trip report sept 2003 Japan

Sep 20th, 2003, 07:53 PM
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trip report sept 2003 Japan

In tokyo we stayed at ryokan shitgetsu for 5 nights--
it was AMAZING for the price- they have wonderful large bathtubs which could fit 3-6 people in them on the top floor- my DH and I went up every night for a soak with an amazing view-- and for about 120 a night the place was amazing!!! It was in the old town district of tokyo next to a temple and a really cool street market- I loved the location, the only complaint I have about this place is the A/C in our room didnt work very well-- but otherwise it was wonderful. I actually felt like we needed more time in tokyo to see everything we had hoped to see.

From tokyo the day trips we took were to hakone and nikko-
hakone is where you can see mnt. fuji- if you are lucky. we got there just in time to see it for about 20 minutes before the fog came in. I guess seeing it at all during the summer is rare and not to be expected. it took us about 2 hours to get there- one way and very $$ even with a rail pass (which is a must btw) we spent about 50$ pp to get there and back.

nikko was AMAZING and by far one of our favorite places- the temples there are by far some of the most amazing I have seen. There is also the famous 'hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil' monkeys there. I think it took us about 30 mins to 45 mins to get there-- its a short easy trip with the JR rail pass is free.

in kyoto we stayed at Matsubaya Ryokan for 3 nights-- which was all we needed there- it was cheap (about 60-80 a night) and much more like a youth hostel, run down and older- but the rooms were clean the whole place was in need of a renovation-- although the A/C worked here much better than in tokyo the place was not even of the same quality but still safe, a good location and value if you just need a bed (and we spent more of our time away anyways so the rooms aren't that important) although the place smelled like it had a gas leak and the halls had a terrible odor which gave me a headache. If we were to return to kyoto I would stay somewhere else; although I myself could have probably skipped kyoto and spent time elsewhere; others see kyoto as japan.

our day trips from kyoto were:
nara- this is where you find the sacred deer you can pet and the HUGE buddha- largest in japan-- we had fun here but its an afternoon or morning trip and doesnt take the whole day... at least for us.

we also went to the Fushimi-Inari Taisha shrine- its amazing and took us about 3 hours to walk it all (stairs) it has about 10,000 tori gates all close to each other-- it was also amazing and I would put it up there with nikko as a must see. its about 15 minutes from kyoto on the same line you take to get to nara.

we returned to tokyo for one final night after kyoto and stayed at the hotel asia center of japan; it was like a hampton inn or holiday inn or maybe even a marriot- very clean and very nice style western hotel- it was by no means deluxe but was very clean and very western and very cheap (about 80 bucks a night) for a good location close to lots of must see stuff with a nice room (western bed) and good A/C

weather- the first day was HOT, terrible terrible humidity- just going outside you would get wet from sweating (and I dont sweat) the rest of the time was just hot but not terrible- I carried a small fan with me everywhere and a bottle of water... we had two days of HARD rain but it never lasted long and usually cooled it off nicely after it stopped.

dress- I wore mostly black while we were there; I really stuck out as it was. I dressed similar to how I dressed when I lived in NYC- black, lightweight dresses and comfortable semi-dressy shoes- all the women there were high high stilettos, carry louie vitton bags like they are given as a birthright and wear mostly Dior and other top designers-- I found dresses in black simple dresses I fit in-- at least a little without sticking out in bright colors screaming I am american (as if that wasn't obvious enough). Many people pointed at me and talk, giggle or laugh, a few people came up wanting to talk to us in english and I had a few people want to touch my hair and feel it-- we even had a few kids want to take pictures with us.

food- i ate mostly sushi, fresh ramen/udon noodles and ice cream while we were there-- we usually went to the french bakeries (french food is HUGE there) for breakfast pastries- if you are on the Atkins diet good luck because everything there is carbs-- there is little protein anywhere, same with fresh fruit and milk-- which you will find almost no where and when you do find it you pay top dollar for it (I bought a small carton of skim milk and it was 3 dollars).
lunch was usually ramen or sushi, ditto dinner. We did have italian one night (spaghetti) which was VERY good although we never tried the japanese version of french food.

rail pass- if you plan on doing any traveling you should get a rail pass; unless you are staying in only one location- you can get the rail passes overseas before getting to japan but cant get them once you are there- they are $$ but pay for themselves over and over

let me know if there is more information I can provide- I would be happy to help! [email protected]
addwag is offline  
Sep 21st, 2003, 02:24 AM
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Thanks for the report, addwag, sounds like you had some great experiences. Your hair is (to a Japanese) unusual?
mrwunrfl is offline  
Sep 21st, 2003, 06:10 PM
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Great trip report!

We are travelling to Japan at Christmas. We will stay in Tokyo (Shibuya)with family. We are looking for ideas on what to do while in Tokyo. You say that you didn't like Kyoto as much? Why? How many days would you suggest we dedicate to Kyoto and Nara? Also, what kind of JRP did you buy? One for the whole of Japan or just an east/west. Also, why does it cost extra to go to Hakone?

orangeboy is offline  
Sep 21st, 2003, 07:49 PM
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Thanks for the report. We are leaving for our first trip to Japan in two weeks. We are also staying at the Shigetsu so we are pleased about your experience there. Do you speak any Japanese? Did you have any trouble communicating (ordering food, finding trains, etc.)?? How was the Tokyo subway? Did you bring cash or were you able to find ATMs?
jaydreb5 is offline  
Sep 22nd, 2003, 11:22 AM
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Thanks for the trip report--reminded me of our trip last September! We also stayed at the Shigetsu and Matsubaya--though no bad smells at that point!

I agree with you about Kyoto and Nara. To be honest, I just wasn't that impressed by either places. Kyoto just seemed like one temple after another with no real religious/historical meaning. For example, most of the temples we visited were only tourist attractions--i.e. they were not functioning places of worship. As for Nara, we were there during peak school trip season--deer and loud students are not a good mix. There was nothing "old Japan" about Kyoto except for the Gion area. I found Takayama to be FAR more charming and "Old Japan".

All that said, I still love Japan and am looking forward to returning in April for the cherry blossoms!
kathyl is offline  
Sep 22nd, 2003, 01:35 PM
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I guess what Kyoto I was expecting more history and less McDonalds (it seemed there was a McD or KFC on almost every block). The temples there seemed more tourist attractions than they did worship places...

We also purchased a complete rail pass for all of japan- I believe it was a 7 day pass which we had validated after our first week in Tokyo-- in Tokyo we walked or took the subway everywhere.

Language- my husband speaks japanese and without that it would of been much more difficult to order food-- but not impossible. In the more tourist areas like the train stations, menus were in english.

hakone- it cost more to get there because you have to take a gandolia to get to see mnt fuji and the lake-- that alone is about 25 pp.

my hair- its long pale blonde and I have some pink streaks in it which doesnt make me exactly unobvious

if you have any more questions or want to see pictures please email me
[email protected]
addwag is offline  
Sep 22nd, 2003, 03:18 PM
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Pictures? Yes !!
mrwunrfl is offline  
Sep 23rd, 2003, 12:58 AM
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Bonjour Addwag and Kathyl,

I've often heard Western tourists complain about Japanese temples not being places of worship anymore and having become only tourists traps, which is actually false.

Temples in Japan have always been tourist, shopping, and entertainment centers, in part because they were the most convenient and safe places for trade, in part because they were the only place a commoner was ever allowed to travel to, under guise of pilgrimage, by the Tokugawa government, in part because this combination ensured a steady revenue to the religious congregations.

Furthermore, outside of specific life or seasonal events, religious practice in Japan is really different than in the West: most Japanese visiting a temple or sanctuary combine a tourist trip with some devotion, usually restricted to a quick prayer and the purchase of charms (O-mamori).

On given days, the temple everybody visits very casually the rest of the time will be closed to ordinary visits and devoted exclusively to some specific ceremony, but most of the time religious ceremonies will be conducted alongside "ordinary business", as can be witnessed during regular fleamarkets in the To-Ji (temple).
Florence is offline  
Sep 23rd, 2003, 04:44 AM
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Salut, Florence!

Thanks for the excellent information and background on Japanese temples -- it will give a great deal more depth to my understanding on my next visit.
DonTopaz is offline  
Sep 24th, 2003, 09:58 AM
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Thanks. I have questions about cash. Should we bring travelers checks? Use ATMs found in post offices? Bring over Yen or Dollars and change them there?

Right now, I was planning on bringing over some yen, and then using post office ATMs for additional cash when needed. And maybe bringing a few travelers checks to cash in an emergency or if we can't find ATM. Any advice?
jaydreb5 is offline  
Sep 24th, 2003, 11:37 AM
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Florence, Thanks for the temple information. I am buddhist and can appreciate temples being used for other purposes, but I guess I didn't find some of the more famous ones enjoyable since they were overrun with tourists and school kids. However, in Kyoto, I loved the HIgashi Hoganji Temple and the Roanji Temple, both of which were more serene and welcoming. Just my two cents.

Well, I had the opposite problem you had--everyone thought I was Japanese! I'm actually Vietnamese, but have very pale skin. I kept having to tell people that I didn't speak Japanese, which then made me realize that they thought I was Japanese-American and had "lost my roots"! SO I had to remember to say that "I'm not Japanese" instead...

We didn't bring any yens, only travelers checks as an emergency reserve. Upon landing in Narita we immediately withdrew some yens from an ATM (very easy, but do notify your bank so they don't think your card was lost or stolen). And then we used our credit cards whenever possible. Over a 12 day trip, we withdrew cash from ATMs a total of 4 times and it was never a problem. Have fun!
kathyl is offline  
Sep 24th, 2003, 12:22 PM
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Thanks, we'll probably do the same as you. My main concern is that we are staying at a few fairly expensive ryokan that do not accept credit cards, so we will need to have a good amount of cash handy.
jaydreb5 is offline  
Sep 24th, 2003, 11:10 PM
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Bonjour Kathyl,

I also like the Higashi Honganji more than many of the "touristy" temples. There is a myriad temples that are less visited than those on Higashiyama, one of my favorite being the Myoshin-ji.
Florence is offline  

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