I sent this blog out to everyone before I left for Japan – it’s become increasingly clear to me in the last week that sending it to everyone means that noone actually recieved it.
One thing I noticed about Japan is that if it’s in anime and it’s not obviously fictional, then it’s true. That is to say, I didn’t notice any giant robots or invading aliens while I was there, but the streets, towns, people, trains, everything is just like I’ve seen. I guess that kind of goes without saying, really – naturally you’d base the realistic bits on real life. It’s just that I don’t really recall any Australian productions in which people behave like they do in real life – unless it’s just that I’m more used to it and can spot the subtle differences.
Some advice to those also planning a trip:
- Absolute fluency in Japanese would help, but isn’t exactly vital. A lot of the guidebooks will tell you this, I guess, but we managed to get through with my slight knowledge, my phrasebook, and a willingness to point and hope when it came to restaurant menus. While we’re on that subject, buy a phrasebook.
- On a similar note, I found it extremely helpful to be able to read at least the two syllabaries – katakana and hiragana. Beyond the numbers and major place names, kanji is going to take way too long to learn, but at least learn the kana.
- Don’t be afraid to ask directions. I can’t help but wonder if we might have saved ourselves a thousand yen on the first night if we’d just asked someone what train to get to Machida.
- Buy a Japan Rail pass, especially if you’re going to be doing a lot of long-distance travel. Remember, you need to buy it before you get to Japan, as it’s only available to foreigners, not to locals. Like I’ve said before, we spent 45,100 yen on the passes, but would have spent 73,000 yen if we’d not bought them – most of that was on shinkansen trips. Not only that, but it also gives you a lot of freedom, to be able to hop on and off wherever.
- For places where you can’t use the JR pass (or if it won’t be good value for money for you) then get a Suica card, or the local equivalent (Icoca or Toica, depending on where you are). It removes all the hassle from buying tickets.
- For places where you can’t use the JR pass or the Suica card, research combo tickets or day passes before you arrive in a city. There were two occasions where we only discovered the existence of a pass after we’d left the place where we could buy one.
- Hyperdia is a superb website for train directions. Not only does it include all JR trains and private-line trains – including trams and cable-cars – it also lets you search for only JR-line results, and also allows you to exclude the Nozomi routes from results (as the Nozomi is the only JR train the JR pass can’t be used on). Only down side: it doesn’t include buses.
- Stock up on 100-yen coins. Seriously, all the coin lockers and washing machines require them. Some laundromat soap dispensers also require 10-yen coins, but we only saw them at two of the hotels we stayed at. Sometimes there’ll be a change machine nearby, but they tend to only take 1000-yen notes. For that matter, most vending machines that took notes would only take 1000-yen notes.
- On a similar note, 1-yen coins are the Japanese equivalent of our five cent coins – functionally worthless.
- To give an idea of how much cash might be needed, I brought in 90,675 yen, and now have 22,432 yen. We were there for fifteen full days, so that comes out to an average of just over 4500 yen per day. Note that this doesn’t include hotels – James paid by credit card – or the rail passes, which we paid for before we left.
- Slip-on shoes are practically essential – Japan has always had a culture of taking your shoes off when you go inside, and though most of the places we visited had adopted the Western habit of letting you leave your shoes on, many places still expected us to take them off. There’s a lot of walking involved, though, so you’re probably best avoiding sandals, unless they’re comfortable.
- Photos taken: around eight thousand between us. 4400 for me. Someday I’ll actually look through them for the good ones.
I’m sure I had more ponderments and musings than that, but nothing seems to be springing to mind. Final thoughts, then. Would I go again? Yes. Unquestionably. Would I go again in August? Nooo. To have another stab at Fuji? … Maybe.