Help me plan our first trip to Japan!

Jan 26th, 2019, 07:08 AM
  #1  
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Help me plan our first trip to Japan!

We are a very active Senior couple that love to travel and have never been to Asia. As I have mentioned in previous posts my wife is a photographer with special interest in street art and is also a vegetarian ( will eat fish on occasion). We love culture, nature, history, walking and exploring. I would like to plan a 2 -3 week first time trip in mid March to experience the cherry blossoms and definitely want to include Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. Although we live in NYC we will be leaving from either Los Angeles or San Francisco. I would appreciate any suggestions regarding itinerary, travel options, cultural/historical places to see and visit, restaurants, entertainment, customs and other tips you may have for this first time experience,

Thank you!
allyboy is online now  
Jan 26th, 2019, 08:43 AM
  #2  
 
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Here is one of the best tourism information sites anywhere:

https://www.japan-guide.com/

You should take into account that blossom time, plus a couple of national holidays, make April one of the busiest tourist months, including travel by the Japanese themselves.
Southam is offline  
Jan 26th, 2019, 11:03 AM
  #3  
kja
 
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What Southam said!
Spend LOTS of time with japan-guide.com
You could also read some of the many, many, many planning threads on this forum.
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Jan 26th, 2019, 10:41 PM
  #4  
tt7
 
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For most first time visitors, Tokyo and Kyoto are the obvious (and appropriate) choices. Tokyo is modern Japan writ large, a whirring, flashing neon kaleidoscope of a city; Kyoto is the historical and cultural heart of Japan with a thousand years of history. Although some would no doubt want to pick holes in the comparison in this Tokyo vs. Kyoto article, it perhaps provides a useful comparison. How much time you choose to spend in each depends on where you are personally on the Ďmodern cityí versus Ďhistory and cultureí spectrum.

Public transport in Japan is generally excellent. The Japanese train system is superb - frequent, clean, efficient and generally fast Ö if not necessarily cheap. The website at Hyperdia will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the trains, including the timetable, where they stop, how much they cost and a lot more. One thing to remember is that itís possible to do day trips from both Tokyo and Kyoto, so not changing (hotel) location does not necessarily preclude visiting other cities or places. For example, Hiroshima is 1 hour 45 minutes from Kyoto on the Shinkansen so can be done as a day trip (though an overnight is preferable if you want to visit Miyajima). The superb Himeji Castle is 55 minutes from Kyoto on the Shinkansen. Nara (and Osaka) can be visited as a day trip from Kyoto. Kamakura is a common day trip from Tokyo. All of these places (and a lot, lot more) are deserving of your time (and multiple days) though in the time available, you can obviously only do so much. Depending on how much travel you do, a JR Pass may be cost-effective. Whether or not you get a JR Pass, get a Suica (or similar) card to use for trains (non-JR trains if you have a Pass), the subway, buses, vending machines, convenience stores etc.

As you plan your trip, read every guide book and forum you can to try to decide what appeals to you. Each of us has our preferences (and biases) but only you can decide what you want to do and where you want to go. In addition to the already mentioned excellent japan-guide.com website, I've always found these two sites useful - Tokyo and Kyoto.
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Jan 26th, 2019, 10:54 PM
  #5  
tt7
 
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Originally Posted by allyboy View Post
I would appreciate any suggestions regarding ..... customs and other tips you may have ....
Some thoughts on this specific question....

Japan is a very ordered society, where you are expected to play by the rules. Even so, the Japanese are usually understanding of visitorsí lack of knowledge but being loud, unruly or getting angry or upset will not be appreciated.

Things to remember :-

1. No jaywalking. You stand there until the little man turns green, even if thereís no traffic, not even a car in sight.

2. No litter. None. Anywhere. You take your rubbish with you. That said, rubbish bins can be very hard to find (try looking outside a Ďkonbinií store ó 7-Eleven/Lawson/Family Mart). You can always spot the foreigners on the Shinkansen - they're the ones who leave their rubbish behind.

3. No eating on the street, at least when you're walking. If you buy a snack at a konbini, it's ok to stand outside and eat it (which is why you'll likely find a rubbish bin) but don't walk down the street eating it (and even in the Nishiki Market in Kyoto, if you buy a snack, stand and eat it, donít walk eating it).

4. No graffiti (well, almost none).

5. How polite the Japanese are, at least in one-on-one situations. Say hello (at least Konnichiwa, if you canít remember the other variations) and bow slightly (from the waist, not a nod of the head).

6. Don't blow your nose in public - itís considered rude. Just keep sniffing if you have to.

7. In a restaurant, you will probably be given a hand towel. Before you eat, use it to wipe your hands ... and nothing else. No matter how hot and sweaty you may be, donít be tempted to use it to wipe your face etc. .... and under no circumstances use it to blow your nose.

8. No tipping. None. It would be considered insulting.

9. You play by the rules, so you stand in line on the subway platform; however, once the train arrives and everybody becomes Ďanonymousí, all bets are off and itís everybody for themselves. If you hesitate, expect to be elbowed out of the way by all and sundry (including little old ladies) and, if youíre a woman or older, donít expect anybody to give up their seat for you. It may happen but itís very much the exception that proves the rule. I find this bizarre, given how polite the Japanese are but itís just the way it is. By all means give up your subway seat to someone more deserving but donít be surprised if they look confused or try to decline - say ĎDohzo Ö. Dohzo!í (meaning Ďplease, go ahead..í).

10. To indicate something, donít point at it but extend your hand, fingers extended, palm up.

11. Pronunciation. Itís fairly easy to mangle all the words, place names etc. etc. Just try and remember that, whereas in English the emphasis is invariably on the last syllable, in Japanese itís invariably on the first syllable. Thus, that food in crisp batter (tempura) is Temp-er-a, not Tem-pura, youíre going to (Teshima) Tesh-e-ma, not Ter-sheemer and that subway stop (Karasuma) is Ca-rass-u-ma, not Ca-ra-soom-a. You have to listen carefully to them say it, as theyíll be too polite to correct you.

12. How many vending machines there are. No matter where you go, thereíll be vending machines to sell you a bottle of water, an iced coffee, a hot coffee and an amazing myriad of other stuff. Walk down some back street in Kyoto and suddenly thereíll be a bank of 2, 3, 4 vending machines. Station platform? No problem. Outside a temple or shrine? No problem. Outside some random apartment building? No problem.

13. When entering a Japanese home (or an AirBnB apartment, for example) it is customary to remove your shoes in the entry way and use the provided slippers (or just your socks etc.). There will be separate slippers in the toilet - donít mix them. Many temples or shrines also require you to remove your shoes; where to do so (along with somewhere to store them) is usually clearly indicated. Some houses, temples and shrines may have tatami mat floors - under no circumstances should you step on a tatami mat with your shoes on.

14. Donít talk on your phone on public transport. On a train, move to the vestibule (if there is one) at the end of the carriage.

15. Hotel check-in time is usually 3 pm. Although you can probably leave your bags if youíre early, do not expect to check-in before the appointed time.
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Jan 28th, 2019, 04:47 AM
  #6  
 
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Nice list of don'ts and do's by tt7 above. Not necessarily disagreeing with what he/she says but :

> 1. Don't blow your nose in public - it’s considered rude. Just keep sniffing if you have to.

I have read it repeatedly about Japan and I always wonder because I do ( and I am a Japanese ) perhaps in a somewhat discreet manner, at least compared to, some others who do it extremely loud. 

I got curious and have just googled what the Japanese say. There are both sides for and against. The first hit by Google says 62% of Japanese women is for blowing nose even in public because it is a natural human need and better than keep sniffing. 38% of them are against. They think it is not polite to make unpleasant noise like that.
https://woman.mynavi.jp/article/170115-30/

> 2. No litter. ...You take your rubbish with you. T... You can always spot the foreigners on the Shinkansen - they're the ones who leave their rubbish behind.

The Japanese put the rubbish in the bins that are located on the deck ( a hole on the wall... in case you did not notice ). I never carry the rubbish with me out of the shinkansen ( but you can if you wish)

> 10. To indicate something, don’t point at it but extend your hand, fingers extended, palm up.

Again I do. " extend your hand, fingers extended, palm up" makes me think of a guide showing some sites to the tourists or a restaurant manager showing you a table, etc... Probably politer way than pointing with index finger but I do the latter with also probably in more casual situation. You don't point your finger right to someone's face but that's the case everywhere not only in Japan.

> 11. Pronunciation. whereas in English the emphasis is invariably on the last syllable, in Japanese it’s invariably on the first syllable.

Not sure about this. For me, it is more a general lack of emphasis, all is said mostly flat. But for foreigners it is easier to put some emphasis somewhere to pronounce it.

Last edited by kappa1; Jan 28th, 2019 at 05:31 AM.
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Jan 28th, 2019, 06:09 AM
  #7  
 
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> 11. Pronunciation. whereas in English the emphasis is invariably on the last syllable, in Japanese it’s invariably on the first syllable.

Not sure about this. For me, it is more a general lack of emphasis, all is said mostly flat. But for foreigners it is easier to put some emphasis somewhere to pronounce it.
Agree that it is a good list, however, disagree that in English the emphasis is always on the last syllable. Just say "always" and "whereas"! I live in North Carolina, and I put the emphasis on the third syllable of Carolina. However, I actually speak (south-east) English English, maybe this is a UK-USism? I though that in Japanese the point was that all syllables are important, and you don't elide one as you might in English.
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Jan 28th, 2019, 08:09 AM
  #8  
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Thanks everyone for the tips!
Can you suggest if it is best to fly into Haneda or Narita airport or into one and out the other from LA?
While I would love to enjoy being there during cherry blossoms, I am concerned about crowds, finding accommodations and prices. So any suggestions on when specifically to travel?
Our window will be March 10 -April 10 .
allyboy is online now  
Jan 28th, 2019, 08:53 AM
  #9  
 
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Haneda is closer to the city so faster and cheaper transportation into downtown. It is also a newer airport.
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Jan 28th, 2019, 11:26 AM
  #10  
 
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Here is a good breakdown of this years sakura forecast.
https://www.jrailpass.com/blog/japan...ossom-forecast

Keep in mind the start, peak and after is about a three week stretch in each location, starting in the south.
Last year we were there through the various phases in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Kyushu
Crowds are inevitable in these locations but are a part of the fun.
I would suggest staying a few days in Tokyo on arrival, a few days in Kyoto, to see the major “attractions” , then heading outwards south to regional areas. We chose Shimane/ Matsue, on one trip and Fukuoka/Kagoshima Kyushu on another. Not as many crowds and quite a few cherry blossom opportunities. Then back to Tokyo for peak season then departure.
There are in country air travel options. We enjoy train travel so the rail pass really works for us.
Last trip we traveled all day from Ibusuki to Tokyo/Shinagawa in one hop. Transfered to another hotel in Asakusa for a final four days of sakura and shopping.
Then departure from Haneda.
If you haven’t made reservations yet I’d suggest you do so immediately as this is a very popular time.
Do you have your air tickets yet? If not I’d see what is available and go from there
Hope you have a great trip

Last edited by kalihiwai2; Jan 28th, 2019 at 11:29 AM.
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Jan 28th, 2019, 02:47 PM
  #11  
 
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My personal "discoveries" (not exactly hidden secrets):

1. You need CASH.
You need cash in restaurants, to buy train or subway tickets, or for entrance fees or to go shopping.
Some big department stores and, of course, (most larger) hotels will take credit cards, but otherwise don't count on it.
ATMs at Family Mart or one of the other convience store chains work with foreign credit cards.
No one will steal your wallet. Promised.

2. Aside from fine dining restaurants (which I cannot comment on), I noticed that restaurants work more or less the same way as in the US, with the possible difference that you don't get one check but collect several slips of paper while you have dinner:
For each order you get the check to your table. You can order as much as you want, but eventually you take the accumulated checks and pay at the door.
When you sit down, you will usually be offered a or a choice of free drink (water or tea). You are not expected to order anything else to drink, unless you want to.
As said before, NO TIPS. Never. Not for the biggest smile or for the most helpful server.
Think of tips as dog poop. You just don't leave it behind or give it to someone.

3. Japan can be a surprisingly cheap country.
Hotels and long-distance rail travel (if you don't have a pass) may put a dent in your budget.
But I've been surprised that even the most-visited sights in Kyoto asked for rather modest entrance fees ($2-5).
Eating out can also be really cheap. We frequented mostly eateries, also the nicer ones in the train station (Kyoto central has TONS of them), and the main dish/ entree had usually been in the vicinity of $10-15. Again, no tips.
Local public transport is pretty cheap. Taxis not so much.
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Jan 30th, 2019, 09:54 AM
  #12  
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Any suggestions which airlines to take from Los Angeles to Tokyo? We will NOT be traveling business or first class. Also what time is best to leave from LA ( a 12 hour flight and a 17 hour time difference)!!

Thanks.
allyboy is online now  
Jan 30th, 2019, 01:14 PM
  #13  
 
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Are you talking about 2019 travel? If so, you better start right away as kalihiwai2 said.....
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Jan 30th, 2019, 02:22 PM
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Good news is that we found the best prices out of LAX to Narita and Haneda.. We ended up booking a United code share with ANA.
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Jan 30th, 2019, 07:38 PM
  #15  
tt7
 
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Originally Posted by allyboy View Post
Any suggestions which airlines to take from Los Angeles to Tokyo? We will NOT be traveling business or first class. Also what time is best to leave from LA ( a 12 hour flight and a 17 hour time difference).
As HappyTrvlr has already explained, Haneda is usually preferred over Narita, primarily because it's closer to the city. Your choices appear to be -

ANA: 12.50 am to Haneda (arriving at 5.00 am), 11.20 am to Narita (arriving 3.20 pm) or 12.25 pm to Narita (arriving at 4.25 pm). These flights are on a 777 and can all be flown as a United codeshare.

UA: 11.40 am to Narita (arriving at 3.30 pm). Flight is on a 787-9 and can be flown as an ANA codeshare.

AA: 11.00 am to Haneda (arriving at 3.00 pm) or 12.35 pm to Narita (arriving at 4.30 pm). These flights are on a 787-9 and can both be flown as a Japan Airlines codeshare.

JL : 1.00 pm to Narita (arriving at 4.45 pm). Flight is on a 777 and can be flown as an AA codeshare.

SQ: 4.15 pm to Narita (arriving at 8.00 pm). Flight is on a 777.

Obviously, only you can decide which criteria take preference: airline affinity / price / arrival airport / departure time / seat configuration. If there are two of you flying economy, then (at least for us) a 2-4-2 seat configuration would be much preferable to 3-3-3 or, worse still, 3-4-3. The 787s are usually 3-3-3. The NH flights are a mixed bag - the first two appear to be 2-4-3 (a configuration I've never seen before) and the third one is 3-4-3.

If you're going in March, you probably need to book asap. For us, a 5 am arrival time is not an issue but it may be for others... The rest of the flights all arrive in the afternoon, except the Singapore flight, which gets in at 8 pm. Personally, I would not pick that flight (unless price was a major +), particularly if I've got a JR Pass or a portable wifi unit that I need to collect at the airport before heading in to town.
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Jan 30th, 2019, 07:42 PM
  #16  
tt7
 
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I guess I should have refreshed my browser before I posted! Your post (above) just showed up.... I was going to add (but didn't), that if it was us and airline affinity didn't matter and the price was ok, I'd take the 12.50 am ANA flight to HND - the preferable airport and the better seat configuration. Which did you choose?

Edited to add: Sheesh - I'm really not with it today - just realised that "the post above" is HappyTrvlr's post not yours... Conclusion stands though - I'd take the 12.50 am to Haneda absent compelling differences with the other options.

Last edited by tt7; Jan 30th, 2019 at 07:45 PM.
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Jan 31st, 2019, 07:06 AM
  #17  
 
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IACE is having some sort of sale on Saturday - it's on the phone only - maybe you can get a good fare.....I won't post a link as I don't want to advertise it which I think is against the rules here....hope that helps...
Mara is offline  
Feb 8th, 2019, 02:20 PM
  #18  
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So the trip to Japan is now FOR REAL!!!

Booked our flights RT from LAX - Haneda, leaving on March 10-31 with Delta ( Delta Comfort seats) arriving at Haneda at 3:30 pm. I have been doing my research and before I book hotels I would appreciate any help/suggestions you may have on my possible itinerary.

March 10 LAX- Haneda
11-16 Tokyo with day trips to Nikko and Kamakura
17-19 Kanazawa, Takayama , Shirakawa-go *** not sure where to base
20-25 Kyoto with day trips to Nara and Osaka
26-28 Hiroshima and Miyajima ** probably base in Miyajima
29/30 **Either back to Tokyo for 2 days before departing on 31 or ??????
31 Haneda -LAX

Your thoughts?
allyboy is online now  
Feb 9th, 2019, 11:41 AM
  #19  
tt7
 
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1. I would just go to Kanazawa and forget Takayama and Shirakawa-go. You risk spending more time travelling than actually enjoying where you are.

2. What do you plan to do in Osaka? I would go to Himeji for the day and stop in Osaka for the late afternoon/evening on the way back to Kyoto.

3. Add the extra two days to Kyoto.
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Feb 9th, 2019, 12:03 PM
  #20  
kja
 
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IMO, the Kanazawa, Takayama, Shirakawa-go loop is best with 5 full days.
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