"When in Japan..." Tips for travelers to Japan

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    Reality is a dream TheLlama's Avatar
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    Default "When in Japan..." Tips for travelers to Japan

    Greetings, everyone! Last summer I spent a month in Japan, definitely the best time of my life, ever! When I was there I noted, much in thanks to my half-Japanese travel partner, a few things of that greatly improved the quality of my stay in Japan. Since I've a great number of friends who are planning to travel to Japan, but have no idea what to expect or what's worth seeing, I've spent a fair amount of time handing out tips and recommendations as to what to see and where to see it, what to think about, what to buy, how to prepare, and so on - for trust me, there's a lot of things that can catch you unawares when traveling to a country with such a a vastly different culture.

    So given this, and the fact that I found no such thread in a forum dedicated to all things Japanese, I've decided to compile a list of (sure, you have the culture thread, but it is by no means organized as a easy-to-browse list or anything). Now, I am by no means an expert on all things Japanese, far from, so if people want to contribute as well, that's great - actually, that's what I'm hoping for, so that if anyone here wants to travel to Japan, they'll have a lot of good tips on what to remember, what to see and what to experience :D

    How to get around
    Japan has a massive infrastructure, tons of trains, buses and metro lines for you to get about. This section will cover the essentials of this.


    The JR Pass
    If you want to travel to Japan as a foreigner, the JR Pass is your friend. The JR Pass is a 7/14/21-day pass which applies to ALL railways and metro lines operated by JR (Japan Railways). They operate a lot of them, so it's easy to get pretty much anyway. The cost is 28,300/45,100/57,700 yen, which you can convert to your local currency using google (type in "XXXX yen in USD/GBP/[insert valuta code]"). If the cost seems high, remember that yen value as are really high. In USD it's $342/$545/$697.

    If that seems high to you, keep in mind that with this you can travel on most Shinkansen lines (except the most express ones), giving you the option to travel pretty much anywhere in Japan for that sum of money. Standard local trains are mostly operated by JR as well.

    Ordering is quite simple, go to the page linked to below, and order on the right side. You may if you wish order 1st class for an extra sum of money (but the Shinkansen is quite comfortable on all classes). After ordering, a voucher will be sent via mail to you. You bring this with you to Japan, and exchange it for your pass
    JR Pass home page

    NOTE: You can only use the JR Pass if you are a non-Japanese citizen entering the country with a temporary visitor status (i.e. a tourist visa). Children under 6 can travel with you for free.

    This FAQ provides a lot of details around anything you might want to know
    This page provides a lot of tips such as how to get around in Toyko, how to behave in trains, navigate stations, etc.



    I might add some more on useful resources for train routes, buses and such. There's a ton of useful things.

    The traditional Japanese experience

    Japan offers many types of accommodations and many activities that have an exotic and traditional air to them. Hot springs, traditional housing, dining, you name it! If you want a genuine Japanese experience, thus section has what you're looking for!

    Ryokan
    A ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, is an excellent way to experience a bit of the traditional Japan. Personally I feel going to Japan without experiencing at least some sort of traditional accommodations, is a waste of your trip. You'll often meet a friendly staff eager to talk and befriend, experience traditional Japanese bedding (the futon) and in general you'll feel much more like you are in a different country compared to just staying at some hotel. While not as common in urban areas as in, say, coastal, mountainous or otherwise scenic areas, you can still find some for your urban holidays. I stayed at one in Toyko, so I can't speak for the experience of living at one along the coast, or in a mountain, but I can only imagine it would be well worth it. You can find many ryokan along with hot springs (onsen), giving a combination of two of the finer things Japan can offer; the traditional Japanese way of living and hot springs. When not around a hot spring, most ryokan offer hot baths to its residents, a fair substitute.

    Most of the time food is not included in the price, but orderable. Some however do not make food at all for you (among the urban ones, at least). It's not that much of a problem, Japan has tons of small restaurants and lunch sites where you can grab a filling bite of food for a very modest sum of money (I once ate a full fried rice dinner for the price of $3). However eating there at least once is recommended if possible; it's quite the experience. Me and my two travel companions ordered breakfast one morning. Guided by a traditionally clad waitress, we were brought into a neighboring room, where three tables and sitting mats were laid out for us. On the tables was the most elaborate breakfast I've ever seen. Fish, octopus, green tea, soup, rice, and some other things I don't even know the name of. Granted, it wasn't the best tasting breakfast experience ever, but boy, was it a great experience still!

    The ryokan I stayed at was the Honkan, one of three ryokan operated by Homeikan (http://www.homeikan.com/). Situated in a very accessible location in Tokyo (albeit hidden away between some side streets and alleys), with excellent facilities and a really nice staff - who gave me a gift of real Japanese sandals (zori), simply because I was very friendly with them, chatting in the meditation garden, generally being polite and knowing my manners. They had one small private bath (room for a group of three or four), and one common bath for each gender, had a very nice staff and in general treated you very well.

    Onsen and sento
    Most people here probably know what an onsen (hot springs and associated bathing facilities) is, and many probably know what a sento is. For those who don't, a sento is basically a public bathhouse. That is, a bathhouse not built around an onsen.

    When traveling to Japan, believe me, you do not want to miss the chance to experience a traditional Japanese bath. If you're there on an urban vacation and don't have the opportunity to visit an onsen, fret not, a sento offers an equally awesome experience, many also have outdoor baths that are quite reminiscent of an onsen. The main feature of these baths are the hot water, often heated to above 40 degrees celsius (40 C = 105 Fahrenheit), which along with perfumed oils often featured in the water, is extremely relaxing. Whether you've been out for a summer day of shopping, for a spring festival, for a walk in the autumn mountains, or a chilling winter's day of fun, entering a hot bath is a soul-soothing experience. The average sento also offer bubble baths and a cold pool, and if they have an outdoor area there is often a rock pool to simulate the expeirence of bathing in an onsen.

    It should be noted that there exist both mixed-sex sento/onsen and separate-sex sento/onsen. If you are of the shy type, this might be worth noting before entering. Also, there are sento and onsen that do not permit children, and some onsen don't permit foreigners, even!

    There are a few rules of etiquette that should always be followed when bathing. First of all, upon entering a sento, or onsen facilities, shoes must be removed, as is customary most places in Japan (shoe lockers are typically provided - NOTE: Some require that you put in a coin (e.g. 100 yen) which you get back upon leaving. Bring change! If you are in a hotel and are using their facilities, or a ryokan connected to an onsen, it is customary to equip the customary yukata and slippers provided before making the trip to the bath. In the dressing room before the bath, there's either locker or a basket provided for your clothing. While often unsecured, remember that crime rates are extremely low in Japan, so don't hesitate to leave your belongings even in an unsecured locker. Before entering the bath, one should always shower and clean one's body - the bath is to relax, not to clean the body (besides, who would want to bath in a pool filled with other people's sweat and germs?). There's always a separate room, or part of the main bathing room, where you find stools and showers. Shampoo and soap are typically provided for your convenience. Use it! I cannot stress the importance of this point.

    Most baths provide a very small towel. This is for the purpose of covering your genitals. While not the strictest custom (especially in separate-gender baths), covering up is a customary act of modesty that should be followed. The towel must be removed, however, when entering a pool (preferably it should not touch the water at all). And that's about it, sit down and relax, enjoy your bath! Afterwards, you may want to grab a dinner (most sento and onsen have restaurants on the premises). The combination "soothing bath->dinner->go to sleep" is one of my fondest memories of Japan.

    Festivals
    When are the various festivals? Where should I be? All you need to know, here.


    Sights
    From buddhist temples and castles to modern skyscrapers, sakura trees to urban centers, Japanese street fashion, this section is the guide to everything for the eye to enjoy.


    Kyoto
    Kyoto, the cultural capital of Japan. What to see, when to see it, and where to see it! Coming soon.

    Tokyo
    Tokyo, the largest metropolitan area in the entire world. Unarguably a veritable ocean of urban terrain. Fashion, anime and manga, sightseeing, dining, there's simply no end to the potential experiences here! What are the best sights, and where do you see them? Coming soon.

    Seasonal sights
    What can I experience in spring that I can't during the rest of the year? Why would I want to experience autumn in Japan?

    Manners and such
    When do you bow? How do you order food? When do you say thank you? When do you apologize for the inconvenience? How to behave on trains? Do I tip? Manners and behavior in Japan can be quite intricate, and here's a short list of the most important things to remember as a foreigner in Japan. Coming soon.
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  2. #2
    Official Link Fanglomper SSJ_Jup81's Avatar Moderator
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    Default Re: "When in Japan..." Tips for travelers to Japan

    The Japanese Culture Thread is more of a Q & A type set up, so people ask about certain things regarding to Japan (or its culture) and those with experience or knowledge of it answers. That's pretty much what the thread has become. I'm not going to combine this with the culture thread, though. I'm going to leave it as is and hope that others may come and follow suit and share their traveling or living experiences in Japan. I'll sticky this thread.

    Your experience here is very insightful, though since I've never been to Japan as an actual tourist...just a temporary resident and going back at the end of the month to live there again. For instance, I knew of the rail passes, but have never actually used one. Since I do plan on actually traveling this time around (Kanagawa in August, possibly), this will be very helpful to me when I'm finally ready to.
    Quote Originally Posted by Llama_Guy View Post
    Most baths provide a very small towel. This is for the purpose of covering your genitals. While not the strictest custom (especially in separate-gender baths), covering up is a customary act of modesty that should be followed. The towel must be removed, however, when entering a pool (preferably it should not touch the water at all). And that's about it, sit down and relax, enjoy your bath! Afterwards, you may want to grab a dinner (most sento and onsen have restaurants on the premises). The combination "soothing bath->dinner->go to sleep" is one of my fondest memories of Japan.
    Just thought I'd add (from a female perspective), that you cannot let your hair touch the water. You're supposed to keep your hair tied up. I had trouble with this. I also didn't bother with the yukata. My bust was to big for it. lol I wore my night-shirt and pajama pants down when it was time for the "big bath" as Ms. Addachi referred it. We went to the onsen for our end of the year party. The futon there were wonderful too. Definitely the best sleep I'd ever had, especially since I had a cheap futon back in my apartment.

    Anyway, one thing I did miss about Japan after moving back home last year was the whole Ryokan/Onsen experience. It was definitely the best one, but I know this much. I'd never do a mixed bath. Anyway, I hope to experience it again when moving back. I went to a Ryokan/onsen in Kaminoyama...but since that was December 2010, I can't recall which inn in the area I stayed at. My Ryokan souvenirs were unfortunately left behind when I cleaned out my apartment.
    Last edited by SSJ_Jup81; 12th March 2012 at 10:50 PM.

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    Registered User カイリュー's Avatar
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    Default Has anyone gone to Japan and taken note of their budget/how much they spent?

    I've been wanting to go to Japan since my middle school days but it was always out of the question with my parents. Since I'm in college now, and will be a doctor in a couple years, I was thinking of making a trip to Japan as a celebration after I get a job (good luck to me with that).

    Have any of you taken a detailed account of how much you have spent in japan? I'm mostly concerned about how much transportation and essential items cost (trips to restaurants, groceries, room fare, transportation, plane fair from the u.s. and back etc.). I of course plan to put together a separate fund for the Pokemon center so I need to figure out how much everything else will cost. I figure if I start saving soon I might be close to my goal come graduation! :)

  4. #4
    Official Link Fanglomper SSJ_Jup81's Avatar Moderator
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    Default Re: "When in Japan..." Tips for travelers to Japan

    Quote Originally Posted by カイリュー View Post
    I've been wanting to go to Japan since my middle school days but it was always out of the question with my parents. Since I'm in college now, and will be a doctor in a couple years, I was thinking of making a trip to Japan as a celebration after I get a job (good luck to me with that).

    Have any of you taken a detailed account of how much you have spent in japan? I'm mostly concerned about how much transportation and essential items cost (trips to restaurants, groceries, room fare, transportation, plane fair from the u.s. and back etc.). I of course plan to put together a separate fund for the Pokemon center so I need to figure out how much everything else will cost. I figure if I start saving soon I might be close to my goal come graduation! :)
    Depending on where you go, restaurants can be pretty cheap. Ramen shops are extremely cheap (imo). Sushi shops are too.

    Plane fare will always vary. It all depends on the time of the year you're traveling and the part of the US you're coming from. For me, it's more expensive to fly out of my hometown of Richmond than it is to fly out of DC (which is 2 hours away from me by car).

    As for groceries...that would vary too. Depends on what you actually buy, imo.

    As for rooms, you could always stick to hostels, as they're pretty cheap (so I was told...I've never been to one).

    With transportation, you can probably just get a rail pass.

    The other factor you have to consider here is how long you're going to stay and where. Do you plan to only stay in the Kanto area (such as Tokyo) or do you plan on exploring other parts of the country?

    Now, for me, I've never done any "vacationing" here and I can't really give a fair number or price on some of these things, like with groceries I try not to go over 4000 yen a week, but I'm also living here again and not "vacationing", so that may be a lot to someone who is vacationing.

  5. #5
    Head Bus Driver Big Lutz's Avatar Moderator
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    Default Traveling to Japan: Where should I go, What should I know?

    I will be going to Japan as a gift from my graduation this spring. The trip itself will be this fall and while I have a few things planned out, I was hoping that I could get some information from those who may have been there.

    I will be there mainly for the Tokyo Game Show, but will also be visiting Disney Sea for one day. I will be staying at the Hotel Metropolitan Tokyo which is located next to Ikebukuro Train Station. I will not be leaving Tokyo to visit anywhere else but Disney Sea so visits to other cities is pretty much out of the question.

    Locally there is a Mos Burger, Mc Donnalds, and 7/11 nearby but can anyone suggest anything else to go to and if buying food from a supermarket is worth it?

    Also I was hoping for ideas of other places that would be good to visit other than the two I listed, and shopping.

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    Official Link Fanglomper SSJ_Jup81's Avatar Moderator
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    Default Re: Traveling to Japan: Where should I go, What should I know?

    Quote Originally Posted by Big Lutz View Post
    I will be going to Japan as a gift from my graduation this spring. The trip itself will be this fall and while I have a few things planned out, I was hoping that I could get some information from those who may have been there.
    That's a pretty cool present.
    I will be there mainly for the Tokyo Game Show, but will also be visiting Disney Sea for one day. I will be staying at the Hotel Metropolitan Tokyo which is located next to Ikebukuro Train Station. I will not be leaving Tokyo to visit anywhere else but Disney Sea so visits to other cities is pretty much out of the question.
    Ikebukuro is a part of Tokyo. :-P Technically. That aside, Ikebukuro is a nice place. Sunshine City isn't too far from the station. Lots of shops. Even a Miyazaki shop is there. There's also a nice Disney Store. Japan Disney stores are what US Disney Stores used to be. If you walk in, you'll, say, "Wow, it's Disney!" Go into one back home, "Hannah Montanna, Jonas Brothers? Where's Mickey and Donald and Goofy," etc. lol The other good thing about Ikebukuro is that there are quite a few things to do and also quite a few game centers. Want a quick bite to eat at a considerable price....there's always Saizeriya.

    That aside, as for other visits to other nearby areas, it's possible. Just hop on the train. You can take a day trip to Yokohama and visit Yokohama Chukagai. It's not that far from Tokyo. You can check out the Pokemon Center too, which is like the stop before Yokohama Chukagai, if I'm remembering right. From Ikebukuro station to Yokohama's Pokemon Center (which also has a nearby amusement park [Cosmo World]), it's a 15 minute train ride. The stop is Hamamatsucho station (Pokemon Center). Yokohama Chukagai (Yokohama Chinatown, btw) is about a 30 min ride by train. You'd stop at Motomachi Chukagai station. You can even visit Shibuya! You're on a good train line. Yamanote line. You can easily visit Yokohama, Shibuya, Akihabara, Shinjuku (about 8 min by train from Ikebukuro), Ginza, Harajuku, Roppongi (Tokyo Tower is there), etc., from Ikebukuro station via the Yamanote line. Oh, Yokohama also has the Ramen museum.
    Locally there is a Mos Burger, Mc Donnalds, and 7/11 nearby but can anyone suggest anything else to go to and if buying food from a supermarket is worth it?
    Oh, as mentioned earlier, Saizeriya isn't too bad. The prices are reasonable enough. It's an Italian place. Or, you could save your cash and just buy stuff from the conbini.
    Also I was hoping for ideas of other places that would be good to visit other than the two I listed, and shopping.
    *cracks knuckles*

    As I pointed out earlier, you're on a good line. You can visit many places of the Tokyo area.

    Yokohama
    Cosmo World
    Yokohama Chinatown
    Pokemon Center
    Hakkeijima Sea Paradise (another amusement Park)

    Asakusa
    Pretty historical, and not too far from the new Sky Tree Tower. You can actually see Sky Tree Tower from Tokyo Tower. lol There's also the huge Nakamise Shopping district which is connected to the famous Sensoji Temple. You can also see the Asahi Beer Tower. lol

    Roppongi
    Tokyo Tower is the main site there and you can take a tour. Roppongi also caters to foreigners a lot. The nightlife there (I hear) is really nice. I've been in Roppongi at night, but I was heading back to my hotel. I did get a pic of Tokyo Tower lit up, though, so that was nice.

    Shibuya
    Well, the Hachiko statue at the station, which has a sad, yet famous, story behind it. Shibuya is mostly known, though, for the nightlife (clubs) and fashion. Lots of shopping can be done here.

    Shinjuku
    Korea Town is here. The Japanese Sword Museum. The famous Tokyo Metropolitan Buildings. It also has good shopping for electronics and there is a famous park there, but the name escapes me.

    Akihabara (Akiba)
    Every nerd's dream place. lol You can do loads of shopping here. You could spend a whole day there just going from shop to shop. Also loads of electronic stores too and gaming related stuff, etc. Also game centers and maid cafes are in the area. Oh and for the record, Japanese game centers (arcades) are AWESOME! Akiba is also great for collectors. I found a Super Famicom. My eyes lit up when I saw it! lol

    Harajuku
    This place has a lot of shopping areas and is in between Shinjuku and Shibuya. There's the Oriental Bazaar, which is a good souvenir shop for Japanese things. There's also the Daiso (which is a 100 yen shop, but this one is one of the biggest). Very convenient things there. And there are also other shops, and even a new Crepe shop there...but it's all pink inside and girly. lol If you're lucky, you may catch some cosplayers around Harajuku. There's even a shop that sells vintage stuff from the 80s and 90s (imported things). I picked up some Ninja Turtle cards from 1989 imported from the US. lol

    Oh, you could also visit Meiji Jinguu (Meiji Shrine) which isn't too far from Harajuku station. It's really really beautiful there because of the walk through out the forest-like area. It's near Yoyogi park and if you're going to be around in the fall, it should look really nice! I'd like to go myself. It has a lot of ginko, iirc.
    ***
    That's about all I can think of. Ginza is pretty much a shopping area, but has expensive shops. I'd also suggest maybe taking a day trip to Odaiba, but it's about a 45 minute train ride from where you'll be (you'd have to switch to the Yurikamome line). You can maybe see the Statue of Liberty and I think the life-size Gundam is still around in Odaiba. There's also the Fuji TV building. The famous Rainbow Bridge. Palette Town. Aqua City and Venus Fort are good shopping areas. Many floors of shops and Venus Fort is set up like a 15th century European mall or something. lol Leisureland is like a huge game center with many activities outside of just arcade games. Oh, and there's the Oedo Onsen Monogatari theme park. It's an onsen...and a theme park, apparently. lol

    Hope this helps a bit, and for the record, I haven't been to all of the places mentioned since living here....mainly due to the fact that I don't live very close to Toky.

    Hufflepuff is the place to be as loyalty and fairplay are very important to me.

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