Anyone taken a vacation to Japan? Any advice?

Bodhisattva

Hall of Fame
Aug 22, 2001
21,684
2,394
287
Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
We will soon finalize our Spring Break plans by taking a few extra days off and spend 10 days in Japan. I think we'll fly into Osaka and spend a few days there and a few days in Kyoto with day trips to Hiroshima and Nara. We'll finish up by going to Tokyo for a couple of days and flying home from there. A Japan trip has been on my bucket list for decades. Incredible castles, temples and gardens. A week of eating sushi and ramen and Wagyu and Kobe steaks. Yes, please!

Anyone been there as a tourist? Any recommendations? From my research the only thing I know for sure is that I wish I had three weeks to do this.
 
  • Like
Reactions: dtgreg

mdb-tpet

All-SEC
Sep 2, 2004
1,544
1,329
182
My random notes, as I've been there about 4 times for vacation and work.

My experience vacationing is 20 years old, but in the past the Japan Rail Pass was like being a rock star. It takes effort to get and requires planning and execution, but when you have it, you can walk right onto the Shinkansen trains and travel anywhere they go. The trains there are something to behold and the US has NOTHING in comparison. The trains run absolutely on time. They are butter smooth and clean. And keep your feet off of the seats. If you leave something, it will likely be where you left it, as people for the most part respect property there.


And learn to be conversational in Japanese with an app or lessons. That saved us a few times. Macudorardo/Macadoo is McDonalds. If you say McDonalds in English, you will probably get a blank stare.

The Japanese people on the whole are far more welcoming than anywhere I've been in the US. But, there are some parks and bars you will not be welcome in though. Just roll with it and go somewhere else. You might get someone crossing their arms in a an X, which means no giajin like you.

Hiking is awesome there, bus seemingly every trail we hiked on had paver stones. Bring grippy shoes as the pavers are slick when it rains.

Nagasaki is not to me missed. Besides the obvious disaster, the Koi in the river are amazing. Nara with the deer is awesome. Kyoto is not to be missed, but only the old town. The rest of the town is average.
Osaka train stations and break dance competitions are something to behold (I'm told, but I missed our one chance). Tokyo is forever big. Like no city in the world. Learn the train stations before you get there. Some of the train stations are larger than any mall you've been in and there are many types of trains which can be really confusing.

In the cities, bars and restaurants are in the most random of buildings. And, most but not every place has English speakers, but English is nearly everywhere you go in the main islands. I've heard and kind of see the Japanese handle alcohol differently that the rest of us.

Driving is not for the faint of heart, as it's expensive and you can find yourself paying high tolls on a bridge in Kobe.

Definitely go to a late night Karaoke bar with friends/family if you can.
 

UAH

All-American
Nov 27, 2017
3,629
4,231
187
We will soon finalize our Spring Break plans by taking a few extra days off and spend 10 days in Japan. I think we'll fly into Osaka and spend a few days there and a few days in Kyoto with day trips to Hiroshima and Nara. We'll finish up by going to Tokyo for a couple of days and flying home from there. A Japan trip has been on my bucket list for decades. Incredible castles, temples and gardens. A week of eating sushi and ramen and Wagyu and Kobe steaks. Yes, please!

Anyone been there as a tourist? Any recommendations? From my research the only thing I know for sure is that I wish I had three weeks to do this.
My Son and DIL went for two weeks this summer flying from the west coast to Tokyo. My son had a long time desire to see Japan? They visited Osaka, Kyoto and Nara and particularly enjoyed visiting the ancient temples. The deer that live around the temples are apparently great tourist attractions. They tried to experience as much street food as possible. They had record temperatures during their trip which would indicate that anyone needs to factor in weather conditions in planning for the trip.
 

Bodhisattva

Hall of Fame
Aug 22, 2001
21,684
2,394
287
Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
My random notes, as I've been there about 4 times for vacation and work.
Very cool. What line of work are you in?

My experience vacationing is 20 years old, but in the past the Japan Rail Pass was like being a rock star. It takes effort to get and requires planning and execution, but when you have it, you can walk right onto the Shinkansen trains and travel anywhere they go. The trains there are something to behold and the US has NOTHING in comparison. The trains run absolutely on time. They are butter smooth and clean. And keep your feet off of the seats. If you leave something, it will likely be where you left it, as people for the most part respect property there.

I've watched some travel vlogs on Japan an everyone raves about the rail system. It seems the thing to to is order a rail pass (or a voucher to exchange for a pass once in-country) and have it sent to you ahead of time. There is also another type of pass to use for local trains and things like convenience store purchases.

And learn to be conversational in Japanese with an app or lessons. That saved us a few times. Macudorardo/Macadoo is McDonalds. If you say McDonalds in English, you will probably get a blank stare.

The Japanese people on the whole are far more welcoming than anywhere I've been in the US. But, there are some parks and bars you will not be welcome in though. Just roll with it and go somewhere else. You might get someone crossing their arms in a an X, which means no giajin like you.

Hiking is awesome there, bus seemingly every trail we hiked on had paver stones. Bring grippy shoes as the pavers are slick when it rains.

Nagasaki is not to me missed. Besides the obvious disaster, the Koi in the river are amazing. Nara with the deer is awesome. Kyoto is not to be missed, but only the old town. The rest of the town is average.
Osaka train stations and break dance competitions are something to behold (I'm told, but I missed our one chance). Tokyo is forever big. Like no city in the world. Learn the train stations before you get there. Some of the train stations are larger than any mall you've been in and there are many types of trains which can be really confusing.
Definitely going to try to work in some hiking and take in the night life of the cities. We'll do as much as possible.

In the cities, bars and restaurants are in the most random of buildings. And, most but not every place has English speakers, but English is nearly everywhere you go in the main islands. I've heard and kind of see the Japanese handle alcohol differently that the rest of us.

Driving is not for the faint of heart, as it's expensive and you can find yourself paying high tolls on a bridge in Kobe.

Definitely go to a late night Karaoke bar with friends/family if you can.
My wife and daughter love karaoke, and that's definitely on the to-do list. We have a karaoke machine at home and it's a hit with their respective guests. It's not my thing, probably because I'm at maximum on tone deafness. But, I'm more than willing to embarrass myself abroad. :p
 

Bodhisattva

Hall of Fame
Aug 22, 2001
21,684
2,394
287
Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
My Son and DIL went for two weeks this summer flying from the west coast to Tokyo. My son had a long time desire to see Japan? They visited Osaka, Kyoto and Nara and particularly enjoyed visiting the ancient temples. The deer that live around the temples are apparently great tourist attractions. They tried to experience as much street food as possible. They had record temperatures during their trip which would indicate that anyone needs to factor in weather conditions in planning for the trip.
Looking forward to seeing the temples in Nara and interact with the sacred deer who will "bow to you for a biscuit." That's a good scam. :D

We are definitely planning to do breakfast and lunch at the various street food stalls. From what I've seen and heard, the food is incredible. We'll save dinner for the sit down restaurants.
 
  • Like
Reactions: crimsonaudio

92tide

TideFans Legend
May 9, 2000
58,715
46,106
287
54
East Point, Ga, USA
my wife and i did a couple day layover in tokyo several years ago on the way home from a business trip. didn't do much except wander around shinjuku (tokyo) eating and drinking but had a blast. we even got to see some real live yakuza when we inadvertently turned down a block into the red light district.

we ate at this ramen shop and it was great. it was recommended by friends from hong kong who visited tokyo regularly. we ate at one of the shinjuku locations (i only remember one being in that area in 2013 when we visited. it looks like there are a few there now)

we also had awesome sushi and kobe but don't remember the names of the places we went.

 

jabcmb

All-American
Feb 1, 2006
2,796
336
107
Birmingham, AL
I’ve been a few times (both civilian and military) and the three characteristics that I think most Americans will note on a first visit: Japan’s cleanliness from arrival through departure, the culture is generally courteous to a fault, and it’s really crowded. It’s a feast for the senses— a little effort to fit in and it’s a fantastic experience.
 

mdb-tpet

All-SEC
Sep 2, 2004
1,544
1,329
182
Very cool. What line of work are you in?



I've watched some travel vlogs on Japan an everyone raves about the rail system. It seems the thing to to is order a rail pass (or a voucher to exchange for a pass once in-country) and have it sent to you ahead of time. There is also another type of pass to use for local trains and things like convenience store purchases.



Definitely going to try to work in some hiking and take in the night life of the cities. We'll do as much as possible.



My wife and daughter love karaoke, and that's definitely on the to-do list. We have a karaoke machine at home and it's a hit with their respective guests. It's not my thing, probably because I'm at maximum on tone deafness. But, I'm more than willing to embarrass myself abroad. :p
It was for microscopy equipment design on the west side of Tokyo.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Bodhisattva

Bodhisattva

Hall of Fame
Aug 22, 2001
21,684
2,394
287
Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Leaving just after midnight to Orlando for the earliest of fights to Osaka (connecting in San Francisco). Ten days in the Land of the Rising Sun. We'll start in Osaka with a day trip to Nara. Then to Kyoto for four days. And finally to Tokyo.

We have a friend in Tokyo who will play tour guide on the last leg of the trip. When my MIL still lived in Vietnam after her children made it to America, she let out the spare bedrooms for free to college students. One young woman (the English translation of her name is "Orange") developed a very good relationship with my MIL and visited regularly after she was no longer a boarder. Because of this, Orange and my wife have become friends. She has lived and worked in Tokyo for three years.

We've been looking forward to this trip to Japan for years. Things have finally fallen into place to make it happen. (y)
 
  • Like
Reactions: Padreruf

jabcmb

All-American
Feb 1, 2006
2,796
336
107
Birmingham, AL
Leaving just after midnight to Orlando for the earliest of fights to Osaka (connecting in San Francisco). Ten days in the Land of the Rising Sun. We'll start in Osaka with a day trip to Nara. Then to Kyoto for four days. And finally to Tokyo.

We have a friend in Tokyo who will play tour guide on the last leg of the trip. When my MIL still lived in Vietnam after her children made it to America, she let out the spare bedrooms for free to college students. One young woman (the English translation of her name is "Orange") developed a very good relationship with my MIL and visited regularly after she was no longer a boarder. Because of this, Orange and my wife have become friends. She has lived and worked in Tokyo for three years.

We've been looking forward to this trip to Japan for years. Things have finally fallen into place to make it happen. (y)
I hope you have a great trip. Keep us posted!
RTR
 
  • Thank You
Reactions: Bodhisattva

Bodhisattva

Hall of Fame
Aug 22, 2001
21,684
2,394
287
Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Can someone explain to me how one gets to come back to three days-worth of work for every day one is on vacation? I swear! I come back to a laptop that has been quarantined because it was not configured properly to accept updated software pushes. Seems like half my colleagues had the same issue. Thanks, IT geniuses! And then several of the systems I use have been offline. The net is that I've been working late and over the weekends since I've been back. On top of this, I've had to visit my Mom in memory care more times than planned because she has been "acting out" on a regular basis. :rolleyes:

But, on to Japan ....

BLUF, it was an absolutely fabulous 10-day trip! We used my daughter's Spring Break as an excuse to go (and get extra parent points!) There is very little to complain about. The food is awesome. I've always been fascinated by the architecture and history. Samurais and ninjas and sumo! Oh my!

Some of the wonderful quirks include just how quiet the cities are. The Japanese are not loud; in fact, they go out of their way to be quiet. Bothering a neighbor is extremely poor form. The Japanese transportation system is incredibly efficient and clean. The Japanese do not litter. And, when on a train or subway or bus, it's incredibly quiet. The only people talking are foreign tourists. And the politeness is off the charts. Even the animals bow to you! More on that later. The country is a striking blend of architecture and nature, ancient and modern. I've never felt so calm among thousands of tourists in cities housing millions of people.

I think most people have tried (or are at least familiar with) sushi, ramen, Kobe steaks, etc. All of that exceeded our sky-high expectations. Absolutely delicious! What we weren't aware of is just how good Japanese baked good are. Their breads, pastries, cookies, etc. are highly underrated. And the marketing and packaging of their products is the cutest thing ever! It's like the marketers and the target audience are elementary-school-aged girls. Virtually every product - from food to souvenirs - is cute and tiny and probably has a cartoon character associated with it.

The trip was amazing. We were constantly in awe wherever we went, and we can't wait to go back. We visited Osaka, Nara (day trip), Kyoto and Tokyo.

Day 1 (9 March): We flew into Osaka and went straight to our room at a Japanese hotel just off the Dontonbori district. We then immediately set out in search of our first authentic Japanese meal. Dontonbori's main streets are along the canal with shops and restaurants and no shortage of large neon signs. It's a great place to walk, eat, and shop. And, of course, our first meal did not disappoint. It was delicious! We created our own sampler platter - takoyaki (octopus dumplings), steak skewers, okonomiyaki (kind of a pancake/omelet with shrimp), and salmon and tuna sashimi. It was a good overview of things to come.

By the time we were done eating and wandering the area, it was pushing midnight. We had to try to get our body clocks right with the local time as fast as possible, so we went back to our room for some forced sleep. We had daily packed schedules and wanted to check as may boxes as possible.

Quick note on the older Japanese accommodations. While we wanted to experience as much Japanese-ness as possible, their rooms are not designed for tall people. I did more than crack my head on the door frames; I close-lined myself a couple of times. I wish I was a faster learner.

More to come ...
 

Bodhisattva

Hall of Fame
Aug 22, 2001
21,684
2,394
287
Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Day 2 ...

Some other amusing things about Japan are the popularity of convenience stores and vending machines. There seems to be one or the other on every block. Convenience stores (Lawson's, 7-11, and Family Mart are ubiquitous) offers surprisingly good, cheap food. And, as mentioned above, the packaging makes these products particularly enticing to a teenage girl, of which I have an actual one (daughter) and one (wife) with that mentality about such things. Little sandwiches or rice filled with meat or bean paste and wrapped in seaweed made for convenient breakfasts and snacks to throw in the backpack. And the vending machines collectively have hundreds of coffees and teas (hot and cold), juices, and sodas that are not found in the American marketplace. It is very easy to accumulate coins in Japan, and a great way to spend them is to play food/beverage roulette to see if what you picked is tasty or bizarre. It's usually both.

Of note, we pounded the pavement during this trip. The least we walked in a day was 8.5 miles and the most was just over 12 miles. Getting a new pair of On Cloud sneakers was definitely a good call. While we were exhausted at the end of every day, our feet were not blistered or even sore.

The main touristy thing for the day is a visit to the massive Osaka Castle complex. It is an impressive stone structure and is the focal point of a walled compound that includes many temples and pavilions. Osaka was the capital for centuries and the castle is now a history museum. It is popular with the locals as well as foreign tourists. Each floor is a feast for the history buff - samurai armor, tapestries, paintings, correspondence (scrolls), etc. We spent hours in the castle itself.

Outside the castle is an impressive temple with a statue of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, the 16th century warlord during the Sengoku period. He is dressed in armor with two swords but no helmet. At the temple we draw our fortunes. You shake a metal tub with a small hole in end. The tube contains dozens of sticks, and one will eventually pop out. The attendant takes the stick to match it with a fortune, which is given to you. Lily and Lan got lucky draws. It had the predicted "you will have success in love and finances" kind of stuff. And then there was my fortune. The rough translation was that I should "re-examine how you live your life - in detail" :confused:and that I should "do my best - at my own pace." Dang! :LOL: We all had a good laugh at that. With a bad fortune, one can tie it to a trellis at the temple and leave the bad luck behind. However, I chose to bring the fortune home as a souvenir. I'm actually content "doing my best at my own pace." :cool:

When we were finally done at the castle complex, it was late afternoon and we were getting hungry for a late lunch. Fortunately, street food is available at all the touristy spots. We got an assortment of steak skewers, grilled octopus, noodles, and pastries. Pretty good food and very cheap.

The evening was spent shopping and meandering our way back to the room. The older parts of the city are the best. Narrow streets and tiny wood houses. Very cute.

Trying to minimize the ongoing jetlag, we turned in a little early to get ready for the next morning's day trip to Nara.
 

jabcmb

All-American
Feb 1, 2006
2,796
336
107
Birmingham, AL
Great description of your trip! It resonates with my experience and provides great info for anyone considering a trip there. Thanks and glad you had a good visit!
 
  • Like
Reactions: Bodhisattva

Bodhisattva

Hall of Fame
Aug 22, 2001
21,684
2,394
287
Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Ok, I’m way, way behind on this thread …

Another quick aside before I discuss the events of the day. Bidets. Japan is known for them. I was aware of them but had never experienced one. My wife was not familiar with the concept, which Lily was determined to use to comedic advantage. We arrived in Japan in the evening and made it to our room pretty late and worn out. The bathroom is very small, and Lily checks it first to confirm that it has a bidet. The lighting is dim, and Lily tells Lan (who is tired and not really focused) that this is the button to flush the toilet. Lily then tells me the set up and we wait a few minutes. My wife then screams her head off as she discovers via ambush just what a bidet is. That’s high comedy in the Bodhi household. Good job, Lily! :D

Day 3 ...

We went on a day trip to Nara, about 45 minutes from Osaka. Nara is a small town but has so much history it's hard to comprehend.

Nara Park is famous for its many temples and for having "sacred" deer that will approach you and bow in exchange for a cracker. From several vendors, you can buy a 10-pack of crackers that are specifically made for the dear. This is what they eat. It is so cute exchanging a cracker for a bow. However, after you've passed out 10 crackers, the 11th deer gets mad after he has bowed to you. He doesn't want any excuses; he wants his cracker. It gets even worse when the 12th - 15th deer are also with him. :cool: Lily got (gently) bitten a couple of times. I had a couple of deer latched onto the pocket of my hoodie. Fortunately, they didn’t tear my clothes. I had one deer sneak up and get a little too personal with me. It’s a good thing their horns are clipped, but even a little light sodomy is not particularly wanted. :oops:

After getting roughed up by sacred deer, we visited Kohfukuji Temple, Todaiji Temple, Nigatsudo Hall, and Tamukeyama Hachimangu Shrine. We also enjoyed having dinner and going shopping (bought some knives for our kitchen) at the Higashimuki Mall, which is essentially an alley off the main street in Nara. We also got to see a show at one of the shops where they made mochi with giant mallets.

Nara is a beautiful town. What a great day trip! We took the train back to Osaka to enjoy a little more nightlife before packing up for the trip to Kyoto the next morning.
 

Bodhisattva

Hall of Fame
Aug 22, 2001
21,684
2,394
287
Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Day 4 ...

We said goodbye to Osaka and took the train to Kyoto, the capital of Japan for more than 1000 years until 1869. The city is an incredible mix of old and new, traditional and modern, small wooden houses and skyscrapers. The local people are friendly, which I wouldn’t expect after dealing with thousands of tourists daily.

This was the only day we had bad weather on our trip. We get to Fushimi Inari Temple when it is cold and rainy. We are climbing a lot of stairs today and it is slippery. Due to the weather, there are not many tourists there in the morning. From a distance, you see a vermillion line of "Torii Gates" starting from behind the first temple at the mountain’s base and weaving in and out of the woods to the top of Mount Inari (233m). The Torii Gates have been donated by the Japanese people over the years. The size of the gate depends on the amount of donation. We walk under more than 1000 gates of different sizes as you climb the mountains.

From the base to the top of Mount Inari, there are many shrines and small temples along the path. I cannot describe how beautiful these are. Each temple or shrine has a specific purpose. One of the things that caught my attention were statues - hundreds of years old - of foxes wearing red capes. Such a beautiful curiosity! I found out in the Shinto faith, Inari foxes wearing red ward off disease and malevolent forces. Mostly, they are put there by parents who have lost a small child, and they are asking for their child to be protected from evil in the afterlife. 😢 🙏
 

Bodhisattva

Hall of Fame
Aug 22, 2001
21,684
2,394
287
Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Day 5 ...

If you travel to Japan, Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion) in Kyoto must be on your list. What later became a Zen temple, it was originally the retirement estate of shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. The temple is built on a lake, and the outside wall of the temple is lacquered in gold. When the sun shines on the temple, it sparkles. The multitude of colorful 2' - 3' long koi is a nice bonus. The place is stunning!

Then we took a bus to visit the famous Arashyama Bamboo Forest. Japanese people respect the natural beauty and try to live in harmony with nature. Even though it was crowded, walking through the forest was peaceful and relaxing. The bamboo is thick and tall; we are essentially walking through a green tunnel.

Street food also played an important role on today's (and every day's) trek. Our goal was to try everything, and I think we represented well.

ETA: On the bus ride to the bamboo forest, Lily left her camera behind. She didn't realize this until we we're well into our visit. When we made it back to the bus terminal towards the end of the day, we notified the staff of the missing camera. In about 30 minutes the following happened: they had determined what bus we arrived on earlier in the day; they contacted that bus driver; the bus driver found the camera; the camera made is way be to us unharmed. Amazing!

This followed an event a couple of days earlier where Lan left her (decidedly more expensive) camera and accessories at a coffee shop in Osaka. Lan realized her mistake, and we went back to the shop about 30 minutes later to discover that the camera had been turned in at the front counter to await our return. I would have lost any bet that either one of these things would have happened. Japan and its people are awesome! 💌
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: Bamaatthebeach

Bodhisattva

Hall of Fame
Aug 22, 2001
21,684
2,394
287
Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Day 6 ... Kyoto (March 14) – Chion-in Temple, Shren-in Temple, Kiyomizu-dera Temple and Gion District

Kyoto is a beautiful city. There are so many temples. We can walk from one temple to another temple next door, it seems. Because these temples were likely built hundreds – or even more than a thousand – years apart, the architecture is often very different. Some temples are small and stand alone. Others are massive and may be part of a sprawling complex.

When we arrived at the Chio-in Temple, we are so surprised with the massive wooden gate “Sanmon.” The gate is 25 meters high and 50 meters long. It is the largest wooden gate in Japan. After getting through the “Sanmon,” we climb the narrow, steep stairs to reach the main hall. At this level, the main hall is located among a group of houses which are connected with each other by a wooden colonnade.

Practically next door is Shoren-in Temple. It looks more like a house with an alter and gardens. It is set up as a traditional house with painting on the wall and bamboo mats on the floor. The cherry blossoms were just starting to pop when we were there, and we were treated to some beautiful trees in bloom in the garden and around the pond.

This day we were logistically in the zone, and because of the close proximity of the temples, we were able to visit one more before it got dark: Kiyomizu-dera Temple. It is a Buddhist temple and is located on a hillside with a waterfall funning through the temple. Strikingly ornate red pagodas, temples, and halls make up this complex. And no shortage of dragon guardians! Kiyomizu means clear/pure water. The visitors cleanse their hands and faces from the waterfall prior to entering the temple.

At night, we walked through the Gion District. The houses are so tiny. We walked by a tiny bar with no chairs. There is only room for two standing customers and the bartender. In this area we found a tiny udon shop (with maybe eight stools at the bar). Not my favorite type of noodles, but Lan and Lily love them.
 

Latest threads