Hi there! I'm new, so don't bite if i've done something wrong!
Me and a friend are planning to spend 6-8 weeks in Japan this summer, seeing the sights and experiencing the culture. It's something i've wanted to do for so long now and i'm ridiculously excited, but we've never done this type of travelling before, i've never even been into Asia.
So basically, is there anything i should know? Is there something i've got to do before i leave? If you've been, is there anywhere you'd recommend as a must-see? Japan is a damn big place and we'll do well to see even a fraction of it in our allotted time period. We are complete Japan-novices, simply any information would be wonderful.
Oh yes, forgot to say that we're looking at going roughly around the middle of July til the end of August, hopefully to avoid the 'tsuyu'!
PS. I know people must ask this all the time, but what would be a very, very rough estimate on how much we should save? We're not interested in flash hotels, only the cheap hostels!
[ Edit: Edited on Feb 11, 2008, at 1:33 PM by dnewham ]
Well, this is a pretty general question so i don't really know where to start. First of all, I think you need to go out and by yourself a travel guide on Japan. I would recommend Lonely Planet but there are lots more. Once you read though the practicalities of it, you'll have answered most of the questions you have.
The only thing you really have to do before you leave is book a plane ticket, save money, make sure your passport is still valid (or get one if you don't have one), and get travel insurance. Everything else is just planning, packing, and stuff like that.
How much to save? - that's a tough one. Japan can be expensive, but it can be done for pretty cheap. Plan on 3000 yen a night for a hostel bed. I don't really know about cheap hotels, since I haven't really stayed in any, but i would suspect about 5000-7500 per person would do the trick. A meal at a standard ramen shop/cheap restaurant or similar would be in the 1000 yen range or a little less. You can save a buck by eating the odd basic meal from a convenience store for under 500 or eating some instant ramen for 200 for breakfast. But the biggest cost without question is transport. Japanese trains are fantastically quick and convenient, but they are insanely expensive. Check out this link and type in some random sample destinations and you can see how much you'll pay for trains. There are railpasses available for overseas travelers that give you unlimited travel for a certain amount of time. You may find these to be your cheapest bet.
Though you may miss the rainy season in August, I hope you like the heat. When I arrived in August it was 40 degrees and crazy humid. It was like that everyday for the first few weeks I was here.
You'll have a fantastic time, but save up! Japan was the only place in my RTW trip that was dearer than the UK!
Tokyo is a must obviously, as is a stay in a Ryokan - a bit like a British B&B or guesthouse, but very authentic.
www.sawanoya.com is foreigner-friendly, but still authentic enough. Some ryokans won't speak any english, so be prepared to use hand gestures. Generally, english isn't as widely spoken as you might expect. Taxi drivers, for instance, won't speak a word, so you'll have to have directions written down, or a map to point at.
Hiroshima is worth a day or two - the peace park is wonderfully atmospheric if you've a sense of history.
Read books by Josie Dew, who cycled around Japan - they will give you an insight into the Japanese people, particularly outside of the cities, and how to spend a bit less.
If you have time, venture into the Tohoku region. It consists of six prefectures in the northeastern portion of Japan, hence its name. It's got plenty of gorgeous scenery and beautifully rustic. It's not often part of the usual traveller's Japan itinerary, but it's definitely worth a visit.
Since you're going in the summer, I recommend a visit to Akita, because of the Kanto festival in early August. It's the traditional prayer for a good harvest, and you'll catch some breathtaking skills on show - performers balance bamboo poles decked with lanterns, and it makes for a spectacular sight.
If you like Japanese history, you might fancy a visit to Kakunodate, also in Akita. You can take a leisurely walk through the Samurai Quarter, where old houses of samurai are still beautifully preserved. In spring, the pathways are lined with sakura in full bloom, and it's a gorgeous sight.
Aomori is famous for the quality of its apples, and the beauty of Lake Towada.
And yes, definitely stay in a ryokan if you can!