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Help planning May trip with Grandparents to China/Japan

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Hi everyone!

So I understand that what I'm about to ask is extremely general but I'm hoping some of you can help anyway. I am graduating college in a couple months and would like to take my grandparents on a vacation afterwards. They have always dreamed of visiting China or Japan but have never been able to get there. They are 88 now and are in relatively good health. They're able to walk (but not for hours each day). I was thinking the best way to travel for them would be an escorted tour that utilizes bus transportation, or perhaps a river cruise. I attempted to look up some guided tours but none seem to go to both China and Japan. Ideally we are looking to travel for 2-3 weeks, which I understand is not nearly enough time to experience an entire country, let alone two. We would like to keep our budget down, our goal is to stay under $3k per person (air included). My grandfather is very interested in history, the wars, the empires, etc.; I love nature and would love to experience the gardens (and pandas!); My grandmother really enjoys the big city culture (we're from NYC). We're kindof a bit diverse in our interests so we're aiming to get a taste of each.

Now that I've explained our situation a little, let me ask you a few questions.

1: Suggested itinerary? Again, I understand that the answer is typically "it depends", but there seems to be so many destinations within China and/or Japan, I'm not sure where to begin. I'm fine concentrating on two or three destinations and do not feel the need to see EVERYTHING in this short time period, but I'm not sure logistically what makes sense.

2. Has anyone had experienced traveling with elders in Asia? Is there extensive walking? I'm aware of the subway systems and imagine they're efficient but I've seen pictures of the roads in China and cabs seem like a bad idea. Does anyone know of any tour companies that cater specifically to elderly travelers? Even if any do not specifically cater to elders, can anyone recommend a guided tour company in general? I am currently looking at Gate1 Tours, Wendy Wu Tours, among others.

3. If we decide not to go the guided tour route, I imagine we will have a difficult time navigating our way and finding restaurants (picky eaters) etc. Do Americans usually have a hard time traveling through Asia? We traveled solo around France, the UK and Italy in the past, but I can't help but assume that Asia is drastically different and way more complex.

4. Is May a decent time to travel to Asia? Again, I don't really know too much about Asian customs with when holiday and breaks are, or the weather now that I'm thinking about it!

Any advice is much appreciated.

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    My first recommendation is to choose just one country.

    My second recommendation is to ditch the tour idea. Traveling on your own, you will be in a much better position to accommodate your grandparents' needs.

    Some things to consider: the incredible level of air pollution in China, especially Beijing. Will either of your grandparents (or you0 have trouble with that?

    Also, for China, there is an expensive visa: $140 per person. That does not apply if you only visit Hong Kong.

    Take a look at for weather info - you will have to look at each city you are considering.

    As for "Do Americans usually have a hard time traveling through Asia?" the answer is no. Many of us here have traveled all over Asia without tours and have done very well.

    Talk with your grandparents more about their specific interests so you can make decisions based on places they want to go/things they want to see/do.

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    First of all, let me commend you for your intention to take your grandparents on what will undoubtedly be a wonderful experience, no matter what you choose. What a lovely gift!

    I would strongly encourage you to choose EITHER Japan OR China, as 2 or 3 weeks really isn't enough to do either any justice and would, I think, simply add tremendously to the stress because the countries are so different. IMO, a first trip to Japan is best at 3 weeks and a first trip to China best at 3 or 4 weeks. Trying to visit both in the same even shorter time frame would force you to skip SOooo much!

    IME (I've been to Japan and northern China solo), Japan is easier for westerners to visit, although the major cities in China are reasonably accessible to westerners. Depending on what you choose to do and experience, Japan could be more expensive -- but not necessarily so.

    Both of my trips were in May. I thought northern China quite lovely then, but haven't yet been to any parts that are further south, in part because my understanding is that the climate is not that good in Shanghai or southern China during May or later. I had a bit more rain and humidity than I would have preferred in Japan, but it wasn't too bad and it made for some lovely gardens.

    BTW, if you do decide to visit China, be sure to consider the impact of pollution. Here's a recent thread:

    I travelled solo, and so can't recommend any tour groups. My understanding is that there are many reasons to avoid tours in China.

    My advice would be to do a bit more research by reading guidebooks or posts on this board. You'll find a number of trip reports, and also a lot of planning threads that can be especially helpful because you'll learn what people considered and why they made the choices they did.

    Hope this helps!

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    Thanks for your suggestions! I'm going to do a bit more research and central our trip on one country and I'll probably be back with more questions :) Also, I hadn't even thought about the pollution being an issue...thanks for bringing it to my attention!

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    I've given your questions some additional thought and wanted to throw out some ideas, in case they help you plan. I no longer have the option of taking my grandparents, or my parents, anywhere, so your ambition hit a nerve. (Oh, how I wish I could take any one of them somewhere!) I admit that I am unspeakably jealous, but hope that I can help you identify some workable options.

    If you were to take a 2-week trip to Japan, you could visit
    - Kyoto for, say 5 or 6 nights, to include at least one day trip to Nara;
    - Hiroshima (& Miyajima, staying in one or the other) for 2, or perhaps even 3, nights (Hiroshima and Miyajima can actually be visited with just 1 night, but your grandparents might find a more leisurely pace preferable) -- and there is certainly enough to justify extra time!; and
    - Tokyo for, say 4 or 5 nights (perhaps with a day trip to Kamakura or...).
    That would be a GREAT mix (IMO) of the beauty (and gardens) of traditional Japan (Kyoto, Nara, Miyajima), modern Japanese culture (Tokyo, a BIG city!), and history (Hiroshima and any number of other sites, depending on what your grandfather means by "history").

    I would think that a core plan like this would suit the needs of reasonably healthy people in your grandparents' age range well, giving them lots to see and time to savor what they are seeing without rushing. Depending on your grandparents' stamina, you might even be able to add in an overnight stay (or 2-night stay) in someplace not far from your basic route, perhaps Nikko or Hakone. Day trips can, of course, be added at the last minute, but the overnights would take some planning, so your discussions with your grandparents will prove invaluable in making decisions about them.

    If you were to add in another week, you could add in a loop through Kanazawa and Takayama, but you can't really see both from a single base, so you would need to plan on (say) 3 nights in each. You could see some wonderful gardens and sights of historic interest, etc. I am VERY glad I saw these places, BUT I'm not 88! And I'm not sure how a 3rd week away, or an extra 2 changes of hotel, would sit with those who are that age. It would certainly make the trip more expensive.

    If you decide on a 2 or 3-wk trip to China, you might consider as much as a week in Beijing (if you and your grandparents are comfortable about how you will manage the pollution issues), a 1/2 week in Xi'an (the terra-cotta warriors are magnificent and there is a lot to see there), and at most 2 or 3 other stops. Shanghai and/or Hong Kong are (understandably) the typical choices. If a shorter trip with fewer stops is a high priority, you might consider adding a few days in Chengde, the "mountain resort" (not Chengdu, the place known for pandas) to a loop that would include Beijing and Xi'an.

    Just some ideas. There are myriad options!

    Please let us know how we can help.

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    Hello again!

    Thank you kja for all your advice. I think we're leaning towards focusing on Japan, and potentially including a couple days in Beijing. I've come up with the following itinerary, I would appreciate any feedback. I'm hoping it's not too rushed and that the destinations will give a good mix of history and nature.

    1.Fly USA ---> Japan
    3. Hiroshima
    4. Miyajima
    5. Kyoto
    6. Kyoto / Nara
    7. Kyoto
    8. Kyoto
    9. Tokyo
    10. Tokyo
    11. Tokyo / Nikko
    12. Tokyo / Kamakura
    13. Tokyo
    14. Beijing
    15. Beijing
    16. Beijing
    17. Beijing
    18. Fly China --> USA

    I was considering a day in each Hakone and Kanazawa, but I think I am leaning against that now. I think keeping ourselves in a few main destinations and then taking day trips may be easier than constantly moving all over the country.

    Also, as I'm looking on a map it seems that no matter which way I orient the trip (as I have now, or Tokyo --> Kyoto --> Hiroshima --> Osaka) I will have to backtrack in some regard considering we will be using the Osaka airport and Tokyo airport. Is one route more preferable? I'm assuming it doesn't matter.

    Also another couple general questions, I'm well aware that Chinese/Japanese food in America is extremely different than actual Asian cuisine. I'm definitely interested in trying some, but my grandparents are not that adventurous when it comes to food. I'm also a bit worried about them getting sick from the food. I suppose there are McDonald's, but is it generally difficult to find a hamburger/pizza/other American food?

    Additionally, I've been reading a bunch about hired guides and people seem to provide direct personal e-mail addresses...I'm a bit confused as to what they are. Are they essentially personal taxis that show you around the city? Are these safe? Are they associated with any company or network, it seems that they tend to work independently.


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    Sounds like a great trip! It is, however, a bit more rushed than might be ideal, so if you can either pare it down a bit or add to your time, it might be more enjoyable.

    Here are some thoughts for your consideration as you fine tune your plans:

    Osaka: As I understand your plan, you really won't have time to visit Osaka; I assume that you list it because you are planning to fly into Kansai. You might actually want to go straight from Kansai to Hiroshima. I'm sure you'll be tired, but you'll be tired no matter what! And it might be good to minimize the number of hotels you need to deal with -- all the time required for packing/unpacking, checking in/out, getting oriented, etc., adds up.

    I normally recommend staying in Miyajima for a visit to Hiroshima, but if you do go straight there from Kansai, I think you would get to the area too late to stay on Miyajima. (Most lodging there are ryokan, for which you generally need to check in by about 16:00.) Again, to keep the number of hotels down, in your case I think staying in Hiroshima, and visiting Miyajima from there, would be a good plan. When you plan your time on Miyajima, be sure to check the tides and try to be there for low tide as well as some point after the base is flooded, but not necessarily high tide. (I doubt that most of us can tell the difference once the base is covered.)

    Your itinerary doesn't show your travel time, but you can generally assume that you will "lose" 1/2 day each time you change cities -- and that means that you actually have less time on the ground than you seem to think you do. BTW, do take full advantage of Japan's excellent baggage delivery services, takuhaibin

    I must say that you are planning on spending what I consider the bare minimum in Kyoto/Nara and Tokyo, and IMO you are giving Beijing too little time. (As a rule, I recommend 6 days for the Kyoto/Nara area and 6-7 days for Beijing. Tokyo really depends on one's interests, but I can safely say that 2 or 3 days for the city itself is a bare minimum.) I encourage you to give some thought to ways to change your itinerary to allow more time in each of these places, especially because I assume that your grandparents will want a pace that isn't hectic. If you do try to stick to these short visits, be sure that you and your grandparents have thought through at least your highest priorities in advance, so you can take advantage of whatever time you have. And remember: these are all BIG cities, so you can lose a lot of time just getting from one place to another.

    Nikko is lovely, and many people do visit it as a day trip from Tokyo, but be aware that it makes for a very LONG day trip, and even a LONG day trip won't let you see all of Nikko's highlights.

    I haven't been to Hakone and so can't comment on it, but I can say that you don't have time for Kanazawa unless you substantially rework your itinerary. (See my comments about Kanazawa in my last response.)

    Starting south and moving north is IMO the best option for Japan in May.

    About the food: I'm not sure I can answer your question properly, as I found one of the joys of my trips to both Japan and Beijing to be savoring local cuisines. You shouldn't have to worry at all about getting sick from the food unless you eat unwashed raw foods while in China -- and that's an easy "skip" by just always ordering cooked dishes and, if you order street food, watching while it is cooked. As I recall, I drank only bottled water in China; I don't remember worrying about the water in Japan, but any good guide book should have info about that. Western-style hotels in both countries are likely to have Western-style restaurants (pasta, pizza, etc.), so if you feel the need to do so, you can probably stop in one of them. And yes, you will find McDonald's and/or similar fast food places, but they probably won't taste like what you are accustomed to. If you and your grandparents are willing to eat tempura or teriyaki, you shouldn't have any problem in Japan. In Beijing, some "tame" meals would include wontons or perhaps a hotpot, for which you and your grandparents would select the ingredients.

    You should not need a guide in any of these places, and you would do well to AVOID a guide in Beijing, as they will cost far, far, FAR more than you need to pay, won't have information you can't learn from a decent guidebook, and will probably take you to uninteresting restaurants and unwanted "shopping" opportunities. (Safety isn't the issue -- being ripped off is!) The subway system in Beijing is excellent and easy for English-speakers to use. Taxis will cost a bit more, but are plentiful -- just flag one down (don't ask your hotel to get one for you unless you want to pay a LOT more quite unnecessarily) and insist that the driver use the meter.

    In both countries, carry with you the name and address of your hotel in local script. Once you get there, get cards from the hotel desk.

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    Regarding hired guides, there are different kinds.

    Some people hire professional guides, these are the same as anywhere, they will organise am itinerary around various sites and take/ guide you around them. I found the prices in Japan high but then again, we don't tend to use private guides anywhere really, so perhaps they are equivalent to elsewhere in the world.

    Most places (of any reasonable size / where many tourists visit) also have one or more volunteer guide association. These guides are not professional but do have some standards and training provided by the association. They can be students or housewives or retired people who like the idea of sharing their town with visitors. Generally, the costs here are very low and are intended to cover their personal expenses, because the attraction for them is to practice English (or whichever language the guide in), meet people and share their local area. We booked one such guide in Fukuoka and the fees were 2000Yen to cover her travel to meet us and get back home (which was a standard fee set by the organisation) plus of course we covered all her travel, entrance fees, food and drink during the time we were together, which I'd estimate came to less than 2000Yen again. We had corresponded in advance about interests and she put together a comprehensive itinerary for us. Was very good and we saw much more than we would have been able to in the limited time we had in the city.

    Personally, I'd drop Beijing and focus the time on Japan, not least because it reduces the hassle and tiring experience of airports / air travel and because you're short-changing yourself on Japan otherwise. Would leave Beijing for another day.

    But YMMV.

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    Hi sparrow1040:

    Wishing you and your grandparents a great time in Asia!
    We ourselves, are grandparents, travelling quite extensively in Asia for the last 6 years.
    My recommendation is to keep Beijing in your itinerary, so you can compare these two great, but very different countries. We stayed for one month and enjoyed the Great Wall, Summer Palace and Peking Opera as well as the lively, very well organised night market with the most unthinkable food (only looking at it, since we are vegetarian!). Beijing is well worth a visit of at least 5 days, in my opinion. Please, have a look at our travel notes and decide for yourself.
    I didn’t travel Japan, but Matt made a detour last year. Perhaps his notes could give you an idea, what you’d want to see:
    Happy travelling!
    Cheers, Konni,

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    You are a very caring grandchild, I'll just be blunt, keep Beijing in the plan as you don't know when is the "another day". There is so much history and culture to enjoy and it is one of the easiest cities to get around in China.

    May is quickly approaching, make a list and start working on it right away -- flights, China visa, hotels, to-do list for every city, etc. Come back with more questions, Fodorites are a helpful bunch of experienced travelers.

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    Hi again :) everyone has been so helpful here! I'm hard at work figuring out the itinerary.After accounting for transportation, it looks like it may be something like this:

    Osaka (1) Hiroshima (1) Miyajima (1) Kyoto (3.5) Nara (1) Tokyo (4.5) Nikko (1) Kamakura (1) Beijing (4.5)= Total (22)

    It's a little bit longer and more rushed than I anticipated,
    I'm contemplating eliminating Beijing, that may solve the problem but I'm faced with Shanghainese's "another day" issue. However I figure even getting a taste of these countries will be good, even if we had an entire month or two we wouldn't be able to see everything; I'm sure whatever route we decide will still call for a good and memorable trip.

    I'm sure this has been asked & answered before but I can't seem to find it, but I had some questions in regard to spending money. It seems as if attractions are fairly inexpensive (between 500-1000 yen / $5-$10), as well as transportation within the cities (seems to be about 200-300 yen ($2-3) per ride, or 600 yen ($6) for an all day pass. Hotels we would obviously book in advance, but a quick search on American travel websites estimate 1000 yen per night ($100). These seem pretty on par with costs in American cities. I was under the impression that Asia was much more expensive than America, are there other expenses I'm forgetting about that may be greater than we're used to in the USA? Also - how much would you budget (per person) for food each day? Like I mentioned earlier, we'll probably end up eating American most days, I'm not sure how that will influence cost. Please note, I haven't researched Beijing at all yet so, the prices I'm mentioning are what I've gathered from Japanese guides.

    One more question - is there a preferred section in each city where I should try to book a hotel? Perhaps one centrally located with access to restaurants and such. (I traveled to Vancouver last summer and ended up staying in the financial district - on the weekends when the offices were closed, so were the restaurants! The situation created some hungry tourists ha)Again, I'm mainly looking at reserving hotels in Osaka, Hiroshima, Kyoto and Tokyo (the other cities I mentioned will be day trips). I'm not familiar with hotels in Japan but we would be looking at budget wise staying to the equivalent of a Holiday Inn or Best Western in the states.

    Oh - actually one more question ha. I'm assuming Japan is very modern. high-tech, etc. but I traveled to Italy a few years ago and the hotels were mainly incredibly small, did not have air-condition or elevators, etc. Is there anything I should be aware of prior to booking a hotel in Japan, certain amenities that may not be standard that I should look out for.


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    "I was under the impression that Asia was much more expensive than America" Asia is a large continent. Much of Asia (SE Asia, for instance) is much less expensive than the US. I'd say Japan is about as expensive as major cities in the US (NYC, Chicago, Washington DC, San Francisco, etc)

    $100 hotel rooms in Japan will be tiny - just be aware of this.

    Personally, I think your itinerary is too rushed. I would be exhausted - and I'm not 80. One night stays are exhausting - and they often mean you have one night somewhere, no time for sightseeing, etc. My own rule for myself is that I try not to schedule any stays of fewer than 3 nights, which is just two full days. I'd suggest you decide which of the one-night stays is most important to you, and cut the others, giving yourself a minimum of two nights in the most important (to you) places. It's not like you are going to run out of things to see/do in any of these places. And half days often turn out to be just a couple of hours after you account for checking in and out of hotels. With half days, I consider it a bonus if I'm able to do anything on the half day, so I don't even count them into my time.

    Also, think about your time in Tokyo. I may be unusual, but we found Tokyo to be the least interesting of our stops and we love big cities. Is there one particular thing you want to see/do in Tokyo? If so, then choose a hotel near that attraction. Give yourselves time to adjust to the time change.

    We had just over two weeks in Japan and felt like public transport in Kyoto would eat up too much of our time, so we took taxis. Yes, it was more expensive, but we felt we were able to seed a lot more in our time there. It also saves wear and tear on your grandparents - public transport is often very, very crowded (of course, because we were there at koyo there were more people than usual visiting the city).

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    Like Kathie, I was not overy enthused by Tokyo, I found the other places I visited in Japan much more interesting, and less stressful. (Click on my name for my TR.)

    Is your $100/night for all three of you? (BTW, you misplaced a zero, that's more like 10,000 yen.) I generally slept for somewhat less than that, but that was for a single, often in a business type hotel, and in Tokyo I slept on the floor. The rooms in business class hotels are small, but have all the amenities you could want.

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    "It's ... more rushed than I anticipated" -- Indeed!

    If you are planning some of these visits as day trips, you may be able to enjoy parts of this trip. I'm not sure how your grandparents will feel. If you proceed with it, I agree with Kathie -- cut your time in Tokyo; add the time to Kyoto and/or Beijing.

    As for the "another day" issue, you and your grandparents need to decide whether to sample a bit of a lot of places or savor what you do so. Personally, I hate to shortchange I place I have chosen to visit, even if it means I won't see something else. Granted, one can't see everything, but I want to be sure to at least see all of my highest priorities in any place I select. And I hate losing my precious travel time to going from place to place and dealing with the stress of re-orienting to a different culture when I'm already trying to pack too much in. That said, there are many people who approach the issue differently. Whatever you choose, a key will be working with your grandparents to identify your highest priorities and making sure you can see them in the way that you want to see them.

    Costs vary so widely that I'm not sure how to advise you. Lodging in Japan, and especially in Tokyo, is generally on the expensive side, and as Kathie notes, rooms will be SMALL. But there are a few less expensive (if still small) options; you would need to seek them out SOON. Preferences for where to stay vary with price range, interests, etc. I generally avoid Western hotels when abroad; others specifically seek them. Good guide books should outline your options.

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    One more thing to think about: If you collect hotel points (esp. Hyatt or Starwood), Japan is the place to use them! We had a 6 night stay in Kyoto for free, which certainly cut down on our costs!

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    I'm with Kathie and Kja and agree with what they've said.

    Firstly, as Kja said, even if there is that chance that you won't make it back to this side of the world with your grandparents for another trip, my personal opinion is that it's better to have one really excellent trip that gives you the best experience of one country, than trying to squeeze two countries into the trip and having to deal with the resulting loss of time to travel, not to mention how tiring it is.

    That said, if you are very determined to keep Beijing in, then of course, you should!

    Agree as well that with older travellers, one nighters will be tiring.

    I can't work out the numbers in brackets, as there are some half days, so I'm not entirely sure where/ how many nights you're spending in each place...

    For the Hiroshima / Miyajima I suggest you spend both the nights in the same place, and of the two I'd definitely pick Miyajima.

    Unless your grandparents are much more agile than most of their age, I'm guessing that futons on the floor will not be suitable. The mattresses of the futons are usually comfortable enough, and regular pillows and quilts, but getting down onto and up from the floor bedding is difficult, or was for me with my arthritic hips and I'm only 40!

    However some of the higher end traditional hotels in Miyajima have Western rooms, which would give the Asian aesthetic but regular Western beds. Of course, if you need to stick to only American food, you probably won't be interested in the often-included traditional kaiseki ryori meals, so you may want to see if room only or bed and breakfast are available. If not, I guess it's a case of looking into Western hotels.

    Elsewhere Western hotels are easy to find, and there are many international chains (which are, in my opinion, expensive) and many local ones. As Kathie said, $100 will give you a standard twin or double room in a Western hotel. Triples are rare.

    We usually found we needed to up the budget a fair bit to have more control over amenities, room and location. I'd say our budget was more like 13,000-15,000 Yen per night (US$150) when we were staying in Western hotels. (It was much higher for the high end traditional ryokans with kaiseki meals and onsen spa). You may well spend more in order to book a hotel's larger sized rooms.

    I used to make most of my bookings and it has the advantage of showing quite a bit of detail about the various room types including square footage etc. in many cases.

    Even then, one of the hotels we booked in Tokyo this last trip was so so tight that there was only about 8 inches between the side of the bed and the wall. And when I used the bathroom, just getting up from the toilet, ahem, meant banging my head against the bathroom wall, because it really was that tight. The room had next to no storage yet was marketed as deluxe because of decor/ styling of the room and hotel. I'm less fussed about room size than many travellers to Japan but found this one ridiculously small and did complain but they wanted more than £100 to upgrade to a (very slightly) larger room. I declined.

    If you're happy with budget decor but clean, comfortable, all the furniture properly maintained, mattresses etc always feel new, never worn and saggy etc. and very helpful staff, I think the Dormy Inn chain is really excellent, and I've found the rooms there very well laid out to make the very very best use of space. Again, I check the actual room size and for the individual hotels where the basic rooms are tiny I book a larger one.

    For Nara, I'd suggest not overnighting there but doing as a day trip from Kyoto. Plus I agree to take a night from Tokyo and give it to Kyoto. There is so much to see in both places but, like the other ladies, I found Kyoto so much more compelling.

    Your prices for travel, attractions etc are right for Japan but I'd also factor in that you may want to grab taxis now and then when the group is tired.

    Food is difficult as I never ate American food in Japan. You can find Italian (pasta etc) quite readily. When I saw these sorts of places, they were usually more expensive than the places we ate in the most. We commonly spent between 1000 Yen and 5000 Yen per person on dinner (with occasional splurges now and then), but eating Japanese it was easy to find food at the lower end by popping into ramen or donburi places, and sushi places. We also love tonkatsu and tempura places, which fall easily within that budget and yakiniku, which does too and I can't get enough of it!

    But I remember there was an Italian restaurant in our Kyoto hotel, and I'd estimate more like 4000 for dinner there per night. Another reason to recommend that hotel for you, perhaps.

    By the way, our hotel in Kyoto was perfect location, our room was really large and spacious and comfortable, and we got a ridiculous rate of about 9000 Yen per night through which made it the absolute bargain of the trip. I'd stay again in a heart beat, even if the price were a good deal higher. It was Kyoto Royal Hotel & Spa. Do check reviews though, as I think there's a range of room types, possibly.

    We had room only, btw, and never ate breakfast in the hotel. Here's my post on our breakfasts in Kyoto, which was one of the few occasions we went Western over Japanese. Where breakfast was provided in a ryokan we always went Japanese but many do offer Western option instead.

    The thing we noticed a lot was how expensive drinks (and I mean soft drinks) are in restaurants. Really a lot more than both UK and US, especially in ratio to the price of food. We only ordered drinks with meals rarely (enjoying the tea or water provided) and happily bought soft drinks and beers from the ubiquitous vending machines and convenience stores instead. Plus, I darn love that cold canned coffee, genuinely!

    Hope this helps!

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    Sleeping on the floor - as Kavey says, that means on futons, standard practice in Japan (and Korea). I'm in my 60s and had not trouble getting down and up, but I did find it annoying to have nowhere much to put anything, which wasn't a problem in "western" rooms. I would expect to find sleeping on futons more challenging in my 80s.

    In addition to the Dormy chain, I liked the Toyoko Inns.

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    I am not yet in my 80'S but one night in a hotel is a big NO for me. Much too difficult to pack and unpack, go thru the trouble of finding the next hotel, getting there, registering, waiting for my room, etc. Two nights minimum and three much, much better. So much better to select main stops and really see that place. Remember, just getting to Japan or China is a huge trip. Almost everybody needs time (at least one full day) to relax and get over the flight and the culture shock. Your first days are different cities each day. All you will do is travel. Beijing is very interesting. Lots to see and lots of tour services. If you do go to Tokyo I highly suggest hiring a guide for the first day of touring. Trying to find your way around is not that easy. I see lots of tourists in NYC who speak English turning a map around trying to find out where they are and where there are trying to go and NYC is a grid. City tour buses are good.. you sit and the city comes to you.
    Forget using the subway in Tokyo. Too many people, often isn't easy. Frankly, I cannot believe your grandparents are up for the kind of trip you are planning. I know you are wonderful to think of this, but look at their life style in NYC and scale it back for travel. We could not do your planned trip and we are 10-15 years younger than your gparents and we have and do travel all over the world. Plus for your family, American hotels will provide "we know what we are going to get" comfort. Do not even think about a hotel where you sleep on futons on the floor. There is nothing in the room to help you get upright. Think about nightime bathroom trips. Been there, done that.

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    "Beijing is very interesting. Lots to see and lots of tour services." -- I agree that there is a lot to see. I also agree that there are a lot of tour services -- which should almost universally be avoided!

    "If you do go to Tokyo .... Trying to find your way around is not that easy. ... Forget using the subway in Tokyo. Too many people, often stairs" -- I agree that it is VERY easy to get lost in Tokyo, but with a bit of advanced research, one can plot out one's subway routes and even identify stations with escalators or escalators. Or at least I did so when I went in 2006.

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    I didn't mean to suggest that buses and taxis would not be good options. I was just suggesting that the subways, too, could be of use. So to be clear, Elainee has, IMO, drawn attention to an issue that is important for sparrow and her grandparents to consider.

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