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Thread: Japan trip

  1. #1
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    Japan trip

    Hi everyone,

    Thought I'd ask the travel experts this one. I've been wanting to go to Japan since I was very young now 30 but I suppose life gets in the way. so I've convinced my gf we will go in 2 years time. I want to go for min of 3 weeks and travel as much as possible. We are going to try 1 bag travel which will be harder for my Mrs than it will be for me. We don't plan on hosteling. I'm looking for tips really from what bag you would take to what you would see. Who had done this before and were would you start and were to finish.

    I'm keeping it broad at min since it is long way off

    Thanks David
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  2. #2
    Registered User adalangdon's Avatar
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    If you like cultural and historical stuff, I would recommend spending a few days each in Kyoto and Nara. In Nara, you can see the Todaiji (awesome temple; houses the world's biggest bronze Buddha) and Horyuji (different kind of architecture from Todaiji; quite incredible as well!), among others. Nara was Japan's capital a very, very long time ago and a centre for Buddhism, so there is a lot of awesome stuff there-- mainly 8th century Buddhist architecture IIRC. The city itself isn't very exciting, so I think you guys could cover all major sites in 2 to 3 days.

    As for Kyoto, it's worth hiking up Mount Hiei to visit Enryakuji, making a day-trip to Uji to see Byodoin (another temple; 10th century; very different architecture!), and another day-trip to Fushimi Inari Taisha. Kiyomizudera, Daitokuji (there's a great Buddhist restaurant in there that does reasonably-priced and yummy set meals) and Ryoanji are also worth visiting, and are within Kyoto main area. There's also a lot to see, eat, and do in Kyoto itself, but the list is very, very long! It also depends on the time of the year. Fall is excellent for scenery and weather, but if you're going in late summer there's the Gion Matsuri (festival) that will pass through town. That was a lot of fun to watch. I'd be happy to give more specific recs for Kyoto with the exception of bars because I don't drink; I was there for 10 weeks in 2010 on a summer course and had a great time.

    If you're going through Tokyo, I'd recommend visiting Roppongi Hills at night. It's a really beautiful and futuristic urban space. I also enjoyed visiting random art exhibitions that I saw on flyers posted about the city, some of which were pretty awesome. There's usually a good mix of up-and-coming artists and famous (i.e. long-dead) ones. This is actually true of all the Japanese cities that I've been to, but unfortunately you have to be able to read some Japanese to know where to go. Same with museum exhibits; there's *always* something interesting going on.

    As for other prefectures, I've heard good things about Osaka (food! Bustling urban environment!) and Hiroshima (Itsukushima Shrine, and friends tell me the okonomiyaki is good), Yamanashi (Mt Fuji and amazing nature parks) but haven't been there before.

    I've found that as a general rule, eating in Japan can be budget-friendly if you go to the convenience stores and buy sushi, onigiri, etc. They're really quite tasty. Also, the basements of big department stores like Daimaru and Takashimaya tend to have giant supermarkets that always have fresh sushi, salads, etc. Those are more expensive but still, IIRC, cheaper than eating at a restaurant!
    Last edited by adalangdon; 08-31-2014 at 09:58 AM.

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    Thanks for the detailed reply. That's the sort of thing we are wanting to do. We both love history so big plus. I'm a cocktail barman so there is a few bars I want to go to that I know about already but if anyone else has recommendations that would be great. Anyone got any tips on places to stay.

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    Registered User Melissa's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by invisible View Post
    I'm looking for tips really from what bag you would take to what you would see. Who had done this before and were would you start and were to finish.

    I'm keeping it broad at min since it is long way off

    Thanks David
    Bag?? Aeronaut, hands down!

    Be sure to check out the 2 videos about packing Aeronauts for Japan trips!

    TOM BIHN: Videos
    Last edited by Melissa; 09-01-2014 at 05:51 AM.
    Cork/Iberian Swift, Cork Organizer Wallet, Cardinal/Steel Western Flyer, Cardinal OP, Iberian Yarn Stuff Sacks (all 3 sizes) Black/Iberian Side Effect, Iberian PCSB, Iberian Travel Tray, Nordic Travel Tray, Steel Travel Tray Iberian Travel Stuff Sack Navy/Solar Synapse 25, Black/Iberian Ristretto for iPad

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    For myself it's a toss up between an a30 or synapse 25

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    Registered User terayon's Avatar
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    We went to Japan in 2005 and really enjoyed wandering around Tokyo (more shopping and big-city stuff for us) and Kyoto (more historical/cultural experiences), without really a lot of specific sights to see. We really enjoyed visiting an onsen (spa) and seeing the temples in Nikko. We stayed with extended family near Tokyo, but in a ryokan (inn with a spectacular dinner included) in Kyoto. We visited a number of temples in Kyoto, including Kiyomizu where we found a tiny little unmarked path that ultimately led us on a lovely little hike up a mountain - so lovely that my partner proposed on the spot!

    I would have liked to visit Hiroshima, but we didn't have the chance to get there. We plan to go back at some point, and that will be a priority.

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    Do you like ramen? I know of 2 great ramen places in Kyoto and Tokyo. If you're interested, later this week I can dig up the namecards and/or photos to give you an idea of where they are. Both places are nondescript quasi-restaurants that I came across by sheer accident. (Neither are the kind of place you would find in English-language travel guides.)

    I also have the namecard/flyer of that Buddhist restaurant within Daitokuji that I mentioned in my previous post. Needless to say it's vegetarian, but it is also kaiseki (set meal-- choose between A, B, or C). Will snap a pic if you want!

    PS: Another recommendation is to eat desserts sold at convenience stores. (I take it you will be trying traditional Japanese desserts at some point, so I won't go into that!) Japanese pre-packaged desserts are generally quite yummy. They are sold in Japanese supermarkets overseas at a huge markup, and there is 1000x the variety in Japan. It's coffee jellies, flavoured milk puddings, etc. galore in a convenience store.
    Last edited by adalangdon; 09-02-2014 at 02:31 AM.

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    i love ramen its my favourite! that would be very helpful thank you. I plan to experience as much as possible tbh. Its hopefully going to be a trip of a life time. My girlfriend is coeliac so dietary wise she isn't allowed wheat, barley or rye. Do you think that would be much of a problem?

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    i plan to stay at a few ryokan's as well. I'm getting excited and it is ages away!
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    Registered User itsablur's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by invisible View Post
    i love ramen its my favourite! that would be very helpful thank you. I plan to experience as much as possible tbh. Its hopefully going to be a trip of a life time. My girlfriend is coeliac so dietary wise she isn't allowed wheat, barley or rye. Do you think that would be much of a problem?
    Celiac... That's rough. Do you/she eat much Japanese food currently? If so, then the same rules she probably follows now would apply there. If not, well... it's probably challenging.

    My wife thinks she may be gluten sensitive, but not nearly to the level of celiac. We eat Japanese probably every week or every other week (if not more frequently, and not just sushi). One tough thing she found about that is the "hidden" gluten in seemingly innocuous foods that shouldn't have wheat but do. Like soy sauce. Cheaper soy sauces are primarily water, wheat, and salt. Good quality soy sauces shouldn't have wheat (typically labelled as "Tamari style", but check ingredients anyway if possible). You should probably be wary of all sauces which are soy based (like teriyaki). I've even read that many rice vinegar and rice wines used to make sushi rice may be a potential source of gluten contamination. Fake crab might also use wheat as a binder (since it's really just ground pollack [fish] otherwise).

    Ramen would be a no-go given that it's typically a wheat noodle, same with Udon. Soba noodles should be gluten free, but again, it depends on who made them/how they are made. 100% buckwheat soba is gluten free (buckwheat is not actually in any way related to wheat, go figure), but it's possible some soba noodles are made with wheat as a cheaper filler cheat. Rice noodles may be ok, but she would have to make sure they are JUST rice. And of course, back to how they are sauced.

    So what does that leave her? Grilled foods are probably ok. Plain rice, not sushi rice as should be served if you ordered chirashi don (sashimi on rice). The less processing in food prep, the better. You almost want/have to go Paleo to eat as close to GF as possible because there could be so much cross contamination.

    I'm always looking to travel far far away. In fact, I've got a 6 week sabbatical next year that I'm flip flopping between spending in Japan/Korea, or on safari in Africa. With the wife's growing gluten concerns, I've started trying to read up as well. Here are some good Gluten Free in Japan-type blogs. They do not paint a rosy picture for her, sadly.

    The Lazy Beggars' Guide to Cooking in Japan | Japan is not the gluten-free mecca you think it is
    Gluten Free in Japan |
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    She has been gluten free now for 17 years so she is really good at knowing what she can have. We use to eat Japanese alot when we lived in Glasgow. Our fav restaurant in fact. Not so much now since we live in Dorset. She is OK with rice noodles. Would it be a problem substituting for rice noodles etc when eating out?

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    Never expected it to be so bad I must admit. You have given me alot to read up on thanks. I'm not sure when I'll tell the Mrs lol

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    Registered User adalangdon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by invisible View Post
    She has been gluten free now for 17 years so she is really good at knowing what she can have. We use to eat Japanese alot when we lived in Glasgow. Our fav restaurant in fact. Not so much now since we live in Dorset. She is OK with rice noodles. Would it be a problem substituting for rice noodles etc when eating out?
    Yeah, I think it might be, actually. I doubt they would carry rice noodles at all At a ramen place, I mean. In fact, I have no idea if Japanese cooking uses rice noodles. The common noodles are soba, somen, ramen, and udon. (To the best of my knowledge anyway.)
    Last edited by adalangdon; 09-02-2014 at 05:12 PM.

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    we will have to work around it somehow but is bit of shame. Lets get back on track. where do you think i should start and end up? anyone got personal recommendations on accommodation?

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    I spent 2 weeks in Kyoto and Nara. Kyoto's got more to see, but I liked the atmosphere in Nara a lot.

    Nara's ryokan were a better value, in my opinion. If you're willing to navigate the trains during the day, you can get to a large portion of the area around Osaka/Kyoto/Nara and still get back to your lodgings.

    I enjoyed my time more in ryokan than in the western hotels I stayed in. Some of the ryokan managers can be a little ... interesting to deal with. It sometimes helps if you book through a travel agent or someone who can handle things for you, in japanese.

    The priciest ryokan I stayed in was in Nara - Kankaso. It ran ~$700/night, a large breakfast and dinner inclusive. I'm cheap (frugal!) about some things, and not about others - I actually thought it was a reasonable value and would do it again, all things considered.

    Matsumae is in a similar location (right off of Nara park, soooo convenient.) I thought the grounds were a little more private at Kankaso. I flew in and out of Osaka, and was able to take a bus or train easily. The ryokan's owner and our nakai were awesome at Kankaso (and other places we stayed), but I have heard of instances where people don't take a liking to you and you get crap service - this was not my experience, but wanted to put this out there.

    Some ryokan can be a little rough around the edges, showing their age, because the cost of reconstruction with traditional materials is kinda pricey and tourism and economic conditions haven't been awesome in Japan (general speaking).

    My wife and I are adventurous eaters and spoke at length about the food when we were served in our room. We got progressively more interesting delicacies throughout our stay. Fried codfish sperm sacs, squirming sashimi, etc It was interesting to have the chef try and serve us something I didn't know the name of.

    I actually prefer ryokans to western hotels in japan for one big (ha) reason: japanese hotel rooms are pretty tiny, especially with a western-style bed taking up floor space. A ryokan with futon and zabuton and the like makes far more efficient use of space, and I felt must less cramped. I did enjoy the wooden ofuro at Kanakaso, as we stayed in the 'suite' in the center of the place, which is essentially a free-standing guest house.

    I got far fewer people speaking english in Nara than in Kyoto. I speak poor japanese and can't really read kanji, but managed.

    My wife actually had her handbag (and passport, credit cards) taken in Kyoto. Heh, the police didn't speak english and they were quite incredulous that we were the victims of a crime. It actually took a while for them to believe we hadn't just set it down. The nearest embassy is in Osaka. The police didn't speak english at all, but I did have a data sim in my iPhone (b-mobile data sim was my best value). The officers had a smartphone, too ... so we translated and pantomimed until we worked things out. Osaka was a little hairy to navigate, but having a data sim and Google maps was truly, truly helpful. I was really happy we had photocopies of our travel docs, passports, etc. You can't even get into the consulate without showing proof that you're an american citizen. We got a replacement within about an hour or two (minus the ~45 min train ride)

    If you do want to take trains, Japanese Train Route Finder By Jorudan Co.,Ltd.
    This was an awesome tool for me, on my phone. English help is .... uh, challenging to find sometimes. The maps and craziness that is the japanese train beat was a little overwhelming for me, and that tool was really helpful. The train depots have several different train companies that come in and out, and navigating a route with various stopovers, etc is "fun". You buy rate cards or tickets - and if you buy tickets, it's really helpful to have the right amount or you have to go to the 'naughty' line when you are disembarking and pay the difference.

    Despite the one-in-a-million negative experience we had in Kyoto, the covered markets my wife had her handbag snatched in were pretty fun at night. We had an excellent dinner at Kushikura (yakitori place, near the outdoor mall/covered market) one evening, lots of little places here and there for ramen/okonomiyaki/etc. The best okonomiyaki I had while I was there was at Kiraku, which is a tiny place that isn't much to look at. Same for their tamagoyaki - it just had this certain je ne sais quoi about it. I had plenty of tamgoyaki at the ryokans we stayed in, but something about it made it extra awesome. Reasonable prices, all considered.

    As far as bags, I packed for 2 weeks in Tristar. I actually would have carried less clothing. We went in the first 2 weeks of November, which was awesome as far as temps and scenery was concerned. I was able to fit 4-5 outfits, tablet, phone, chargers, etc, 2 sweaters and a wool blazer. I think my stuff ended up being about 18-20 pounds. I was able to fit it under the seat on my flight from NY and on the short hops we took on Korean Air to Osaka. It was a little heavy for Nakai-sans to haul into the ryokans, which I half chuckled and half felt bad about.

    While we were camped out in our digs for a specific set of days, we did most of our travel by foot. Again, google maps on a smartphone was super awesome here. I felt so much more like a native just taking random back streets etc and cutting through places I wouldn't normally have felt comfortable exploring if I had to use a paper map. If you feel up to it, I wholeheartedly recommend renting a bike for a day or week or whatever does it for you. You can cover a lot more ground that way, and riding along with everyone else is a cool feeling.

    I did take some tours - landmark and temple tours, mostly. We did hit up some sake production and tea places (Kyoto's a big tea producer). The tours were reasonable and I felt I got my money's worth and some good experiences. I'd say it was maybe 30/70 or 40/60 tours:self-planned.

    I did use a travel agent and they did negotiate some interesting bonuses for me. I was able to secure more private tours, additional bonuses and so on.

    Anyhow, long and rambling post - hope some of it is interesting or helps.


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