Posts Tagged With: Rail

More Prepping for our Japan visit

Continuing our post from yesterday, we’re looking forward to our time in Japan – our second stop on our Round The World trip.

To get set, we recently bought a pair of seven-day JR Rail Passes to help us transverse Japan which has a land area about the size of California. After doing some research, The JR Rail Pass seems like our best bet for getting around Japan. While the cost of the second-class ticket set us back a sweet $350 per pass, it looks like it is going to be money well spent. The pass covers you for a seat on just about any long-distance train (including the famed Shinkasen bullet train), intra-city travel and ferries. There are exceptions on locations, but overall this is designed for tourists. You must purchase the pass before you get to Japan. The handy staff at the Morningside Heights 112th street STA helped get us set.

Yesterday, we shared some feedback from our friend Dax who lived in Japan for a number of years. Below are some more of his incredibly helpful tips based on his own extensive experiences:

Like New York, trains in Tokyo run local and express (plus sometimes super-express). Unlike New York, the trains don’t run at night, so make sure to find out what time your last train leaves. The last train often doesn’t go all the way to the end of the line, so also make sure that it will stop at your station.  If you end up stranded, though, no one minds if you sleep on the station floor. When buying tickets, the price varies depending on the distance, even inside the cities (New York felt like an all-you-can-ride-buffet after Japan), so you have to put your ticket in the turnstile both entering and leaving the station.

 Just for the hell of it, I recommend riding a train at rush hour, simply for the adrenalizing madness. It literally feels like being at the very front of a music festival crowd. I would try to convey the crush to friends and family, but when they visited me, they would still get on a mildly crowded train and say: “Wow, this train is crowded!” And I would say: “Haven’t you read my emails? Do you have both feet on the floor? Does your body not feel like it’s wrapped with a python? Then this train is not crowded.”

 Summer is festival time in Japan, so if you ever see crowds of people and music, go in. The Japanese never mind foreigners entering their festivals. If you see people doing a coordinated dance in a circle, jump in and try to follow along. The Japanese around you will probably laugh and show you how to do the dance.

 For train travel, Excellent portable snacks are onigiri, which are seaweed-wrapped rice balls with a little filling like tuna or pickles. You can buy these in any convenience store. The plastic wrappers are very conveniently designed if you know the correct way to open them, so ask a Japanese person (like the clerk) to show you how.

I think Lonely Planet makes the best guidebooks for Japan (and just about every other country).

Have fun and good luck!!


Categories: Japan, Rail, Tokyo, Trip Prep | Tags: , , | 9 Comments

Looking ahead to Japan

Yet another question we are asked frequently is, “Which stop are you most looking forward to on your trip?” Certainly hard to choose just one stop since we love each stop we’ve chosen. However, we would have to say that Japan is the country that holds the most intrigue.

We think that the ten days we will spend in Japan are truly going to be like visiting nowhere else. And we really know very little about the country, culture and people which only makes it more exciting.  I had one friend tell me that leaving your chopsticks stuck in rice during a meal is incredibly bad social etiquette and another tell me that most of Tokyo is like Times Square times ten.  But that’s about it.

We’ve relied on others to give us some tips. Our friend, wordsmith and long-time Japan resident Dax Oliver offered us some sensational insight on places outside of Tokyo to explore. Dax lived in the Tokyo area for about eight years in the 00’s working and exploring the country, so we’ve decided he’s probably a better source for info than watching “Lost in Translation” yet again (where the only thing we learned is that for relaxing times, to make it Suntory Whiskey time.)

I’m assuming that you’re already planning to hit places like Mt. Fuji, the Imperial Palace, and the National Museum, so they’re not listed here. These are a bit more off the beaten path. I recommend looking up these locations on Google Street View too, because most Japanese streets have no names. Really. That U2 song was actually about finding an address in Tokyo.

I’ve only been to Kyoto once, so I can’t give you many recommendations there, but it’s definitely worth a few days. Don’t go to Osaka –there’s nothing to do there if you’re a traveler. There’s also nothing really in Nagoya or Yokohama either.

If you have time, Hiroshima is worth a day to see everything about the nuclear bomb. It’ll really drive home the horror of nuclear weapons. On a nearby island in the Inland Sea is also one of Japan’s three official “Best Scenic Landscapes”. I don’t know if I’d say that, but the Inland Sea (a stretch of ocean between the major islands of Honshu and Shikoku) can be very pretty. Hiroshima also has good oysters.

Himeji Castle is worth a half-day, since it’s one of the only original castles left in Japan (at least the materials are original – the castle was taken apart and put back together in the 1950s). It’s also the most beautiful castle in the country, which is why it wasn’t burned down after the Meiji Restoration. Himeji is on the bullet train line.

If you want to eat something weird that you can’t normally get in the States, my most practical suggestion is natto – fermented soy beans. I love it and the best way for you to try it is the breakfast menu at Yoshinoya restaurants (they’re all over the city).  It’s only served in the morning, though. I was also partial to raw horse meat, so try it if you can find it, but it’s very rare in Tokyo (no pun intended).

More from Dax and more on Japan tomorrow!

Categories: Doccuments, Japan, Rail, Tokyo, Trip Prep | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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