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First time in Japan!

Newport Beach
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First time in Japan!

Hey! Got two weeks (June 4th-18th)...gonna spend the first 5 nights in Tokyo, found a cheap hotel in Ginza, then want to spend a good portion of the rest of my time in Kyoto and outlying areas, and then I'll be flying out of KIX. So...a couple questions:

Planning to buy a rail pass, is it worth it to spend the extra money for the green car? less crowded, more space, no reservations etc.

Also would really like to stay in some cheaper ryokans for most of my trip (preferably with no curfew) and then go all out at Hiiragiya or something similar for a few nights. But I will be traveling alone, and I've noticed that many ryokans will not accept lonewolf (no cub). :) Any suggestions?

And finally...is Kyoto a good place to post up...if I visit Nara, Himeji, Shikoku, Hiroshima are those overnight destinations?

Oh, and if there is any place I absolutely have to visit the last 2/3 of my trip is not booked yet, so I am open to suggestions!

Thanks in advance for any help!

Nate

Cambridge, MA
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791 posts
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1. Re: First time in Japan!

The "Green Car" is pretty significantly more expensive. On most train trips I've taken, they have been sparsely populated or even empty. There isn't much difference in the seating arrangement; it's not as though the entire train isn't comfortably climate-controlled; in addition to snack bars there are food and drink vendors who roam through every car. So my short answer is, it's not worth the extra yen.

For staying on the cheap I'd suggest reading guidebooks like Let's Go and Lonely Planet, and seeing what other reading material in the same vein exists in your local bookstores' travel sections. Online forums like Igo Ugo and Virtual Traveler would be good to visit for tips from "fellow travelers." A low-budget counterpart to ryokan are minshuku, which are much the same except with fewer amenities. Then, of course, there are also International Hostels; they're trying to de-emphasize their being "youth" hostels with some success.

You could easily spend the entire two weeks in Kyoto and not see a lot regardless. It's that full of noteworthy temples and shrines, museums, etc, not to mention the Gion/Ponto-cho geisha district.

Nara is no more than an hour away from Kyoto by train and can easily be seen in a single full day. But Himeji is just far enough away that you might want to tie it in with Kurashiki, Hiroshima, Miyajima, and perhaps Okayama. You could leave Kyoto early one morning, make stops in Himeji and Okayama, then have time to spare in order to see the restored section of Kurashiki and have supper there before continuing to nearby Hiroshima for the night. Then devote the next day (or maybe two) to Hiroshima and Miyajima.

Shikoku is a separate island, known mainly for its 88 Buddhist temples. For a long time it's been a tradition for Japanese people to make pilgrimages to as many of those as they can as part of a post-retirement ritual. Read up on this island ahead of time to see how much, if any, of that you'd be up for.

Backtracking a bit, geographically, I'd say you should also work Kamakura with its huge Buddha statue into your itinerary. Kamakura is a short distance outside Tokyo, towards Kyoto.

As I've come to find out, the travel and hospitality industry still translates "single traveler" as "woman!" This seems to hold true wherever you go. There's little I hate worse on trips than paying the same or even more for lodging than two people would. But no establishment has turned me away for being a solo sojourner, so I'm surprised to hear that some ryokan have been restrictive like that.

New York City, New...
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2. Re: First time in Japan!

Hi Naetron,

I agree with Spensword re Shinkansen's Green Car. You don't need to spend any extra as Shinkansen's standard seats are quite comfortable. The following web sites may be helpful.

http://www.jr-central.co.jp/english.nsf/index (for Shinkansen)

http://www.japanrail.com/railpasses.php (for Japan Rail Pass)

"Hiiragiya Ryokan" is one of the most popular ryokans in Kyoto, especially among Japanese tourists. Have you booked a room? If not, my suggestion is to do it right away since their rooms can be sold out quickly. My recommendation is to avoid weekends. Just fyi, "Tawaraya Ryokan" is also very nice.

I'm surprised to hear that many ryokans won't accept single travelers. Most Japanese ryokans have different rates for both Single and Twins/Double, because there are many Japanese people traveling alone. However, I know some ryokans, especially cheap ones, don't like dealing with non-Japanese speakers. This is not because they don't like non-Japanese tourists, but because they simply can't afford hiring English speaking employees.

If you have trouble booking rooms through Internet or your travel agency, I suggest you to contact Japanese travel agencies, such as JTB, NTA or KINTETSU. You can find their phone number at the following web sites:

http://www.jtbusa.com/enhome/branchinfo.asp (for JTB)

http://www.nta.co.jp/english/office/index.htm (for NTA)

http://www.knt.co.jp/kokusai/Page4.html (for Kintetsu)

They are very helpful to find hotels, ryokans, trains, tours, etc. in Japan. They often have deals better than Expedia/Orbitz. If they answer the phone in Japanese, don't worry! Just ask for an English speaking staff. Good luck!

Newport Beach
8 posts
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3. Re: First time in Japan!

Thanks so much for the advice! Most of this trip was going to be spent in Thailand and Vietnam (friend lives on Koh Toa), but I just couldn't resist Japan! The Japn leg was a bit more spur of the moment, and since I will be traveling alone, I felt I needed to be a bit more rigid in my planning. Your suggestions are much appreciated!!

Domo!

Nate

Cambridge, MA
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791 posts
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4. Re: First time in Japan!

You have to allow for some breathing room in your "rigid planning," or else you lose some of that sense of adventure! So lay out your itinerary to not have set destinations blocked out every day for X number of hours. Luckily you have a month left to read up on places, get lodging in order, etc.

Not having every hour accounted for ahead of time will allow you to order more drinks at a friendly karaoke bar you stumble upon, relax until the next train arrives if you miss one, and so on.

People who post here (such as me) tend to forget about everyday aspects of life in Japan that can be captivating to newcomers. You're bound to find things like pachinko parlors and department-store basements that demand further exploration. Think of your days there as discovering the country in the broadest sense, rather that just focusing on the landmarks. That's what traveling is all about.

Newport Beach
8 posts
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5. Re: First time in Japan!

Thanks for reminding me Spens! I'm really not used to planning, so I think I may be overcompansating a little. I hate rigidity, but I'm a novice traveler and just want to make the most of this experience. I definitely don't want to be forced to leave an area because I have a reservation someplace... just trying to find that perfect balance of freedom and schedule...oh, and thanks for the virtual tourist site recomendation...a wealth of info there!!

Cheers!

Nate