Should we still go to Japan
March 18, 2011 8:43 AM   Subscribe

Travel to Japan in May - what do you think?

We booked our trip to Japan, mid-may to the end of the month, before the earthquake. I still want to go, and we had planned to go to Kansai, the Alps near Matsumoto, and Tokyo. If Tokyo is still crazy, we can try to work out a way to fly in and out of Kansai.

I am not worried about some far-fetched radiation risk. I am thinking that perhaps two months on the country would welcome some tourists, but am willing to be told I am wrong.

BTW 'we' are me, my husband and nearly seven year old. We were planning a mix of cultural tourism and hiking.
posted by Megami to Travel & Transportation around Japan (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
yes, go. spend money.
posted by paradroid at 8:55 AM on March 18, 2011

Totally agree that you should go and spend money.
posted by royalsong at 9:00 AM on March 18, 2011

I am not worried about some far-fetched radiation risk.

You should be aware that children are especially vulnerable to radiation sickness/developmental problems. Much more sensitive than adults with the same exposure. I would make sure you have a way to cancel the trip should the risks not be down to zero by the time you get there.
posted by qwip at 9:35 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Are you crazy?!? You really need to wait a few weeks and see how this situation plays out. Currently there are shortages of supplies and long lines of people trying to get out. The last think you want to do is go there in the middle of a crisis. Find out from your air carrier and hotel if they will offer you either a refund or the opportunity to change your schedule in light of the current situation. If they do, find out the latest date by which such changes can be made and don't make an final decisions until then.
posted by Jamesonian at 9:40 AM on March 18, 2011

I have one friend who flew in last week and is in Tokyo.
Some other friends who are heading out there in a week or so and have not canceled their trip.

Ignore the tabloids, Tokyo is doing fine

Tokyo, the ghost town.
posted by vacapinta at 9:49 AM on March 18, 2011

At this point I don't see how the radiation risk could be described as "far-fetched". This is another potential Chernobyl and it's on as island, so you can't just run away from it if things take a turn for the worse.

You're making a decision for your child so I please stay abreast of the news and play it by ear. If I had a child, I'm positive that I would shit-can the whole trip.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:51 AM on March 18, 2011

I don't see how the radiation risk could be described as "far-fetched".

I'm sorry but you do realize you linked to the Daily Mail? Others not familiar with it, should take the time to scan the entire front page. They've been known for completely fabricating things.
posted by vacapinta at 9:57 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yes, you should, baring any other major developments between now and then. By major developments I mean Japan says "stay away!"
posted by Silvertree at 10:00 AM on March 18, 2011

Response by poster: Sorry bonobothegreat, but anything the Daily Mail says is pretty much something I choose to believe the opposite of. All the Japanese media I have come across, and sensible Western media that seems to be reporting on the situation rather than supposing and drumming up drama, is not reporting that there will be a radiation risk outside of the immediate area. Definitely not Kansai.

Thanks eveyrone for putting their 2 cents in. If there are any mefites in Japan I would really appreciate their opinion. Of course if the government says 'stay away' we will totally go with the wishes of the Japanese people.

And yes, we have checked if and when we can cancel things. And if there is another major development, airlines are (at this stage anyway) happy to re-route us.
posted by Megami at 10:08 AM on March 18, 2011

Are you crazy?!?

No Jamesonian. The OP is trying to collect more information so she can make an informed decision. Why is this such a "crazy" question?

OP, I have a friend living in the Kyoto area. I spoke to her last a couple of days ago. She told me that it was business as usual there - no shortages (that she's aware of), trains running normally, people going about their daily lives - to work, school, out and about, etc. Obviously the continuing humanitarian crisis is first and foremost on everyone's mind but the Kansai area has been relatively unaffected, logistics wise, by the situations up north.

Barring new information, advisories, etc as we get closer to May I'd say go ahead with your trip. Japan needs not only the money you'll bring but also a "show of confidence" from outside visitors. They've taken a huge economic hit and any prop up to their tourism trade - no matter how small - will help.
posted by moxiequz at 10:09 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Correction - I meant 'if there are any Mefites in Japan who care to comment' - I know there ARE Mefites in Japan.
posted by Megami at 10:14 AM on March 18, 2011

As far as I can see, you don't have anywhere north of Tokyo on your itinerary, so there's no compelling reason to cancel this trip. Vacapinta is the voice of sanity here.

The fact that airlines are happy to re-route you makes me even happier to tell you: GO!
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 10:14 AM on March 18, 2011

I like to check what the US State Department travel site says. I think they give a pretty fair estimate of risks of travel to various places.

Right now they are saying, "The State Department strongly urges U.S. citizens to defer travel to Japan at this time and those in Japan should consider departing." The fact that they are helping the families of federal employees leave is telling.

I'd make other plans if I was taking my kids--especially if making other plans now means you can pull together a better trip than if you wait to re-plan your trip in another month. Japan will still be awesome in a year or two, you know?
posted by bluedaisy at 11:42 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

(Not that I know anything about Japan! But I do know that a few weeks ago, my expat friends in Egypt were mostly saying, "Everything is fine here!" But really the stories came out later that things weren't fine there, and they were saying everything was fine so as not to worry their families. YMMV.)
posted by bluedaisy at 11:44 AM on March 18, 2011

The final outcome of the nuclear situation is still very much an unknown, and personally I would not commit until about a month from now. Yes, there is a lot of media hysteria - which has exactly nothing to do with what is happening there.
posted by MillMan at 12:22 PM on March 18, 2011

Which year? 2011? No. The situation in Japan is unstable, at least wait till everything gets back in order (you could start as soon as Toshiba and other famous industries/corporations re-open again after the temporal draw-back).
posted by easilyconfused at 3:05 PM on March 18, 2011

It's in May which gives you 2 months to find out what is going to happen. You could always use your plane tickets and then take a another flight over to Korea?
posted by wcfields at 3:10 PM on March 18, 2011

Best answer: What we're doing

My wife and I are scheduled to fly into Tokyo a week from today (leaving LAX the 25th and arriving Narita the 26th) - we're the friends vacapinta mentioned.

As I'm sure you have as well, we've been monitoring the situation over there closely, watching NHK World, reading the MIT NSE blog, other Tokyo blogs (e.g. what vacapinta linked), and monitoring Twitter, as well as other sources.

Our original itenerary had us scheduled to spend our first few days in Tokyo followed by a two week self-guided tour of Western Japan, then ending with a few more days in Tokyo. Out of a desire to limit potential risk and calm down the family, we're moving our entire Tokyo visit to the tail end of our trip, which gives the situation a couple weeks to cool down. If a couple weeks have passed and the situation hasn't cooled down, we'll extend our tour of Western Japan.

As you did with your flight, we called our airline (Korean Air) and our hotels to find out about cancellations, reschedulings, and reroutings. Everyone offered to waive any penalties for last-minute changes, but if we want to fly into/out of Kansai instead of Tokyo, we'll have to pay the difference in the airfare, which is prohibitive.

One thing we haven't checked is whether the company we bought our JR Pass through will refund us without penalty given the situation. In the worst case scenario there, the voucher is still good as long as we use it before it expires in 6 (3? I need to check) months, or we just eat the 20% penalty. So it goes.

If things stay the same or get better before our departure, then we'll land in Tokyo and hop on a train to Osaka, where we'll be starting our tour. If things get significantly worse, the FAA and/or the airline will make our decision for us and stop us from going. If things get moderately worse, we'll weigh the costs and deal with that kettle of fish when we come to it. Cancelling and rescheduling for the future remains an option until the moment we board the flight.

Are we welcome there?

When we followed up with our hotel reservations, we expressed concern for their welfare and asked if they felt we should not be coming right now. Getting a straight answer to this question can be difficult because of the cultural tendency to avoid negative answers.

Here's the response from our Tokyo hotel:
Thank you for your courtesy of your mail.
Actually we do not know what will happen in a month because of the
circumstance happening in japan.
It is up to each customer to make their own judgement for travel.
Though, please be noted that we might cause you an inconvenience during
your stay due to the earthquake of east japan.
Thank you for your understanding in advance and we look forward to your

If you have any inquiry, please feel free to contact us anytime.

We hope that you have a safe trip.
Our takeaway: not a very personal mail, not very much encouragement to visit, probably best not to spend much time in Tokyo right now.

By contrast, here's the response from Takafumi Kawakami, who runs the Shunkoin Temple where we'll be staying in Kyoto:
Thank you for your kind message and concern.

We are safe in Kyoto. There is no damage in western Japan (Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, etc). We are running our guest house regularly, like other businesses in western Japan. Thus, you don't need have any concerns in this region.

I recommend you to not to go to Tokyo this time. If it is possible, change your flight to Osaka ( Kansai International Airport or Itami Airport). And, also, I recommend you to stay in western Japan longer (like spend more days in Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, Ise, Fukuoka, etc).

At this moment, we have one room with private shower room and toilet ([X] yen/person/night) is available for the nights of [a bunch of dates].

Or, you can keep your original reservation, as well.

As long as you are in western Japan, there is no problem during your trip.

Please let me know your decision.
In fact, he even went so far to ask for continued tourism to Western Japan in his blog:
It is going to be so much help for us that you visit Japan to see that the rest of the country is still standing strong. The energy brought by you can make Japan alive again.
So yes, we're wanted in Kyoto.


You're definitely welcome in Western Japan. In a month's time, they'll probably want you in Tokyo too, but it's too early to tell. Given that you've got a good month before your trip, the best thing you can do is stay calm and patient and line up alternatives. It sounds like you're already on top of it.
posted by quasistoic at 3:13 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Reporting in from Osaka: Come on down! If Tokyo is far enough away that you shouldn't worry about it - and you shouldn't, at least not much - then Kansai is definitely safe to visit.

First of all, while Japan is an island, it's much larger than a lot of people believe. Everyone I know back home has an idea in their head that it's this tiny place, so whenever anything happens in Japan, no matter where, I always get some emails asking if I'm okay.

My rough estimate is that it's a little under twice as long, end-to-end, as England/Scotland/Wales, and a rough visual estimate would suggest that if Fukushima were in London, then Osaka would be somewhere in, I think, the Pyrenees. Good comparison maps are hard to come by. For those of you in the US, substitute "London" with "Washington, D.C." and "the Pyrenees" with "Atlanta, GA." Ish.

Anyway, come to Kansai and have a wonderful time. A month from now you may have missed the cherry blossoms, but the weather should be outstanding.
posted by MShades at 7:31 PM on March 18, 2011

Also: The WHO says that the 30 kilometer exclusion zone is sufficient and that going to Tokyo/Yokohama or further afield is fine.
posted by MShades at 7:42 PM on March 18, 2011

I live in Tokyo.

I believe that things will be fine here by May. There may be some continuing power shortages, but I doubt they will be as bad as they are now (e.g. shops shutting at 6 PM or earlier, trains running at 30-90% of normal capacity, rolling blackouts in the suburbs). You will enjoy your stay here in any event. The weather will be nice -- May is a perfect time to visit.

Japan's economy could use your custom in the months and years ahead, so please plan on coming. Your hosts here will appreciate it, and you will be glad you came.
posted by armage at 5:59 AM on March 19, 2011

Another Tokyo MeFite here. In case you haven't seen this yet, here's a good opinion piece about what the mood's like in the Kanto area at the moment. Be safe, but come visit!
posted by misozaki at 6:14 PM on March 19, 2011

Oh man! Come to Kyushu!

They just opened up the new Kyushu shinkansen, and there is lots of fun times to be had around here. I live in Kyushu so I've done a lot of travelling in western Japan, and it is very nice over here. Fly in, take the train down to Osaka, have a good night in the city and eat as much delicious food as you can find (Osaka is full of delicious food). Spend a night in Koya-san if you want to see temples. Move on to Hiroshima and Miyajima, eat some fried oysters. Then, on to Fukuoka, have some delicious pork ramen (it might stink outside but it's delicious!), and go see the Dazaifu Tenmangu and the National Museum. Next, Kagoshima with a stop-over for the afternoon in Kumamoto to see the castle. See Sakurajima, and take a boat to Yakushima for some green wonderlands. Back up, over to Miyazaki for the beautiful seaside, up to Beppu for the hot springs and hells, and then back up to Osaka/Tokyo for the rest of your trip.

But I think you'll be fine with your plan.
posted by that girl at 2:34 AM on March 21, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks thatgirl - Kyushu is not on the plan for this trip but I really want to come! First have to visit old haunts in Osaka and let my other half see the Alps, but I think you have just given us a good alternative itinerary for our next trip (or possibly this one if needed).
posted by Megami at 5:41 AM on March 21, 2011

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