframe available considering our hectic schedules.

I’m really looking forward to this trip, and I’m frantically reading web pages about what to do and where to stay. The first impression I get is that we need to be somewhat prepared to a (welcome) cultural shock, as simple stuff such as getting around or finding the right hotel doesn’t seem that easy at first sight: I was unable to find driving directions – Google Maps doesn’t seem to have Japan covered, nor does Maporama, and the usual travel sites such as Expedia don’t have many hotel listings, while Japanese travel portals such as Rakuten seem quite hard to understand for a western guy (no stars, weird hotel and room descriptions). But hey, that’s part of the deal and it will be great to have a somewhat unusual trip!
I’m trying to understand what would be the best use of our mere ten days, assuming that we’ll have to cope with seeing just a tiny fraction of what Japan has to offer us. So far, what I’d like to do is:

  • spend at least one night at a ryokan, even though I guess foreigners who haven’t done their cultural homework properly don’t quite fit in a traditional Japanese inn with what seems to be a quite complicate ritual;
  • try the sento/onsen experience, which sounds great but also somewhat problematic as, non-Japanese don’t seem to be that welcome;
  • eat a Sushi breakfast at the Tokyo fish market (I assume it will be filled up with tourists, but I don’t want to miss it anyway);
  • get around on the Shinkansen. Assuming I can find a place to buy the Japan Rail Pass;

Both Wikipedia and Wikitravel are being extremely helpful, yet I’m feeling a bit lost about what to do and (mostly!) what we really shouldn’t miss. Any suggestion is welcome, as well as any opportunity to meet up!



11 thoughts on “Off to Japan!”

  1. John,

    thanks so much for the offer, I’m sure I will ping you for information and stuff, and would love to meet over a beer! Do you live in the Tokyo area?

  2. Google Maps actually has much information on Japan but you have to read Japanese to use it properly.

    My suggestion is to try getting a copy of Lonely Planet Japan.
    Most of the better guides on Japan are in Japanese so without a hefty amount of Japanese skills or a native to guide you, those guides will be closed.

  3. Staying in a ryokan is definetely recommended. When we went (1997) there was an English Speaking tourist office near the main Tokyo train station who would ring up a book the ryokan for you. Also the Japan Rail Pass was the best investment we made – save you alot of money than paying the full fare in country. Kyoto is a fantastic place to visit – lots of history and culture and Nikko was beautiful forest with lots of incredible temples.

  4. Welcome to Japan :-)

    I suppose you were inspired by the “Richard QUEST”‘s *JAPAN NOW* on CNN. Well, as for the railroad pass, I recommend you to use SUICA —

    Drop me an e-mail (or please use party@a.o. — I am subscribing there) if you are looking for a delicious sushi bar in Tokyo. Cheers,

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