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Japan and China for 16 days

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Jul 15th, 2014, 11:47 PM
  #1
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Japan and China for 16 days

Hello all!
My fiancé and I are planning on doing 2 weeks in China and Japan December or January, end of 2015 start of 2016.
We would like to see Mt Fuji in Japan.
We would like to see Great Wall of China, the Forbidden city and the Terracotta Warrior statues in China.
We aren't interested in visiting any major cities. More so scenery and villages.
Is there anything else we need to see?
Also, what is the language barrier like? If we don't speak any Chinese or Japenese at all, is it worth taking a course to learn, for the 2 weeks?
Thanks in advance!
Sammy
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Jul 16th, 2014, 03:53 AM
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Don't you think you are way to excited for the trip its almost after one year!!LOL
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Jul 16th, 2014, 06:32 AM
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"Is there anything else we need to see? "

You "need" to spend some time reading guidebooks so that you can decide what you WANT to see. You have plenty of time to do that. You do not have plenty of time for two countries, two weeks is about the minimum for either country. I suggest starting with Insight and Eyewitness, then you could take a look at Rough Guide and Lonely Planet.
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Jul 16th, 2014, 06:40 AM
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Unless you pick up languages very quickly, I doubt that a course would help you in either country. You don't need to speak the language to enjoy either country. It does always help to memorize a few words - for hello, thank you, etc, but you will find English signage in airports, train stations, subways, etc.

I agree with Thursdays, you should choose one country so you have time to explore and enjoy. We spent 16 days in Japan in November and didn't nearly "see the country." Click on my name and you'll find my trip report for Japan. photos are at www.marlandc.com

If you want to see some of the major cultural sights in either country, you will be visiting major cities. Get several good guide books and start studying - that will help you a lot more than trying to learn either language. Right now, you have basically no idea what you want to do/see/experience in these fascinating countries.

You might want to reconsider when you go. Dec/Jan will be very cold in the areas of China you mention. If you could go in November, you could see the koyo (fall colors) in Japan.

Enjoy your planning!
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Jul 16th, 2014, 10:29 AM
  #5
 
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I did a similar trip but only had one stop in China, not two like you have. And it was in November. I stopped in Beijing for a few days after Japan only because it was free as part of the same FF award I used to get to Japan.

Your China itinerary would be big cities.

Shirakawago is a village in central Japan and was a great place to visit in January. I had a delightful stay at the Koemon gassho zukuri as the only guest of the family. There was "only" four feet of snow on the ground but the boots they provided were necessary.

Kyushu, in general, is a good area to visit if you want country. In particular, the town of Takachiho might interest you. There is the gorge and the shrine and a couple of other sights. In November, they start holding kagura dance/theater performances at the shrine (one of my most favorite experiences in Japan, one where I felt that I was deep inside Japan). Am not sure, but the performances at the shrine might be offered in December. There are also all-night kagura performances at farmhouses in the area and am pretty sure they continue through December and into January.

It is definitely worthwhile to learn some Japanese, beyond the typical polite phrases, when traveling in the country. Things like "where is the ..." (toilet, train station, ...). Learn how to pronounce place names. And other phrases: I knew what to do when the lady said "chotto matte, kudasai" (I waited). Knowing directions, compass points, helps locate things (like your hotel in Nishi-Shinjuku would be west of Shinjuku station, or that higashiyama would be the eastern mountain(s).

It is also worth knowing how to say/hear the names of typical Japanese dishes. In the country you might find that a restaurant has no English menu, no pictures, and no models to refer to. In Otaru, I ordered by pointing to the dish that the people next to me were enjoying. In Kirishima, I didn't even have that option. What I needed was a phrase to ask him to say the names of the menu items in hopes of hearing a name that I recognized. I couldn't get the waiter to read the menu for me. I think I said "soba?" and waved my finger over the menu. We worked it out and I got fed.
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Jul 16th, 2014, 06:52 PM
  #6
kja
 
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Ditto the above -- get some good guidebooks, think about what intrigues you most, seriously consider visiting only ONE of these two countries (and realize that you will see very little of either with only two weeks), learn at least a few civilities in each language, realize that you WILL be visiting major cities in either country....

Both are fascinating and are well worth seeing, and the very best news is that you have LOTS of time to plan.
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Jul 16th, 2014, 07:33 PM
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I sixth everyone else. Choose one country and get more of a feel for it. We spent 3 1/2 weeks in Japan in November of 2008 and fell in love with it.
There are 4 trip reports of this journey on Fodor's somewhere.

Always good to learn some of the language. Minimum the basic 10 phrases: please, thank you, good morning, good evening, I'm sorry I don't speak _____________, do you speak ____________?
I learned a bit more Japanese and was glad for it, but it was not necessary. Chinese makes me want to cry it is SO hard.

I recommend mixing city and small town...and at least one stay in a ryokan.
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Jul 16th, 2014, 11:02 PM
  #8
 
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Avneet, I've started planning some trips 18 month in advance (and still not been able to secure some elements I wanted, in places where availability is low and demand is high). When one is only just starting to think about what the trip might be, and at the earliest stages of thinking and researching and then planning, it's not a disadvantage to start early. As for being excited -- the anticipation is half the joy of a trip for many of us -- is there any reason to limit this?

I agree with Kja that two weeks is tight for two countries which each have so much to offer. I'd certainly pick one, myself. On our first trip to Japan we went for 2.5 weeks and felt we didn't even scratch the surface. On the next trip we went for just under three weeks and again, saw only a tiny window. There will be many trips to come.

You say you want to avoid large cities but I would suggest you reconsider on Kyoto. Although it is a large city it has much that is small-scale, charming, traditional and it has many of Japan's most wonderful cultural sites in a small area. Besides which, if you choose carefully, you can stay in an accommodation that is either in an outlying neighbourhood or even a very near by more rural location a couple of metro/ train stops out. But there are also many accommodation options within Kyoto that will still give you peace and beauty.

As Thursday says, what you "need" to see depends on what you "want" to see. Personally I can't imagine going to Japan and missing out all the cities, so my list would immediately differ from yours. Echo the suggestion for a guide book or just spend some hours on japan-guide.com to narrow it down a little.

MrWunrfl is right about Kyushu. We spent 8 days there in October/November 2013 and rented a car for much of that. It's beautiful and rural and places like Kumamoto are much smaller than Tokyo or Kyoto. The drives between places are just beautiful and very rural and green.

And cmstraf and the others are right that you can get by well wtih 10 or 20 phrases. It's HARD to actually learn the language in a meaningful way. I am good at languages and spent 20-30 minutes 6-7 days a week (first thing each morning) for 3-4 months and didn't feel I had any useful handle on Japanese at all. In the end I copied some more useful phrases from a phrase book, but at least my pronunciation and ability to hear the responses was improved a little by that period of learning.
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Jul 17th, 2014, 10:10 PM
  #9
 
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One of the things we do with language is watch a subtitled movie a week for 3 months or so before traveling even if we are not trying hard to learn the language. It does two things: helps you learn more about the culture, 2) just the sound a of language becoming familiar helps lessen anxiety, increase overall openness and receptivity when you (I at least) travel. We did this with both Swedish and Japanese, watching more contemporary smaller movies than the classics.

And one of the best and saddest movies I've ever seen, a japanese anime called the graveyard of the fireflies.

I am really glad that someone else found learning Japanese hard.
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Aug 1st, 2014, 05:37 AM
  #10
 
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If you want to see scenery and villages, then by all means do so. Nobody has to stay exclusively in big cities. Just to warn you that a lot of people come away disappointed by the Terracotta Wariors, although the province of Shaanxi and the city of Xian are major tourist destinations even without the warriors.

Getting out into scenery and villages in China in a limited time frame means hiring a guide and driver. It's not like other place where you can rent a car yourself. It's worth it.

Personally, I would spend 4 night in Kyoto, hire a guide and driver for a 7 night trip from Beijing, and then spend the last 4 nights in Beijing. You could consult with a tour company on where to go from Beijing. You don't have to go far.

Everyone should pick up language skills while traveling. It's fun, exciting, and edifying. It helps you undertand the culture. But I'm not sure taking a short course will help. Pick up a pocket translation guide and start looking at it a little in advance. There are websites that can help you with pronunciation, like Forvo. A few key words and phrases will get you started. That's all you really need. Anytime you travel somewhere there is a language barrier, you will run into problems. It's part of the deal.
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Aug 1st, 2014, 06:07 AM
  #11
 
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It is not necessary to hire a car and driver to get off the beaten track in China. Buses, supplemented by local taxis (or equivalent) where required, work just fine.

While knowledge of some basic phrases in the local language is, of course, desirable, I have to point out that Mandarin is a tonal language. I am tone deaf. I will never do more than butcher the language. However, I managed just fine with a good phrasebook and learning to recognize the characters for place names and basic foods.
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Aug 1st, 2014, 07:18 AM
  #12
kja
 
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I agree -- no need to hire a car and driver, as you can use public transportation to get almost anywhere you would want to go.
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Aug 4th, 2014, 06:44 AM
  #13
 
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I think the question of buses is one of time and location. If you want to tour the Fujian roundhouses, it is possible, I guess, to take only buses. But it will take you much, much longer.

If you don't have much time, yes, taking a bus can be straightforward, or *sometimes* be a huge time suck, like totally wasting a day not only waiting for a bus but on a long, arduous bus trip that would otherwise be a pleasant, convenient drive, stopping wherever you like. It depends.
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Aug 4th, 2014, 11:01 AM
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I repeat, in order to visit rural locations in China it is not necessary to hire a car and driver.. Of course, one can choose to do so, but equally one can choose to do a lot of expensive things that are in no way necessary for a successful trip.
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Aug 5th, 2014, 12:35 PM
  #15
 
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> I think the question of buses is one of time and location. If you want to tour the Fujian roundhouses, it is possible, I guess, to take only buses. But it will take you much, much longer.

No guess. There are organised one-day bus tours from Xiamen, and it's perfectly possible to do it by public bus (I speak from experience). Slower? Of course. "Much, much' slower? No.

> hire a guide and driver for a 7 night trip from Beijing

The very last thing you should do, paying vastly over the odds for two bodies and a vehicle, their accommodation and food, and bodies unlikely to know either where they're going or what they are talking about, while taking a cut from all hotel bookings, shopping, etc.

Such a thing is a fraction of the price by rail or bus, and materials brought from home a far better source of information.
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Aug 5th, 2014, 03:42 PM
  #16
 
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Hello!
I lived in China for 6 months and I can tell you that without chinese you will have trouble communicating with taxi drivers, as they don't speak a word in English, and they don't understand romanized writing. The same with local restaurants. Anyway, this shouldn't stop you from enjoying the trip. The subway systems are very intuitive to use, i.e.
You would magnify your experience speaking Chinese, but it's too complicated to learn it not being part of your daily life.

Regarding your destinations, given that you go in December you should visit Harbin Ice Festival.
You must visit Beijing for the Great Wall, Forbidden City and the Summer Palace at least, and taste the Peking duck.
Xian is ok for maximum 2 days for the warriors, city wall bike riding and the dancing fountains.
Guiling/Yangshuo for the river trip in one of the most scenic and beautiful views worldwide.
Chengdu is also a great option to see the Panda Conservation Center and a tour to Mt. Emei.

It is very easy and convenient to move yourself by train. There are a lot of runs every day from almost everywhere to everywhere.
You can also find great domestic airplane deals in elong.net or ctrip.net
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Aug 5th, 2014, 05:14 PM
  #17
kja
 
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"Xian [sic] is ok for maximum 2 days for the warriors" -- I didn't see everything I wanted to see and I had more than 3 full days there. It really depends on your interests.
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Aug 5th, 2014, 05:40 PM
  #18
 
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I have been to Xi'an three times, and one trip I didn't even go see the Warriors. Nor did I ride a bike, and I don't think there were any fountains at the time. Plenty of other things to see/do. Good eating in the Muslim quarter, too, if you want something different.

The Li river is scenic. It is also very, very touristy. If the OP wants to get off the tourist trail that is not the area to do it.
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Aug 5th, 2014, 07:11 PM
  #19
 
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Thursday,

You just have given me one more reason to go back to amazing China.
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Aug 6th, 2014, 12:06 AM
  #20
 
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> I lived in China for 6 months and I can tell you that without chinese you will have trouble communicating with taxi drivers, as they don't speak a word in English, and they don't understand romanized writing.

But luckily, and rather independently of how long anyone has lived in China (except possibly the taxi drivers), they do understand Chinese characters. All you need to do is have the Chinese characters for your destination, as found in your guide book, written down for you by your hotel receptionist, circled on a map, or displayed on your mobile phone. Show them to the driver and Bo's your uncle.

In short, this isn't a problem.
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