Getting around Japan

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Date of travel

April, 2017

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Travelled with

On your own

Reasons for trip

Itinerary booked via Japan Travel Centre UK, as I wanted to take two weeks seeing as much of Japan as I could but also attend a conference in Kyoto. I spent 4 nights in Kyoto, 1 night in Hiroshima, two nights in Kanazawa and three nights in Tokyo for around £3,000 inclusive of flights, 7 day Japan rail pass and a variety of day tours. Travelled alone. I am 61 years of age and speak no Japanese.

Firstly Japan Travel were great at working with me to design the trip I wanted and all the all the airport transfers and train journeys although I had to sort them out myself on the spot were really straightforward. Japanese public transport, especially trains, is excellent and local travel staff will be unfailingly polite and usually speak enough English to help you get where you want to go. Excellent hotels included the Kyoto Tower Hotel in Kyoto and the Gracery in Shunjuku,Tokyo both a few minutes from a main rail hub. Local tours however turned out to be very variable in quality and a bit rushed so really just used to get a sense of orientation in the city. Dynamic Tokyo in Tokyo though a standout tour.

Getting around Kyoto; the main subway runs E/W and N/S and most of the stops are near a tourist site. Kyoto is very safe to walk around and unless you want the tour guides historical overview better to buy a day pass and explore on your own using tourist map to locate sites of interest.

Getting around Hiroshima: the tram system is excellent. The Peace Park is the main must see item. Hiroshima is used to having tourists.

Getting around Kanazawa: The very cheap Loop Bus stops at literally every tourist site so you are better off having a couple of do it yourself tour days using the Loop Bus. The main sites have English language text or leaflets to explain what you are seeing. Kanazawa is still getting used to tourists so far less people have any English. Restaurant food is excellent but can be bit of a nightmare getting served with no Japanese.

Getting around Tokyo: Excellent train services but very busy. Shinjuku the area I stayed in was very busy, but with a lot to see so mostly got around Tokyo via guided tours. Tokyo Is hard work for the independent older traveller.

Food: I had some excellent Japanese food despite being largely unfamiliar with Japanese food. I can make chopsticks work but people who are only proficient with a knife and fork might find many smaller Japanese restaurants will at best only be able to let you have a spoon. I’d say the worst food was at places that tried to mix Japanese and western food and failed to do justice to either. Best to eat at restaurants only serving Japanese food or only some other cuisines, i.e. French, Italian, Chinese, Indian of which there are plenty. Particularly worth trying the small Japanese restaurants where you have to order by pointing to the menu and bowing a lot as no one speaks a word of English.

Drinks; You can drink the water. You should also try hot saki and also plum wine.

The gobsmacking stuff: sitting at the back through a Buddhist ceremony at temple in Kyoto; the Japanese countryside and coastline viewed from the bullet train between Kanazawa and Tokyo, the Hall of Remembrance at the Hiroshima Peace Park, walking around the Shinjuku district in the evening, people picnicking beneath the cherry blossom in the Imperial Gardens in Kyoto, dozens of women in kimonos taking selfies and photographing each other at the Senso-ji Temple in Tokyo, several wedding parties being photographed for traditional Japanese weddings in Happo-en gardens in Tokyo, Kenroku-en gardens in Kanazawa in the pouring rain, Buddhist graveyards in the temple district of Kanazawa, hot saki.


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