Japan's West Coast
August 28, 2009 4:36 PM   Subscribe

How easy/hard would it be to travel on the quieter Western coast of Japan? English speakers with no understanding of Japanese. Say the Matsue, Hagi region?
posted by edgeways to Travel & Transportation around Japan (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I spent some time in Hagi a few years ago studying the local pottery. How to you feel about taking buses? I traveled there from Nagoya (a pretty big city) and I think it took four or five train transfers to get there on some tiny, out of the way train lines. I can read and speak Japanese and I felt that it was kind of a miracle that I got there in one piece. However, on the way back the people at the hotel mentioned that there were daily buses to Hiroshima and Okayama and from there it was a straight shot on the shinkansen to get wherever I wanted to go.
posted by Alison at 5:25 PM on August 28, 2009

That depends. Do you have hotels arranged? A rail pass? Have you signed up for any guided tours?

If you are just planning on winging it, you can certainly get around, but you will struggle when interacting with locals. Bring a dictionary and a pad of paper (to write down English phrases -- Japanese sometimes communicate better that way).
posted by armage at 5:26 PM on August 28, 2009

I used to live out that way! :D I had a car, so I'm not sure how much public transport there is (though the big places like Matsue, Hagi, Masuda, Tsuwano will all have train stations at least) Buses are a lot trickier, and probably won't come very often. But it is a very easy region to drive in, if that's your plan.

I think it's worth it though, the countryside is really beautiful. The coast near Hagi has exceptionally blue ocean. If you're in the area in the spring, you should head to Tsuwano for the yabusame (archery on horseback). Izumo has one of Japan's most important temples... I think there's a lot in the area that the average foreigner just doesn't get to see.

I think there will be a fair amount of English support, brochures & maps to pick up at the train stations...bilingual signs...But even in areas where there isn't much, I think you'll be able to get by fairly well. Most people will know a liiitle bit of English, and most people are really nice about trying to help. But you might want to write down your questions in simple English. Written English will be a lot easier for them to understand than spoken.

Message me if you have any particular questions! (And if you happen to go through the Mito area of Masuda, tell them Ann-chan said hi!)
posted by Caravantea at 5:28 PM on August 28, 2009

Technically, Matsue and Hagi are on the north coast, or Japan Sea coast. Anyway, I lived on the Japan Sea for about 10 years. When I first arrived, I lived on the Noto Peninsula, and traveled to Kanazawa and Osaka to find work. I spoke no Japanese.

Anyway, it was a little hard for the first months to figure out how to get home.

You're going to need to do a significant amount of preparation - what trains to take, all that sort of thing. Luckily, you have the internet, which I did not in 1994.

Hagi is an awesome town, by the way. It's a great place to spend the day riding around town on rental bikes. Stay at a minshuku that serves good food.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:55 PM on August 28, 2009

This: Written English will be a lot easier for them to understand than spoken.

This is another great way to use couchsurfing (this is my answer for everything) because it can help you plan a route and get help from people who know the area and speak English. Because it is a less-visited part of Japan, they will probably also be reeeeaallly happy to have you.

The car option may also be worth considering. Not having one can be really limiting in these landscape-driven areas. Driving here is pleasant, but slow.
posted by whatzit at 6:01 PM on August 28, 2009

It's a beautiful area and cheaper for travel than other parts of Honshu. Not many people you encounter will be able to speak English well, but the food, the hot springs, the views and the overall experience make that region definitely worth the visit. I second buses if you don't have a car or motorcycle. Train service is limited on the Japan Sea side.

A really lovely onsen technically in Tamba, I believe, is Kinosaki 城崎温泉onsen. It's affordable, not sleazy and you can make the rounds of a dozen different baths in a couple of days if that's your thing. The beaches on the Japan Sea side tend to be rocky and the waters choppy, except for the famous dunes and maybe a few other beaches.
posted by vincele at 7:54 PM on August 28, 2009

if you dont know japanese, dont wing it.
not because it cant be done, just it wont be rewarding.
japanese dont respond well to sponteneity, and dont like to be out of the comfort zone.
i think your trip will be more rewarding if you plan out the travel/accomodation as much as you can before you land.
then your cultural experience can be focused on the environment and experience, rather than wasting time trying to organise logistics.
posted by edtut at 4:00 AM on August 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I hitchhiked around and didn't speak any Japanese and had the time of my life. I met so many amazing people that were so kind and took me to special out of the way places. I wouldn't mind going back and doing it again.
posted by avex at 6:58 AM on August 29, 2009

I must say that the one thing I remember from my early days in Japan in 94/95 was how things just seemed to work out.

For the first couple of weeks I suffered from jetlag for the first time ever in my life. I had no idea where I was on the map. I was traveling with an experienced "Japan hand", and was just along for the ride. Everything was different - different weather (hot!), different sights, different sounds, a different pace. Combined with the jetlag and the heat and the shorter length of the day, it was very surreal.

I remember not being able to figure out which bus stop to stand at to take the highway bus home, or even the name of my bus stop, much less being able to read the Chinese characters of where I was headed.

Luckily, some people heading back to the same town where I was living - Takahama, in Shika machi on Noto - kind of recognized me as the new foreign face in that small town, and shepherded me onto the right bus.

Those sorts of lucky coincidences happened to me continually in Japan. Another time, out for a walk in a remote location, I met someone I went to junior high school with, who was touring Japan with Ice Capades, and was in this rural area for a show at the local ice rink.

Anyway, things should work out, but just remember to write down place names and do your research first.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:30 PM on August 31, 2009

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