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Just Returned - Tips, Suggestions for Japan Travel

IDE
DC
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Just Returned - Tips, Suggestions for Japan Travel

Hi All

My husband and I just returned from a fabulous 12 day trip to Japan. I thought that I would share a few things that may be interesting for first time travelers to Japan.

Overall, we had a wonderful trip and would go back in the future. From our experience, traveling was easy and comfortable.

Our itinerary -

2/20 - Arrive Osaka evening, overnight Miyako Hotel Osaka.

2/21 - Traveled to Kyoto using Kansai Pass, Kyoto.

2/22 - Kyoto.

2/23 - Day trip to Nara using Kansai Pass.

2/24 - Kyoto.

2/25 - Traveled with JR Pass to Hiroshima, all day in Hiroshima, overnight at Hotel Flex.

2/26 - Traveled with JR Pass to Tokyo, stayed at Hotel Kitcho.

2/27 - Tokyo.

2/28 - Tokyo.

3/1 - Tokyo.

3/2 - Traveled back to Osaka, overnight at Miyak Hotel Osaka.

3/3 - Left for US.

Our transportation -

Before I left I did alot of research online about transportation to/from and within the cities we were going. I found the entire system to be extremely confusing and duplicative. However, japan-guide.com had a great explanation of the various passes which was very helpful in sorting it all out. We chose:

Kansai Thru Pass 3 Days - purchased at Kansai Airport. Very easy to use and it got us from Osaka to Kyoto, Kyoto to Nara, and subway travel within all the cities.

JR Rail Pass 7 Days - purchased in the US. Exchange went smoothly at Kyoto JR Rail station. We made all of our train reservations at the same counter. I would recommend getting seat reservations and it doesn't cost extra if you have the pass.

In Tokyo we used the JR Rail pass and bought individual subway tickets.

Other thoughts:

1. I'm very glad that we went first to the Kansai region (Kyoto and Nara) before tackling Tokyo. In the Kansai we focused on temples, castles, and other historical sites. By the time we got to Tokyo we were ready to explore the city and saw a whole other side to Japan.

2. Three or four days of intense sight seeing in Kyoto and Tokyo was not nearly enough to see everything. We did about three major sites a day which was plenty for the mind and body.

3. Our "Best" in Kyoto/Nara - Nara's Bronze Buddha at Todai-ji, Daisen-in zen temple complex, and the Golden Pavilion.

4. Our "Best" in Tokyo - Tsuikji Fish Market, modern architecture in Harajuku, Roppongi Hills & the Mori Art Museum

5. I wrote reviews of the hotels we stayed at on this site. We didn't have one bad experience. Beware that most rooms are smoking or have had smokers are guests. Also check to see if the larger hotels have service charges on top of the rate.

6. Our resources: Tokyo City Atlas, Rough Guide Japan, www.japan-guide.com, JNTO website, hyperdia train timetable website

Hope this is helpful. I'd be happy to share more if you have questions! Enjoy your trips! The plum trees were just blossoming when we left.

Pontiac, MI
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1. Re: Just Returned - Tips, Suggestions for Japan Travel

Hi IDE,

My husband and I are planning to visit Japan in October. If you do not mind, can you give me a ballpark idea of how much you spent including your planes tickets for both of you? We want to start saving now.

Thanks

IDE
DC
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2. Re: Just Returned - Tips, Suggestions for Japan Travel

Hi Allroadsleadtorome:

Just typed everything about and the computer ate it! Let's try again. We got a great deal on our flight which made the trip more managable. We were surprised that it wasn't as expensive as everyone claimed. The cost is in transportation. Like New York or Los Angeles there is a range of cheap/good to expensive/amazing. We mixed it up.

Airfare (Wash.DC to Osaka with American): $603 pp

JR Rail Pass (7 day, ordinary class): approx. $320

Kansai Thru Pass (3 day): approx. $50

Airport Shuttle & Misc. Subway: approx $75

Hotels: approx $1000 for 11 nights (quality ranged from name brand to hostel. We were really glad that we chose a good, chain hotel on our first night. We were so exhausted from the flight so it was an easy checkin and comfortable overnight)

Daily Expenses (food, entrance fees, misc): We budgeted $100 for both of us per day and we were comfortably under it. We stayed away from pricy hotel breakfasts, ate pri-fixe lunches (btwn $10-20) and light suppers. We weren't totally cheap, though, and did splurge (it was vacation!).

Hope this helps!

Kurashiki, Japan
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3. Re: Just Returned - Tips, Suggestions for Japan Travel

Sounds like you had a great trip! The budget sounds about right and you could do better or worse for hotels! (Your calculations seemed good, and it IS nice to have a comfortable first night after the long trek overseas!)If you're into decent or fine dining(Japanese) and good sake, you might want to calculate another 2000-3000 per night, for two people. (I buy bananas & bread at the market & eat breakfast in my hotel room. For dinner, I splurge!

Aoyama Dori and San...
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4. Re: Just Returned - Tips, Suggestions for Japan Travel

IDE:

The 7-day ordinary pass is Y28300, a green pass is Y37800. Your price quote equates (assuming exchange rate Y117) to a green (first class) pass, not an ordinary one. Did I miss something here?

An ordinary pass should be about $240, right?

<<<JR Rail Pass (7 day, ordinary class): approx. $320>>>

Michigan
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5. Re: Just Returned - Tips, Suggestions for Japan Travel

Hi Ide:

Thanks for the interesting summary of your trip.

My husband and I will be travelling to Japan on October of this year. Our first time to visit Japan.

I have read many books( guides) but still confused. I know you could help me. First, what 7 JRPass to buy? the green card or the other one and where to buy them. Second, what hotel and where did you book your hotel? Any suggestions of the business hotels, the one that are not so expensive? This should be Tokyo and Kyoto.

From the airport, we will be using Nagoya airport( we are from Michigan), how do you get to the Japan Rail system going to Tokyo?

Please any suggestion? We'll be staying for 7 to 9 days.

Thanks. More power to you.

IDE
DC
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6. Re: Just Returned - Tips, Suggestions for Japan Travel

Hi All

Yes. I made a bad calculation on the JR Pass. I didn't remember off hand what we paid, so I went back to their site and looked at the wrong column. We bought an ORDINARY JR pass and paid $240 each for it (118 Y xchange). (Boy, these experts really hold your feet to the fire!)

Anyway, Ju-cda

Buy the ordinary JR rail pass. We checked out the green cars during one of our trips and I wouldn't pay an extra $100 for it. My husband is German and the train travel in Japan is similar to the high speed trains in Germany - clean, comfortable, and very punctual. I would also recommend weekend travel if you schedule allows. The trains were empty.

Luckily we live in DC and finding an authorized seller wasn't an issue. We looked on the JR Rail pass website on the page "where exchange orders are sold". There were two offices in DC and I called both. You should do this because some don't take cash and have different exchange rates. You pay in dollars. Once we were in Japan we went to the JR pass office at the Kyoto train station and exchanged the receipt for the actual pass. The woman was very nice and made all of our reservations for us. We just told her where we were going and when we wanted to leave.

People seem to ask a ton of questions about the JR pass on this site. They are really easy to use and the train system is extremely English-language friendly.

As for the Tokyo-Narita travel. We flew into Osaka, so I'm not sure. But on the main Japan Rail site, look under "schedules, fares, and reservations" and there are detailed instructions for both Narita and Osaka airport travel. Have fun!

On hotels - I listed the hotels where we stayed above. I recommend Hotel Kitcho in Tokyo. I booked direcly on their website and they were very helpful and responded quickly to my room request. I also re-comfirmed with them before we left. In Kyoto we stayed at a hostel, which was very clean, quiet, and nice (K's House). We're around 30 and we weren't the oldest in the house. We tried to book at the Palaceside Hotel, but they were full. It also good reviews on this site and others. The hotel in Osaka I booked on Radisson.com and in Hiroshima I booked through travellerspoint.com. This is a great site too. We looked in to ryokans but found there were too expensive for our budget.

Aoyama Dori and San...
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7. Re: Just Returned - Tips, Suggestions for Japan Travel

The green pass does have a few advantages, above and beyond the better seating, especially if travel is going to be on other trains besides Shinkansen. Most, if not all green car seating is reserved. Additionally, during crowded times, green car seating might be the only available at convenient or popular time slots. When riding the NEX, I usually buy a green car seat because the NEX seating is very cramped for those with long legs if the coach is full.

I am not a big fan of the Rail Pass because of the Nozomi restriction and since most of my inter-Japan travel is between Kansai (Osaka/Kyoto) and Tokyo, it's barely a break-even which doesn't add any value or flexibility. If I were going between Tokyo and Hiroshima, it would be a no-brainer but the Tokyo-Osaka corridor is like the Washington-NYC or SFO-LAX in the US, and that's where the majority of pass holders use it and JR counts on this and has priced the pass accordingly. Freezing people out of Nozomi trains just makes the long distance travel a bit longer and more inconvenient, something you have to weigh when making a decision. Personally, I would probably opt today to use air travel to get to Hiroshima and back because of the time savings, though.

Regarding the trains in Germany, I'm curious. Are they punctual down to the fraction of a minute the way they are in Japan?

>>>Buy the ordinary JR rail pass. We checked out the green cars during one of our trips and I wouldn't pay an extra $100 for it. My husband is German and the train travel in Japan is similar to the high speed trains in Germany - clean, comfortable, and very punctual. I would also recommend weekend travel if you schedule allows. The trains were empty.<<<

Los Angeles
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8. Re: Just Returned - Tips, Suggestions for Japan Travel

Interesting discovery upon purchasing our JR pass, JR sets the exchange rate at a different rate than actual (I want to say it was 113Y per dollar but I could be wrong), it definitely was not at the going rate of 117Y per dollar.

Aoyama Dori and San...
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9. Re: Just Returned - Tips, Suggestions for Japan Travel

Is that JR or an agency or broker setting the price? From JR's perspective, the price is in yen and their account is settled in yen. You are actually buying an exchange order overseas and not the actual pass. The actual pass is issued in Japan at a JR counter when the exchange order voucher is surrendered.

This is an interesting issue. I wonder if the authorized agents are taking a 3% commission from the face value of the pass.

<<<Interesting discovery upon purchasing our JR pass, JR sets the exchange rate at a different rate than actual (I want to say it was 113Y per dollar but I could be wrong), it definitely was not at the going rate of 117Y per dollar.>>>

Chicago, IL
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10. Re: Just Returned - Tips, Suggestions for Japan Travel

Hi,

All of this info is very helpful. I am getting ready to travel to Japan at the end of the month. I have a day or two extra and am trying to decide if I will stay in Osaka or Kyoto. I will be traveling between Nagano and Sera, Hiroshima (small town northeast of the city of Hiroshima) when I have the extra time. Any advice? I was leaning towards Osaka, but people who've been there encourage me to go to Kyoto.

Also, I will be using a 3 week JR pass to travel between a number of cities (Osaka, Nagasaki, Toyama, Nagano, Sera and Toyo-oka). The earlier posts make me think that the nozomi restriction could add alot more time to my travel budget given the places I will visit. Is that true? When I bought the pass I reviewed the itinerary with the travel agent who was familiar with Japan - though not all these places and they thought it was the best way to get around.

Thanks for whatever you can offer. If anyone is interested I am traveling to visit tulip festivals. And if anyone has more specifics for any of these places, that would be welcome.