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Recent 3 Week Japan Trip Report: Preoaration and Observations.

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Recent 3 Week Japan Trip Report: Preoaration and Observations.

Old Apr 16th, 2019, 07:30 AM
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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.

THE PREPARATION
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!

Dates
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.

Airlines/Airports
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.

Research
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!

Regrets
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!

Observations
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

NO TIPPING

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.






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Old Apr 16th, 2019, 01:31 PM
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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.
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Old Apr 17th, 2019, 06:21 AM
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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.
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Old Apr 17th, 2019, 10:40 AM
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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.
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Old Apr 17th, 2019, 12:38 PM
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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!
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Old Apr 17th, 2019, 01:55 PM
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I love this! We're going to Japan in the fall for the first time and this is helpful. Looking forward to more.
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Old Apr 18th, 2019, 05:38 AM
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I am going to Japan in the next three years and I am starting to read trip reports. Thank you for posting.
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Old May 7th, 2019, 08:01 AM
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This is such a helpful report! We returned from three weeks in Japan four days ago and have a few additional suggestions. I hope you don’t mind my adding some additional items.
. We used Google Translate constantly. I would type in English and it would translate to Japanese characters. Very helpful for taxis back to our hotels, to restaurants, museums, asking directions, etc.
I noticed women carrying wash clothes in rest rooms to dry their hands as no towels are provided.
We marveled at the cleanliness, efficiency and civility in Japan. We watched school groups on class trips all smiling and enjoying themselves while following and respecting their teachers.
Cleanliness included the subway stations and trains.
The Shinkansen trains were amazing, on time to the minute and easy to use.
We enjoyed being in Japan for the change of Emperors and Era. One young woman exclaimed to me that she had only lived in the Heisei Era (c.1989) but now it was Reiwa! She was absolutely thrilled.
Golden Week was less crowded than an ordinary day in China.
For delicious food go to the department store basement levels.
We can’t wait to return to Japan and encourage others to travel there.


Last edited by HappyTrvlr; May 7th, 2019 at 08:15 AM.
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Old May 8th, 2019, 10:26 AM
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HappyTrvlr: I love that you have added useful information to my post!! My hope is that more people do the same so that this TR can become a GoTo Guide for everyone considering a trip to Japan!
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Old May 15th, 2019, 12:50 PM
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I rank the Cherry Blossoms, which even grew all over the high mountainsides, up there along with Dutch tulips in bloom and Vermont during the fall leaf colors. Takayama with it’s cherry blossoms surrounded by snow capped mountain peaks was a big favorite.
We found Google Translate our most useful app in Japan.
Another thing I loved was the hotels providing pjs!
We flew ANA which had the Japanese toilets on board. Never judged an airline by it’s toilets before.
Had a visit to an ER, xrays, MD, RXs, all OK but it was so inexpensive, under $250. total, which I claimed on our trip insurance. It would have cost much more in the USA.
Japan way exceeded our expectations!
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Old Jun 17th, 2019, 08:23 PM
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allyboy thx so much. I read both parts and very helpful for possible 2020 trip. How was March travel?
HappyTrvlr we were planning to avoid Golden week. But I saw your funny comment and wonder what your experience was traveling then. We plan on Tokyo, Hiroshima and Kyoto for about 14 nights total.
We are planning to avoid cherry blossom season and Golden Week meaning for 2020 either 2nd and 3rd week of March or 2nd and 3rd week of May. Thoughts?
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Old Jun 17th, 2019, 09:07 PM
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Hello Alison

Regarding March travel: there were some cold afternoons/evenings, however, if you dress appropriately it shouldn't be an issue. I would think that May weather would be nicer. It's a shame to miss cherry blossom season as not only is it so beautiful to witness but the reactions of the people
throughout the city is remarkable!
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Old Jun 17th, 2019, 10:19 PM
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Alison:

At the risk of barking up the wrong tree .....

1. In terms of crowds versus weather, March may be somewhat better in terms of crowds but the weather in May, as allyboy says, will be a bit nicer. Kyoto is, unfortunately, increasingly crowded these days - March may be slightly less crowded than May but probably not significantly so. Choosing what places to go to (and when) can help alleviate the crowds to some extent. As for cherry blossom season, its going to be more crowded and these days, as a result of climate change, its timing in specific locations is harder to predict.

2. As for a JR Pass (and this is where I may be barking up the wrong tree...), I would say it's marginal. If you have 5 nights in Tokyo, 3 nights in Hiroshima and 6 nights in Kyoto, you're looking at a 7 day pass (¥29,110) or a 14 day pass (¥46,390). Tokyo - Hiroshima is ¥19,080 and Hiroshima - Kyoto is ¥11,410, a total of ¥30,490 so not much more than the 7 day Pass. With the 7 day pass, you'd have to pay separately for the trips from Narita/Haneda to Tokyo and from Kyoto to KIX (about ¥3,000+ each) and even the 14 day Pass wouldn't cover both of them (either Tokyo on day 1 or KIX on day 15). Day trips to Osaka and Nara wouldn't add much, as they're about ¥700 each one way; you can use a JR Pass on the Miyajima ferry but, again, that's not going to be enough to make a 14 day Pass worthwhile. A 7 day Pass may offer some savings .... but the downside is you can't use the Nozomi Shinkansens (the most frequent and fastest). From Tokyo to Hiroshima on a Nozomi is slightly less than 4 hours whereas it's about 4 1/2 to 5 on the slower trains - not that much of a difference at the end of the day but the Nozomi will get you all the way on the one train whereas the alternative trains (if using a JR Pass) will almost certainly involve a change of trains (either at Shin-Osaka, Shin-Kobe or Okayama).

A couple of other thoughts. I'd be inclined to add a night to Kyoto - either at the expense of Tokyo or more likely Hiroshima. Also, on the way from Hiroshima to Kyoto, I'd work in a visit to Himeji; no need to stay overnight, just stop off on the way. If you haven't discovered it already, Hyperdia is the go-to website to figure out all things train-related in Japan; if you need help figuring out how to use it, please ask, but if you plot out the train trips you plan to take, you can figure out the costs, add them up and decide whether the JR Pass is worthwhile.

Now that I've taken allyboy's excellent trip report thread off at a tangent (for which my apologies..) may I suggest that you start a separate thread if you have follow up questions?
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Old Jun 18th, 2019, 10:59 AM
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Golden week: we were surprised that we didn’t encounter crowds except at one temple. The visitors were all Japanese and were saying prayers, lighting candles. The abdication and enthronement of the emperors happened that week too and was exciting to see the local celebrations, flags flying everywhere. It was very joyful.
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Old Jun 18th, 2019, 02:07 PM
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You have written a trip report that is filled with practical information - useful for the first-time traveler to Japan like me! Thank you!
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Old Jun 20th, 2019, 01:59 PM
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tt7 thanks for the response here and on TA (yes, that was me). Great info. And yes, when I'm a bit closer on planning i will certainly start my own thread.
HappyTrvlr so surprised to hear you didn't experience excessive crowds (or inflated prices) during Golden Week. Good to know that if we arrived toward end of week may not be a big deal.
allyboy thx again for great TR.
look forward to hearing more from all of you as my planning progresses.
alison
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Old Jun 20th, 2019, 04:08 PM
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Originally Posted by alison View Post
HappyTrvlr so surprised to hear you didn't experience excessive crowds (or inflated prices) during Golden Week. Good to know that if we arrived toward end of week may not be a big deal.
We were in Kyoto during Golden Week a couple of years ago (inadvertent on our part). We went to those places we thought might be more crowded before the holiday started but, in the event, it didn't really seem any more crowded during the holiday period than it was before or afterwards. Unfortunately, Kyoto is increasingly crowded these days and there's not a lot you can do about it - other than go to the less-obvious places, avoid the so-called "must sees" (Kinkaku-ji, Fushimi Inari etc.) and, if you do go to them, go early or late.

Out 'most crowded' experience was during a September visit to Tokyo when we decided to go to Kamakura again (we'd already been on a previous trip). The train was crowded (standing room only) and as we progressed, we were expecting all these people to get off, as they were - presumably? - on their way to work. Not a bit of it. As we progressed, every platform was packed and the train ended up at crush-room only. When we finally got to Kamakura, it took ten minutes to get out of the station, as everybody got off and a solid mass of people slowly shuffled forward. We headed straight for the nearest coffee shop and pondered what to do - which was to catch the next train back to Tokyo. Only later, did we realise it was "Respect For The Aged Day". Golden Week had nothing on that crowd....
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Old Jun 24th, 2019, 08:30 AM
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What a great start. This will be my third visit in 4 years and already I know that I will gain a lot from your forthcoming TR. For the first time in many years, I will be traveling with a friend who has never been. We will basically replicate your trip because it is a first for her. However, we are buying 2 1 week passes for my friend and a 1 week and a 2 week pass for me. I will continue on to Hokkaido and Taiwan after she has left. We will have 4 days on arrival in Tokyo and will use the subway pass during those days.
My last visit in 2017 when I traveled around different parts I found that it actually paid to buy separate passes.

Am so looking forward to your report..
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Old Jul 26th, 2019, 09:41 PM
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Great report

I spent 17 days in Japan in May...the first week was Golden Week while in Tokyo. Fell in love with Japan and want to return. The weather was good: one cool day and one warm day and no rain. I was on a tour and we visited Tokyo, Hakone, Kanazawa and Kyoto. As far as suggestions to others: (1) I rented a mobile hot-spot from Japan Wireless before leaving home. For $55 I had wifi for a week--that priced included delivery to my hotel and insurance. (2) I could have taken a train from Narita to my hotel but instead had a shared van through Viator. I think it was $57. (3) be sure to ride the trains and subways. (4) as someone else mentioned, visit the food halls in large department store basements, especially in Kyoto. (5) allow many days in Kyoto. We had five days and it wasn't nearly enough. (6) okay, this is a bit girlish, but I had a maiko makeover in Kyoto. I recommend AYA Studios. I had the full treatment: makeup, wig, kimono and photo shoot. You are given the choice of geisha or maiko, but most people choose maiko. (7) in Tokyo, visit the Edo-Tokyo Museum.
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Old Jul 29th, 2019, 03:20 AM
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it's not just a journey, it's a proper guide for a beginner like me. Thanks for writing
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