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Esther (The Netherlands)

Why did you decide to come to Japan? The main reason for the two times I went there in the past half year were w-inds. concerts, but also to see my friends again and to see some more tourist sights.

How long did you stay? About five days in at the end of April and about two weeks at the end of July.

What did you enjoy the most about your time in Japan? The concerts and getting to meet so many new people there, from all over the world, but also from Japan, was an amazing experience that I will never forget. Then there were the hours spend in izakayas, endlessly singing songs at karaoke, clubbing in Roppongi, enjoying a beach party in Enoshima and mingling with the locals, seeing new things and learning more about historical sights. I finally had the chance to go to the famous Nippon Budokan and the concerts in Nagoya and Nagano also gave me the chance to see some historical sights there and experience new areas of Japan that I hadn’t been to yet. Apart from that I of course did some great shopping and enjoyed all the things we don’t have in the Netherlands, wandering along Takeshita-doori in Harajuku and browsing 109 with my friends.

What, if anything, would you change about your time in Japan? If only I could have stayed longer.

Would you come to Japan again in the future? Yes, definitely, I am already planning a trip with my friend. I haven’t seen much of Kansai yet and we want to do a tour there for multiple cities. If I had the money and the opportunity, I would pack my bags and leave for Japan again right now.

Would you recommend traveling to Japan to a friend? Yes and I have done so in the past.

Do you have any travel tips or advice (cheap airfare, hotels) to give to future travelers? Don’t be scared of all the reviews saying Japan is the most expensive country on earth: it’s not! Not for tourists at least and not when you play it smart. In the past half year I’ve stayed in hostels (in Tokyo, Nagano and Nagoya) for about 2500Y a night, for a bed. This is about as much as you would pay in Europe. All the hostels I’ve stayed in were VERY clean and had incredibly nice staff. The Sakura Hostels (all over Tokyo, I’m not sure if there are many of them outside) have English speaking staff. I’ve also stayed in some adorable Japanese (‘ryokan’) styled hostels, sometimes the staff were fluent in English, sometimes they weren’t, but they were always helpful and even with a language barrier they would go to great extents to help you out and get you whatever you need. (You can get some guesthouses less expensive, but your ‘room’ will be nothing but a closet that you’ll have to share with a million cockroaches. Been there, done that and only recommend it to extreme budget travellers.)

If you want to do some budget eating (not saying this is the healthiest choice), then Saizeriya (500 yen pizza!) or ‘konbini’ (convenience store, you’ll have to try hard NOT to stumble across one) foods are the way to go. Also keep an eye on supermarkets right before closing time. Especially the sushi and onigiri (rice balls) are often on sale for half the price. Don’t be scared of crazy prices you’d pay for sushi back home, in Japan it’s relatively inexpensive. At a ‘kaitensushi’ (conveyor belt sushi), you will have more than enough sushi to serve as dinner for less than 1500y.

Cheap airfare probably depends on where you’re coming from. I’ve flown relatively cheap from Amsterdam Schiphol through Moscow Sheremetjevo (Aeroflot, don’t expect too much of the airport, though) and from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi with both All Nippon Airways and JAL, both were great. Keep an eye on discounts and subscribe to the JAL or ANA mailing lists so you will be informed about discounted flights or last-minute discounts.

If you want to have a good time after dinner, then karaoke (EVERYWHERE!), clubs (Roppongi, Shibuya) and izakayas (Japanese bars, again: EVERYWHERE) are all things you should have tried. Karaoke offers songs in a multitude of languages, so don’t be scared of it when you don’t speak Japanese or aren’t into Japanese music. I’ve sung Japanese rock, Korean pop, German oldies and Disney songs in English in one afternoon, so there’s a pretty big variety in songs available. I especially recommend the ‘free time’ karaoke, which is an allnighter for a set discounted price, with an all-you-can-drink menu included (no alcohol!). Food and alcoholic beverages (also all-you-can-drink, usually) are also available. Movies and clubs often have special a ‘Ladies Night’ (some cinemas have a whole variety of ‘nights’ that offer discounts to couples, women, students, etc). Club entrance can be 3000y (+2 drinks) on a regular night, but only 1000y on a Ladies’ Night. Same goes for cinema tickets, which are generally rather expensive in Japan. So if you’re planning on doing either, try to get some information on their special discount nights to save some money.

Additional Comments: It was strange to be in Japan only a month after the earthquake and the experience started on the plane already. The only people on there apart from me and maybe one or two other tourists were Japanese business men. The airplane was only for about 1/3 filled with passengers. Apparently people really were staying away. I’d already heard from most of my friends living in Japan that things had started to go back to ‘normal’ pretty soon. The Japanese picked up their jobs and got on with things the best they could and the only people not doing so seemed to be the foreign visitors. That first time this year I had an amazing time and it was hard to imagine that only a month before this was a country that had been hit with a severe earthquake, followed by a major tsunami and was now dealing with a nuclear crisis in the aftermath. Only small things would remind you of what had perspired: airconditioning on trains not being on the entire time, electronic handdryers in public restrooms being out of service, etc. And of course, the quiet that the lack of tourists brought along. Walking along Nakamise-doori in Asakusa even later this year, in July, was a strange experience. This major tourist spot in Tokyo, in my previous experience, used to be full of tourists from all over the world, trying to snap a picture of the Sensouji Temple, or the Kaminarimon gate, or trying to find the best souvenirs. This year however, most of the visitors I noticed were Japanese school children on trips and the foreign tourists were severely outnumbered.

Yes, there will always be an earthquake risk in Japan, but there always has been. Life is risky everywhere and fear shouldn’t overpower all the great things this country has to offer. The obaachan (old granny) grabbing your arm and helping you along when you’ve lost your way in the middle of Tokyo. Being chased by hungry deer in Nara Park. Visiting the many ancient temples and sights in Kyoto. Trying out the local food specialties in any town or area of the country. Stumbling upon one of Japan’s many matsuri (holiday celebrations) when you’re just wandering around Kamakura and witnessing the true spirit of the Japanese. Or even just sipping a macha (REAL green tea) soy latte at the Starbucks in the middle of Shibuya, looking down at the famous ‘scamble crosswalk’ while you and your friends are discussing all the great things you’ve seen, all the interesting people you’ve met, all the awesome things you’ve done, all the amazing things you’ve experienced in this country.

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