Sushis, mangas, origamis, sumo fights, zen gardens... for us two, Japan is more than those clichés given by Western culture.
We have grown up with mangas on TV back in the 90's, used way too much our Nintendo consoles, tasted a tiny part of what Japanese food actually tastes (once our paychecks could pay the bills), attended many Japan themed fairs, watched every movie made by the Ghibli studios and a little bit too many dramas, learned by ourselves our first Japanese lessons... When do I stop ?
Back in summer of 2011, when a huge tsunami hit the North East coast of Japan, I decided not to cancel my trip there and visited this fascinating country during two weeks, all by myself. I came back with a lots of memories from there and a lot of hope and admiration towards its resilient population. But above all, I already knew I wanted to come back.
For 6 years, we'd been discussing about going to Japan, we literally dreamed about it. It was THE country we first wanted to visit and discover together. After 2016, the year we got engaged, things became serious. We started planning our wedding, including our honeymoon into the budget. We set our hearts on 3 regions to visit, during 3 weeks, during the month of May 2018.
Planning this trip was so exciting and we came back with so many lovely memories.
One year after our honeymoon, May 2019, I'm going to share with you bits of those 3 weeks in Japan
# Japan in few figures
Population in 2018: 126.3 millions of inhabitants, with a density of 336 hab./km2
Surface: 377 915 km2
Language: Japanese in huge majority. We could find some people speaking english in the touristic areas but please make an effort to learn few sentences before visiting the country, it'll be very appreciated by the locals, especially in the countryside.
Seasons: 4 beautiful seasons ! Which means we can go and visit Japan anytime of the year, the landscapes will always be amazing ! The months of April and July/August are the busiest. The locals generally go also on holidays during those periods + during the Golden week (succession of 4 bank holidays between end of April and beginning of May). Careful then with those periods, as touristic areas may be super crowded.
Budget: Yes, Japan can be very expensive if you are planning on visiting everything, eating everything and going everywhere. While planning your trip, don't forget to set on a budget and to stick with it. I am going to give you a hint of our budget in this post, plus a little bit more in the following ones.
# Our Honeymoon in Japan
Dates: from 7th to 30 may 2018
Airline: Qatar Airways, with a connexion of 90 minutes in Doha. Around 550 euros per person in Economy class.
Total budget : 6 000 euros (we eventually spent less), including a part offered by our wedding guests (big shoutout to them all !!)
Our goals: eat, discover 3 regions in particular the country side, practice our Japanese notions, visit the Ghibli museum, see the Mount Fuji, enjoy the scenery.
Recommendations: we are going to give you some tricks before going to Japan, somewhere below those photos :)
# Before you leave, take some piece of advice from us (or just leave aha)
Note to my english spoken readers: some of the websites below are suggested for French citizens. Though it won't be as useful for you, it could inspire you just in case you might forget to check those things out before planning your trip.
Once you are set on a period of travel, book your tickets as soon as possible. I would say at least 5 to 6 months prior your departure, especially if you're taking off during busy times like April or July/August. And with the Olympics and the Rugby world cup coming up, prices are rising ! Avoid if you can booking your flight on weekends or lunch time during the week. Why ? Because it's the busiest times people actually book their holidays, so the more demands, the highest the prices. Our trick is to always book our flights on a Tuesday night, around 2 AM when prices are lower and on another computer on which we never looked for prices so the cookies are not saved. Trust me, it worked ;)
Japanese people use a lot of cash. Take this into consideration before leaving. Except if your bank allows you to use your credit card abroad without taxes whatsoever, I strongly recommended the use of cash once there. You can either book your currencies in your country of residency, or withdraw the cash there. A week before leaving, we booked our currencies in Paris, and split it in 3 enveloppes so we would use 1 enveloppe per week, matching our very efficient Google Sheet budget :)
International driving licence
Mandatory for citizens of the following countries: France, Switzerland, Belgium, Monaco, Germany, Slovenia and Taïwan. For Canadian residents, hurray it is not as it's already been translated ! To do so, you need to request online the translation from your country of residence that you will have to validate in Japan only. This translated version is compulsory if you need to rent a car in Japan or even drive a kart like Mario in the city - I am actually NOT kidding.
Even if today, Airbnb is perhaps the safer way to book accommodation abroad while travelling, please pay attention to the description of an ad. One week before leaving for our honeymoon, we had the very unpleasant surprise to have our last week in Tokyo cancelled by the host, with the only message "By law in Japan, we will close our residence. We apologize for any inconvenience." ANY inconvenience ? Babe, it's our honeymoon, come on! So after I protested on Twitter to Airbnb about how badly this turned out, they offered us a voucher of 100€ and proceeded to our refund due to those annoying circumstances. Within the next two days, we were booking another apartment in exchange. So YES, double check the ad on Airbnb. If you see a "restraint from talking to the concierge, say you're my friend" blabla, it's already a little bit shady...
A must-have if you want to use Wi-fi everywhere you go. And by everywhere, I literally mean everywhere ! Japan is so efficient with technology, even in the deep countryside, we could have access to Wifi. Book yours online and have it delivered to your first house there or go pick it up at the airport once you land. We had ours for our full 3 weeks and it was 100% useful !
Transportation from one region to another
If you plan to only visit Tokyo and its region, you won't need to book a train. However, if you think of travelling from one region to another and do not want to miss anything, we strongly recommended taking the Shinkansen, the high speed train transportation in Japan. There are several passes available according to the areas you want to visit and how long you want to stay there. One pass allows you to use the high speed trains unlimited. We took a national pass for our first 2 weeks, then just used the Suica card to the last week in Tokyo.
So who is going to Japan or currently planning to go to Japan ? Tell me if you have other piece of advice for the next travelers !
See you in the next post about Japan in which I will talk about "Accommodation in Japan"