I just received my Certificate of Eligibility in the mail yesterday from Kansai Gaidai so I thought it would be a good idea to talk about what you should do before you go to get your visa. I have little idiosyncrasies, one of them being if I am going on a trip; to a major city, to another state, to a different country, to a country I haven’t been to in a separate continent, etc. I do a lot of research on where I am going to have a feel of where I am going before I actually get there. Japan is no different.

I have been to Japan once before in spring of 2005 for spring break visiting Tokyo for eight days. I did about a month of research on Tokyo before my flight touched down. I do more research if I am only going to a place for a limited amount of time because I want to make the most of the time that I am there. I still haven’t changed but because I will be in Osaka for five months I am doing a little less research because I figure that I can explore and do most things first hand. However, and I recommend that you do this as well, I scheduled my flight so that it is about 10 days before I have to arrive in Osaka to Kansai Gaidai for their orientation so that I can explore Japan a little before I have to buckle down for university. Here’s what happened:

A good friend of mine named Ryan who I’ve known for a couple of years now, was planning to visit a friend of his that teaches English in Japan outside of the Tokyo area. He found out that I was going to do study abroad and that I was leaving about the same time he was going to visit his friend. We talked a bit and this is when I decided to go a little early to sight see, which is why I’ll talk a little about researching where you’re going because I did exactly that for our little trip.

Like I said a little earlier his friend lives outside of Tokyo, about 45 minutes to be exact, for his job. I’ve also been to Tokyo before so I know some good places to visit so we are going to plan most of that trip the first day that we get there, we land August 15th at Narita Airport. I’ll outline our trip:

  • August 15th – 16th : On plane to Narita
  • August 16th – 20th : Traveling inside of Tokyo.
  • August 21st : Going to Mt. Fuji and Hakone
  • August 22nd – 26th : Northern Japan trip

Organizing your time is the most important part. Deciding where you will go and when is also the hardest thing to plan. In planning you should also divide your research into two parts; what you plan to do/activites, and where you will sleep/lodging. Luckily I have some experience in the area of planning and I can give some pointers of what I have done in the past years to make it a little easier for you.

When planning a trip around Japan one of the best resources is to search the internet, it is one of the best resources and one you should consult frequently because it is ever changing. For this trip we are going to be around Tokyo then taking a five day journey around Northern Japan, mainly the Tohoku Region and the Southern tip of Hokkaido. There are a few websites that are really good for finding information so that you can plan your trip.

The first is the Japan Travel Bureau that I mentioned in the Your flight, now there’s a task. post, they have a wealth of information that will help you in planning things to do while you’re in Japan. If you are going to be around the Tokyo area I highly recommend visiting the Ghibli Museum, it makes for a fun day trip. For this upcoming trip I will be purchasing the 5 consecutive day JR East Pass and the Full Day Mt. Fuji and Hakone tour from JTB.

There are three other websites that I found particularly helpful in the planning process: Yokoso! Japan, VirtualTourist, and Japan-guide. I suggest you look through each of these websites when looking for things to do in Japan, I know they gave me a good bunch of suggestions. One of my favorite pages on each of these websites are the events calendars that list festivals and such, like one of these for example. You should definitely go to japan-guide’s forums, there are a lot of very nice people that will help you with whatever questions you might have.

After you have had your fill of those websites looking for things to do (they aren’t designed that well but they do have a good amount of information), you should stop at your local bookstore megamart or amazon, whichever you prefer for some books. At the top of my list of travel books are Rough Guides and Lonely Planet. I prefer Rough Guides because of the writing style and the layout, but Lonely Planet is a close second. Don’t bother with the others as they basically just list things in a boring fashion. If you are traveling to a specific city and they have a book about it, say Tokyo, then pick up that book not the general guide to Japan book. These books have a wealth of information that are probably located on websites somewhere but nowhere near as well laid out for you. Another plus of the book is that you can take it with you on your travels and it fits neatly in your pack, unlike printouts from websites. I suggest you take a high lighter to these books and mark anything that looks interesting to you so that you can better plan your trip, both also help you with finding a place to stay while you are exploring which brings me to my next topic: finding a place to stay.

In Japan you have several options; you have western style hotels that are what you are used to, but why stay in something that you are used to and can find anywhere in your home country? Isn’t that why you chose Japan? So you can try something different? I suggest you go strait for the ryokans. Ryokans are Japanese style inns, you know with the tatami mats, low tables, and sleeping on futons (real futons not what you would buy in a store). First look in the books that you purchased for possible places, but I have found two websites that have a very good selection of ryokans for your viewing pleasure: Japanese Guest Houses and Welcome Inns. I suggest looking through each thoroughly and if possible reserve your night at a ryokan before you leave for Japan.

Well I have gone on longer than I meant to with this post but I guess this might make up for not posting in a long time. Next time I will talk about getting your visa and other things relating to that topic, so until then!