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Is it easy to travel in Japan or book a tour group?

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Is it easy to travel in Japan or book a tour group?

Old Jun 29th, 2013, 11:08 AM
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Is it easy to travel in Japan or book a tour group?

Hi all

I have never been to Japan and thinking of going in late September for 3 weeks (that's the most time I can get off work). My question is: is it easy to get around Japan independently? are there English signs in the train stations or is everything in Japanese? is it easy for me to do it DIY, once I have an idea on itinerary or is it best to book a tour group to get round the language barrier?

Any suggestions or help is much appreciated.

Thanks
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Old Jun 29th, 2013, 12:27 PM
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some of the japan experts here are very free with their help so I think you could DIY easily if you ask lots of questions
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Old Jun 29th, 2013, 12:56 PM
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Well I dont have a exact itinerary at the moment. Obviously Tokyo and Kyoto are on the list, but everything not sure. I was in China last April 2012, but I booked that trip with a tour, Intrepid. It was worth every penny as the Chinese do not speak much English and everything in the trains/buses was in Mandarin. That's why I am asking if Japan is the same thing, and if so, I'm quite happy to pay for a tour group again..
Any suggestions please keep them coming, thanks
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Old Jun 29th, 2013, 01:32 PM
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A number of regulars on this board are planning trips to Japan this fall. Go to the top of the page and choose Japan from the drop-down menu and you will see all of he recent posts on Japan. You will see may questions on Japan and the answers from the local Japan experts.

I'm headed to japan in November for the firsts time and got great info here.
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Old Jun 29th, 2013, 01:36 PM
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I have been to Japan 8 times on my own - I guess it is a lot different from traveling in China from what I have read. In Tokyo and Kyoto getting around without knowing Japanese is easy and even in smaller places it is doable. I must say it helps to do your research first, that is, have your hotel reservations and train or bus schedules planned - that really helps imo....

Here is an excellent site for you to do research:
http://www.japan-guide.com/
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Old Jun 29th, 2013, 02:17 PM
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I've been to Japan 3 times and am going back in November for a month. I've never had a problem traveling on my own (with my husband).

We don't speak Japanese, though I know some Chinese and found that useful in enabling me to recognize many Japanese characters (that is, it's not all Greek to me). Announcements on main train routes are in English as well as Japanese, and people are very helpful if you seem lost. We met many Japanese who want to practice their English and were more than willing to go out of their way to show us the way if we were unsure of a location.

Train travel is really easy, especially if you get a rail pass (just show the pass and you're through the turnstile). We even rented a car for a couple of weeks in Hokkaido and had no problem driving (a combination of the GPS that came with the car and a map with towns printed in English alphabet made it relatively easy to get to where we were going).

On our first trip we spent part of the time on a 12-day guided walk with Walk Japan on the Nakasendo Way, which was awesome because we got off the beaten track and had a guide who was fluent in Japanese. (We're doing another Walk Japan trek in November, in Kyushu this time). But the first half of the trip we were on our own and made our way just fine to Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Miyajima, and other places. On the second trip we were completely on our own for 5 weeks, no problems beyond the standard glitches one encounters when traveling in another country with a different language and customs.

The only other guided tour I've done is a 3-week trip in Vietnam, which many people say is easy to do on your own. The trip was part of a 4-month sojourn around the world, so it was nice to have one portion of that journey where we were totally taken care of. But it did remove a lot of the spontaneity that usually accompanies do-it-yourself travel.

So I would recommend doing a Japan trip on your own, using the resources mentioned above, a good guidebook, and advice from travelers to Japan who frequent this and other forums. You won't regret it!
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Old Jun 29th, 2013, 02:39 PM
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I have been to Japan many times. It is very easy to travel there...lots of good signage, safe, honest taxi drivers, on-time public transportation, and tourist info inside or close by most train stations in small towns. Almost every restaurant will have plastic models of their menu items, and residents are happy to help with directions.
Unless we're going during a busy season, or have a particular inn we want to stay at, we usually just make reservations for our first and last nights and wing it from there. It really is easy.
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Old Jun 29th, 2013, 03:26 PM
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I thought it extremely easy to travel independently in Japan.

For a great source of information, check out:
japan-guide.com
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Old Jun 29th, 2013, 03:43 PM
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wow, thanks to everyone for your posts, the info supplied has been very useful. I have travelled last year, alone. I went on a RTW trip, starting from SE Asia (inc. China), OZ, NZ, South America and USA. So travelling to different cultures is not new to me. Yet I didnt have the time or money to see Japan last year, hoping to make it this year..
It seems Japan is easier to navigate as compared to China.
I will read the web sites mentioned, and probably post another question regarding my itinerary, once I've come up with a more detailed plan.
Thanks again, anything else to add, please add. I am keen to hear what your experiences were like, whether you're male or female, alone or not..
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Old Jun 29th, 2013, 07:35 PM
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ask detailed questions
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Old Jun 29th, 2013, 07:45 PM
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Stop thinking about your trip to China. Other than the facts that the people look (but not dress) similar, and that Japanese use a lot of Chinese characters in their written language, the two countries cannot be more different.
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Old Jun 30th, 2013, 04:22 AM
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rkkwan makes an important point. Travel in Japan is easy and extremely predictable. Cities invariably have excellnt public transportation systems, intercity trains are nearly always on time, pedestrians and vehicles invariably obey the rules. Travel in China can be chaotic. Some roads in urbanized areas are a mishmash of cars, pedestrians, bicycles, and even livestock competing for space. While air travel is far safer than it was years ago, some airports are still antiquated.
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Old Jun 30th, 2013, 08:21 AM
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Thanks DonTopaz. I think I will go it alone and see what happens. I looked at tour prices and its so expensive, and I am wondering if what I am paying is worth the money since Japan seems fairly straight forward enough to see it independently.
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Old Jun 30th, 2013, 08:22 AM
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I am not thinking about China, I am asking if the experience for a tourist is any different and therefor, I can make my decision as to what to do in my time there.
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Old Jun 30th, 2013, 11:24 AM
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No need for a tour to Japan as others mention above. Japan has been "hosting" Americans since the end of WW II. The English signage in train stations and trains abound throughout Japan. Upcoming stations and connecting lines are announced in Japanese and English on shinkansen and some other lines frequently used by foreign visitors. Shinkansen and other newer trains have electronic signs in each car that display the upcoming stations in Japanese and English. Japanese schools have made English a mandatory subject in schools now for a couple of generations. I think the minimum taken is six years. Although many of the older generations may have forgotten or have not had any English, it is pretty easy to be understood just about anywhere in Japan these days. iphone/smartphone translators make life easier in the rural areas and situations these days.....

But for a three week itinerary in late Sept-early Oct we would need to know your budget and areas of interest. The Japan guide site left above is an excellent source of information about Japan travel and used along with these sites may give you and idea of what you want to see and do while in Japan.

http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/

http://www.fodors.com/world/asia/japan/

A good first visit(depending on your budget and interests) 3-week plan may include something like this:

Fly into NRT
5 days Tokyo
3 days Hakone-Fuji Region
2 nights Hiroshima + 1 night in a ryokan on Miyajima island
2 nights Nara
7 nights Kyoto
Fly out of KIX

Do a little research and as rhkkmk says above, come back with detailed questions. Also if you click on my screen name, I have done a few detailed trip reports about our Japan travels that may give you a little insight about Japan solo.

Aloha!
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Old Jul 1st, 2013, 02:58 PM
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Our experience was a little different. After an overnight stop in Narita we decided to go back a.s.a.p. but felt a bit nervous, so we booked an Intrepid trip. This took us to all major sites far more quickly and easily and was great fun with a group of 12. With the help of our sharp young guide we found back street gems and hidden travels,best inns and cafes and tricks to getting the best of our time ,also looking at lost souls in subways etc. made us so glad we did it. We thought you couldn't do it for much less cost on your own too.
Been back 5 times now,train,bus and driven from top to bottom
of Japan but so glad we introduced ourselves gently first..
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Old Jul 3rd, 2013, 05:55 AM
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thank you all for your replies.

@Tommmo
I did a trip with Intrepid to China and as I said, was very good. Though the trips to Japan with them are very expensive, its about £3000 ! and they do not include the rail pass (which had to be bought separately yourself). I am thinking to do it DIY since so many of you have replied that's it quite easy to do..I do have a friend in Tokyo, so will be some help at least.
@hawaiiantraveler
Thanks for your suggested itinerary, looks similar to what I was thinking only my return flight is from Tokyo so will have to allocate some time to head back wherever I am
Thanks again.
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