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Old Mar 31, 12, 5:47 am   #1
 
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Ideas on Japan Trip for May 2012

Hi all,

I am planning a trip to Japan for 3 weeks in May 2012 and would appreciate any ideas or advice on where to go and how to do it. I have been reading posts throughout this blog and have already gotten so much useful information. Thankyou in advance for any responses.

More details:
I am going for Japan to both experience the culture I have learnt about in studies and to complete a minor research thesis on contemporary Japanese culture. I am travelleling with my partner form Australia, we are both in our early 30's and neither of us have been to Japan before or speak the language. I have some limited experience at travelleing though my partner has much more. We are also on a limited budget so looking to maximise cost effectiveness where possible. We will have a minimal amount of luggage (A backpack each) and have no problems walking around and taking in the sights.

Itinerary so far:
Arriving in Narita on 8th May and staying two nights in Narita (hotel booked).
Have a hotel booked for 3 days in Kyoto 13th-15th and hoping to go to the Aoi festival on the 15th.
Also keen on the Sanja Matsuri festival back in Tokyo 18th-20th and the sumo competition that ends on the 20th.
Staying in Narita again on 24th and 25th before flying back to Sydney on the 26th May.

So now I need to fill in some of the other blanks.

My main question: Where would you go and what would you do in this time to have a great experience of Japan?

Some specific questions:
Best way to travel to Kyoto from Narita or Tokyo? Is the bullet JR train the way to go? or maybe an overnight bus or 5 day Willer bus pass?

Should we stay in Tokyo for a couple of days and get to Kyoto by the 13th or get to Kyoto straight away and spend more time there (maybe somewhere else entirely)?

Is it a good idea to stay in Akasura during the Sanja festival? If I can book a hotel (quieter, fridge, easy escape, no kitchen, no laundry etc) for the same price as a hostel (meet people, authentic, kitchen, laundry) during the festival which one should I go for?

Any tips on which day/s, seats etc to visit the Sumo tournament?

I have plenty more questions but any ideas on any of these would be awesome. Again I thankyou for taking the time to respond to this post.
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Old Mar 31, 12, 5:55 am   #2
 
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Welcome Whiskeydash!

I'm sure others will have more pointed things to say about your itinerary, but the thing that jumped out at me was...four nights in Narita!? That might be a record for somebody in Japan as a tourist. You can only go to Narita-san so many times, and after that you are going to be at least an hour away from any place of interest.

At the very least, I think that two of Narita lodging days should be spent elsewhere.
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Old Mar 31, 12, 6:38 am   #3
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It used to be the case that getting to/from Narita would be an ordeal, but if you're willing to shell out the 3000 yen for the Keisei Skyliner, you'll be at Ueno in no time.

What time is your flight out when going back to Sydney? It might make sense to stay around Ueno or Nippori that last night so you can still do something.

--

No trip to Japan, IMHO, is complete without a trip to an onsen of some kind, fake or, preferably, the real deal. Hakone is a stone's throw away from Tokyo station, and you could take a day or two there to relax (and potentially start writing some stuff down).

Last edited by KPT; Mar 31, 12 at 6:45 am..
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Old Mar 31, 12, 6:50 am   #4
 
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Re-thinking Narita

Ah so maybe that long in Narita isn't such a good idea, I will look around and maybe cancel 1 or 2 nights. I mainly booked here as I thought I got a great deal (4 stars kitchen/laundry room for $25aud each person/night) and might be able to travel out in the mornings somewhere.

Last edited by Whiskeydash; Mar 31, 12 at 6:57 am..
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Old Mar 31, 12, 6:55 am   #5
 
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Onsen

Onsen's sound awesome, will try and look out for one every few days . Am interested in Nara or maybe a hotspring that has a great nature/hiking area. Tanigawa onsen sounds good also?
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Old Mar 31, 12, 3:42 pm   #6
 
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I'm a fan of spending the night before or after a long flight in the city of Narita, but even I think four nights would be excessive.

Once you've been to the temple and the shopping center, there isn't a whole lot to do.

If you're interested in contemporary Japanese culture, Tokyo is the place to be.

Since you're relatively young and interested in the culture, I'd suggest buying the Rough Guide to Japan and planning your itinerary from there. The questions you're asking suggest that you haven't done that yet. You have two months, so get yourself to a bookstore and start reading.
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Old Mar 31, 12, 6:25 pm   #7
 
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Pardon the French, but ... WT* would you spend even 5 minutes in Narita.

If at least one of you is a female, I would suggest hitchhiking between Tokyo and Kyoto. When I used to hitch, I (well actually it was mostly my blond companion) would get invited for dinners and to spend the night at a lot of people's houses. Nice way to see the culture. If you're not that adventurous but still budget conscious, bus is the way to go.

If you're interested in contemporary culture, what's with Kyoto, the Matsuri, and Sumo. Hang out in Tokyo and go to a soccer match.

Love hotels can be a pretty cheap accommodation especially if you check in late.

At Narita, hang out in the parking lot or loading area in front of the terminal and ask foreigners getting into cars if they can give you a ride back to Tokyo (make sure to tell them you're a student on a really tight budget). If not take a local train (it's cheapest).

Last edited by 5khours; Mar 31, 12 at 6:31 pm..
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Old Mar 31, 12, 11:54 pm   #8
 
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Originally Posted by 5khours View Post
If at least one of you is a female, I would suggest hitchhiking between Tokyo and Kyoto.
That is some excellent, quality advice. You could also walk the streets of Roppongi (Or, if you are male, Shinjuku Nichome.) and solicit inebriated salarymen for extra spending money, and get them to pay for your hotel room (There are no STDs in Japan! They were outlawed, along with handguns.)

Oh, and just leave your passport in a locker at the airport. No need to carry that cumbersome thing around with you.
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Old Apr 1, 12, 2:38 am   #9
 
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Originally Posted by hailstorm View Post
That is some excellent, quality advice. You could also walk the streets of Roppongi (Or, if you are male, Shinjuku Nichome.) and solicit inebriated salarymen for extra spending money, and get them to pay for your hotel room (There are no STDs in Japan! They were outlawed, along with handguns.)

Oh, and just leave your passport in a locker at the airport. No need to carry that cumbersome thing around with you.
I strongly recommend that you hire Hailstorm as your tour guide. He'll encourage you to stay in your hotel room and watch CNN, but if you're lucky he might let you venture down to the hotel coffee shop as long as you have your passport, condoms, umbrella, snowshoes and asteroid shield with you!

Hail - BTW when are we going to meet up in Roppongi.

Last edited by 5khours; Apr 1, 12 at 3:02 am..
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Old Apr 1, 12, 5:57 pm   #10
 
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Thanks for the suggestions... Mostly. Probably wont be doing any hitch hiking and while Roppongi sounds adventuresome I might look elsewhere.

So anyway some clarification on some things. I'm actually only spending two days at Narita. Both stays will arrive at night, sleep, spend a day, sleep, and leave early the next morning. When I arrive in Japan I wouldn't mind a day to adjust and before I leave a day would be good to just relax and do some writing/reflection work before I leave. Still thinking of canning the extra night on one end but not too worried about those days. That being said it's the days in between that I still haven't worked out.

I'm still keen to go to Kyoto. It seems a waste to go on a 3 week trip without visiting it and while I am going to write on contemporary culture i'm still interested in seeing the culture and history I've spent 3 years studying. Additionally the Sumo and festivals that are on all seem like experiences I shouldn't pass up while there.

So I'm guessing my post was asking questions that were too general. I will work my way through some that are alot more specific. Thanks for the suggestion to get a travel guide, though I already have a few: national geographic travelor Japan, eyewitness travel Japan and one on Kyoto. I guess it's that insider knowledge that i'm keen on, the traditional tourist routes are great but sometimes miss a sense of identity that I hope to see.

The suggestion about catching a soccer game was great, I actually hadn't thought of that. Which one has the bigger crowds/atmosphere though: Soccer or baseball? I'm a soccer player myself though i've never seen a baseball game (not to big in Oz) and might find it interesting. I looked at BangkokTravellor's post on baseball and got some information, a Giant's game sounds great, is it important to book early, and who are the top contenders?
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Old Apr 1, 12, 6:14 pm   #11
 
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Do not spend even one night in Narita. Unless you are getting in really late at night or leaving really early in the morning. There isn't anything to do.

I'd suggest looking at the JR rail pass. You can use it on trains in Tokyo and Osaka. And probably elsewhere.

Unless I were arriving really late at night, I'd head into Tokyo for a couple of days. Hit Shinjuku and other youth places (check a guide book, I'm 65).

Head up to Nikko, Hiroshima, Osaka, Kyoto, Kagashima. Gee, just get a guide book and go wherever your fancy takes you.

I like Dorling Kindersley guide books cause they have pictures.
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Old Apr 1, 12, 6:23 pm   #12
 
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For Kyoto - "A Contemplative Guide to Kyoto" - old but still the best.

For baseball go to Jingu Stadium - It's outdoors. If there's a Swallows Giants game it will be lively.

Skip Narita - really!!!!

I was serious about hitchhiking. I did it a lot when I was on a budget. It's a really good way to meet a lot of different and interesting people.
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Old Apr 2, 12, 10:08 am   #13
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by manneca View Post
Do not spend even one night in Narita. Unless you are getting in really late at night or leaving really early in the morning. There isn't anything to do.

I'd suggest looking at the JR rail pass. You can use it on trains in Tokyo and Osaka. And probably elsewhere.

Unless I were arriving really late at night, I'd head into Tokyo for a couple of days. Hit Shinjuku and other youth places (check a guide book, I'm 65).

Head up to Nikko, Hiroshima, Osaka, Kyoto, Kagashima. Gee, just get a guide book and go wherever your fancy takes you.

I like Dorling Kindersley guide books cause they have pictures.
The JR Pass is great for traveling from city to city, but useful only on JR trains (basically the commuter loop lines and the airport express trains) within Tokyo and Osaka. It is not good for traveling on subways or other non-JR lines anywhere.

To decide whether you need a JR Pass or not, go to Hyperdia.com and figure out what your proposed itinerary would cost with single tickets. Then see what a pass for that same time period would cost.

For example, on my upcoming trip, I will be traveling from Tokyo to Hiroshima for a conference and then making a leisurely return to Tokyo via Shikoku. In my case, a JR Pass is definitely worth the money and affords me the freedom to make last-minute changes.

However, for someone who is flying into NRT, staying in Tokyo, taking the Shinkansen one way to Kyoto, and flying out of KIX, the JR Pass is not a good deal.
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Old Apr 2, 12, 2:12 pm   #14
 
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Unless you are doing overnight connection at NRT, or your flight depart at O'Dark hours, there is absolutely no reason to stay in Narita. Hotel with twin beds are reasonable even in Tokyo except Saturday. Seems like Saturday night hotel room in Tokyo are double the normal rate.

In May, Sumo tournament is back in Tokyo (5/9-20), you might want to check out a match or two there. Ticket start on sale 4/7.
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Old Apr 3, 12, 10:56 am   #15
 
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Is there anything particular about contemporary culture that interests you? In Tokyo there is amazing architecture in and around Ginza, and the major centers of pop culture would be Shibuya (general youth culture), Harajuku/Omotesando (bleeding-edge fashion) and Akihabara (every kind of otaku). Of course there is lots more to see in the city, but those are the broad strokes.

I guess if you don't mind the travel, the other "modern" cities I would suggest researching are:

Osaka - though I find it superficially very similar to Tokyo, you might find aspects that are specific to Kansai life.

Kobe - physically and culturally "different" and definitely modern-feeling. Another example of a Kansai city.

Fukuoka - I didn't spend enough time here but there is lots to see, and its the "gateway to Kyushu."

Nagasaki - I just love it here. A modern, beautiful example of a Kyushu city full of history and culture. If it were easier to get to from Tokyo I would tell everyone to go.

I'm sure there are plenty of other cities, but those are the ones I've hit that might fit what you are looking for.

Also, I don't know how strict your budget is, but it would be a shame to go to Japan and not experience the shinkansen (bullet train). Obviously the easiest way to do that is get a rail pass, but it isn't cheap. On the plus side- if you want to spend time in Kyushu it would almost certainly make economic sense and you have a chance to experience the newest line/trains.
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