Getting to Japan
by Bamboo Dong,
Money aside, planning a trip like that can be pretty daunting, especially for those who have never been overseas. There're a lot of questions to consider, like where to stay, where to book your plane tickets, what to do, and importantly, how to not get lost once you're there. Luckily, there's a few different options that first time travelers can choose from.
With a variety of services out there, you can almost always find a tour that will accommodate your schedule, your price range, and your travel interests. Great for those who want to sample Japan under the guidance of an English-speaking professional, these trips generally range between 7 – 10 days, and offer a smattering of activities tailored towards different customers. Best of all, they take care of everything for you, so all you have to do is show up at the airport with your passport in hand.
There are three US-based travel agencies that offer tours geared towards anime fans: Destination Japan, Intermixi Japan Tours, and Pop Japan Travel. For all the big events like the Tokyo Game Show or the Tokyo International Anime Fair, these three will often have simultaneous tours, but each offer different itineraries, so it's a good idea to look at each one and compare them.
Destination Japan is operated by HIS International Tours, an agency that also offers a wide selection of international flight options, as well as guided tours for the non-otaku. All DJ tours depart from LAX airport, though there are “land only” options for those who wish to meet the group in Japan. Those wishing to extend their stay may do so; HIS will even take care of flight and accommodations for extra convenience.
Another option is Intermixi, which is run by the original founders of Pop Japan Travel. Their tours generally run a few days longer, which accounts for the steeper price. Like the other tours, they also depart from LAX, and offer “land only” options.
Although Pop Japan Travel was on hiatus earlier this year, they're offering tours again. Many of their tours are themed, with some upcoming ones featuring gothic-lolita and boys' love. What makes their tours unique is their affiliation with Digital Manga Press, giving participants the opportunities to meet mangaka like Makoto Tateno.
For a comparison chart showing some of the current and future tour highlights for each agency, as well as prices, click here.
Other travel agencies will offer many creative packages, as well. Interested in running in the Tokyo Marathon? JTB has a trip that leaves from Newark Airport that will help aspiring runners acclimate to Tokyo and register for the race.
Depending on the time of year, and how early you book your tickets, roundtrip tickets from LAX to Narita can range anywhere between $550 to $1200. Considering how expensive domestic flights can be, these are very reasonable prices. Obviously, if you're departing from a different city, the prices will vary, but even if you're planning on flying from JFK International, it's not uncommon to find flights within the $700-$1200 range.
For some of the best deals, there are a lot of travel agencies that specialize in East Asian destinations. For instance, if you live near a Mitsuwa Marketplace, you'll be able to make travel arrangements through JTB USA. Many other Japanese marketplaces, like Marukai, will have travel desks as well. They'll be able to help you book your flights, buy JR passes, get hotel rooms, and answer any questions you may have—many of them will offer standard tours as well.
Although you don't have to go through an agency for your plane tickets, you can oftentimes get better deals. For example, if you're looking to get out of town (and the country) next week (how about September 26?) and run around Tokyo for a week, both HIS and JTB offer roundtrip tickets from LAX starting at $560. Travelocity's cheapest offer is $820. That's still not bad, but with that extra money, you could buy yourself some cool swag.
For the most part, you'll find that lodging in Japan isn't too different from lodging in the US. Prices range from $60-400, and for the most part, you'll be able to find something that will satisfy your budget, while also providing you with the perfect location and proper amenities. A great site for scoping out all your options is JapanHotel.net, a convenient directory that not only provides you with photos, but also gives you all the important details: amenities, average rates, nearby attractions, dining options, how to get there, and importantly—what credit cards they take. You don't have to book your room through them, but it's a great way to look at what's available.
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