What should we do during our trip to Japan?
April 10, 2014 11:22 PM   Subscribe

We're going to Japan! What should we do? What are some useful iPhone apps? How do we get Internet access?

I've read some of the old questions, but I thought it was worth asking if there are any particular things of interest going on right now or specific to the places we're going that we should make sure not to miss.

Here's our itinerary:
  • 5 nights in Tokyo
  • 1 night in Ōkunoshima (AKA Rabbit Island)
  • 2 nights in Hiroshima
  • 2 nights in Fukuoka with a side trip to Ainoshima (AKA Cat Heaven Island)
Knowing where we're going to be are there any particular cool things we should check out?

Also, are there useful iPhone apps we should know about (for using transit or finding attractions, places to eat, etc.)?

Finally, any suggestions for getting Internet access while traveling around? I have an unlocked AT&T iPhone 4S, so I ways planning to buy a pre-paid SIM card, but my companions' phones aren't unlocked. The pocket wifi from Global Advanced sounds great, but they don't have any available right now (we're leaving next week). Are there any other similar options from other carriers or alternatives for Internet access? Any specific recommendations for where to get a good deal on a SIM card for me? I mostly just want data/text; I won't be talking on the phone much.

posted by Cogito to Travel & Transportation around Japan (16 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I was there just last week! Japan no longer allows prepaid voice sims unless you have a Japanese government issued id. So as a tourist you're out of luck. You can get a data only sim (no voice or sms), which is what I ended up doing. I got mine from b-mobile. I got the 1Gb version, which expires after 14 days. They recommend ordering it a week in advance and you can have it delivered to an address in japan or the narita airport post office. I think I read somewhere that you can pick them up in some electronic shops but you may need to speak a bit of Japanese.
posted by milkcrateman at 11:43 PM on April 10, 2014

Also, google maps directions were invaluable for finding out what trains/subways to take to get around. It would tell you what lines/times/etc and was very accurate. Not sure how the ios maps are. I can post some recommendations on things to see in tokyo later when I'm not typing this on a phone.
posted by milkcrateman at 11:59 PM on April 10, 2014

Itsukushima/ Miyajima is just a local train and a ferry from Hiroshima (the ferry is managed by Japan Rail and is free if you have a J-Rail Pass). You can't miss it. It's the place with the big torii in the sea on the cover of the travel guides.

Sadly it looks like it's a bit late for hanami in Tokyo, but possibly you could catch some sakura if you go to the mountains? Ask your concierge, anyway. See also this for Hiroshima, ask about the Hana no Mawari-Michi.
posted by sukeban at 12:53 AM on April 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh, and this site lists many events all over the country. See if any match your schedule.
posted by sukeban at 12:56 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Things to do: the main things I would do if I were visiting Japan with money (which I usually don't) are 1) have a traditional Kaiseki meal (or five) 2) stay in a traditional ryokan. 3) if not staying at a ryokan at least visit an onsen (public bath).

If you're looking for general cultural ideas on things to do the Japanology series on youtube (by NHK) has tons of episodes on absolutely everything from sumo to kaiseki to Udon.
posted by Blitz at 12:56 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are rental phones (with and without data) at Narita, fwiw. I don't know about pricing but the b-mobile SIM sounds good if you have an unlocked phone. B-Mobile is on the Docomo network, which is the best in Japan (all are decent these days especially in the major metro areas, fwiw.)
posted by gen at 12:56 AM on April 11, 2014

If you're into art, Tokyoartbeat.com is bi-lingual and a great site. Timeout Tokyo is also pretty good these days, as is Bento.com.

I assume you're getting a Japan Rail pass?

It looks like you want to avoid Kyoto and Nara? Just making sure that you'd rather not do the temples, etc.
posted by gen at 12:57 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yes, we will have JR green passes. And somehow I left out the 3 nights in Kyoto (at the end of the trip). We are not trying to avoid it, so Kyoto and vicinity recommendations are welcome!
posted by Cogito at 1:58 AM on April 11, 2014

One restaurant I couldn't go when I was in Kyoto was Kosendo, but it sure sounds yummy.

If you want to see geiko and maiko dancing, the Miyako Odori lasts until April 30.

What would you like to do/ see?
posted by sukeban at 2:19 AM on April 11, 2014

I consider an afternoon at one of the hot springs baths/onsen an essential for any visitor who wants to experience a unique part of Japanese culture.

I especially recommend the Disneyland-esque Ooedo-Onsen-Monogatari, which has the advantage of being close to other waterfront attractions such as Miraikin and Mega Web (if you're into cars) - - spend the morning walking around your choice of attraction in the Koto area and then have a relaxing afternoon at the onsen.
posted by fairmettle at 2:28 AM on April 11, 2014

Seconding a trip to miyaji - if you go try a weekday and overnight if you can; there are hordes of tourists on the weekends, but everyone goes home at night. We stayed in nice, affordable ryokan, I think it was called Kikugawa.

In Hiroshima itself, you gotta grab a bite at Okonomimura it's like a building that is pretty much all restaurants devoted to Hiroshima style okonomiyaki - which you don't see a lot of outside of Japan. If you like okonomiyaki (and who doesn't??) it's worth a stop.

In Kytoto it's like temple city, we did most of them. My personal faves were Nijo castle, a morning waking around Arashiyama (this blog basically shows what we did. The blog in general is very good for Japan trip planning, esp if you are food orientated like me!), Fuahimi Inari (pro-tip, the restaurant at the lookout was delightfully non-tourist trappy and affordable. Good kitsune udon. KEep walking past the lookout; hardly anyone does the full circuit and you will have stretches to yourself, awesome) and wandering slowly around the pilgrim's path at the silver pavilion

In Tokyo, we really enjoyed Asakuse - if you want some cheap Japanese ceramics as souvenirs or presents you can't go wrong - it's famous for food models, but all the restaurant supply stores are there, too. We had lunch at Iron Chef Sakai's restaurant in SHibuya which was also great (another pro-tip; lunches at very posh restaurants indeed are way, way cheaper than dinners in Japan. I think it was like sixty bucks for lunch. We also had a very posh lunch in kyoto at Kikunoi [ the one beside the river, michelin starred, pretty special]). Don't bother with the Ghibli museum, imho. Organising tickets was a pain the arse, the museum is in the middle of nowhere, it barely qualifies as a museum, but it isn't a theme park, really either - kinda meh and I say this as a massive Ghibli fan.

Have fun, I'm very jelly, Japan is one of the easiest and most interesting travel destinations I've been to. Japanese people are overwhelmingly friendly (and they do compulsory english through high school so everyone has a smattering, and many a lot more than that), every region has speciality foodstuffs for you to eat, and we found the Rough Guide guidebook was much much better than the lonely planet guidebook. I also spent a few weeks picking up some basic Jpanese (is this the train to so-and-so, thank you, good morning etc) and it served us in great stead - truly worth the investment. Additionally I wish I had learnt more food words - I know tonnes of Japanaese dishes, but embarrasingly didn't know the words for chicken, beef etc, which was annoying when out unless I knew exactly what the place was serving.
posted by smoke at 4:10 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Tokyo tips!

Is it baseball season? Go see the Yomiuri Giants play, it's a total blast even if you're not a fan. I think the pink seats are the ones to go for, then you're sitting with the proper megafans. You can also ride the awesome Thunder Dolphin rollercoaster that zooms around above the stadium.

I really enjoyed the Ghibli Museum FWIW. Tickets are easy to get — just go to a Lawsons and ask an assistant to help you use the machine. Then all you have to do is get there for your alloted time slot...
posted by ZipRibbons at 5:16 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

In Hiroshima, in the department stores, they often have exhibitions. When we went, we saw gorgeous pottery and were invited to a tea ceremony, right there in the store! There was ikibana, and a teddy bear exhibit.

If it's in your schedule, check out a Hiroshima Carp game.

Miyajima Island is a hoot, but I've heard distressing things about the deer there. (are they starving?)

If you go to Iwakuni (where my parents lived) there's a beautiful park with the Kintai Bridge. There's a museum there with some weapons and armor and such. Also ice cream and cherry trees. Oh! And flattened roasted squid on a stick.

I've found that it's pretty hard to get a bad meal in Japan. And it doesn't really matter much where you get it. The curry at the train station is pretty darn good!

Travel light, while there is some storage for luggage on some trains, most Japanese folks ship their luggage directly to their destination, so it's not a thing typically.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:19 AM on April 11, 2014

I'm going to Japan on my honeymoon in 3 weeks (5 days in Tokyo, 3 in Kyoto). I've asked my hotel concierge in Japan (it's a nice hotel, but I think service levels in Japan are great anyway) to reserve our restaurant meals.

I'm planning on renting bikes to travel in Kyoto since sights are spread out and their train system isn't too convenient for them.

I got my pocket wifi from these guys: http://japan-wireless.com/rentalsteps.html, they may have availability.
posted by sandmanwv at 5:19 AM on April 11, 2014

When you're in Tokyo, don't miss Hanayashiki! It's a tiny little amusement park crammed right into the middle of the city, dating from 1853. There's a great wooden roller coaster and the infamous Bikkuri Hausu ("Surprise House"), the eponymous surprise of which I won't spoil for you. It's a terrific place to spend an afternoon.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:59 AM on April 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Great advice from this previous AskMe thread: go to Sake Bar Yoramu in Kyoto. It's exactly as described, and you will drink exquisite sake like you've never had before. The decor is cool & the owner/bartender is an interesting guy to talk to.

In Tokyo, while I wouldn't necessarily call this a must-see/must-do, the restaurant at the top of the Mori Tower has a view of the city and serves weird avant-pseudo-molecular-gastronomy stuff - gels & foams & slushes & the like. And there's an art gallery on one of the floors that has contemporary and modern stuff.
posted by univac at 8:50 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

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