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Otakon 2002: Japan Trip Tips

posted on 2002-07-29 08:56 EDT
Want to go to Japan, but don't know what to do? Read this panel summary and find out!

One of the more interesting panels on the first day was a panel discussing the relative ease (or difficulty) of traveling to Japan.

A typical trip to Japan will cost anywhere from $600 to $1500, depending on a number of factors (depending on when you fly, where you fly from, how long you stay, the current exchange rate, etc). Buying anime goods, gifts, and other items are, of course, not included in the base trip price.

First, in order to get to Japan, you need to have a valid passport (a requirement for nearly any form of international travel, not merely to Japan). For information on how to obtain a passport, you can go to http://www.travel.state.gov/passport_services.html. In the USA, they can take up to 6 weeks to process, so a passport should be obtained several months in advance of the trip.

If you plan to stay in Japan for fewer than 90 days, you do not need to worry about a visa (not to be confused with the credit card Visa!). If you plan to stay longer than 90 days, the Workers Visa and Student Visa are the easiest to obtain, but both require large amounts of paperwork, processing fees, and recommendations certifying that you will not be disruptive while in Japan. Additionally, both require specific reasons for visiting Japan. Again, if you plan to stay in Japan fewer than 3 months, you should not need to worry about a Visa.

You might want to think twice if you plan to earn a few extra yen while traveling in Japan. Only Australian, Canadian, and New Zealand citizens are allowed a 6 month "Working Holiday" stay, wherein they can seek employment. Everyone else is banned from working (even part-time). Penalties for violating this rule can be as stern as large fines and possibly even being banned from entering the country again.

There are quite a number of places you can stay at, once you are in Japan. Western hotels provide the highest quality service and generally the most favorable rooms for westerners. However, rooms can run well over $200 per night. With two or three people in a room, however, the price per person drops significantly. The next choice, 'business hotels' can range from $20 a night, all the way into the $70 range. Quality of the rooms, again, varies from location to location. Lower-end hotels are, in effect, dormatories, with communal showers and bathrooms. Some hotels provide only Japanese-style rooms, while others provide a mix of Japanese futon and Western beds.

Next down the line are hostels and compartment rooms. Youth hotels vary widely in price and quality of services and facilities. Anyone who has traveled to Europe may be familiar with the concept of a 'hostel', which can range from a place to simply spend the night, to a high-quality resort hotel with food service and other expensive extras. If even a low-end hostel is too expensive (and if you aren't too tall!) you can always try out a compartment/capsule room. For less than $6/night, you can obtain a tiny compartment (rarely longer than 6') in which to sleep.

One difficulty of traveling around Japan is that the address numbering system is incredibly complex, based on the age of buildings. Newer buildings tend to be given higher numbers than older ones. Newer sections of districts are also merely given higher numbers, too. It isn't unusual to see buildings #5, 8, and 3 in that exact order as you walk along a street.

Thus, if you are unfamiliar with the area you're in, it's quite easy to get lost. It becomes essential, therefore, to be able to speak at least a few words of Japanese, as well as preferably be able to read and write at least katakana. If you get lost, you should be able to locate a police box. Here you can find maps of the local area, as well as directions on how to get to local subway or train stations. Unfortunately, few of the officers stationed at these locations understand English, and quite a few may be unfamiliar with reading romanized Japanese. If you can write the name of your intended destination and have a little practice with a phrasebook, you should survive without too much difficulty.

Being familiar with katakana and hiragana is very important if you intend to leave the major cities. Most major landmarks are written in English as well as kanji and kana, but once you leave the cities behind and enter the countryside, Japanese prevails. Few signs (if any) will be in English, in the country. Thus, if you plan to travel in the countryside, at least a cursory study of survival Japanese is essential, and a phrasebook may be handy besides.

When many otaku travel to Japan, they want to visit Japanese animation studios. This is a very bad idea. They will not show you their latest projects, nor will they let you sit and talk to the animators (even if you speak Japanese). Not only do they have little to show you, many studios will simply refuse to let you in at all unless you have scheduled business with them. Instead, it is better to visit during Comiket, the Tokyo Anime Fair, the Tokyo Game Fair, or similar events. Fans will find it much easier to do 'anime-related' things then.

Wearing costumes in the street is highly frowned on, and may in fact be illegal. Comiket forbids dressing up prior to arriving at Tokyo Big Site (the location where Comiket is held every year). You must change into costume at Comiket. Other festivals are probably very much the same way. If you plan to do more than shop, you need to familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations. If you aren't fluent in Japanese, and know no one who can explain the rules to you, then it may be better to go and see what others do, and then mimic them the following year.

If it's your first trip to Japan, traveling alone can be a very difficult experience, especially if you don't speak any Japanese. Instead, you can always take a tour package. Although a bit pricy, they ensure that you'll have translators, insurance, and all sorts of other luxuries to ensure a quality trip.

Additional URLs:
http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/
http://www.japantravelinfo.com
http://www.visitjtec.com/

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