Going to Japan, but not for a while. What should we book?
July 1, 2014 11:56 AM   Subscribe

Thanks to some ridiculous flight deals, a friend of mine and I are headed to Japan for two weeks. The catch/opportunity: the flight is next February. There's probably a bunch of really neat things to do in Japan that unfortunately have huge waiting lists or need to be planned well in advance, right? For once in my life, we are those people planning well in advance! So what neat things with long waiting lists should we sign up for now?

We could use a ton of ideas on what to do in general, but we can trawl the other AskMe threads on Japan trips for stuff we can do while we're there. This question is specifically about stuff we probably can't just waltz into the day/week of, stuff we'd need to book in advance. We;'ll be flying into/out of Tokyo, but are happy to wander the country as long as the time/payoff ratio is good. My guess is we'll stick to urban areas for the most part but try to spend at least one day in the countryside and try not to look too much like the idiot tourists we are.

My friend is pretty sure he wants to make a reservation to Jiro's sushi place, though I probably won't go because while I'm not quite so stupid as to ask for cooked sushi, I'm not much better. Another friend of ours has advised us to get tickets to the Studio Ghibli museum in advance; their website says we can book up to three months in advance so we're good on that front. What else should we keep an eye on/book?
posted by chrominance to Travel & Transportation around Japan (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It's not so much that you have to book in advance (although you do with Studio Ghibli), but that you have to endure big crowds for popular activities.

I personally love talking about travel in Japan - my wife and I run a small tour-planning business which doesn't make us much money, but does allow us to live vicariously through the adventures of our clients.

Anyway, the big winter event in Japan in February is the Sapporo Snow Festival. You could combine that with some skiing at Niseko, which gets even more powder than Whistler or the Rocky Mountains.

February is the coldest month in Japan, so, besides skiiing, you really shouldn't try to do any outdoor activities, since there is a lot of snow in the mountains.

The Pacific Seaboard, stretching from Tokyo to Osaka, is sunny and dry in winter, so it's not too cold. The Japan Sea side and Hokkaido is snowy and cold.

February is just at the start of the plum (ume) blossom season on the Pacific side of the country, so there should be some nice photo ops in Kyoto and Nara.

There is so much to do everywhere in Japan, it really depends on what you want to do! Another idea is to head to a hot spring resort someplace snowy. That's always fun in winter.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:08 PM on July 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Used to be tickets to the Tokyo Skytree had to be reserved months in advance but maybe the initial fuss has finally died down by now.
posted by Rash at 12:41 PM on July 1, 2014

If food is your thing check now for when the really high end Kaiseki places will start taking bookings. I think its two or three months most places.
posted by JPD at 12:57 PM on July 1, 2014

Also I would encourage you not to go to sukiyabashi jiro.
posted by JPD at 12:59 PM on July 1, 2014

Here's a tip for travelling in Japan in February: the coke machines that are everywhere sell hot drinks! And they're not just hot, they're really really hot. When your hands get cold, buy a couple of the little cans of coffee, stick them in your jacket pockets, instant hand warmers.

Bonus tip: if you're going to be in Tokyo, schedule a meetup. They're a pretty special bunch out there.
posted by Runes at 1:29 PM on July 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Moss Temple in Kyoto (Kokedera) requires reservations by post!
posted by jrobin276 at 2:08 PM on July 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I came in to say the moss temple too, but upon reflection maybe the moss will be carpeted over with snow? Would it still be worth doing? (We were too disorganised to manage it when we were there, so I can't be sure.)
posted by Cheese Monster at 3:22 PM on July 1, 2014

If you at all love skiing/snowsports, Japan in winter is AMAZING. I'm actually in the rudimentrary stages of planning another winter trip to Hokkaido.

I would perosnally ensure that you spend some time in an Onsen and do a Kaiseki dinner.

Tokyo specific: I really, really liked the Ghibli Museum, and also had fun just getting off at random stops on the subway, and turning off down small streets- so much of Tokyo is bland and corporate on the surface, and there's these tiny gorgeous full of character streets EVERYWHERE as soon as you get off the main drags... If you like kitchen stuff, take a trip down Kapabashidori.

I also did a home cooked Japanese dinner with Nagomi visit, and then ended up hanging out with my hostess in shinjuku for the rest of the day- they showed me weird little quirky things I would have missed, and had a ton of fun.

MOST IMPORTANTLY. If you have any allergies that require an epi-pen, apply for permission to bring one NOW. it is a hassle and half to bring certain medications into Japan, and starting now gives you plenty of time for error and mail correspondence
posted by larthegreat at 3:23 PM on July 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Kyoto generally doesn't get that much in the way of snowfall, so I think you might be ok with Kokedera.

I can't think of anything you will need to book far in advance, especially in February. I like to take sleeper trains when I'm using the JR Pass, and since they're becoming more and more popular, I often have to get them booked as soon as I arrive. I doubt you're going to want to ride sleeper trains though.

The one place I have ever needed to book in advance for - the Ghibli museum - involved me reserving a ticket 3 weeks prior to the visit. Even then, I didn't have a choice of timeslot. When I did visit, I found it to be the most overrated attraction I've been to in all of Japan, bar none - and trust me, I've seen a lot of the country. So unless you're 5 years old or a Ghibli maniac, the pitiful offerings and horrendous overcrowding mean it's really not worth the hassle of getting that advance ticket.
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 7:26 PM on July 1, 2014

February would be a nice time to go to Western Japan.

If you love modern art, one of the best experiences in Japan is Benesse Art Site and Chichu Museum on Naoshima Island in the Seto Inland Sea. It is very popular so getting a room at any of the hotels there takes a lot of effort and you should start now. You can do a day trip but it's much better to stay on the island for at least a night to be able to enjoy everything leisurely. It is quite a hike to get there but if you love modern art and architecture it is a world-class experience.

Nearby is also Isamu Noguchi's museum in Mure, which also requires reservations.
posted by gen at 3:49 AM on July 2, 2014

Another tour you have to book in advance is to the Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto.
posted by sukeban at 5:36 AM on July 2, 2014

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