Before You Go

  How Long to Visit  
  When to Visit  
  Local Transportation  
  What to See  
Helpful Information You Will Want to Know

  Points to Consider In Planning a Trip to Japan: As you make plans for your upcoming trip to Japan please take a few minutes to read over the points and suggestions outlined below. If you have already thought about and taken into account some or all of them, you are well ahead of the game. If not, please give careful thought to these suggestions based on our decades of experience traveling in Japan.
  How Long to Visit:  
  Most North Americans don’t have enough time to see Japan properly. In our opinion you should try to take 14 or more days to have a memorable impression of Japan. Even with this time frame you will want to avoid wasting time retracing your steps, duplicating routes and views you have already done. Specifically we highly recommend that, if at all possible, you plan to arrive via Tokyo, and to leave via Osaka. This will save you a whole day of traveling over a route you have seen before.
  In addition, with regards to travel from North America to Asia, keep in mind that with the International Date Line in the western Pacific, you need two calendar days to get to Japan, and one day to return so at a minimum you will have three days of travel, a good case of jetlag, and you won’t have seen anything unless you allow enough time.
  When to Visit:  
  You probably are already locked into a certain time of the year to make your trip. In this case, let us assure you, you have picked the “best time” for you to be in Japan as all four seasons have their attractions. On the other hand, if you have some flexibility, you might consider April, May, September, or October as being wonderful times to be in Japan due to their more comfortable weather. Probably the most desirable period to be in Japan is late March/early April in time for the unforgettable cherry blossom season, but this means betting on Mother Nature to cooperate with your planned dates.
  If you are flexible other factors to consider are whether there will be any special festivals or other cultural events that will be taking place at a certain time or place that you want to see. These can be local or national festivals or can be unique Japanese activities such as a sumo tournament, Kabuki performances, anime, bonsai, etc. If you can experience a festival in any country (think Christmas, 4th of July, Rose Bowl Parade, Mardi Gras, etc.) you will have a deeper understanding of the culture and people, not to mention a great time.
  And lastly, keep in mind that Japan is a relatively large set of islands so the weather is not the same everywhere at the same time. When it is raining in one place the sun could be shining somewhere else. The one thing we can say is that the summers will normally be hot and humid so do try to visit during the spring or fall if possible.
  Local Transportation:  
  The most convenient method of travel in Japan is via the wonderful Japan Rail (JR) system that is very fast, convenient, clean and comfortable. Usually the most economical way to do this is with a Japan Rail Pass in 7, 14, or 21 consecutive day increments using the Shinkansen (“bullet trains”) in Ordinary (comfortable, first-class 5-across, 3 and 2 seating) or Green Car (even more spacious and deluxe 4-across, 2 and 2 seating) classes. To get your money’s worth when using a pass, however, you need to plan your travels to include any inter-city travel within your 7, 14, or 21 day period. Passes cost approximately $250-450 but, if used properly, can save you $50-$150. (The pass does not normally cover local, intra-city travel on subways, light rail, buses, etc., so it is not very useful in the big cities such as Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, etc. This is why we would recommend you arrive in Tokyo, spend a few days, then begin your Japan Rail Pass period when you leave Tokyo.
  Regarding other methods of transportation, there are certainly lots of inter-city flights, but these are normally not worth the time to go from a city center (where the train stations are usually located and where you will generally be sightseeing) to the airport, wait several hours due to security, and then have to come back into the center of the next town where you are going after arrival. If you were planning on going from Tokyo to Hokkaido or to Kyushu then air might be a worthwhile choice, but any shorter distances would be very questionable. You should know that both Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways offer special “Airpass” domestic sector fares for international visitors that may be appropriate for you if you need to fly domestically.
  There are buses in any tourist town, but the smaller towns may not be so easy to understand. Subways are pretty good, excellent in the big cities, because you can’t get lost, you’re in a tube, the train only goes two directions, etc. Subway signage in the major cities is usually quite helpful, including signs and maps to even show you which actual exit to use at each station.
  Be aware however that taxis in Japan are definitely expensive, costing about $6 just to sit down! You should only use taxis sparingly or if you can share with several other people (4 max. per taxi.)
  For more information on Japanese transportation please click on the “Transportation” button on the left panel.
  When considering where to sleep in Japan, keep in mind that with limited time, location is the most important factor in choosing appropriate accommodations (followed by quality and price). Japan has many excellent hotels (many are members of Japanese chains you may not be familiar with but are very clean, safe and affordable), but if you have to waste precious hours getting back and forth to your perfect hotel (i.e. sleeping place), that is not a good use of your time. Hopefully you are only sleeping in your hotel, not using it to hide in (as in the movie “Lost in Translation”.)
  In addition to hotels Japan has several unique forms of accommodations, the ryokan, a high-class Japanese-style inn where you sleep on futons on a tatami mat floor and are served superb Japanese meals in your room; minshukus, similar to ryokans, but more on the bed and breakfast model, and shukubos or temple stays where you can overnight at a Buddhist temple and experience a little of the life of a monk but without so much asceticism. If at all possible you should try to spend at least one night in a ryokan, or if this is too expensive (they can cost $200-600 or more per person per night with dinner and breakfast), a minshuku or shukubo. Another, lesser (in both experience and cost), alternative is to stay in a Japanese-style room in your hotel. Most hotels in Japan have several of these rooms with tatami mat floors. The only problem is that you don’t get the personalized service and wonderful Japanese dinner and breakfast in your room you would get in a real ryokan.
  Something else to remember about Japanese hotels is that the rooms and beds tend to be smaller than you are used to (unless you stay in high-end hotels.) This is just a factor of scale in Japan and should be regarded as “part of the charm”. Hotels in Japan start at about $30 per night for a youth hostel to several thousands of dollars per night for a fancy suite in a deluxe hotel. More commonly first-class hotels will cost between $150 and $300 per double per night without breakfast. Please note that the normal room setup is a twin-bedded room, rather than a queen or king bedded room so be prepared for some nightly “separation anxiety”.
  For more information on Japanese accommodations please click on the “Accommodation” button on the left panel.
  Hopefully you are looking forward to having some wonderful Japanese food. You won’t be disappointed. To keep your budget in line, however, we suggest you avoid meals and drinks in your hotel. For example, although breakfasts in your hotel, usually buffet style, are convenient and fast, they can cost $15-35 per person, while breakfast-like meals “on the street” can be had for $3-10. Similarly the equivalent of a 12 oz. cola from an omnipresent vending machine on the street costs about $1, but can cost $6 for a 6 oz. bottle in a hotel.
  Do make a point of trying as many different Japanese dishes as you can. There are lots of alternatives to sushi if this is not your thing. On the street most meals will only cost $7-20, but if you feel the urge for McDonalds (or one of the other well-know fast-food chains), you can still have some unusual, local items such as a teriyaki burger, or a creamed corn pie instead of an apple pie.
  For more information on Japanese food please click on the “Cuisine” button on the left panel.
  If you are not traveling on too tight a budget, you should use the efficient luggage shipping services that are unique to Japan. You can take two smaller bags (as opposed to one larger one) and leap frog them between the cities you visit so you don’t have to carry them with you on the trains and through the stations. Labor is very expensive in Japan so you will not find porters in train stations, and also only a few escalators or elevators in the main stations (although this is gradually changing.)
  Shipping your luggage for $15-25 per piece per segment can make traveling a lot more pleasant. Bags can be shipped from the airports, from accommodations, and even some convenience stores, usually just requiring an overnight but sometimes arriving the same day for an additional fee.
  With respect to money, Japan is primarily a cash economy. Bring your credit cards, but also bring a fair amount of cash, even better than travelers’ checks (Japan is one of the safest countries in the world). You can change money at airports, banks and hotels. You can also get cash in any of thousands of post offices in their special ATM machines at ¥10,000 (about $90) per withdrawal (look for the special post office symbol see below). Japanese ATM machines other than at the post offices will normally not accept your US issued credit cards (so much for fair trade!)
  For more information on Japanese currency and current exchange rates, please click on our “Currency Converter” button on the left panel.
  If you are a good driver, you might think about driving via rental car in some of the rural areas of Japan, although definitely not in or between the big cities (too much traffic, no place to park, confusing signs, etc., tolls can reach the 100s of dollars, Tokyo to Osaka can cost over $225.) You will see a different Japan on these smaller roads at a much slower pace, usually only 25 mph (40 kph). The Japanese drive on the left side of the road, like England, but the rural roads are usually two lanes and are numbered so you can pretty easily know where you are going.
  What to See:  
  What should you see in Japan? We are especially fond of sites highlighting Japan’s colorful and exciting history and culture. These can include some of Japan’s UNESCO World Heritage sites; some of its National Treasures; several beautiful and architecturally unique castles; a variety of excellent and informative museums in each of the major cities; its universally recognized gardens, both large and small; its historic cities, towns, villages and temples that bring visitors back to earlier times; its scenic areas offering mountains, rivers, forests, lakes and coasts; its distinctly Japanese art forms such as Kabuki, Bunrako and Noh; its definitive sport sumo, and its version of baseball. Add to all this some of the most elegantly presented and tasty food in the world, and you have a recipe for memories to last a lifetime!
  Helpful Information You Will Want to Know: The following are various miscellaneous bits of information that you will want to know before you go.
  Japan uses 110 Volt electricity, slightly different from in North America. In addition half the country uses 50 Hertz and the other uses 60 Hertz. These differences shouldn’t matter for most North American small appliances. When you check your computer and/or digital camera battery chargers (our main concerns) you will find that most new models work within a 100-220 Volt and 50-60 Hertz range.
  The biggest concern is the plug types. In Japan they primarily use a standard, ungrounded two flat pronged plug (and occasional ungrounded three-prong plugs), with both flat prongs being the same size. Many newer North American two flat prong plugs have one larger and one smaller prong, the same as for three-prong plugs, to provide better orientation and grounding. You will need a simple adapter plug to use one of these North American models in Japan. The key is to have an adapter plug you can plug North American grounded prong plugs (plugs with two different size flat prongs) into, but that will plug into non-grounded plugs (those with two flat prongs the same size.)
  There are various schools of thought as to the origin of the Japanese language, but the most commonly accepted school says that Japanese is an Altaic language from the north of Asia, related to Korean and Mongolian, brought over by the early immigrants from North Asia by way of the Korean peninsula. It does seem to have additional influences from the Austronesian (Malaysian, Papuan and other Pacific islands) area as well. And after centuries of Chinese influence over sixty percent of Japanese words today are derived from Chinese words (English has about the same percentage of words derived from Latin languages.)
  One of the more interesting and noticeable facets of Japanese to non-Japanese is that all words have two syllables and the syllables are all of the type, consonant-verb only. This results in the strange-to-Western-ears sounds of “baseball” as “be-sa-bo-ru” and of “beer” as “bee-ru” (“fact stranger than fiction.”)
  Time Zone:  
  All of Japan is in one time zone, UTC/GMT +9. It does not use daylight savings time. This means that Japan is 15 hours ahead of Chicago standard time, 14 hours ahead of East Coast standard time, and 17 hours ahead of West Coast standard time. From April to October in the US Japan is 14 hours ahead of Chicago daylight savings time, 13 hours ahead of East Coast daylight savings time, and 16 hours ahead of West Coast daylight savings time.
  For specific tour itinerary planning contact a knowledgeable travel agent or Asia Pacific Travel directly.