Planning a Trip to Japan – Transportation

In the spring of 2017, I plan to visit Japan with my daughter and my son-in-law.  I was born and grew up in Japan, but this is the first time visit for my son-in-law, and it’s been 15 years since my daughter’s last visit to Japan. I’d like to blog the process of planning a trip for someone who is not familiar with traveling in Japan. I will be going through the process myself, and I get questions from my daughter/son-in-law. I think documenting and blogging the process will be a lot of fun for me and it might help the readers who are interested in traveling to Japan in the future.

  1. Deciding when to visit Japan.

I wrote a blog article about my favorite time to visit Japan in “Visiting Japan in Spring”. I took my own advice and I plan to travel in late April to mid-May timeframe.  We will be visiting, Tokyo area, and Kansai (関西 ) area which is southwest of Tokyo. My hometown is in the northern island of Hokkaido ( 北海道 ), and we will be there in early May.

According to my research, we will be too late for cherry blossom viewing, Hanami (花見 ) in Tokyo and Kansai area, but we may be able to see the blooming cherry blossoms in Hokkaido, since their blooming season comes much later due to colder climates.  I can imagine my future blog article about Cherry blossom viewing in Japan! Please check back my blog in June after my trip.

I had one concern about traveling in this time frame. The first week of May is called “Golden Week” in Japan, and it’s the most popular week for the Japanese to take time off and travel for leisure. The resorts and sightseeing areas will be very crowded and expensive.  In 2017, here is the Japanese Golden Week holiday schedule.

April 29th (Saturday) – Showa Day (Emperor Hirohito’s Birthday)

May 3rd (Wednesday) – Constitution Memorial Day (Japanese constitution was established in 1947, after the World War II on this day)

May 4th (Thursday) – Greenery Day (Arbor Day)

May 5th (Friday) – Children’s Day

My concern was to travel during the busy holiday week. I did some research on this topic from the past travelers. Their consensus is that if you stay in Tokyo, you will not see too much difference in the crowd level. The residents of Tokyo tend to take vacations and visit resorts and other cities during Golden Week.  Yes, Tokyo is crowded at any day whenever I visited in the past, so it will be as crowded during Golden Week as usual.  My plan is to spend part of Golden Week in Tokyo and then take a bullet train ride to my hometown in Hokkaido. I will report back to you about traveling in Japanese Golden Week later. If you are afraid of being in the crowd of people, Tokyo or Japan itself is not a good place for you to visit…

  1. Looking for discount flights to Japan

After we knew the time frame of the visit, I needed to look for deals in flights to Japan.  I wrote a blog article about “Flying to Japan – useful tips” in the past. I do like to use the airport of Haneda which is closer to Tokyo than Narita airport. However, this time, I have to synchronize the flights from 2 different cities. I will be flying in from Los Angeles, and my daughter and son-in-law will be flying in from Seattle, and we somehow have to meet up in the airport to travel together. For these logistical reasons, I decided to use Narita airport this time. Narita has many more choices of flights from the U.S., and it’s easier to coordinate the meetup.

As I mentioned in the “Flying to Japan” article, I am a big fan of direct flights to Tokyo. If you reserve early, you can get great discounts on airfare.  I usually use the site, www.kayak.com to do the research and I can usually get very competitive fare. I noticed that by going through Kayak, I get good price from a travel site such as Webjet. However, if I go directly to Webjet web site and look for the same flight schedule, the price is not as good for some reason.

This time, my daughter and my son-in-law are flying ANA (All Nippon Airways) directly from Seattle to Narita. If you have read my “Flying to Japan” article, you know that I am a big fan of ANA. I am flying Singapore Air from Los Angeles to Narita (direct flight). I had good experience with Singapore Air in the past. I will review both flights’ experiences in the later blog article! Since the travel time is low season from the U.S, we were able to get $750 for the round trip for the direct flights from Seattle and $650 from Los Angeles. They are both excellent deals. You normally pay around $1000 for the same flights in different traveling seasons, or if you book the flights at later time.

hokkaido-shinkansen

 

  1. Deciding how to travel within Japan

I usually use ANA (All Nippon Airways) to fly to Hakodate from Tokyo, Haneda (domestic) airport to visit my family.  You can get very good deals on ANA domestic Japan flights from this web site. I found the airfares close to 1/3 to 1/2 off compared to the Japanese ANA web site depending on the time of your travel. I believe that this web site can only be accessed from the U.S. In other words, the airfare deal is not available within Japan. There may be corresponding ANA discount web sites from other countries such as U.K.

I found that in general, booking Japanese domestic travel arrangements from the U.S. gets much better deals than booking once you are in Japan. So, get all your travel arrangements done well before you are in Japan!  In Japan, finding discount prices in travel is much harder and far and few between.

For the next trip in 2017, I plan to travel to different areas of Japan with my daughter and son-in-law for about a week before traveling home to Hokkaido. I decided to travel with Japan Rail Pass. Japan Rail Pass lets you travel with unlimited train ride using JR (Japan Railways) to anywhere in Japan for 7, 14 or 21 days, including the usage of bullet trains. Since March 2016, you can take a brand new bullet train from Tokyo to Hakodate. We are going to have very good use of the Rail Pass. While you are traveling in Tokyo, you can use any of the JR line, such as Yamanote Line with this pass. It is the most convenient and affordable way to travel Japan for foreign visitors.

Here is the web site for Japan Rail Pass.  I will write more about Japan Rail Pass in a future separate blog entry.

There will be more planning to be done for this trip. I will be publishing more articles on the topic. Come back and check my site, or “Follow” my blog.

 

 

 

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