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Recent 3 Week Japan Trip Report: Preoaration and Observations.

Recent 3 Week Japan Trip Report: Preoaration and Observations.

Apr 16th, 2019, 07:30 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 467
Recent 3 Week Japan Trip Report: Preoaration and Observations.

Our three week trip to Japan was spectacular!
In putting together this trip report I want to present it in two different ways: first is OUR PREPARATION and OBSERVATIONS and second is the actual ITINERARY including where we stayed, cities and sights we chose to see and visit and any regrets a long the way.

We are New Yorkers and living in the Los Angeles area during the Feb./March months . We decided to visit Japan from here figuring it would be easier and less costly and set out to create a 3 week itinerary visiting the cities that had been discussed most in our research. The first steps were to select dates, book flights, decide which cities and number of days in each location. secure travel insurance and do our research!

We wanted to experience seeing Cherry Blossoms , however, chose not to visit during peak time due to cost, crowds and completing our trip by the end of March. Our research using the Japan-guide.com gave us a forecast of when and where the Cherry Blossoms would start blooming and so we chose March 10-31 leaving from LAX.

In reviewing all of our options we chose Delta over JAL and ANA. For us it offered the best time availability, cost was competitive, reviews were good and we chose to fly Delta Comfort offering us additional services and space. We chose to arrive and depart from Haneda Airport (closest to Tokyo) and made the decision to travel by Limousine bus ( from Haneda) directly to our hotel in Shinjuku.

Selecting Cities
Our Itinerary ( which I will go into detail later on in the report): Tokyo for 6 days including a side trip to Kamakura and Hakone, 7 days in Kyoto including side trips to Nara and Osaka. 2 days in Hiroshima including a day trip to Miyajima, 2 days in Kanazawa , 2 days in Takayama with a stopover in Shirakawago and 1 last day back in Tokyo.

Travel Insurance
We have always used Travel Guard insurance.

Most of our research was through Tripadvisor Travel Forum and Fodors Travel Forum. I also had several friends who had visited Japan and discussed with them where to go and I used Japan-guide.com extensively. Additionaly we perused You Tube videos , read newspaper articles, bought Fodor’s Travel books and just read as much as we could on the internet without making ourselves crazy! Also since my wife is a photographer she researched specific photo ops in each city we would visit.

Passports, JR Pass, Suica Card, Phone/Internet service, Purchase Yen
We checked that our Passports were up to date (already have Global Entry), researched and purchased our JR Passes ( 21 days and pick up at airport), reserved a wi-fi/phone device through WIFIHIRE.COM (pickup at airport), purchased a Suisa Card ( you put as much money in it and you use as a debit card throughout your stay). You can purchase at the JR counter or through machines in all subway locations. You can continue to add to your Suisa Card and upon leaving Japan you are refunded all money left in the account minus a $5 fee. I chose to purchase Yen in LA before leaving, however, you can do so at the airport, ATM machines, 7-11 Stores or Lawson stores. By the way you can also purchase good food and wine at these stores!

Google Translate App, Hyperdia.comTrain Schedules, Bus tickets, Tours/Guides, Print out of specific Japanese Translations.

A friend suggested we place Google Translate on our phone. Theoretically, you place your phone in picture mode over the Japanese writing and it will translate for you. While it helped some of the time we couldn’t rely on it. In deciding which JR Pass to purchase I suggest the following: allow yourself enough time to order it as you must order this online and purchase before you leave. Determine where and when you will be traveling within Japan and check the times and costs of each trip through Hyperdia.com ( that will give you an idea if it is worth purchasing 1, 2, or 3 week pass. For us it was practical for to purchase the 21 day pass saving money and time spent purchasing each ticket. With the JR Pass all you do is show your pass at a special entrance and you are waved through. We decided on taking a bus from Haneda Airport to our hotel in Shinjuku and purchased tickets at the airport. Fortunately for us the bus brought us to our front door of our hotel. The ride was approximately an hour and was comfortable. If you decide to visit Shirakawago you can ( and should reserve seats ) 30 days in advance online. I reserved our seats departing from Kanazawa ( on the way to Takayama), placed our luggage in a room ( since the few lockers were taken) and returned 4 hours later. The room has someone who looks after your luggage—all safe and very easy to drop off and pick up. By the way you have to separately reserve your bus ride from Kanazawa to Shirakawago and Shirakawago to Takayama . You CANNOT book these tickets more than 30 days in advance. Regarding Tours we reserved spots for Tokyo Localized Free Walking Tour ( highly entertaining tour of Shinjuku’s night life), Ken’s Tour Kyoto ( exploring Geisha District), Good Samaritan Volunteers in Kyoto, KGGN Kanazawa Goodwill Guiding Network ( exploring main sights in Kanazawa). We LOVED all of our pre arranged tours and highly recommend them! Since my wife is a vegetarian a friend living in Japan wrote out in Japanese that my wife is a vegetarian and doesn’t eat chicken or meat. This helped us whenever we went into any type of food place. Also my wife took pictures on her phone of all of our hotels addresses in Japanese. We would use this in taxis rather than struggling to speak in Japanese. It helped!!!

Reading up on Japanese Culture and Customs, Regrets.
I had read that: “You shouldn’t blow your nose in public”, “talk on the train”, “ don’t hold your chopsticks incorrectly”, “ don’t ask for selfies with real Geishas”, “ stay on the left side of escalators in each city except in Osaka where it is the opposite, “ do not eat while walking outside”. In all honesty we did blow our noses in public, talked on the train ( minimally), stayed on the left side, didn’t eat while walking outside and absolutely never disrespected a real Geisha by asking them to pose. Regarding chopsticks: no-one comments on your ability/inability to use them. I also had read that most adult men and women do not wear jeans. In fact there was a funny good spirited debate on my original Fodor’s inquiry regarding jeans. The answer is Yes you can wear them, however, most men and women do not!

The only regrets we have were missing out on specific events/activities that required reservations in advance. If you are interested in Anime you need to reserve months in advance to see The Ghibli Museum in Tokyo ( we were too late); work out your itinerary to see live Sumo Wrestling, professional baseball game ( in season), reserve a day at a Ryokan, reserve a few really nice restaurants, extend a day or two in Tokyo to take day trips to either Nikko or Hakone. While we did miss out on these events/activiites we do not regret our choices in all that we experienced. It’s all about time management and how many days you are able to travel.

Airport Arrival
So…I had reserved our JR Passes and had received them a week before departing for Tokyo at Haneda Airport. You need to bring your passes to the JR office in the terminal, fill out some forms and you are issued your actual passes rather than the confirmations already received back in the USA. If you can I would suggest you determine where and when you plan to use your JR pass for day trips and longer trips. You will find this information on Hyperdia.com. When you arrive at the JR office at Haneda you are allowed to make only 1 reservation ( you can do the others at any other JR office). You can also purchase your Suica Card at the JR office rather than at a machine. I would advise placing $50 on each card you purchase. I also picked up my wi-fi device and made bus reservations/tickets at the terminal as well. When you arrive at the terminal there are many english speaking men and women ready to assist you. Be organized and head to the JR office as quickly as possible!

Here are a few observations we made over our 3 weeks in Japan:

There are very few garbage cans out in the streets. You may have to hold your trash for a bit until you can find one.

Many bathrooms do not have any soap or paper towels but do have GREAT TOILETS! YOU WILL BE SPOILED BY THEM!!!

Trains are wonderful!! On time, easy to board and store your luggage.

People are very polite and extremely helpful to tourists.

Language is not an issue. Use Siri to help when necessary.

Vegetarians can survive here!

Taxis have lace coverings with snaps in front seats and white coverings on back seat. Your doors are controlled automatically.

Young women rent kimonos and visit shrines in huge numbers. They are not Geishas!

Most men and women do not have tattoos.

People dress very well with women wearing mostly skirts, hardly any jeans

Vehicles driven on opposite side of street from USA

No street art or graffiti !

Suggest you bring along a purse to carry change as it can become cumbersome

Busses don’t give change.

Taxis rather than Uber


Wait on organized lines for busses and train stops

Many interesting toiletries found in hotels for guests including toothbrushes, combs, clothing brush, room deodorant

Cherry Blossoms bring JOY to everyone!

Lots of walking and lots of steps

Everything very organized and efficient.

Ice cream is very popular and both vanilla and free tea are favored

Trains play music at each stop

Baskets and bins provided in restaurants at each table to store purses

Very safe for tourists

Print food issues, allergies in Japanese

Many use cell phones however, you rarely hear conversations out in the streets and never on a train.

Final thoughts.
We absolutely loved our time in Japan and were so glad that we felt prepared and organized and asked many people lots of questions. I hope that this part of my trip report can and will help you as you plan your trip to Japan. Soon I will list our actual itinerary including our hotels and where we chose to visit.

allyboy is offline  
Apr 16th, 2019, 01:31 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 1,812
Thanks for your post. Great information for both first time trip planners and return travelers.

I usually wear jeans and khakis when in Japan and that works fine for everyday wear and for dressing up a bit. Since most bathrooms don't have paper towels, I try to carry a handkerchief, cheap and easy to buy there. I used to just wipe my hands on my jeans much to the Mrs. disapproval.

Suica cards are a godsend! Trash cans are hard to find.

While transit is fast, reliable and highly efficient, walking and climbing stairs are a fact of life as you've pointed out. We were putting in anywhere from 5 to 8 miles a day in Tokyo on our last visit. Cherry blossoms were in full bloom while there, I loved walking under the trees and how the petals fell like snowflakes when the wind blew.

Looking forward to hearing more about your visit.
curiousgeo is offline  
Apr 17th, 2019, 06:21 AM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 24,614
I remember your planning thread, so glad you had a great trip. After all that work you deserved it.

BTW, in Japan tattoos are largely associated with gangsterism. Many public baths won't allow you in with one.
thursdaysd is offline  
Apr 17th, 2019, 10:40 AM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 1,812
Another great thing about Japan that I love is one can spend a lot on food and eat very well or spend a little and still eat very well.
curiousgeo is offline  
Apr 17th, 2019, 12:38 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 3,674
Thanks for a great start to your TR, allyboy. How wonderful that you had such a great trip! Your work really did pay off. It sounds like a well thought out plan.

You’ve given us a lot of great information and I’m going to save this for the day that we start for a trip to Japan. Not yet, though, but hopefully, not too far into the future!
progol is online now  
Apr 17th, 2019, 01:55 PM
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 9,862
I love this! We're going to Japan in the fall for the first time and this is helpful. Looking forward to more.
yestravel is offline  
Apr 18th, 2019, 05:38 AM
Join Date: Apr 2014
Posts: 475
I am going to Japan in the next three years and I am starting to read trip reports. Thank you for posting.
ToujoursVoyager is online now  

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