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Anyone has been to Japan?
Old 11-10-2004, 09:27 AM   #1
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Anyone has been to Japan?

We are trying to decide where to go next year for vacation and my first choice will be Japan.

Has anyone been to Japan and can recommend places to go? Do you go with tour? I would prefer not to go with tour but I heard that Japanese speaks little english (and I speak no Japanese). Do you stay in Ryokan? Did you do the communal bath? Kabuki? tea ceremony? Festivals? I am researching this on the internet but was wondering if anyone can recommend "off the beaten path" places/activities?

Also do you remember how much you spent daily for food, acommodation, transportation, etc? Did you rent car or use public transportation? I probably would prefer to take public transportation.

If you can, please recommend economical options since I am cheap.

Thanks.

Jane
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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?
Old 11-10-2004, 11:18 AM   #2
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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?

Thanks Ronin.

We are thinking of going in Spring (March - May) 2005 because I am hoping to catch the cherry blossoms. I heard it is supposedly really busy season in spring so we may have to book months in advance. If we couldn't go in the spring, we will try to go in Fall.

Do you read chinese? I guess it is easier to get around in Japan if you do, since Japanese and chinese characters are rather similar.

Jane
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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?
Old 11-10-2004, 11:51 AM   #3
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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?

Quote:
Has anyone been to Japan and can recommend places to go?
I have been many times. What kind of things would you like to do? Are you interested in Miyamoto Musashi (Japan's famous swordsman)? How about ninja (town of Iga - Hakuhojo castle)? Very very very nice beef (Kobe or Matsusaka beef)? Shrines? Temples? Zen gardens? Fish markets (Tsukiji in Tokyo). The Hiroshima memorial? Pearls (Ise-shima - home of Mikimoto)?

Quote:
Do you go with tour? I would prefer not to go with tour but I heard that Japanese speaks little english (and I speak no Japanese).
I wouldn't bother with a tour - you pay a lot and get taken round the super touristy places. You are going to the other country to presumably experience their culture and not to hang out with others from "home".

The amount of English spoken by the Japanese varies by age and where in the country they are. I would highly reccomend taking an adult education/night class in Japanese. I do this before any long trip and it really helps. Also, IIRC you are Chinese - do you read Chinese? If so that will help as the base meanings of many of the Chinese characters used in Japan (Kanji) are similar to that in China though the pronunciation is different and the Japanese have two phonetic scripts as well (hiragana and katakana).

Quote:
Do you stay in Ryokan?
Can be pricy depending on the quality/traditional-ness of the ryokan. Worth doing for a night or two at least.

Quote:
Did you do the communal bath?
Onsen for more relaxing resorty type ones. Worth doing. The town that I often visit when I go to Japan has one and I use it often during my stay. Many also have hotels/ryokans attached. Price varies but expect to pay 500 Yen for a visit.

The other type that is disappearing somewhat is a sento. These are the older public baths that people would bathe in because they had no bath at home. I've used these too and they are interesting.

Quote:
Kabuki?
Imagine knowing no English or perhaps the 10 week adult ed version of English (modern English) and going to see a Shakespearean play. That's what kabuki will be like. I haven't gone yet but I'm planning to one day.

Quote:
tea ceremony?
You can see this sometimes at shrines.

Quote:
Also do you remember how much you spent daily for food, acommodation, transportation, etc?
Way too variable. I'd suggest 5000 Yen / day is about the minimum you will get accomodation for. Food will depend on what you eat. I can get lunch for 500-1000 Yen if I go to the right kind of places. Dinner will vary dependong on how fancy/how much you eat/where you go.

Quote:
Did you rent car or use public transportation? I probably would prefer to take public transportation.
Do not rent a car. It will not save you money, it will be difficult to park, and it will take longer for many of the trips that you would do.
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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?
Old 11-10-2004, 11:57 AM   #4
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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?

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Do you read chinese? I guess it is easier to get around in Japan if you do, since Japanese and chinese characters are rather similar.
This can help. *I used my Japanese ability when I went to China and was able to get some of the meaning when reading signs or menus but it is only some of the meaning. *The writing systems diverged many hundreds of years ago and the characters have changed shape somewhat, the meanings have mutated or additional meanings have been added or subtracted, and Japan has invented some of their own characters too.

It can also sometimes lead to misunderstandings. *One example is "te-gami". *In Japanese this is "hand" (te) and "paper" (gami - originally kami but changed to gami for euphonic reasons when combined with te) which means "letter". *In Chinese these two characters mean "toilet paper" (though I've forgotten the pronunciation).
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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?
Old 11-10-2004, 12:39 PM   #5
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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?

Thanks Hyper.

Good idea with the language class. We'll check it out.

My fiance will probably be interested to look at some sharp, manly samurai swords in the Sword Museum mentioned by Ronin. I will try to steer us more towards shrines, temples, public baths and gardens.

I can read some chinese but not fluent. Sadly, when I was a kid I didn't work really hard at the chinese school to learn chinese. My parents and grandparents consider me "chinese illiterate"

I guess the idea of staying at a Ryokan is really attractive to me: "older" Japanese room, japanese-style service etc. But if they are too expensive I wouldn't mind staying at a western-style hotel (or maybe one of those guest houses?).

I also would like to eat well but not necessarily extravagant. I consider myself a foodie and just love to taste local cuisine.

Another thing I want to see is local ceramics. I have a thing for ceramics, crystals etc. Whenever I went somewhere I usually managed to drag home a mug or two (crytal vase from sweden, Finnish ceramic mug, coloured crystal figurine from Venice etc). Japanese ceramics are a bit expensive I think (from what I have seen from the Japanese store around here) but I will still like to see a pretty rice bowl or two. My fiance thinks it is an obssesion stemming from my obsession of food.

Anyway, thanks again for the tips.

Jane
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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?
Old 11-10-2004, 12:57 PM   #6
 
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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?

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I am researching this on the internet but was wondering if anyone can recommend "off the beaten path" places/activities?
Jane,

I love to travel, but have to admit that the Orient would be one of the last places I'd like to visit. With that said, you said you are interested in places off the beaten path. What got you interested in Japan as a Travel Destination?

If I had to go the Orient, my first choice would be Mongolia (and maybe that is not even the orient). Mostly because it is rural.

Maybe Viet Nam - ( I am a foodie also,) and much prefer Viet Nam cusine over Japanese or Chinese.

So, if you are interested in places 'off the beaten path' - Why Japan? - Why not Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Phillipines?

Just Curious
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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?
Old 11-10-2004, 02:49 PM   #7
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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?

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This can help. *I used my Japanese ability when I went to China and was able to get some of the meaning when reading signs or menus but it is only some of the meaning. *The writing systems diverged many hundreds of years ago and the characters have changed shape somewhat, the meanings have mutated or additional meanings have been added or subtracted, and Japan has invented some of their own characters too.
Yes, it also depends on whether you've studied simplified or traditional Chinese characters. The former is used on the mainland, and were invented after the communists took over to improve literacy rates. The traditional characters are used everywhere else and is what the Japanese characters are based on.

I'm currently on my second trip to Beijing for studying Chinese and have only learned simplified characters. When I went to Japan I found that sometimes I could read signs, but other times I was completely baffled because I had only learned the simplified form of the character.
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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?
Old 11-10-2004, 03:07 PM   #8
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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?

Cut-Throat I agree about Mongolia. I'm dying to go. Two years ago some friends and I went out to Inner Mongolia (which is a part of China, but still full of lots of Mongolian culture, cuisine, and grasslands). We went horseback riding and it was absolutely beautiful. We didn't have the proper visa to cross the border into Mongolia proper but I'm dying for the day I can get back to that part of the world.

Quote:

Maybe Viet Nam - ( I am a foodie also,) and much prefer Viet Nam cusine over Japanese or Chinese.
The one thing about Chinese food is that it varies quite a bit by region, and most of even what you get in the US (even if authentic) is only a small sampling of what's available in China. Although, I too am a big fan of Vietnamese food.

Quote:

So, if you are interested in places 'off the beaten path' - Why Japan? *- Why not Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Phillipines?
I love Asia and am currently on my 5th trip here, I agree that Japan is probably not one of the most interesting parts of Asia unless you just happpen to be one of those types who really loves anime or some other aspect of Japanese culture.

I loved Cambodia and Thailand, and am thinking about doing a Vietnam/Laos/Cambodia trip next year. China is a huge country with a ton of places to visit. My husband's been to Indonesia and Malaysia and absolutely loved them. All of these places are definitely further off the beaten track also have the advantage of being way cheaper than Japan too.

I don't think I would put Japan at the top of my travel list, but then the husband and I will be moving there next year for a 3 year duty assignment (he's active military), so maybe that has something to do with it.
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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?
Old 11-11-2004, 04:00 AM   #9
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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?

I find "older" Japanese culture interesting and I find Japanese-style Zen gardens, architecture and food aesthetically pleasing. I am not saying other Asian culture is not pretty (I don't have enough knowledge about other Asian cultures) but I find Japanese have a way to make something looks really nice yet simple. Take a look at sushi. They are presented beautifully yet their elements are so simple (raw fish, rice, seaweeds etc)

But I am open to suggestions: what do they have in Mongolia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thai that are of cultural and architectural interests? When I travel I usually prefer to see festival, old buildings, museums, ceramics etc instead of a beautiful beaches, or forests. I love the outdoor but if I want to lie on the beaches or hike in the forest I can just go camping in Canada. No need to fly to a different country. This is why I also love Europe. It's the air of old, majestic life.

Jane


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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?
Old 11-11-2004, 04:10 AM   #10
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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?

I have been to few places in Indonesia (years ago) actually (my grandparents and parents were Indonesian born chinese). I also have been to Singapore. Bali seemed to me just one big party at the beach kind of place which is not really my style. I saw Borobudur (?) temple where they had giant stone Buddhas in Indonesia and I thought it was awesome. But all in all I can't say I want to go back there again for a visit.

Maybe it was because my Indonesian relatives kept dragging me to see beaches and big westernized malls that I wasn't having too much fun. Also because the custom people at Indonesian airport were rude to me They acted as if it was my fault that I had Indonesian chinese heritage but a Canadian citizenship. Then I found out from my relatives that it was local custom to slip a "gift" in your passport when you go through custom.

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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?
Old 11-11-2004, 06:44 AM   #11
 
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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?

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But I am open to suggestions: what do they have in Mongolia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thai that are of cultural and architectural interests?
When you had mentioned off the beaten path, these places came to mind because they are a little more rural than Japan.

The 'culture' in rural places is not influenced as much by the 21st Century and people tend to live their lives in the 'older ways' of their cultures.

Everyone has their own likes and dislikes and Japan may be the place for you, but I would think it is not as much off the beaten path or influenced by modern culture than the places I mentioned. Especially Mongolia.
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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?
Old 11-11-2004, 07:55 AM   #12
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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?

Japan is number one on my list of places to go back to. Spent a week there in 1997 for work (shooting stories with a TV crew). I was surprised at how much I loved it--it tops my list of Asian destinations.

Many people (especially the younger ones) speak a smattering of English and even if they don't, are willing to point you in the direction of the train station, ryokan, hotel, restaurant, store, whatever.

In terms of cost, it's pricier than many countries, but there are ways to cut expenses and enhance your experience at the same time. Eat in the noodle shops--for seven bucks or so (or even less) you can have a filling meal of soba noodles, yakitoroi, tempura or any other sort of Japanese cuisine. In the Ginza in central Tokyo (purported to be one of the priciest places on earth), we ate at a German-Japanese beer garden for less than ten bucks apiece. Prices have probably risen a bit, but are most likely still affordable.

Ryokan we stayed at included breakfast and shared bath. Very clean and hospitable.

Took the bullet train from Tokyo to Morioka province in northern Japan. Beautiful city and in the heart of Japan's agricultural region (that's why we were there--to shoot a series of farm-related stories).

Next time I want to go to Kyoto and hike Mount Fuji.

Have a great time! Wish I was going, too.
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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?
Old 11-11-2004, 09:19 AM   #13
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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?

Thanks Traveller. I have "eat at noodle shop stand" on my list. Definitely will do.


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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?
Old 11-11-2004, 02:42 PM   #14
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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?

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But I am open to suggestions: what do they have in Mongolia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thai that are of cultural and architectural interests?
I'm not much into beaches either, but also find that even though my husband and I love museums and temples and other buildings we usually get tired of them if we do more than one a day.

I will say that if architecture and culture is your thing that Ankor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia was the most spectacular I have ever seen. Utterly amazing! The temple complex is very spread out and we rented bicycles from a local mom and pop grocery store for $1/day to visit the temples, but a car with driver only costs about $20/day. One of the best trips I have ever been on.

One book that has really got my imagination going is "1000 places to see before you die" I received this as a gift a few months ago and its generated a lot of vacation ideas for us. Now we just need the time and money.

Anyway, it sounds like Japan is your thing so definitely go for it and have fun!
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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?
Old 11-11-2004, 06:29 PM   #15
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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?

Jane,
We lived there for 3 years and my main comment is this: *definitely go to Japan if you have an interest! *It is a parallel universe full of fun surprises. *In a sense, it doesn't matter so much which 'attraction' you go to, but rather that you are just there, hanging out, noticing all the bizarre things going on. *Japan unfolds at the micro level, I found -- the street scene, the shop, the wierd clothes people wear, the coffee shop, whatever. *The 'attractions' were by and large kind of tame, with a few key exceptions;

Nara -- great temples
Kyoto -- more great temples
Kamakura -- easy daytrip from Tokyo, great temples, big buddha
Hakone -- Very cool temples a day trip from Tokyo
(notice *a theme here? *Basically most tourists end up going to cool temples).

But if you have other interests --ceramics, sumo, hiking, consumer technology, naturist hot springs, meditation, whatever -- then try to weave these interests into your trip -- your guidebooks or specialist mags for your hobby/interest will point you in the right direction.

Try to stay in ryokans (traditional/country inns) at least some of the time, though ryokans in Kyoto tended to be fiercely expensive, so you might need something less aesthetic in Kyoto. The temples during the day will compensate nicely.

Try to study some language classes b4 you go -- it will give you a big leg up on fending for yourself in a sometimes indifferent-to-tourist's-dilemma environment. *When they start sucking on their teeth, you know you are doing something that is making the natives uncomfortable and you should back off and try a different approach.

Stay with friends or get a friend or friend-of-friend to show your around a bit, especially on your first day or two -- they expect to do it and will have fun blowing your mind, and it will be a big help to getting you acclimatized for the rest of your trip.

Cherry Blossom season is very nice, but may be hard to hit with precision from a book-in-advance point in time now. *Besides, all the parks are full of drunken picnickers, which can be either a lot of fun or kind of disconcerting.

Whatever you do, *don't postpone the trip again. *No matter how prepared or unprepared you feel, just go!

ESRBob



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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?
Old 11-12-2004, 04:57 AM   #16
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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?

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I will say that if architecture and culture is your thing that Ankor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia was the most spectacular I have ever seen. *Utterly amazing! *
Funny you mentioned this. My coworker who travelled a lot mentioned this one too yesterday. She wanted to go to Cambodia to see this temple.

I was considering of going to China but decided on Japan instead. However, I am planning go to China at least once in my life. I am afraid that I will be a little dissapointed when I visit China as I think many architectural interests were destroyed or defaced during the Cultural Revolution and Mao's regime.

Thanks for all the tips: I am definitely going to see as many temples and shrines as possible, go to some communal baths, eat lots of noodles and sushi * Sumo match now that is an idea! Unfortunately ESRBob I don't have any friend in Japan. My bro used to date this Japanese girl who told me she would not mind travelling with us in Japan to show us the sight. I would like to keep in touch with her but I think my bro wouldn't like that.

Jane
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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?
Old 11-13-2004, 06:29 PM   #17
 
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Re: Anyone has been to Japan?

Jane,

I have lived in Japan for the past 4 years. I live on a U.S. military base located on the outskirts of Tokyo. Since my primary reason for being here is business related (work), I have not spent a great deal of time sightseeing. Rather, I have lived in Japan as if it were my home (which it is and will continue to be for at least another 3 years). I had many preconceived notions about what to expect when I arrived here. Most of them were wrong. For example, I expected pay a fortune for anything bought "on the economy" (i.e., outside the base). Not so. My wife any I have found that we can eat very reasonably at many local restaurants. There is a noodle shop I particularly enjoy -- it costs us about $15 for the two of us. We rarely pay over $10 per person, and many times not more than the cost of dining at McDonalds. I also expected that traffic would be horrendous. We live in the suburbs of Tokyo, so the traffic is lighter, but as a general rule, I can drive around the local community in about the same time it would take me to drive somewhere in Seattle (my former home). Used cars were a very pleasant surprise. Many Japanese ride bicycles and don't put much mileage on the family car. Consequently, you can get an older model car, with very low miles for about $1,000 that is in terrific shape. I paid 1,300 for my Nissan Bluebird (Altima in the States). It had 14,400 miles on it.

As a general rule many more Japanese speak English than there are Americans who speak Japanese. Consequently, it isn't unusual to find someone who can help with translation. Obviously, English-speakers are more common in the larger cities than in the rural areas. I've always found someone who can help when I'm in a pinch. At times I've been totally stunned when someone in a little shop replys to my question in "perfect English." It has happened many times. On the other hand, some Japanese are reluctant to practice their English even if they know a few words. Bottom line, for a short trip, don't sweat the language barrier, you'll do fine. The Japanese are very polite and hospitable and you won't have any problems with the language barrier.

Regarding places to see, that all depends on your interest. There are many tour guides that can give you ideas.

Have fun!

Robert
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