NB: Some of my earliest blogs no longer have their accompanying images but enjoy the copy!
Say ‘hello’ to the blog’s first ever guest writer – engineer, Japanophile and cosplayer Kate (UchihaSasuK8 on Twitter)! She is the author of the brilliantly resourceful Japan tourism blog Nihon-go.org and she brings us a very handy guide on how to plan your trip to Japan! Whether you’ve been before or visiting there still seems like a far-off dream, there’s something for everyone is this guest post.
Online Resources for Planning a Trip to Japan
So you have seen the anime and want to see and real live Gundam. You have eaten sushi but are hungry for more. You want to find a Geisha to steal your heart. You are planning you first trip to Japan!
The first thing to know is that it is not difficult. While all the talk of the language of indecipherable symbols and the complex etiquette may be intimidating, you should know that a trip to Japan is only as challenging as you want it to be.
That said – here is an introduction to a few resources that will make it even smoother!
Where to go:
Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO) : This is a really good starting point for planning your trip. If you are struggling to decide what areas or activities you want to focus on; use the high quality photos, Interactive Map, or the Suggested Itineraries to whet your appetite and inspire you. JNTO also provides libraries of “Practical Travel Guides” that contain the most essential information this is perfect to print out and take with you as an easy reference.
Japan Guide : An Extensive guide to Japan broken down by region with a very helpful star rating (out of 3) that provides great information on individual attractions and sites, with a summary of sites by topic – such as “Museums” or “Castles” – as well as a number of general guides such as “Train Travel” and “Dining Out” to help you make a wish list. It also has a really active Question Forum where you can ask for advice or run your ideas by more seasoned Japanophiles.
Japan Tourist : Written by travellers for travellers, this website has a huge number of review articles by people who have actually been there, and done that. This is a great way to find out about more off-the-beaten-track or specialised interest places from people with a real enthusiasm for Japan who are more than happy to share and answer questions.
How to get there:
Japan Rail Pass : Anyone who is thinking of travelling in Japan should at least consider a Japan Rail Pass. It is a pay-once/unlimited-use ticket that allows you to make the most of Japan’s highly efficient rail network. It is available from a huge number of places online, but nowhere has as a comprehensive break down of the validity, ticket offices and other details on how to actually use the pass as the original JR site. Make sure you check it out especially if you intend to collect your pass from somewhere other than the airport or validate it part way through your trip.
Hyperdia : Even if you decide the Japan Rail Pass is not for you, Hyperdia is likely to become one of your most used bookmarks. It is the indispensable tool for planning any rail trip in Japan – and even has an English language app for iPhone and Android. Take some time to get used to its search features such as the “No Nozomi” features to make the most of it.
Nohi Bus : Nearly everywhere in Japan is best accessed by rail, but there are a few exceptions. Sadly, their websites tend to be less tourist-friendly and have less English translations but are perfect for travelling to the very popular Shirakawa-Go and the Hida Takayama area.
ToCoo : With the undoubted prowess of the rail system many people do not consider car hire in Japan, but it can be a great way to get way out into the country or tour along the coast line at your own pace. ToCoo is an English language car hire site that checks rates at many of the major dealers.
Where to Stay:
Japanican : A good place to look for Hotels or Ryokan (Japanese Style Inns) nationwide, with useful search features such as “with Onsen Baths” or “Easy Train Access”.
Rakuten : A little more clunky to use than Japanican, but with a wider range of accommodation choices (particularly at the “budget end”) and often cheaper.
Business Hotels: There are a number of hotel chains such as the Japanese Premier Inn or Travel Lodges that offer good value, no-fuss rooms in a number of cities – check out Dormy Inn, Chisun Hotels, Super Hotel, Toyoko Inn.
Sakura House : If you are considering staying in Japan for more than a few weeks you might want to consider a “Gaijin House”, which are properties available to rent to foreigners. Often these are shared properties similar to University Halls of Residence where you have private bedroom and a common kitchen and bathroom, but Sakura House have many types on offer.
Rentaphone : If you’re worried your phone will not work or just about getting ripped off on your roaming charges, then consider renting a Japanese phone. Rentaphone send an easy-to-use phone to your door before you fly, complete with a postage paid return envelope.
Blogs: As patronising as it sounds – don’t forget to Google! There are a huge number of blogs written by people all over the world specialising in a huge number of things and Japan is no different, particularly if you have special interest in an activity, field or subculture. Want to be on the pulse of Harajuku Fashions, or the freshest powder, or the finest dinning? It’s all there.
Some of my favourites include:
Tofugu – the best of the weird and the wonderful.
Green Shinto – Learn more about Japan’s indigenous religion and its naturalistic spirituality.
Abandoned Kansai – Searching out the empty, the derelict and forgotten places of Japan. Not so much to ‘go where no one has gone before’ – but where they don’t go anymore…
Obviously, all your normal international mainstays are just as valid for Japan as anywhere else. But if this is you first big trip or you usually go with a package I recommend you check out these:
A huge thank you to Kate for putting this post together! To say it’s informative is quite frankly an understatement. I, for one, will definitely be referring to this when I plan my next trip to Japan (hopefully this year)! If you have any questions for Kate, you can find her on twitter as UchihaSasuk8 and make sure you check out Nihon-go.org too!
If you’re interested in contributing to Sophie’s Japan Blog, you can find out more here.
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