Vacationing can be an awesome adventure, a trip fraught with unexpected issues, or a dismal failure. The difference can often be traced to the preparation, or lack of, especially when traveling to a country where the language differs from your own.
A vacation to Japan should be an adventure of a lifetime. However, to have the best trip, some advance preparation will be necessary, and the wise traveler can profit from information that is easily found. After some general internet research, vacationers can learn what to know when traveling in Japan, such as the facts that follow.
1. Learn about the country
Learn much about the country. Basically, Japan is a small Asian country, an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean. It is separated from the east coast of Asia by the Sea of Japan. Approximately the size of Montana, it is made up of four main islands: Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku.
The population of Japan is 127,078,679, while the major city of Tokyo, the capitol, is home to 8, 483,050 people.
Tokyo is the most famous of the cities; however, Kyoto is the location of thousands of Buddhist temples and shrines and is often a favorite visiting site. While Osaka, Beppu, Nara and Tochigi, Yakohama, and Hakone are also cities of interest.
Japan, which has a constitutional monarchy with a fascinating feudal history, is a land of ancient culture and austere traditions with3.9 its 1000’s of temples, its raked pebble gardens, and geishas; however, it is also home to the newest technology, high rises, superior restaurants, modern railways, and upscale shops in Tokyo. So, you as a traveler can have the best of both worlds, or choose one to experience, the old or the new. The internet is replete with information about this country. Simply type in Japan, and something about it like currency, and begin to find information.
2. Learn about the climates
Learn about the climates, and chose the time of year most favorable for you. Generally speaking,
Winters tend to be dry, cold, and clear,
Summers are hot and humid,
Rainy season, mid June-mid July, are gray and sticky,
Late July and August have soaring temperatures and jungle-like humidity,
Spring and autumn are good times to visit.
Hunami, or cherry blossom viewing, lasts for about 10 days in April.
3. Learn about travel there
Learn about travel in Japan with its effective public transportation offerings, and its cost effectiveness.
International flights land in Narita Airport, about 37 miles from Tokyo. To get to Tokyo, a taxi can be obtained at the cost of c. $260 US, while an airport limousine can be scheduled at the cost of c. $30.00 US while a minibus service runs c. $40.00 US per person.
Tokyo is crisscrossed with subway, bus, and railway lines. Basic tickets run $1.50-$2.00 US per person per trip on the various lines. You will need to get information about lines going to and from your destinations.
Buses are not recommended for non-Japanese speaking individuals. They are reported t be hard to navigate.
Taxis by the thousands are found in Tokyo, and they can be hailed as in New York: those with the top lights on are available. Taxicabs are spotlessly clean there. The drivers actually wear white gloves. Don’t close the door to the car; it will be mechanically closed for you. Addresses in Japan are notoriously hard to find, so be sure to have a map with you.
Car rental is considered unwise, especially in Tokyo. In fact, some feel anyone would be foolish to rent a car with the expense of parking and the busyness of rush hour. If one must drive a car, rentals should be limited to the countryside.
4. Learn about the currency, cash and credit cards
The currency in Japan is the Japan yen which is -0.01 US (October, 2009) $100.00 US would equal 9,115.95 JPY. Getting some currency exchanged before leaving is a good idea, as is familiarizing oneself with local currency. Be sure to carry money in a money belt or inside pockets.
Taking cash and travelers’ checks is good to do. But be sure to write down the numbers on checks.
If credit cards are to be used, be sure that the ones intended to be used are valid in Japan. And record credit card emergency cancellation phone number should it be needed in an emergency.
Always take enough money to cover emergencies.
5. Learn about the Cusine of Japan
Learn about the cusine of Japan and be ready for an epicurean adventure:
Sushi is the most recognizable cusine.
Noodles (udon and soba) are enjoyable.
Fried food (tempura and Katsu) abounds.
Kaiseki (formal meals often served at posh inns (rokan) are the most lavish expressions of Japanese cusine. Kaiseki involve numerous tiny courses artfully prepared to reflect the season.
All sorts of western food is readily available.
6. Learn about Tipping
Learn about tipping in order not to embarrass yourself or a server or staff member. Tips are never given. Service charges are always added to the hotel or restaurant bills. If one wishes to show appreciation for service above and beyond the norm, put a significant quality of crisp bills into a beautiful hand-made paper envelope that the Japanese so adore, and hand deliver it.
7. Learn about Sights to See
Learn about the sights to see around Japan, or just Tokyo if that is your only destination. Various adventures await:
Mt Fugi, at Hakona, is stunningly beautiful.
Shirakawa and Gokayama are homes of three beautiful traditional gardens.
Kyoto offens the Golden Pavilion, Nijo Castle, Kyoto Imperial Palace.
Hakone has soothing hot springs.
Kyoto has ancient imperial architecture, Kanazawa’s Nagamachi: Saamurai houses.
8. Learn about dealing with the language barrier
Of course, anyone going to Japan will deal with understanding, or nor understanding Japanese. Hiring an interpreter is one option for considertion. Of course, learning some basic words of communication might be challenging, but certainly beneficial. Taking a book with Japanese/English signs, phrases, and/or words certainly would be useful. Another quite different idea would be to go to a major American university and find a student from Japan and work with him/her either to learn some words of Japanese, or work out engaging him/her as a travel guide (if your finances permit).
Space does not allow discussion of all important issues to be considered. Others would be: passports, visas, costs of necessities, lodging, travel insurance, and fitness for the trip, and more recently the H1N1 Virus, only to name a few other considerations.
The key to a great vacation is learning. Learn as much as possible before going. Make the planning part of the adventure. Read, study, and learn before you leave, and afterward you will have a Japanese experience of excellence.