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Thinking about going to Japan (Tokyo)

Old Aug 17th, 2006, 10:01 AM
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Thinking about going to Japan (Tokyo)

Hello one and all! I'm pretty much a poster over on the European boards, so this is my first foray into the Asian boards. I have been mulling over going to Tokyo at some point in the future (say within 2 years) for anywheres from 7 - 9 days. This would probably happen after Christmas as that's when I'd probably have the time to do it. What I wanted to know is what are some good online resources for preparing for a visit? I know very little Japanese (words) thanks to Anime, but I am in no way fluent in Japanese nor could I understand what was being said to me (unless they called me 'baka').

Secondly, a few general questions. Would it be better to stay in a hotel or in an apartment? Is there a section of the city that is preferred most by tourists? Compared with New York, London and Paris, is Tokyo on par with prices or higher? Can one navigate Japan on ones own or would a tour group be best suited to maximize ones time? If a tour group is the way to go, what tour groups (companies) would you suggest? Is it fairly easy to travel the subway and use the train system? If I decide against a tour group, are there any recommended tour guides to show me the city, etc? Is Japan really that confusing?

Whew! Ok. That's pretty much all the questions I could squeeze out during my lunch hour here. Thanks in advance for any replies, suggestions, etc!
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Old Aug 17th, 2006, 11:29 AM
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I've been to Tokyo 2 times, most recently last August for 5 days. I think if you buy a few travel guides, which I did and read some boards and do some research on the internet, it's a pretty easy city to tour on your own. The subway system is crowded and a little confusing to for a 1st timer, but you will eventually get the hang of it. However, when I first visited Tokyo in 2002, I was extremely intimidated. When I arrived at Narita, I saw brochures for many tour groups in Tokyo and I ended up choosing Japan Grayline Travel and Tour. http://www.jgl.co.jp/inbound/traveler/traveler.htm

For roughly $86 or 9,600 Yen, you can have a full day visit to all the main tourist attractions around Tokyo including The Imperial Palace, Asakusa Cannon Temple, Tokyo Tower, Sumida River Cruise and Ueno and Akihabara district. The tour also includes lunch. For what it's worth, it's a pretty decent tour for someone who knows nothing about Tokyo. You can easily pick up a brochure at Narita and call them from your hotel and they will pick you up the next day.

But, last year I felt so much more comfortable visiting Tokyo that I decided to tour the city on my own using my travel books as my guide.

Finally, both times I ended up staying in the Shinjuku district. IMO, I think it's a very tourist-friendly district. Lots of shopping and good food.

Best of luck in whatever you decide to do.
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Old Aug 17th, 2006, 11:35 AM
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Rats! I soon as I clicked "Post My Reply" I knew I made a mistake by not previewing. Here it is fixed:

0) Hello
Konnichiwa! Hajimemashite.

1) What I wanted to know is what are some good online resources for preparing for a visit?
www.jnto.go.jp
www.japan-guide.com
gojapan.about.com

2) I know very little Japanese
That's ok. Lots of signs are in English, especially the important ones like directions in the train/subway stations and at the airport.

LEARN how to say "sumimasen" and "gomen nasai" and what they mean.

3) Would it be better to stay in a hotel or in an apartment?
I've never stayed in an apartment, though I have heard (here) that the Mansions at Roppongi are nice. There may be more space in an apartment, and better for a family sized group, I spose. Could save money by cooking but that seems like a bad idea because there are a lot of Japanese restaraunts there! You could stay in Tokyo but then go to Hakone or Nikko and stay in a traditional ryokan.

4) Is there a section of the city that is preferred most by tourists?
No, not really. Shinjuku works for me because it is the major transportation hub.

5) Compared with New York, London and Paris, is Tokyo on par with prices or higher?
On a par. Maybe less than some places. Expect the room size to be smaller.

6) Can one navigate Japan on ones own or would a tour group be best suited to maximize ones time?
Yes, you can navigate Japan on your own. If you stand in front of a subway map in a station with a confused look on your face then there is a good chance that someone will ask if they can help.

7) If a tour group is the way to go, what tour groups (companies) would you suggest?
I don't think that a tour group is the way to go, but it would save some effort and probably some time. Sunrise Tours is one tour company, but your hotel could recommend one.

8) Is it fairly easy to travel the subway and use the train system?
Well, at first the subway can be pretty confusing. The stations are busy and the subway map is complex. But once you get the hang of it you will be ok. Just need to pay attention to when the last train leaves at night.

The railroad trains that crisscross the country are easy to use. Some of the big stations like Shinjuku or Nagoya are complex and confusing but those have info boths where you can get help. It's not that hard, just follow the signs.

9) If I decide against a tour group, are there any recommended tour guides to show me the city, etc?
There are others on this board who have used a guide in Tokyo named Jun. Try searching the forum. Also, there may be guides in Kyoto. There are Goodwill Guides in cities across Japan. Go to the JNTO site or japan-guide for more info, or search the web.

10) Is Japan really that confusing?
Hai, so desu. It's a great place to visit.
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Old Aug 17th, 2006, 12:10 PM
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No worries about not knowing Japanese, but do be prepared as English is not widely spoken. I say go for a hotel. They will be able to provide you with some guidance in English; this came in very handy on my first visit this past March. I highly recommend the Akasaka Prince Hotel. It is in a great location and very convenient to the subway - centrally located. Location in the city is pretty important. Depending on what you are into, there is an area for that focus. For instance, if you want to hang out with a younger crowd, you need to hit up Shibuya. Great shopping there too. Pricewise, I found Tokyo to be less expensive than NYC as far as the things I was doing. It is cheaper to drink. I did not use a tour group and was still able to hit tons of highlights. I cannot imagine I would have seen much more with a tour. But, if you are the type of person who doesnt like to just venture out on your own, a tour might be a good way to get your comfort level up. Subway is super-easy, it will take a bit of time to get the hang of it. Tokyo is a wonderful city and knocks the socks off of any visit I have ever had to Europe. Have fun!
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Old Aug 17th, 2006, 12:20 PM
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I like the www.japan-guide.com site for info on tourist sites.

You say 7-9 days in Tokyo which is too many in my opinion for just this city (I don't find that it has tons of sites to see like Paris or London), but I hope that you intend to include days out of Tokyo (i.e., Hakone and Nikko are two that I recommend - the former for great views of Mt Fuji and to experience Japanese hotsprings and the latter if you care for historial sites). I would agree that for the first time a day tour of the city could be helpful and such tours are also available to go to, say, Nikko.

I too like Shinjuku - lots of neon, dept stores, food, good location. Prices are high like in central London and Paris, but, if you can stand VERY small rooms there are also some decent deals by Tokyo standards(stayed at the Shinjuku Prince hotel once for $140/night - clean room, great location, but small). Shinjuku station is the busiest in Japan though so it can be a bit overwhelming to the uninitiated. But otherwise the subway and train system is pretty easy to navigate, much like London's in my opinion.

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Old Aug 17th, 2006, 12:49 PM
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If it were me I would either take the side trips, or a 3-4 day jaunt to Kyoto.
I loved Tokyo and in 2 days didn't get to see everything I wanted. But by the time I left I was happy to get out of the city. I guess I should tell you I prefer long weekend trips to New York, a week there is too long for me.
Kyoto was even better. There was much more to see and more of a neighborhood feel to the center city are where we stayed.
The subways took a bit of getting used to. But by the end of day one I was pretty confident I could find my way around.
In the larger cities - Kyoto, Hiroshima, Tokyo
All signs for the trains, subways, etc. are in both English and Japanese.
The hotels are geared for helping tourists out. And the Japanese are just about the most cheerfully helpful people I've come across. So I would stay at a hotel. Ours even had a paper in the lobby that listed sights and directions on how to get to each one.
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Old Aug 17th, 2006, 06:34 PM
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Thanks to all who have replied so far! I really appreciate the wealth of info you've given as it gives me something to go on.
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Old Aug 17th, 2006, 07:20 PM
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I think the reason to visit a place like Japan is because it is so different from the western world you are used to. If this makes it confusing to you and mrwunrfl it may be a good thing as opposed to something bad. Instead of focusing on seeing objects in your travel you may find that a visit to someplace like Japan may be more interesting to you if concentrate by exploring the culture. The JTB has some simple books on many aspects of Japanese life that might be quite useful to you before you decide to travel there. Some of these books may be found on Amazon.
In answer to your other questions, Tokyo is less expensive than London, about the same as New York and more expensive than Paris IMHO. Have been to all of these cities within the last three years. I think most people find the trains and subways easy to use. Would recommend a hotel as opposed to a apartment. Best time to visit would be March-April or October-November. Good luck.
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Old Aug 17th, 2006, 09:53 PM
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>> ... confusing ... may be a good thing ...

Yes, of course, thanks, I found that to be true.

It was interesting making my post earlier. I posted it, saw an error (didn't close the bold on item 7), went back in the browser, made the fix, previewed and then posted. The bad post never appeared in the thread, just the edited one. So you can have a do-over at fodors.
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Old Aug 18th, 2006, 02:56 AM
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Agree with tudorterrace222 and angethereader that spending the entire time in Tokyo is a bit of a waste.
IMO, you can spend the first 2-3 days to get oriented, spend 3 nights in Kyoto then get back to Tokyo.
There are a few serviced apartments, mainly in Roppongi areas. Though I don't think they offer much value as they tend to be either very small studios (more geared for the local market) or VERY expensive ex-pat ones.

May I also bring to your attention that you'll be in Japan over the New Year's time? Lots of Tokyoites go back to see their family, so bullet trains get VERY crowded before and after the New Year. Several famous shrines and temples also get mobbed 1-2 Jan. Some sites may be closed 31 Dec-2nd or 3rd Jan, though you shouldn't have difficulty using the public transporation or finding a place to eat etc.
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Old Aug 18th, 2006, 04:55 AM
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I also agree that you should spend some time in Kyoto. Take a side trip to Nara from Kyoto - it's one of our favorite places ever. If you've got time and will be buying a rail pass (a much less expensive way to travel around Japan, on the cool shinkansen which travel up to 180 miles per hour), you could even go down to Hiroshima for a night to see the A-bomb dome.

I personally do not like group tours. I toured Japan on my own previously, and in my last trip, I was on a few group tours (2 in Kyoto and 1 in Tokyo). I did not like the group tours - you are rushed when you want to linger, you have to wait when you are done. But if you typically do not mind group tours, I would recommend perhaps 1 in Tokyo and 1 in Kyoto to help you get your feet wet.
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Old Aug 19th, 2006, 12:09 PM
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Everyone here has posted some great information! Thank you! I now know where to look and will start doing my research. I don't plan to spend all my time in Tokyo, but that's place I'd start at and go from there. I've been to many places in Europe, as well as Egypt and Turkey, so I decided that Japan would be the next big place to go. Again, thanks for all the info!
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Old Aug 21st, 2006, 03:11 PM
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Regarding prices: Tokyo has a very wide range of prices for hotel rooms. It is possible to spend a lot of money, but there are also a huge number of budget hotels. For this reason, I rank Tokyo as a much less expensive city than New York or London. When I was in Tokyo last year I spent 10,000 yen per night (about $87 a night) for what turned out to be a great hotel. While researching this, I found other hotels that charged even less.

Tokyo has a terrific subway system, with all stations signed in English. Kyoto is more difficult, but still very do-able without a group.

Before you go, I recommend doing some reading on Japanese culture and customs. This is one such book, but there are many others: "Japan Made Easy" by Boye Lafayette de Mente.

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Old Aug 21st, 2006, 03:15 PM
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Joyce, what was the hotel?
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Old Aug 21st, 2006, 03:22 PM
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It was the Villa Fontaine Shiodome. This is the Web address:
http://www.villa-fontaine.co.jp/eng/shiodome/

It looks as if their rates went up a little, but not by much. The rate also includes breakfast.

If you do not want to stay in the Shiodome area, this hotel chain also has branches in other parts of Tokyo.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2006, 05:14 AM
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Joyce, that is SO funny! I just spent 4 nights in the Shiodome area - at the Park Hotel Tokyo, which I loved - and I kept seeing the advertisements on the walk from the subway to the hotel for this hotel you have recommended! I think the Park Hotel is AMAZING but if I was paying for the hotel myself (instead of a business trip), I would still love to stay in the Shiodome area and this looks like a great option. The area is so lively with so much art and musical performances. One night, they had three separate performances going on - one with Japanese singers performing pop music, one with African tribal dance, and one with traditional Japanese comedy - and they were all free!
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Old Aug 22nd, 2006, 05:18 AM
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OK, I just looked further at the Villa Fontaine Shiodome website, and they have gorgeous rooms with free high speed internet, and a free breakfast. Guess where I'm staying the next time I'm in Tokyo?
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Old Aug 22nd, 2006, 07:13 AM
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It has the best ergonomics of any hotel I ever stayed in. Some examples:

* metal window screens that can be closed at night to totally block out the light

* room doors that close quietly, so there are no loud noises from other doors on the floor clanging shut. (I wish USA hotel rooms had this feature!)

* light dimmer switches located next to the beds, so guests can wake up without a harsh light

* heated toilet seats

The only negative aspect to this hotel was the lack of Englsh-speaking staff. It was not a problem for me, because the staff could read English okay even though they couldn't speak it well (I did a lot of writing ), but if this is important to anyone, I would advise staying in a more high-end hotel.

I loved the Shiodome area. It is very ultra-ultra contemporary, almost something out of a science fiction movie, parts it reminding me of scenes from "Blade Runner". The hotel is also very convenient to the train station, so I easily traveled throughout Tokyo.

One more item about the hotel: The Web site's directions are not good. I suggest writing to the hotel to get more exact instructions, or post a note to this Fodors forum, and I will provide them.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2006, 09:20 AM
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JoyceL - thanks for the hotel info! I went to the site and I must say the hotel looks really good. Well, I have alot cut out for me, so I know what I need to do before I go.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2006, 10:52 AM
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Joyce,

I've also bookmarked your recommendation (thanks!) after checking out their website. It looks pretty nice and the price seems more than reasonable. We just stayed in the Shiodome area (Conrad Hotel) and had no complaints. It would be hard for me to say that it's a "great" area to stay in since we didn't really stay in any others for any length of time.

We did spend our last night in Gotanda at the Tokyu Stay apartment hotel. We were more than pleased with both the hotel and the location. Although there isn't much surrounding the hotel (they have several locations), there's an Asakusa line station right outside the front door and the Yamanote Line station is less than one block away. It's also only two stops away from the Shinagawa Station, which was convenient for us since we were leaving the next day, as we caught our JR NEX train at Shinagawa. The hotel is very nice with vert good security (we had to use our key to have access to the elevators). The room was great! It was almost as big as our room at the Conrad (maybe about on par as our room at the Granvia in Kyoto). The room had a kitchenette including sink, microwave, refrigerator, hot plate and various pots, pans, plates and utensils. It had a washer/dryer, trouser press and computer with free internet access. Breakfast was included.
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