Japan, Part 2

Do a trip report here....go to another city and want to relate it to what KC is doing right or could do better? Give us a summary in here.
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Japan, Part 2

Postby phuqueue » Thu May 31, 2012 11:13 am

(continued from Part 1)

Briefly back to Kyoto...

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This is To-ji, a Buddhist temple. It's obviously night, it was already closed, and by this point I'd seen a ton of temlpes anyway, so I wasn't super concerned about getting in. This is the tallest pagoda in Japan, which was the main thing I wanted to see, so I saw it from outside and we moved on. To-ji, like half of Kyoto, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Pontocho at night; the earlier mild disappointment I expressed about Kyoto is basically because the rest of the city isn't like this. Pontocho is basically a glimpse of the Kyoto of yore. It's a cool little street packed with bars, restaurants, etc. If you keep a look out, you might see a geisha, although they tend to be extremely discrete. We did see one, but only one. We went to a cool little bar that my friend knew, just sat back sipping Manhattans and listening to live jazz. Not exactly your stereotypical "Japan" experience, but tons of fun.

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Todai-ji in Nara, the largest wooden building in the world, housing the largest bronze Buddha statue in the world.

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What I said at the beginning about no photos inside temples is apparently not true at Todai-ji, so I got this picture of the "Daibutsu," the giant Buddha statue.

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Deer hanging out in Nara Park. The deer were traditionally considered holy. There are kiosks all over the place to buy crackers to feed to them. They'll totally swarm you if they notice you carrying any of the crackers and they'll nip and bite at your clothes, bags, etc until you feed them. If you aren't carrying any food they more or less leave you alone; some of them have been conditioned to bow at passersby to coax treats out of them. I've told this to people before and they say surely they don't really bow, their heads are just bobbing around or something because they're deer, but no, if you see them do it, they are unmistakably bowing, which they clearly learned from watching all the Japanese people around them.

Nara's the ancient imperial capital, but we didn't have much time there and the weather was miserable again, so we mostly just checked out Todaiji and walked through the park, then went back to Kyoto.

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Kyoto Station

And then on to Osaka. Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya, and Nara are all ridiculously close to each other -- by Shinkansen, it takes about twenty minutes to get between Kyoto and Osaka and 35 or 40 minutes between Kyoto and Nagoya. The Shinkansen doesn't run to Nara, but it's about a 60 minute ride from Kyoto (Nara's closer to Osaka than to Kyoto but I don't know how long that trip takes, since we didn't travel directly between Nara/Osaka). For what it's worth we didn't go to Kobe but it's the next stop heading west on the Shinkansen from Osaka, and it only takes another few minutes to get there. Huge density of population and cities here.

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Umeda Sky Building

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Dismal weather, but here's the view from the roof

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The freeway just runs right through this building

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Just wandering the streets here

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A covered shopping arcade; these are pretty common all around the country

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This was an animated billboard, with the background filling up with golden beer and developing a healthy head. It was actually really entertaining to watch.

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Just really liked this Kobe billboard for the Hanshin Electric Railway

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We got drinks at the bar at the top of the Swissotel, which was wayyyy out of my price range, but for a couple beers and a hell of a view it was worth it. This was the end of our only day in Osaka, which was way too little time to spend there.

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Notoriously shy Mt. Fuji. We hiked up a mountain near Hakone to get a look at it. As you can see, it wasn't really a great look, but of course it had to be done, you can't go to Japan and not see Fuji. It was too early in the year to hike Fuji itself, though. You can go on your own any time, of course, but neither of us is an experienced mountain climber and Fuji is said to be deceptively dangerous despite its reputation as a relatively easy hike, so climbing it will have to wait until a summertime visit I guess.

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A small town on the other side of the mountain we'd hiked up.

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Landmark Tower in Yokohama, the tallest building in Japan (third tallest structure overall, behind Tokyo Skytree and Tokyo Tower).

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Another highrise at Minato Mirai.

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Western-style building, which are relatively unusual in Japan.

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Entrance to Chinatown. Yokohama's is the largest in Asia and one of the largest in the world (I'd heard the largest in the world somewhere, but haven't found a source to corroborate that).

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And then back to Tokyo for the last few days of the trip

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One of many entrances to Shinjuku Station, the busiest transportation hub in the world. Shinjuku Station serves about three and a half million people per day; comparatively the busiest transport hub in the US, Penn Station in New York, serves only 300,000 per day and the busiest in Europe, Paris's Gare du Nord, serves about 500,000. Shinjuku Station serves as many people in about three days as KCI serves in a year.

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Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku.

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Around Shinjuku

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View from the observation deck of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. Having to shoot through a window sort of washes the image out a little bit, but Fuji was very clearly visible in person and is faintly visible in this image off in the distance on the right. This was one of the nicest, clearest days I had.

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The government building again

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More around Shinjuku

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Akihabara, where you can find ridiculous electronics deals (eg flat panel computer monitors for ~$20).

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Entering Harajuku, a major fashion and shopping district.

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Shibuya

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Shibuya's famous intersection; huge crowd waits for the signal to change so they can cross the street.

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And now they can finally cross. At major intersections like this one, especially near big train stations (here we were right by Shibuya Station), traffic is stopped in all directions so everybody can cross. This is apparently called a scramble.

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View of the scramble from the second floor

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Wandering around Shibuya

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We were seriously wandering around just to try to find a MOS Burger because my buddy was hungry and didn't want to eat anything else. Google Maps insisted that there were several around us and we couldn't find any of them and he wouldn't compromise. But I wasn't hungry anyway, so I got to get around Shibuya a bit while we searched. A few minutes after he finally decided the map was out of date and gave up the search, we happened upon one that wasn't on the map.

From MOS Burger, we headed on to Roppongi.

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Roppongi Hills (specifically Mori Tower)

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Tokyo Tower, from the Mori Tower observation deck

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Rainbow Bridge and Odaiba

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Southward (the lights on the left are flights holding over Haneda)

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Westward

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Northwest, Shinjuku skyline in the upper right

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Around Ikebukuro

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The last of Tokyo's old streetcars

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Back to Akihabara

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Last pic, still in Akihabara

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Re: Japan, Part 2

Postby bobbyhawks » Thu May 31, 2012 1:25 pm

I am majorly jealous. I want to go back!

Sounds like a great trip, by the way.

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Re: Japan, Part 2

Postby loftguy » Thu May 31, 2012 3:08 pm

How would you rate the expense of Japanese tourism these days?

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Re: Japan, Part 2

Postby phuqueue » Thu May 31, 2012 4:26 pm

bobbyhawks wrote:I am majorly jealous. I want to go back!

Sounds like a great trip, by the way.

Trip was great, I want to go back too. I wish I hadn't had to leave. I actually have enough frequent flyer miles to go back for free, but I've racked up too much credit card debt lately to justify the costs of being there. Maybe in another year or two though.

loftguy wrote:How would you rate the expense of Japanese tourism these days?

It can be really shockingly cheap if you want it to be, but it can be every bit as expensive as you've heard too. I was staying in good hotels usually for $40-60 per night, even in Tokyo, but then I had a few friends who were there a few weeks ahead of me who decided to actually stay in the really nice places (for example for some reason they decided they had to stay in the Park Hyatt, the hotel from Lost in Translation, for one night, which ran them several hundred bucks). So you can do accommodations surprisingly really cheap. You will pay more if you're looking for any kind of "experience," though -- like if you want to stay in a ryokan, some are good deals, but a lot of them are crazy expensive. We splurged for one night to stay at an onsen ryokan in Hakone and I think it was like $250 or something, I don't remember right off the top of my head. If you want to do that sort of thing, you're going to pay for it and there's really no way around it. If you just want a place to sleep, you can do it really cheap -- even cheaper if you're willing to stay at a capsule hotel, which I did once and actually really enjoyed.

Likewise with food, you can spend a lot or you can be really frugal. I was actually eating a lot of convenience store food, which was surprisingly really good. I'd pick up a sandwich, some pastries, bottle of water or a beer, etc, spend maybe 600 yen (like seven bucks) on a meal. You can also buy full meals that they'll microwave for you on the spot which were generally actually pretty good too and usually cost 300-500 yen. Obviously this isn't fine dining, but 7-Eleven and Circle K in Japan are not like 7-Eleven and Circle K in America (I use those two as examples since we have them in the US as well, but personally I became pretty partial to Family Mart). I ate tons of fast food too -- Yoshinoya for gyuudon (too delicious) and this other big chain whose name I can't remember now for curry. I ate at plenty of real restaurants too, but those can get considerably more expensive (but they don't have to, most of them put their menus out front like in Europe and in bigger US cities).

Travel expenses can ramp up quickly though. There are no flat rate fares for mass transit almost anywhere. I paid flat rate I think once, and I can't remember now where it was (Nagasaki maybe?). Everywhere else is distance-based, which I think is also how the Washington Metro works (but I haven't been to DC since I was five, so not positive about that) -- but this isn't just trains, it's buses too. This wasn't as big a deal for me as I'm a really big walker, I'm rarely in a hurry anyway and walking is obviously the best way to see a city. But it can cost you some money to take mass transit (the flip side is if you're only going one or two stops it'll be cheaper than the flat fare you'd likely pay in a Western city, probably only 120 or 160 yen).

Intercity travel is really expensive, but I bought the JR pass, which is an incredible deal if you use it even a little bit (mine was a two week pass, unlimited travel on JR lines except for Nozomi and Mizuho Shinkansen services). My pass cost about five hundred bucks, but when you consider a round trip ticket between Tokyo and Osaka alone will set you back about 28,100 yen (more than $300), it pays for itself really quickly. The one down side is, it's only valid on JR lines, so it doesn't have the near-universal coverage that a Eurail pass gives you in Europe. Japan has a multitude of private railways and none of them are covered by the pass, so you've got to be careful. I think you can travel cheaper if you take overnight buses, but I never did. In my experience overnight bus is just about the most miserable way to travel. I looked briefly into flying, particularly from Tokyo to Sapporo so I could check out Hokkaido, but that was a nonstarter -- $900 round trip, nearly 50% more than my plane ticket to Japan.

Sorry, long answer to a straightforward question, but I could pretty much gush about Japan forever.

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Re: Japan, Part 2

Postby loftguy » Thu May 31, 2012 5:23 pm

Thanks, Phuqueue. (or Phuqueue, thanks...sometimes proper etiquette is difficult to discern and negotiate)

If you feel like gushing more later, I'm glad to hear more impressions, observations and insights.

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Re: Japan, Part 2

Postby Roanoker » Fri Jun 01, 2012 7:06 am

You denigrated your pictures, but I thought they were wonderful. Beautiful. Educational. Inspiring. I started out with the intention of glancing through the photos, but I noticed your excellent descriptions and went back to pay attention to what you had to say. So glad I did. If I were a kid still in school (so far back now, I can't remember much), I would use your post as a big source for a geography or social studies assignment.

Thank you for posting the great pics and words. I hope you are able to return, with lots of money and vitality.

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Re: Japan, Part 2

Postby bobbyhawks » Fri Jun 01, 2012 1:09 pm

phuqueue wrote:Likewise with food, you can spend a lot or you can be really frugal. I was actually eating a lot of convenience store food, which was surprisingly really good. I'd pick up a sandwich, some pastries, bottle of water or a beer, etc, spend maybe 600 yen (like seven bucks) on a meal. You can also buy full meals that they'll microwave for you on the spot which were generally actually pretty good too and usually cost 300-500 yen. Obviously this isn't fine dining, but 7-Eleven and Circle K in Japan are not like 7-Eleven and Circle K in America (I use those two as examples since we have them in the US as well, but personally I became pretty partial to Family Mart). I ate tons of fast food too -- Yoshinoya for gyuudon (too delicious) and this other big chain whose name I can't remember now for curry. I ate at plenty of real restaurants too, but those can get considerably more expensive (but they don't have to, most of them put their menus out front like in Europe and in bigger US cities).

This is one of the coolest things about Japan in my opinion. You can eat a great and fresh meal at a Lawson/7-Eleven/Circle K, mixed with junk food (far superior and more interesting to junk food in the US), cheap but not bad sushi, and Suntory whiskey in a can to go, and those stores can be found every two blocks. Then, you can wander into literally almost anywhere that doesn't appear to be a tourist trap, and rest assured, someone takes great pride in service and quality of food. The standard for even the most basic of foods is high, and the Japanese focus often on doing one thing incredibly well rather than offering a Cheesecake Factory-esque array of choices is how I wish more places in the states were oriented (no pun intended). Most cheap sushi restaurants are better than high-ish end places in the states (though I haven't been to any such places on the coasts stateside).

I'm actually in a different boat, considering I'd love to go back, but the air fare is really unfortunate. Since I don't travel for work anymore, I don't really rack up the miles like I used to. I think it is somewhere between $1200 and $1600 now from KC? Tons of hotel points still, though. I was only there for one week, but I did Nagoya/Kyoto/Tokyo with the rail pass. Riding the Shinkansen or other bullet trains is a must, and one of the wonders of the world in my mind considering the efficiency, frequency, and speed. Also, the Japanese truly have their act together as far as respecting nature and cleanliness go. Beautiful country.

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Re: Japan, Part 2

Postby IraGlacialis » Fri Jun 01, 2012 1:42 pm

I can definitely relate to the difference between a 7-11 in the US and one in Asia. In Thailand, they are all over the place to the point of almost being on every street corner and ranging from a full-sized store to a little kiosk. There you can get things such as shu mai and steamed pork buns for a very reasonable price (1/2 - 1 dollar worth). Though in the end, it still doesn't compare to getting food from an independent vendor.

I can also relate to the Japanese penchant for efficiency. Narita is the most glamorous looking airport these days, but they more than make up for it through the sheer cleanliness, as well as the smooth and brisk, yet polite, operation of everything. Even flying in, you can see a great cleanliness to everything in the landscape.

I know I wish to visit, and not just connect through, someday.

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Re: Japan, Part 2

Postby Highlander » Fri Jun 01, 2012 9:33 pm

IraGlacialis wrote:I can definitely relate to the difference between a 7-11 in the US and one in Asia. In Thailand, they are all over the place to the point of almost being on every street corner and ranging from a full-sized store to a little kiosk. There you can get things such as shu mai and steamed pork buns for a very reasonable price (1/2 - 1 dollar worth). Though in the end, it still doesn't compare to getting food from an independent vendor.

I can also relate to the Japanese penchant for efficiency. Narita is the most glamorous looking airport these days, but they more than make up for it through the sheer cleanliness, as well as the smooth and brisk, yet polite, operation of everything. Even flying in, you can see a great cleanliness to everything in the landscape.

I know I wish to visit, and not just connect through, someday.


Thanks. Loved the pictures. I wonder if western buildings are rare due to the almost total obliteration of Tokyo in WWII by B-29's. I'd love to see some pre-1940 pictures of the city.

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Re: Japan, Part 2

Postby phuqueue » Sat Jun 02, 2012 6:36 am

Roanoker wrote:You denigrated your pictures, but I thought they were wonderful. Beautiful. Educational. Inspiring. I started out with the intention of glancing through the photos, but I noticed your excellent descriptions and went back to pay attention to what you had to say. So glad I did. If I were a kid still in school (so far back now, I can't remember much), I would use your post as a big source for a geography or social studies assignment.

Thank you for posting the great pics and words. I hope you are able to return, with lots of money and vitality.

Thanks, I'm glad you liked them. Actually I hadn't made the connection until you mentioned it, but when I was in elementary school, once a year we'd have some guy come in who would do a big presentation on some place that he'd gone in the previous year. The only two presentations I remember at this point were Egypt (one year he couldn't travel for some reason so we got an encore presentation of this one) and Papua New Guinea, but there were others as well. Was always one of the highlights of the school year to just spend all day in an assembly looking at pictures of the pyramids while he narrated his trip to us.

bobbyhawks wrote:
phuqueue wrote:Likewise with food, you can spend a lot or you can be really frugal. I was actually eating a lot of convenience store food, which was surprisingly really good. I'd pick up a sandwich, some pastries, bottle of water or a beer, etc, spend maybe 600 yen (like seven bucks) on a meal. You can also buy full meals that they'll microwave for you on the spot which were generally actually pretty good too and usually cost 300-500 yen. Obviously this isn't fine dining, but 7-Eleven and Circle K in Japan are not like 7-Eleven and Circle K in America (I use those two as examples since we have them in the US as well, but personally I became pretty partial to Family Mart). I ate tons of fast food too -- Yoshinoya for gyuudon (too delicious) and this other big chain whose name I can't remember now for curry. I ate at plenty of real restaurants too, but those can get considerably more expensive (but they don't have to, most of them put their menus out front like in Europe and in bigger US cities).

This is one of the coolest things about Japan in my opinion. You can eat a great and fresh meal at a Lawson/7-Eleven/Circle K, mixed with junk food (far superior and more interesting to junk food in the US), cheap but not bad sushi, and Suntory whiskey in a can to go, and those stores can be found every two blocks. Then, you can wander into literally almost anywhere that doesn't appear to be a tourist trap, and rest assured, someone takes great pride in service and quality of food. The standard for even the most basic of foods is high, and the Japanese focus often on doing one thing incredibly well rather than offering a Cheesecake Factory-esque array of choices is how I wish more places in the states were oriented (no pun intended). Most cheap sushi restaurants are better than high-ish end places in the states (though I haven't been to any such places on the coasts stateside).

Yeah, I mean I'm not a big sushi fan so I can't necessarily speak to that specifically, but I even got street food that was better than the overpriced Japanese food you tend to find in the US and Europe. This guy set up his truck a couple days a week next to the supermarket in my buddy's town and sold yakitori out of it, far better than any yakitori I've ever had anywhere else. I never really thought I was a fan of Japanese food until I went to Japan. It's just on another level and yeah, even the cheap stuff is great. And even if I wasn't actually eating, everywhere I went I'd pass by delicious smells. Of course that happens occasionally anywhere you go, but it was happening to me all the time throughout Japan. I'm really getting hungry just remembering it now.

I'm actually in a different boat, considering I'd love to go back, but the air fare is really unfortunate. Since I don't travel for work anymore, I don't really rack up the miles like I used to. I think it is somewhere between $1200 and $1600 now from KC? Tons of hotel points still, though. I was only there for one week, but I did Nagoya/Kyoto/Tokyo with the rail pass. Riding the Shinkansen or other bullet trains is a must, and one of the wonders of the world in my mind considering the efficiency, frequency, and speed. Also, the Japanese truly have their act together as far as respecting nature and cleanliness go. Beautiful country.

I didn't fly out of KC, so I don't know what that costs, but yeah, it's probably expensive. I'm in Portugal so I took EasyJet to Madrid and flew from there for like $650. I don't actually have quite enough miles to do it for free from Madrid again, but it would only cost like fifty bucks. It would be free from Amsterdam or London.


Highlander wrote:
IraGlacialis wrote:I can definitely relate to the difference between a 7-11 in the US and one in Asia. In Thailand, they are all over the place to the point of almost being on every street corner and ranging from a full-sized store to a little kiosk. There you can get things such as shu mai and steamed pork buns for a very reasonable price (1/2 - 1 dollar worth). Though in the end, it still doesn't compare to getting food from an independent vendor.

I can also relate to the Japanese penchant for efficiency. Narita is the most glamorous looking airport these days, but they more than make up for it through the sheer cleanliness, as well as the smooth and brisk, yet polite, operation of everything. Even flying in, you can see a great cleanliness to everything in the landscape.

I know I wish to visit, and not just connect through, someday.


Thanks. Loved the pictures. I wonder if western buildings are rare due to the almost total obliteration of Tokyo in WWII by B-29's. I'd love to see some pre-1940 pictures of the city.

This is definitely partly the case, but I don't think there was actually a ton of Western architecture even before the war. I've read before that Ginza had a lot more Western architecture, I think was even primarily made up of Western buildings (not certain about this), but only the Wako store (which went up in the early 30s) survived the war. During the Meiji period though there was a push to "modernize," which basically meant Westernize, so there were some Western buildings, and yeah, most of them were destroyed in the war (or in the 1923 earthquake). I would really like to see some of those early pics of Tokyo (and Kyoto) as well. I was searching for pics of Tokyo in the 60s at the height of the rebuild era a few weeks ago and even those were relatively hard to find (although I did find this thread with a 60s/80s comparison). There's also this, which isn't the same thing as actual pictures on the ground, but at least has a couple aerial photos where you can see the old street grid in parts that aren't destroyed yet. A quick google search just yielded this thread, which has a few good pictures in it (another one titled "Tokyo in the 30s" came up, but all the images were broken, unfortunately). The one labeled "Nihomdashi" (I assume this is meant to say Nihonbashi, which is part of Chuo) shows some buildings that look pretty Western. There's a picture of Ginza from the 30s too where you can see the Wako building, but it's not very easy to tell how "Western" most of the other buildings are. One of the posts links to an awesome panorama of old Edo that I've seen before on Wikipedia.

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Re: Japan, Part 2

Postby loftguy » Sun Jun 03, 2012 2:24 pm

phuqueue, how much of a challange is language in Japanese travel?

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Re: Japan, Part 2

Postby phuqueue » Sun Jun 03, 2012 4:19 pm

Not a challenge at all. All signs and marquees at the train station are in Japanese and English, all signs and pre-recorded announcements made on the train itself (so not including the conductor's announcements, which are usually just estimated arrival times at various stations ahead) are in Japanese and English (on the Shinkansen they use this pleasant-sounding woman's voice with a British accent), all street signs are in Japanese and English (this was actually a godsend on my first day when I got lost and stubbornly refused to just ride the subway back because I wanted to see as much of the city as I could, even if I had no idea where in the city I even was -- as soon as I started seeing traffic signs pointing toward my area, I just started following them), and assuming you're in major cities, most of the people at the ticket window at the train or bus station will speak some English (not as good as you'd expect in Europe, but enough to buy your ticket or ask directions or whatever you're trying to do). In rare cases there will even be other languages (in Nagoya for example all the signs around the train station were in English, Japanese, and Portuguese). All of the automated ticket machines can switch between English and Japanese as well, and this is true not just of intercity trains but of subway trains as well. In the subway the maps have stop names in both Japanese and English. In Tokyo (and elsewhere? I don't actually remember for sure, I usually favored walking over riding so I was only on subways a few times outside of Tokyo) the stops are also numbered, which can be a big help. You can look at this map to see what I mean. For instance, Tokyo Station is numbered M-17 (17th stop on the Marunouchi Line). Ueno is dually G-16 (16th stop on the Ginza Line) and H-17 (17th stop on the Hibiya Line). That can simplify things as well, but the numbers are only for the Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway, so JR and private railways aren't numbered.

City buses can be a little trickier. In bigger cities, they'll usually have dual English/Japanese signage, especially if they run to major tourist attractions. Most of the buses in Kyoto had bilingual signs, but a few didn't, which I tended to assume meant they were just regular buses for local residents trying to get around town. Lots of buses in Kyoto have a terminus at some major landmark or another (this is probably because a lot of the big temples are on the outskirts of the city, so it's convenient to just have the bus everyone needs to take to eg Kinkaku-ji just end at Kinkaku-ji), and those that don't, or that hit another landmark on the way to their terminus, usually note it (eg "Ginkaku-ji via Kiyomizu-dera"). All of that is plastered all over the bus in English.

I only had trouble with travel a couple times, really, and it was minor trouble each time. The first time was when I was fresh off the plane at Narita, I'd caught a bus to Tokyo Station, and I was trying to navigate the subway to get to my hotel. I knew going in that Tokyo has two subway operators. What I didn't know is that there's actually a ton of other trains throughout the city, and the specific one I needed was actually a JR train. This in and of itself wasn't a huge problem, because I had told my buddy where I was staying and he'd gone out of his way to make me a whole travel guide that meticulously mapped out how to get from the airport to my hotel, then suggested various sights to see and mapped out exactly how to get to them, etc (honestly I travel a ton and don't need this level of hand-holding, but he's had other guests in the past who do, and I'm not going to say it wasn't still really convenient to have on hand when I've just finished 15 hours on planes). The problem was trying to locate my stop on the map so I could see how much it was going to cost. My stop wasn't on any of the maps I was looking at because they were only Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway maps. I eventually just put in 120 or 160 yen or whatever the minimum was, hoped it was enough, went on through the turnstile, found my train. When I got off at my stop I couldn't get out of the station because I hadn't paid enough and needed a "fare adjustment." This is actually an extraordinarily simple process, you can go over to a fare adjustment machine (which can also toggle over to English) and put your ticket in and it'll tell you how much you owe. But I had no idea about any of this, so I had to ask the guy at the window for help and we got it sorted pretty quickly. Like I said this was a very minor thing but it sticks out in my mind since it was basically the very first thing that happened to me in Tokyo.

The other time I had trouble with traveling was taking a bus in Kyoto. I didn't realize that even buses were paid based on distance. You're supposed to get a ticket when you get on, then when you get off you feed it into the machine, it tells you how much you owe, and you drop that much into the little change collector and you're good. So I got on and tried to pay right up front like you would in the US or Europe. The bus driver didn't speak good enough English to properly explain the procedure, so what I took from what he was trying to tell me was that I had been meant to buy an offboard ticket. So we get to the next stop and I jump off the bus to go buy a ticket, but he starts yelling after me to come back because he's pretty sure (correctly so) that this isn't my stop (secondarily I'm sure he was also concerned that I hadn't paid anything yet, but when I got back on the bus he really was just all about "is this your stop or where are you trying to go?") So at this point I still didn't really know what was going on but I figured I would just ride to my stop and figure it out then. Of course watching other people get off, I figured it out pretty quickly. It was a minor embarrassment to be that dumb foreigner who doesn't know how buses work, but all the other passengers (and this bus was pretty packed) seemed to get a kick out of it.

So anyway, to answer a very simple and straightforward question in a very simple and straightforward way, language isn't a problem at all for traveling, at least by the modes I took (probably safe to assume intercity buses also have English signage and announcements, though -- the bus I took from Narita to Tokyo did, at least, although airport shuttles are obviously kind of a special case).

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Re: Japan, Part 2

Postby loftguy » Mon Jun 04, 2012 10:10 am

phuqueue wrote:Not a challenge at all. All signs and marquees at the train station are in Japanese and English, all signs and pre-recorded announcements made on the train itself (so not including the conductor's announcements, which are usually just estimated arrival times at various stations ahead) are in Japanese and English (on the Shinkansen they use this pleasant-sounding woman's voice with a British accent), all street signs are in Japanese and English (this was actually a godsend on my first day when I got lost and stubbornly refused to just ride the subway back because I wanted to see as much of the city as I could, even if I had no idea where in the city I even was -- as soon as I started seeing traffic signs pointing toward my area, I just started following them), and assuming you're in major cities, most of the people at the ticket window at the train or bus station will speak some English (not as good as you'd expect in Europe, but enough to buy your ticket or ask directions or whatever you're trying to do). In rare cases there will even be other languages (in Nagoya for example all the signs around the train station were in English, Japanese, and Portuguese). All of the automated ticket machines can switch between English and Japanese as well, and this is true not just of intercity trains but of subway trains as well. In the subway the maps have stop names in both Japanese and English. In Tokyo (and elsewhere? I don't actually remember for sure, I usually favored walking over riding so I was only on subways a few times outside of Tokyo) the stops are also numbered, which can be a big help. You can look at this map to see what I mean. For instance, Tokyo Station is numbered M-17 (17th stop on the Marunouchi Line). Ueno is dually G-16 (16th stop on the Ginza Line) and H-17 (17th stop on the Hibiya Line). That can simplify things as well, but the numbers are only for the Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway, so JR and private railways aren't numbered.

City buses can be a little trickier. In bigger cities, they'll usually have dual English/Japanese signage, especially if they run to major tourist attractions. Most of the buses in Kyoto had bilingual signs, but a few didn't, which I tended to assume meant they were just regular buses for local residents trying to get around town. Lots of buses in Kyoto have a terminus at some major landmark or another (this is probably because a lot of the big temples are on the outskirts of the city, so it's convenient to just have the bus everyone needs to take to eg Kinkaku-ji just end at Kinkaku-ji), and those that don't, or that hit another landmark on the way to their terminus, usually note it (eg "Ginkaku-ji via Kiyomizu-dera"). All of that is plastered all over the bus in English.

I only had trouble with travel a couple times, really, and it was minor trouble each time. The first time was when I was fresh off the plane at Narita, I'd caught a bus to Tokyo Station, and I was trying to navigate the subway to get to my hotel. I knew going in that Tokyo has two subway operators. What I didn't know is that there's actually a ton of other trains throughout the city, and the specific one I needed was actually a JR train. This in and of itself wasn't a huge problem, because I had told my buddy where I was staying and he'd gone out of his way to make me a whole travel guide that meticulously mapped out how to get from the airport to my hotel, then suggested various sights to see and mapped out exactly how to get to them, etc (honestly I travel a ton and don't need this level of hand-holding, but he's had other guests in the past who do, and I'm not going to say it wasn't still really convenient to have on hand when I've just finished 15 hours on planes). The problem was trying to locate my stop on the map so I could see how much it was going to cost. My stop wasn't on any of the maps I was looking at because they were only Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway maps. I eventually just put in 120 or 160 yen or whatever the minimum was, hoped it was enough, went on through the turnstile, found my train. When I got off at my stop I couldn't get out of the station because I hadn't paid enough and needed a "fare adjustment." This is actually an extraordinarily simple process, you can go over to a fare adjustment machine (which can also toggle over to English) and put your ticket in and it'll tell you how much you owe. But I had no idea about any of this, so I had to ask the guy at the window for help and we got it sorted pretty quickly. Like I said this was a very minor thing but it sticks out in my mind since it was basically the very first thing that happened to me in Tokyo.

The other time I had trouble with traveling was taking a bus in Kyoto. I didn't realize that even buses were paid based on distance. You're supposed to get a ticket when you get on, then when you get off you feed it into the machine, it tells you how much you owe, and you drop that much into the little change collector and you're good. So I got on and tried to pay right up front like you would in the US or Europe. The bus driver didn't speak good enough English to properly explain the procedure, so what I took from what he was trying to tell me was that I had been meant to buy an offboard ticket. So we get to the next stop and I jump off the bus to go buy a ticket, but he starts yelling after me to come back because he's pretty sure (correctly so) that this isn't my stop (secondarily I'm sure he was also concerned that I hadn't paid anything yet, but when I got back on the bus he really was just all about "is this your stop or where are you trying to go?") So at this point I still didn't really know what was going on but I figured I would just ride to my stop and figure it out then. Of course watching other people get off, I figured it out pretty quickly. It was a minor embarrassment to be that dumb foreigner who doesn't know how buses work, but all the other passengers (and this bus was pretty packed) seemed to get a kick out of it.

So anyway, to answer a very simple and straightforward question in a very simple and straightforward way, language isn't a problem at all for traveling, at least by the modes I took (probably safe to assume intercity buses also have English signage and announcements, though -- the bus I took from Narita to Tokyo did, at least, although airport shuttles are obviously kind of a special case).



Thank you! With your narrative style and the observations you have to share, you need to find a broader forum to assist Nippon curious traverlers.

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Re: Japan, Part 2

Postby loftguy » Mon Jun 04, 2012 10:10 am

phuqueue wrote:Not a challenge at all. All signs and marquees at the train station are in Japanese and English, all signs and pre-recorded announcements made on the train itself (so not including the conductor's announcements, which are usually just estimated arrival times at various stations ahead) are in Japanese and English (on the Shinkansen they use this pleasant-sounding woman's voice with a British accent), all street signs are in Japanese and English (this was actually a godsend on my first day when I got lost and stubbornly refused to just ride the subway back because I wanted to see as much of the city as I could, even if I had no idea where in the city I even was -- as soon as I started seeing traffic signs pointing toward my area, I just started following them), and assuming you're in major cities, most of the people at the ticket window at the train or bus station will speak some English (not as good as you'd expect in Europe, but enough to buy your ticket or ask directions or whatever you're trying to do). In rare cases there will even be other languages (in Nagoya for example all the signs around the train station were in English, Japanese, and Portuguese). All of the automated ticket machines can switch between English and Japanese as well, and this is true not just of intercity trains but of subway trains as well. In the subway the maps have stop names in both Japanese and English. In Tokyo (and elsewhere? I don't actually remember for sure, I usually favored walking over riding so I was only on subways a few times outside of Tokyo) the stops are also numbered, which can be a big help. You can look at this map to see what I mean. For instance, Tokyo Station is numbered M-17 (17th stop on the Marunouchi Line). Ueno is dually G-16 (16th stop on the Ginza Line) and H-17 (17th stop on the Hibiya Line). That can simplify things as well, but the numbers are only for the Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway, so JR and private railways aren't numbered.

City buses can be a little trickier. In bigger cities, they'll usually have dual English/Japanese signage, especially if they run to major tourist attractions. Most of the buses in Kyoto had bilingual signs, but a few didn't, which I tended to assume meant they were just regular buses for local residents trying to get around town. Lots of buses in Kyoto have a terminus at some major landmark or another (this is probably because a lot of the big temples are on the outskirts of the city, so it's convenient to just have the bus everyone needs to take to eg Kinkaku-ji just end at Kinkaku-ji), and those that don't, or that hit another landmark on the way to their terminus, usually note it (eg "Ginkaku-ji via Kiyomizu-dera"). All of that is plastered all over the bus in English.

I only had trouble with travel a couple times, really, and it was minor trouble each time. The first time was when I was fresh off the plane at Narita, I'd caught a bus to Tokyo Station, and I was trying to navigate the subway to get to my hotel. I knew going in that Tokyo has two subway operators. What I didn't know is that there's actually a ton of other trains throughout the city, and the specific one I needed was actually a JR train. This in and of itself wasn't a huge problem, because I had told my buddy where I was staying and he'd gone out of his way to make me a whole travel guide that meticulously mapped out how to get from the airport to my hotel, then suggested various sights to see and mapped out exactly how to get to them, etc (honestly I travel a ton and don't need this level of hand-holding, but he's had other guests in the past who do, and I'm not going to say it wasn't still really convenient to have on hand when I've just finished 15 hours on planes). The problem was trying to locate my stop on the map so I could see how much it was going to cost. My stop wasn't on any of the maps I was looking at because they were only Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway maps. I eventually just put in 120 or 160 yen or whatever the minimum was, hoped it was enough, went on through the turnstile, found my train. When I got off at my stop I couldn't get out of the station because I hadn't paid enough and needed a "fare adjustment." This is actually an extraordinarily simple process, you can go over to a fare adjustment machine (which can also toggle over to English) and put your ticket in and it'll tell you how much you owe. But I had no idea about any of this, so I had to ask the guy at the window for help and we got it sorted pretty quickly. Like I said this was a very minor thing but it sticks out in my mind since it was basically the very first thing that happened to me in Tokyo.

The other time I had trouble with traveling was taking a bus in Kyoto. I didn't realize that even buses were paid based on distance. You're supposed to get a ticket when you get on, then when you get off you feed it into the machine, it tells you how much you owe, and you drop that much into the little change collector and you're good. So I got on and tried to pay right up front like you would in the US or Europe. The bus driver didn't speak good enough English to properly explain the procedure, so what I took from what he was trying to tell me was that I had been meant to buy an offboard ticket. So we get to the next stop and I jump off the bus to go buy a ticket, but he starts yelling after me to come back because he's pretty sure (correctly so) that this isn't my stop (secondarily I'm sure he was also concerned that I hadn't paid anything yet, but when I got back on the bus he really was just all about "is this your stop or where are you trying to go?") So at this point I still didn't really know what was going on but I figured I would just ride to my stop and figure it out then. Of course watching other people get off, I figured it out pretty quickly. It was a minor embarrassment to be that dumb foreigner who doesn't know how buses work, but all the other passengers (and this bus was pretty packed) seemed to get a kick out of it.

So anyway, to answer a very simple and straightforward question in a very simple and straightforward way, language isn't a problem at all for traveling, at least by the modes I took (probably safe to assume intercity buses also have English signage and announcements, though -- the bus I took from Narita to Tokyo did, at least, although airport shuttles are obviously kind of a special case).



Thank you! With your narrative style and the observations you have to share, you need to find a broader forum to assist Nippon curious traverlers.

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Re: Japan, Part 2

Postby phuqueue » Mon Jun 04, 2012 12:53 pm

Glad to be of some assistance. Are you planning to go or just curious what it's like?

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Re: Japan, Part 2

Postby loftguy » Mon Jun 04, 2012 2:46 pm

phuqueue wrote:Glad to be of some assistance. Are you planning to go or just curious what it's like?



Pondering an August trip. Have a large stash of miles built up and trying to decide which spot on the globe to explore. Japan has been a consideration, because it is so unique in first world experiences.

Just non sure yet how to decide between there, Myanmar, Botswana and Uraguay. Such problems...

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Re: Japan, Part 2

Postby phuqueue » Mon Jun 04, 2012 4:37 pm

Well I can't really say anything about any of those other places, but I can't speak highly enough of Japan. I'll be glad to tell you anything else you want to know about it.

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Re: Japan, Part 2

Postby loftguy » Mon Jun 04, 2012 4:57 pm

phuqueue wrote:Well I can't really say anything about any of those other places, but I can't speak highly enough of Japan. I'll be glad to tell you anything else you want to know about it.




Thanks much!

Maybe more up your experience, I just had a friend ask me to float the canals through Bordeaux with his extended family in France, and then to take his sisters place in Barcelona for a week or two, while they are in Milan.

Feel like I have stepped into a harlequin novel.......

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Re: Japan, Part 2

Postby phuqueue » Mon Jun 04, 2012 8:26 pm

Never seen Bordeaux except from the window of a train (my French experience has basically been limited to Paris and the Mediterranean coast), but Barcelona's a good time, and there are a number of other people on the board besides me who could give you tips if you head there (I'm sure someone will have tips for Bordeaux as well -- Highlander is obviously a good source to consult for anything European).

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Re: Japan, Part 2

Postby Highlander » Fri Jun 29, 2012 8:16 pm

phuqueue wrote:Never seen Bordeaux except from the window of a train (my French experience has basically been limited to Paris and the Mediterranean coast), but Barcelona's a good time, and there are a number of other people on the board besides me who could give you tips if you head there (I'm sure someone will have tips for Bordeaux as well -- Highlander is obviously a good source to consult for anything European).


Never made it to Bordeaux though. Japan looks more than a little interesting.


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