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Old 04-19-2012, 05:49 PM   #1
Aussie Wendy
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Ohaiyogozaimasu Japan

We (me, hubby and for part of the time our 20 year old daughter) have recently returned from 2 weeks in Japan. Had a lot of fun but it was challenging at times-mostly because of the language differences when things went wrong. For those of you who plan to travel to Japan and don’t want to troll through a whole trip report, here are some up front thoughts and tips for future travellers. I am attempting to minimise duplication of info already provided by Lurkyloo and others. For those of you who want to cut straight to the report skip the following and follow the links at the end.

1. As others say you don’t need to read or speak Japanese to enjoy Japan (especially if only going to the Disney resort and Tokyo). Elsewhere while you don’t need it, it would make life easier for shopping in supermarkets, reading train and bus info etc. We managed OK without it but see below, it would have made life a bit easier sometimes if we could have read some basic Katakana. Speaking-wise using simple words and sign language you can generally get your point across. We found everyone, even in the tourist info offices, have very limited English. The major buses and trains do put up the destination and the next stop in English which is wonderful but at the station it can still be confusing with the myriad types of trains, making sure you get on the right one that you bought your ticket for. Many restaurants have picture menus but we sometimes ended up in places where they didn’t and then had little idea what we were ordering! It was all part of the experience and no big deal. Some minor examples-our first foray into a supermarket (we had self contained accommodation in Kyoto) we came home with butter and margarine instead of margarine and cheese (we have discovered cheese is VERY expensive in Japan and limited range for sale). In Tokyo we bought what looked like the milk we bought in Kyoto and ended up with liquid yoghurt. We caught the wrong train to reach Hikone-despite my noting all the warnings on-line, and paid an expensive “top-up” fare.

Our main problem was the day we were to catch a train to Kanazawa on the west coast. Bad weather closed down train lines but there were significant delays with this info being posted on the boards so it looked like trains were still running. No information was posted anywhere in English-info in Japanese was being scrolled under the boards but not sure how much they were being told either-there were lots of confused faces. You had to queue in incredibly long JR desk lines to find out what was going on/re-schedule your tickets. Finally around 4pm (3rd time for the day in queues) we were told all lines were down til the next day and we had to find emergency accommodation for the night. The tourist office staff seemed to struggle to understand our request for lists of possible hotels and when asked-after a lot of sign language-referred us to a Japanese speaking, Japanese keyboard internet centre which was not much help-there seemed to be none in the station (we were using free wifi or cables in hotels so didn’t have access everywhere). Anyway we found a hotel in the end & cancelled our accom. in Kanazawa. All the people we encountered I must add, were incredibly nice and tried always very hard to help. TIP: If travelling around a lot learn some basic Japanese and/or take a translation book with you.

2. Beware of transport delays and cancellations cf above. From around 11am that day various lines were progressively shut down including the Kansai airport line from about 2pm til the next day. Unlike here in Brisbane when there’s a problem, I did not see that JR were putting on extra buses to the airport as an alternative but not needing them I could be wrong. The shinkansen to Tokyo started running again, I think it was later that afternoon. Tip: build in some fat in your travel plans. I would now never schedule a trip from Osaka back to Tokyo the same day as a flight home and would know alternatives if one form of transport was down- what to do, where to go to find alternatives. Dealing with problems in a foreign language is a major drama! Many lines were significantly delayed 3 days earlier due to the weather too, so I suspect this is not an uncommon event and we were there in the relatively “stable” weather pattern of April.
Postscript-I have since looked it up and this was the worst storm in the area since 1959 with all flights cancelled til the next day as well and four casualties with building collapses in smaller towns. I have been told by locals posting elsewhere that this was an unusual event to be so widespread. Still worth appreciating things like this can happen.

3. On the topic of travel, on buses and trains the next station always appeared in English as well as Japanese on the boards inside the carriage/bus and was announced in English though sometimes on the buses delays made it unclear if it was the stop it had stopped at or the next one coming up so we got off at the wrong stop sometimes. The major trains were very clear though we found on a brief trip on the trains in Osaka they were less foreign-tourist friendly compared to Kyoto. Directions to sights from bus stops in Kyoto were not sign posted unlike train exits. Machines dispensing tickets are at all stations and have an English button which steps you through and labels everything in English making them very easy to use.

Due to the delay issue we paid extra for a reserved seat to Kanazawa (we did not have a JR pass as for what we did it was dearer). Because our train-the second scheduled for the day- happened to actually be the first one running they allowed it to jam full of people-I guess understandable but the reserved carriages were so full of “non-reserved” people crowding the aisles and entry you couldn’t get on. It was the classic Delhi scramble as we literally forced our way on board elbowing people and being so thankful we had minimal luggage. Sometime later we and others-forcibly pushed our way to our seats and were able to sit down. Our train to Tokyo-which we also reserved as it seemed easier to know which carriage to go to, time of arrival printed on ticket etc, rather than taking pot luck, was half empty and a totally different experience! We however, didn’t find Tokyo trains/subway too crazy (well no different to peak hours in any city). TIP: I would consider it worth the extra $ (if no JR Pass) or effort (if hold JR pass) to reserve a seat-even if for later the same day as it does make it easier unless you are a single person travelling light. Also if you don’t hold a JR Rail Pass and intend travelling around the Kansai region consider getting a JR West Rail pass (Kansai Pass) for 1, 2, 3 or 4 days. The 1 day pass is worth it even just for the express train from the airport to Kyoto.

4. As people say-many places do not accept credit cards. We used cash a lot but whilst our bank advised they would all be chip and pin, we found where we did use a credit card it was swipe and signature and only once using a pin and never a chip. We never ended up using an ATM but others on assorted websites give advice in this regard eg only some accept foreign cards (such as Citibank).

5. Our “Travel sim” for mobile phone calls worked but only on one of our newer phones (Nokia E71).

6. We found western toilet options everywhere we went, always with paper, running water and often soap and sometimes antiseptic wash as well. Disney has antiseptic wash as well as soap in all toilets. All were very clean. Many in department stores, major tourist venues etc had hand dryers (Dyson style now popular here in Aus). The Japanese still do carry their little hand towels with them but only once or twice at temples did we find we needed something with which to dry our hands. Many toilet seats were heated (luxury!) and where not, like in our machiya, they have fuzzy toilet seat covers instead.



My hubby wouldn’t let me buy one eg from Tokyu Hands or Passport to bring home. I thought it a great idea for winter nights! We were also impressed many fast food outlets, even MacDonalds (yes we succumbed), had a hand basin and soap in the corner of the store for hand washing.

7. The food was excellent, always served tongue burning hot and most often cooked while you wait, even in tiny hole-in-the-wall type places. We did find when eating in restaurants that as a meal was ready it was served, so if my hubby (most often) ordered a simpler meal than my daughter and I he got his and had eaten it by the time my and my daughter’s were served-not the concept of serve all persons at once as we have in the west but it meant food was wonderfully hot. We also almost always were given iced water automatically as they do in the US (or serve yourself in cafť style places) and often wet towels or wipes. Food was also very cheap. We were eating main meals at converted Aus$6-$7-mostly bowls of ramen or udon or Japanese curry (I have become an addict-its mild compared to Indian or Thai but I love the flavours) or pasta. Tempura and rice and other seafood/meaty mains were often still only $10-12. Packets of ready made sandwiches in 7-11 type stores (Lawsons were the nicest) and department store food hall basements were normally •300-350 (Aus$3.50-4). Add drinks and crisps and/or a cake or tart (should have taken a pic but didn’t-Lawsons chocolate tarts were very, very yummy) and lunches/light dinners were $8-$10/person. Italian cafes and restaurants were everywhere-I think of Japan I think Italian now. Perhaps because pasta resembles noodles. It was always very good.

8. On the topic of water (well we were some sentences ago), we are on rain water tanks at home and find Brisbane and surrounding areas water intolerable. The water in Kyoto and across the south and west was like drinking our rain water-tasted good and didn’t upset our stomachs as changing water often does for us. Tokyo wasn’t as good but still wasn’t bad. Meant we saved money on not buying bottled water.

That’s all I can think of for now. Onto the trip report. Advance apologies food porn is limited-as always we simply forget or the pics came out too bad. I am doing this out of order since it is the Disboards after all-and starting with our last 2 days at Disney Sea and Disneyland then I will double back to Kyoto, Kanazawa and Tokyo.

Day 1 Travel Day
Day 2 Kyoto Southern Higashiyama Part 1
Day 2 Cont.
Day 3 Arashiyama and Kinkakuji
Day 4 Hikone and Kiyomizu light-up
Day 5 Nara
Day 5 Nara continued
Day 6 Kyoto-Fushimi-Inari, Ginkakuji, Shoren-in light-up in 3 parts
Day 7 We leave Kyoto-NOT
Day 8 Kanazawa at last
Day 9 In and around Kanazawa
Day 10 Off to Tokyo
Day 11 In Tokyo-cherry blossom!
Day 12 Sunday in Tokyo and off to Disney
Day 13 Disney Sea part 1
Day 13 Part 2 DisneySea cont.
Part 3 Disneysea
Day 14 Disneyland Part 1
Day 14 Disneyland Part 2
Day 14 Disneyland part 3 to home
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TR DLR, NY and more July 2011
TR Japan 2012
TR Exploration Europe

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Last edited by Aussie Wendy; 06-10-2012 at 06:19 AM. Reason: Add some info
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Old 04-19-2012, 07:30 PM   #2
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Monday 9 April Disneysea: morning

Despite checking calendars just before we left, found out last night Disneysea was opening at 9am not 10 so set alarm for 6.30 (since not wrote yesterdays yet-we are staying at the Sheraton Tokyo Grande, a Disney Resort Official Hotel). Nice having breakfast supplies in our fridge bought from a bakery at Ikspiari last night Ė delicious even if cold, quiche and chocolate pastries later, we caught the monorail (love the Mickey windows and handholds!)



and got to the queue around 8.15. Quite short and not too long behind us when we were let in at 9am. Park predictions were low (17,000) and over the day it seemed to be so. They had a band playing and lots of characters out (some more unusual) but we had to pack a lot in-no time to stop! Well maybe just for one or two..









and off to Mysterious Island. The crowds either first go here or to Tower of Terror in American Waterfront but we are not fans of the latter so this made the decision easy. Some pics along the way:



Mysterious Island


It was a walk on to popular Journey to the Centre of the Earth (JTCE). This was a great ride-not too swirly for those squeamish of us. Unfortunately you donít get all the extra story overlays with announcements in Japanese. Lovely theming of going down a mine-with mine smells-then a slow ride past crystal caverns and a mushroom forest with exotic insect life before thereís an earthquake and the car is forced off route, nearly struck by lightning, enters the heart of a volcano, is attacked by a great monster and then you make your escape on the wave of an eruption -some swerves in the dark, upwards and shoot out into daylight with a freefall-style steep drop to conclude and yes I screamed (the whole ride reminded me a lot of Splash actually-if you can ride that, ride this).





Walked on to nearby 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which makes you think its a submarine style ride.

External loading area.



Walk on was so fast we had little time to check out Captín Nemoís offices but as always with Disney, the detail was staggering. Aboard the submarine craft the ride goes through areas such as a shipsí graveyard and a giant squid which you escape by electrifying the craft but it drains your power. You can operate searchlights to pick out detail. We had side seats but as others recommend, the front seat was definitely the best view. There are a lot of funny details but you would need to re-ride several times to pick things out. After the squid encounter you sink deeper and find the remains of Atlantis (hence the ruins outside flanking the mountain and paintings in Fortress Explorations) and alien life-forms (rather cute! and link well to Indy Crystal Skull ride across in the Lost Delta). The aliens use the undersea crystals you have seen for power and they provide power to allow your craft to rise up and out of the ocean. This ride was a lot better than the Nemo submarine ride in Disneyland. As the pics show the Mysterious Island itself has wonderful sci fi theming straight out of Jules Verne, on the side of the volcano with vents steaming away and occasional eruptions above.

It was now around 10am and we hotfooted it across to the Lost Delta (sampling some caramel popcorn from Mermaid Lagoon en route-for those who donít know each land in DisneySea has different flavoured popcorn-sweet or savoury at •300/box unless you buy a big souvy tub to hang around your neck and for which you can get refills).



Note the number of the plane.



Indiana Jones Temple



Indiana Jones had a wait time of 40mins so we fastpassed and spent the intervening time exploring some of the Arabian Coast and riding Sinbad.









He grunts!



Genie Flowers



Entry to Sinbad



As others have commented this ride captured my heart-I loved the music (Compass of Your Heart), I loved the story, I loved Chandhu the little tiger. It is classic animatronic characters viewed from a moving boat like Itís a Small World (with a much less annoying score). Whilst in Japanese itís easy to follow what is going on and the settings are luscious and as always with Disney, amusing. The Arabian Coast itself reminds me of Morocco at Epcot with passageways and courtyards and sound effects.

Some shots from inside the ride.











Back we went to the Lost Delta and straight into Indiana bypassing all the queued people (is it just me that feels like royalty when riding with a FP in big queued rides?) but with only a quick glance available for the laboratories and other theming. FP mixes in close to loading the ride vehicles. This is a similar ride to Anaheim but we thought the crystal additions worked well. Good ride as always.

Continued next post
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TR DLR, NY and more July 2011
TR Japan 2012
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Last edited by Aussie Wendy; 05-13-2012 at 07:18 AM. Reason: Fix photo
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Old 04-19-2012, 08:22 PM   #3
Aussie Wendy
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Continued.

Hunger was calling and nearby Yukutan Grill was quiet but the meal was only so so (•2470 for 3 with 2 drinks). The meat was not that nice – the chicken very fatty and my pork very chewy though the Mexican rice was nice. This ended up being our worst meal our whole trip.



The theming for the area being in an archeological dig was good though. Nearby Raging Spirits roller coaster was down til after lunch for some reason.
This whole area reminded us of parts of Animal Kingdom at WDW.

My husband wanted a boat ride so we caught the boat from the shantytown here around to Mediterranean Harbour. You can’t ride it all the way back-you have to get off. I walked us over to American Waterfront thinking we might be in time to queue up for the renown Big Band Beat show but there was no 12.30 show today. (Read your program correctly Wendy! You could get English programs from guest services but I made do with the Japanese version I picked up at the gates and my daughter with her high school Japanese was able to translate the show titles for us while we queued that morning.) So we took the opportunity to look around this New York City themed area and explored SS Columbia (should have had lunch here in the Teddy Roosevelt Lounge-the table service Dining Room being out of our price bracket). There are two streets-a posher shopping street and a seedier area under the bridge and near the docks-both with the usual level of amusing detail and great atmosphere that leaves Streets of America at DHS for dead. The electric trolleys that run to Port Discovery were having a temporary glitch though. I understand that if you are a fan of Tower of Terror the storyline here is very different and clever though the ride is similar. There are links to the story all over the park.

The SS Columbia



Promenading



A Titanic moment



Inside heading up to the SS Columbia dining room



View form the deck



Side view of the Tower of Terror



We however strolled back to Mediterranean Harbour and queued 15 mins for a gondola ride since due to an upset stomach my daughter missed an authentic one in Venice on a holiday several years ago. Fun-they even sang (excellent voice!) under the concrete bridges as they do in Venice. Whilst small this area feels just like parts of Venice did.







My daughter then demanded strawberry popcorn which required a trip over to Port Discovery and my hubby and I had a Mickey bar each before walking back over the Florentine Ponte Vecchio to find a seat to watch the Mythica show in Mediterranean Harbour.

Hubby found the concrete steps too hard with a dodgy back and stood at the back but my daughter and I settled down for about 20 mins. Some people had queued for the last hour but there really was no need. Mythica was fantastic-loved the floats, the energy, the music. Can’t believe how high the extension pillars could go on the boats and incorporated lots of mythical creatures (unicorn, phoenix, dragon, hydra) as well as Disney favourites like Mickey and Minnie, Goofy, Pluto and the chipmunks (the Japanese appear to love them). On a side note we did find that the Japanese don’t do the princesses nearly as much as in the US-as not lovers of the princesses we found this a good thing-but interesting to note. A selection of pics





















We now should have explored the fortress in daylight however instead we made our way back to Port Discovery via Cape Cod-the home of Duffy and Shellie May. A small area, this was very pretty and more pics were required of course. I caved and bought a mini Duffy.

Cape Cod village



Shellie May's House ( think)



Celebrating Spring



A rabbit-(I have no idea of her name?)



A mini Duffy saying goodbye to his home for the long trip back to Aus



Continued next post.
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Last edited by Aussie Wendy; 05-13-2012 at 07:15 AM.
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Old 04-19-2012, 08:49 PM   #4
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continued part 3

Port Discovery had more steam punk style theming. We rode Aquatopia-more fun than I expected as boats are controlled by a computer and go every which way.





Stormrider was next-a rather old-style simulation ride where you are launching a rocket to break up a typhoon and it all goes horribly wrong. Star Tours in 3D has ruined us! However if here for the first time I would still ride once.



Still had to fit in Mermaid Lagoon so off we went. Lovely theming again here. But first some pics I missed earlier:

In American Waterfront where they are doing the special Mickey and Duffy Spring Voyage show we missed.



A view of Med. Harbour since don't think have included one so far


On the Arabian Coast the genie gets a bear too





Only had about a 15min wait for Mermaid Theatre and the story of Ariel-Japanese style (where she stays in the sea). Told with an actor and puppets, including many aerial stunts, this was an excellent show. Interestingly the songs were in English but the dialogue in Japanese. We didn’t feel the need for an English translation device though I have read you can get them. Afterwards we explored this wonderful “undersea” world. The rides are mostly for children though there are swirling teacups (the whirlpool), Jumping Jellyfish that looked fun as you rise and fall in a carriage gently and Blowfish Balloon Race-a suspended carriage roundabout ride. Ariel’s playground is also not to be missed for adults too including her room of treasures with lots of fun surprises-watch out for the one way mirror and sharks.









Sebatians Calypso Kitchen (pizza emphasis)


There are also two rides outside-a small roller coaster (like the one in Toontown) and Skuttles Scooters that was closed for refurbishment.

It was getting dark. We had earlier picked up another FP for JTCE so we set off to use it before eating but no need, standby was less than 20 mins. Enjoyed the ride again and then back to Cape Cod as we fancied the menu. No show was on while we were there but we enjoyed the quiet and our burgers and fries were excellent (tried chicken, beef and fish respectively, total •1820 for 2 “sets” with fries and a drink and my stand alone fish burger). I bought a chocolate mousse in a souvenir china Easter cup for desert (•600).



Then we headed out to explore the Fortress. My daughter and I especially had a ball here-lots of passageways and battlements and towers with interesting things to find though I was disappointed the chamber of planets was closed. Lots more brilliant photo ops but a bit dark unfortunately.







We were still here when Fantasmic was almost ready (8.00pm) so stayed to watch. Though “behind” the set could still see a lot of the show and there were so many differences to make it almost a different show to the US. My husband and daughter are not big fans of the US ones though thought the Anaheim version better than WDW. This was better again especially as many images were beamed onto inflated balloons on board boats rather than onto water that we found in the US moved too much with the wind to see properly. If we return I would make the effort to watch from the front. We stayed for the fireworks-very short and low key as I had read -and then explored the last of this area including the boat that creaked as you walked below decks and I am sure had a lot more to discover if only we had the time!!!











Now we had to hustle and did a walk through of the entire park to see it in its evening finery.
Med Harbour


SS Columbus


Indy's Temple at night


Raging Spirits roller coaster


The rest of the family was starting to lag but fitted in another ride on Sinbad and a ride on the carousel (double decker-up top of course!). It was very quiet and a walk-on to any ride if you had the energy to race around the park. We exited around 9.50, 10 mins before closure-totally exhausted but exhilarated and whilst it might sound like it, it did not feel like a rushed day at all.



Lurkeyloo’s report as well as Jack’s over at Allears (from 2008) has some excellent descriptions and photos of the park if anyone is interested. Those in the know will note we missed the special Mickey and Duffy Spring Voyage Show that was held in 3 variations in 3 different ports twice a day when we were there- had every good intention of catching at least part of one performance but failed. People were queuing for ages to see these and with so much to see with just one day in a new park it just didn’t happen. There’s always future trips and new shows! I have been trying to find a Youtube of them though to see what we missed. Judging by the other shows the standard would be superb.

Tomorrow Disneyland for 2/3 day.
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Last edited by Aussie Wendy; 05-11-2012 at 07:25 AM.
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Old 04-20-2012, 01:04 AM   #5
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Thanks so much AussieWendy -

Fantastic Photos - looks like one day is not enough!!

Looking forward to the rest of your TR.
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Old 04-20-2012, 01:22 AM   #6
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I have so many questions, I am considering Japan next April.

Weather??

Crowds?

I dont know if you have been following my thread on the Aussie board - due to school holidays, we cannot travel until Wed 10th of April, prime Cherry Blossom time is the first week in April, I am hoping to spend the first few days in Tokyo central - do you think there will be Cherry Blossom festivities still going after the 10th - we will then move to the Disney area on the 15th to avoid weekend crowds. Did you spend time in the parks in Tokyo?
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