Last year, my son's friend went on hols to Japan. I noticed his facebook feed became full of people saying things like, you are so lucky, my dream is to go to Japan. It made me think they were all weak as piss since how hard is it to go on a holiday? Especially in Australia where we have cheap flights to Japan and relatively well paid entry level jobs. Hells, anyone can get a job in a call centre at $20 an hour for a few months to earn holiday money.
Anyway, the other day Hardkore Tom asked me about how to plan a trip to Japan so I got thinking about it. There's a lot to say so I'll probably split this over a few posts.
First up, get yourself on the mailing list for the budget airlines in your country that fly to Japan. Here in Australia, it's Jetstar and Air Asia.
If you are in the US, I'd also check out The Art of Non-Conformity for tips on travel hacking. Most of it involves credit card points and I don't have a credit card but if I did and we had decent rewards programs here, I'd be all over that shite.
I'll write some more about budgetting in my next post.
When to go to Japan:
Okay, you may not know this but Japan has four DISTINCT seasons. Now that may be some bollocks that the Japanese like to believe but it's important to know because depending on which season you travel, you'll have different experiences.
Japan is seasonal - different types of events are held depending on the season, different kinds of foods are eaten. Even different clothes are worn. So decide carefully.
Summer is the second most bollocksy season to visit Japan. It's stinkingly humid and foul. I'd say Tokyo is the worst place to be in Japan in summer too. A city filled with narrow streets and concrete is only going to retain the heat and, when the rains fall, it's like pouring water onto hot stones in a sauna.
Summer in Japan does have it's plus side though. It's matsuri time so heaps of big festivals to attend as well as thousands of smaller ones. Japanese festivals are the best. They have guys in fundoshi and girls in yukata so it's a total perv fest! Plus food on sticks - festival foods are the best foods.
It's also the time of year for beer gardens, which aren't actually gardens but usually the roof of a department store. And fireworks and shaved ice. And beachside bars.
Actually summer in Japan is heaps of fun except for the damn humidity.
Autumn is a generally good time to travel, weather-wise. If you have no particular seasonal type things you wish to do in Japan, autumn is a top time for travelling. You don't have to pack heavy clothes or tonnes of deodorant.
The main thing Japanese people like to do in Autumn is go looking at autumn leaves, which are really quite pretty but it's more of an old people thing. Arashiyama near Kyoto is really pretty though (and it had awesome black sesame soft cream!)
There are some seasonal autumn foods but I have no idea what they are. I think they could be pumpkin based maybe... like pumpkin kit kats etc.
Winter in Japan is hell. I love Japan but I hope never to spend another winter there. Winter is cold. It is really freaken cold. I can't even describe how cold it is.
Now you might be thinking, hey I'm from Siberia/Iceland/Canada, I can handle the cold.
No, you can't. My friend in Tokyo was from some cold place in Russia and she bitched about the cold in Japan. Because ever civilised place in the world, has insulation against the cold. Even the eskimos build their igloos to reduce the cold. Not the Japanese though.
In the middle of winter, go sleep outside for the night. If you can handle that then maybe you'll be okay. Freak.
Sure, if you stay in a hotel, you have the heating on all night but that makes me sick.
Really, unless you are into skiing or are a masochist, do not go to Japan in winter. Or unless you can get super cheap flights because no sane person wants to go there.
Oh, there is that snow sculpture festival in Hokkaido. I'd go to that. Maybe Hokkaido has better insulation.
Spring, of course, is prime season for travel in Japan because of those pretty pink flower things. Everyone goes cherry blossom mad in spring. And yeah, they are pretty and one of those things people put on their lists see the cherry blossoms in Japan but it's really only for a few weeks around April (in Tokyo) so you have to really plan it. Check the cherry blossom forecasts online - yes, they exist.
Of course, hanami season isn't just about the blossoms. It's also about getting shitfaced and making a dick of yourself -- in a public park rather than in a bar or izakaya. And you get sakura flavoured food, like kit kats.
The non-hamani part of spring is nice weather and a good in-between time for travel.
My recommendation for travel is either late spring or early autumn. You get some of the spill=over of summer festivities without having to deal with the heat. It's comfortable for travel and NOT cold (hopefully). If you are holidaying for pleasure with no particular agenda then it's tops.
If you are a foodie, it's worth checking what's around when you intend to travel. A lot of foods are only available at certain times of the year.