To Japan or Europe on Spring Break?

Oct 27th, 2002, 07:08 PM
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To Japan or Europe on Spring Break?

OK, here are the parameters:

Family with young teens. Been w/ kids to UK and Italy. Mom and Dad have seen a little of France and Germany too, but not Spain. Live in San Francisco area. Can only afford a big family trip like this 2 to 3 times before the kids are off to college.

Have to use our American Airlines frequent flyer miles and only have enough to go in mid April on spring break (More miles req'd in summer). Of the places under consideration, AA flies to Tokyo, Madrid, Paris, or Frankfurt. Can't use AA's partner airlines so other asian destinations not an option.

I thought my long dreamed of trip to Japan made sense because the yen is down (true?) and we'll probably have to pay for our next trip's airfare (took the kids a long time to earn enough miles!) It used to seem that we could get cheaper airfare to Europe than to Tokyo.

None of us have been to the orient. On the other hand, sure would like to make a family trip to Spain, France or Germany.

What do you recommend and why? Please only respond if you've been to these places and really can compare.

Oct 28th, 2002, 01:12 AM
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Well, I'm breaking your "please only respond if you've only been to both places" rule (which is a fair request), since I haven't been to Japan. However, I'm an American living in China & have traveled to quite a few Asian destinations, and my comment is really Asia vs. Europe. (Plus, I'm hoping to incite more Japan-expert responses since you already have some responses on the Europe board!).

Since you have already been to Europe with your children twice, and since you will only have another couple of trips with them before college, I highly recommend Japan. It will be such a different experience for you all - a very memorable family vacation.

One of the things I find enriching about living in and visiting Asia is that it is so vastly different from the U.S. and Europe. I think it will be an invaluable experience for your children (and you) - much more so than "another" European destination.

That's not to say that visiting other European destinations is not valuable, it's just that visiting an Asian destination will add a completely different dimension to their experiences and world view.

Hopefully, the Japan experts on this board will chime in with more comments . . .
Oct 28th, 2002, 03:05 AM
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I am an expat from Michigan who has been living in Tokyo for the last three years.
Not sure what you would like as answer, Europe or Japan? I have been to both places very often for most of my life and so have my children who are now college age.
Differences, Japan, even though the yen is down, is still very expensive. All your the touristy hot spots will not have bargains and even bargains, from the States point of view is still expensive. That being said, my two teens love visiting us in Tokyo when they are on vacation from Univeristy. As the previous note pointed out, the Asia world is very different from the Western World. Shrines and temples are different from catherdrals. Food is different from meat and potatoes. Culture is different, extreme politeness and very very safe and honest world here. One removes shoes when entering a Japanese home or walking in a room with Tatamit mats. Clothing is different in a historical sense. Housing in the historical sense is different. Language and written language is very different too.
So visiting is a challenge but a nice challenge. The Japanese people here are so very kind and will go to extreme lengths to help you out.
You may want to consider visiting Beijing. This is one place that is still very cheap and we, all, loved that city. My children love the Great Wall, The Forbidden City, Confuscious' temple, The Heavenly Palace, the Summer Palace, Silk Alley, the Dirt Market, I could go on and on. We hired a private guide for tweny-five dollars a day and he took us everywhere.
All of us wanted to see Xian where the terra cotta soldiers were buried. So we left on Air China at about seven am, saw the soldiers and flew back at about five pm. That was plenty of time to see this fanatastic place. I had been told by my friends living in Beijing that no matter what anyone says, in Xian, just see the soldiers, that there is not much more to see.
Europe and the Asian world are very very different. I think your children may like seeing the difference. Even the gardens are different, though in San Francisco (My sister lives there) you have some really nice Japanese Gardens there.
Tokyo is a big international city like Paris or London but it has no old city like Vienna etc. In fact you could walk down many of the bigger streets with shops, and with the exeception of names of the shops written in Kanji, you'd think you were in New York. Kyoto is wonderful because it was never damaged by WWWII. IT was the capital city for many many years. Hakone is where you would see Mt. Fuji, which my children and husband climbed. There are steps that go to the top. Kamakura is one of my favorite places just outside Yokohama. It was the capital at one time and contains many temples and shrines, including the second largest Daibutsu, Buddha, in Japan. It is outside in the trees and wonderful. Nara, next to Kyoto has many temples and shrines, as well as the sacred deer that bow to you when you give them deer cookies.
Those are things off the top of my head. If you do decide to visit, let me know and I will be more specific in what to see and how to get around.
Oct 28th, 2002, 06:20 AM
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Bonjour Tina,

I'm not sure I fit with your "rules", since I live in Europe, but I'll chime in nevertheless.

My first reaction would be to make sure that all family members are ready and willing to visit Japan: will the kids like temples, gardens, museums (they will certainly *love* electronics, shopping in electronics or trendy districts), and will your parents adapt to the strange food ? ;-)

One point to consider is the weather: most of Europe (except Spain and southern Italy) will have unpredictable, or even bad, weather in mid April, whereas Japan will be at the start of the "sakura" (cherry blossom) season.

One way to minimise the expense inside Japan is to fly into Osaka, starting your trip by visiting Kyoto and vicinity, and out of Tokyo, meaning only one train trip with a possible stopover around the Fuji area on the way. An additional advantage is that Kyoto is less daunting a city than Tokyo for the first time visitor, and offers more in terms of daytrips (Nara, Kurashiki and the inland sea, Himeji castle, ...).

As for Tokyo, Myszka writes

"Tokyo is a big international city like Paris or London but it has no old city like Vienna etc. In fact you could walk down many of the bigger streets with shops, and with the exeception of names of the shops written in Kanji, you'd think you were in New York."

and I beg to differ. Although there is no spectacular avenues or building from the past like European cities can offer, Tokyo still has many traditional areas where you can have a glimpse at the pace of life of the "Edokko" ("real" Tokyoïtes, inhabitants of the Shitamachi, the low-city, heirs of the common folk living there since the founding of the city, or more exactly its expansion, at the time of the first Tokugawa shoguns). Places like Yanaka, Sendagi, Nishi-Ogikubo, parts of Asakusa, etc. come to mind.
Oct 28th, 2002, 03:18 PM
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I would have to encourage you to go to Japan. We have taken our kids (now 15 & 18)to Europe and Japan, and while both are wonderful I have to say it is easier to take teens to Japan. Also, since you have not been to Japan, it will be that much more interesting.
To make it really simple, I would do as Florence says...Visit Kyoto first and Tokyo second. Kyoto is a small city, very easy to get around on foot, bus or taxi, and is loaded with interesting sights, many of which you'll recognize. The teens will be safe and will love the shopping, and people watching.
One thing our kids like about travel in Japan is that you don't have to understand the history (no boring lectures)to enjoy the sights. So much of what you'll see is SO foreign, that its interesting no matter what it IS.
Your Kids will have many chances to visit Europe later. Do this for a really memorable family trip.

You can find ways to cut the costs in Japan...get lunch in the food basements of the department stores or in supermarkets- surprisingly large variety of take out foods at very reasonable costs. Even the 7-11 type stores have good fast foods.
Stay in youth hostels or in budget hotels. They may be budget, but in Japan that usually is still clean and safe.
In Tokyo stay at the international youth hostel over iidasbashi is on the 18 floor of a big high rise and they will rent you a private family room. It is in an interesting neighborhood and right on top of the JR train station and a subway station.
A super guide book is Gateway to Japan, by kinoshita.Not only has good hotel and food guides, but loaded with information.
Let us know if you choose Japan.. we'll help!
Oct 28th, 2002, 08:01 PM
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Thank you all for your thoughtful replies. I did post this on the Europe board too, just to pick up, perhaps, the other bias. But, so far, even that board seems to favor Japan.

Truth is, I've wanted to go to Japan since I was a little girl and the kids favor Japan, too. (My husband has wanted to visit China, but our FF miles won't get us there just yet...maybe someday!)

We eat at Japanese restaurants as a family, often so I'm not worried about the food. Sorry, Florence, for the confusion, I was referring to myself in the third person as "mom"...
grandparents aren't coming with us!

We have to fly RT to Tokyo cause AA doesn't fly to Osaka, but do hope to go to Kyoto and Nara, Hakone and perhaps Nikko or Kamakura. That much research I had done.

Your descriptions are so inspiring - I think the asian experience will really open up a new perspective for all of us. Yes, I do think the kids will tire of temples (as they did of cathedrals in Europe) but, I think we can have enough variety for them. The Colosseum in Rome made a Major impression on them.

Perhaps there are some movies set in Japan we can watch before we go?
Oct 29th, 2002, 01:16 AM
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the Simpson episode wear they go too Tokyo is great.. I could actually see the hotel I stayed in.. the intercontinental..
Oct 29th, 2002, 02:11 AM
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Don't miss Hiroshima while you are here in Japan. It is such an experience to be there and see the A-bomb dome and Peace Museum. There is also a beautiful island, Miyajima, about 30 min. from downtown Hiroshima. You can get to Hiroshima from Kyoto via the shinkansen in about 2 hours, you could do Peace Park and Miyajima in one long day, or one night's stay at the most. Hiroshima is a great contrast to Kyoto, brand new vs. ancient. You won't be sorry to see both cities!
Oct 29th, 2002, 01:45 PM
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I'm leaving tomorrow to visit a friend from college who has lived in Tokyo for the past 5 years. This particular friend and I met while studying abroad in Florence Italy. I have travelled around western Europe by myself and have always wanted to go to Asia. I'm doing a quick one week trip and we are going on day trip outside the city. I'll write about it when i get back. Also, when you are in the working world the chance to go overseas for more than a week is rare -if you value employment - and doesn't happen often, my point is take long vacations while you all are students. (It's a luxury that I look forward to if I go back for a graduate degree).
hope to fly safely and not return broke.
Nov 5th, 2002, 09:31 AM
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I just had to chime in--for all the same reasons mentioned above, I definately think you should go to Japan. You won't regret it. I second the motion that you visit Hiroshima, great memorial, lovely city. Also don't miss Nara. I can think of so many great places, you'll have a great trip and everyone is so helpful and nice there.
Nov 12th, 2002, 05:24 AM
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We lived in Northern Honshu, very rural, for a couple of years when our kids were 5 and 12 years old. There are few gaijin in that area, and my kids (both blonde) got much attention. The people are incredibly kind, polite and interested. The only real problem my kids had was with food, but they quickly found acceptable menu choices. (The "donuts" in the bakery are filled with bean paste, delicious if you're expecting a savory pastery, but quite a shock if you are anticipating sweet.)

Seven years have past and we have taken the kids to Europe several times. But my daughter, when asked if she wants to go to Paris for spring break, balks. She wants to go somewhere different and exotic. Europe is too much like home, she says.
Nov 13th, 2002, 09:51 AM
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You can go to Beijing using AA frequent flier miles. Visit and access the AAdvantage section; look under redeeming miles and select JAL; your AA miles can be used for JAL flights. You contact AA's AAdvantage desk to claim the awards and make the reservations. You can claim an award on JAL and fly to Tokyo or Osaka and then continue to Beijing.

Last March we purchased very cheap AA tickets from DFW to Tokyo Narita ($400 RT), upgraded using miles to business class, and redeemed miles on JAL to fly to Beijing; it costs 20,000 miles for just the Japan to China segment and $15 or so in taxes. AA has cheap non-stop flights to Narita from San Jose and you will get more miles.

We spent three days in Tokyo; the cherry blossoms were in full bloom and incredible! We were there the last week in March and the first in April. We spent five days in Beijing (Great Wall, seven pandas at the zoo, Summer Palace, Forbidden City, Chairman Mao's tomb). We returned to Tokyo for three more days.

The contrasts between the two countries were amazing. Go to Japan and China!

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