be clear before I start, I LOVE Japan for many reasons
and I know some people that have as many reasons not
to like it. It is a country of extreme contrasts. So
far my Japanese business and leisure experience has
been really good but I understand why some people are
not that positive about it. I went there twice, the
first time for a 2-week business trip and the second
time for a week during my honeymoon and I learned a
lot during both trips.
Everything is extremely clean and well organized
notion of service is pushed to the extreme (no tips!)
is an amazing experience (unless you are a vegetarian
around by yourself is quite easy (even by car)
a hotel room anywhere on the fly can be very challenging
etiquette must be understood and respected to obtain
English is nowhere near anywhere (Nan Des Ka?)
There is a lot to see and do in Japan but it all depend
how adventurous you are to get off the beaten path.
Some group travels may offer that experience though
many concentrate on the "classics". Here is a little
road trip experience from our honeymoon, and when I
say road trip I mean it: we rented a car in Japan (fun)!
start with Tokyo
arrived in Tokyo from Hong Kong and we spent the afternoon
and most of the next day in town. We could not rent
a car from the airport because we only had an appointment
with the French Consulate the next day to translate
our driving licenses.
The city of Tokyo is amazing, it is crowded but it is
extremely clean. We stayed at the Marriott Courtyard
in Ginza (the equivalent of Fifth Ave or Madison shopping
area in New York) because of its convenient location.
Since shopping is amazing in the area ... I had no choice
but it was interresting to feel welcome everywhere (even
too much sometimes). We also did some people watching
and spent a fair amount of times in restaurants. The
food in Japan is excellent and very different than the
typical sushi place we can find in Europe or North America.
The next day after our visit at the consulate we spent
a fair amount of time trying to rent a car! Don't look
for the usual Avis or Hertz, they are not in Japan.
After many attemps we managed to find a car at the Nippon
Rent A Car in Tokyo Station basement. The car was not
available before 5PM so we continued our shopping and
people watching spree.
left Tokyo around 5PM to reach the Five Lakes region
and Mont-Fuji for the night. I usually drive a lot in
big cities like New York or Paris and I drive on the
left side of the road regularly in the Cayman Islands
so I got used to the driving fairly quickly. Reaching
Mount Fuji is a fairly quick drive through the Chuo
expressway but we arrived after dark. With no hotel
and no idea where to go we had a little stress moment
but I must say it was hillarious (we like adventures).
We took a wrong turn and ended up going around one of
the lake (Kawaguchiko) in the wrong direction. We were
supposed to be in a place with many hotels so we started
to see hotels everywhere ... and we disturbed quite
a few people trying to enjoy their evening.
We finally located the right place and secured a nice
hotel room. It was a Japanese room with a private onsen
and when the day broke-up we had an amazing view of
Mount Fuji ... we got lucky on that one! It was 6AM
when we realized that Mount Fuji was there and we could
not sleep anymore so we dipped into the onsen watching
the scenery and the sun rise! Mount Fuji is amazing
standing by itself with nothing else around to match
Less than 2 hours south of Mt Fuji starts a huge penninsula
with the historical city of Shimoda at the South-Est
tip (110 miles from Tokyo). Shimoda is know because
it was the first point of entry in Japan used by the
Portuguese but there is nothing really interresting
there. The drive down on the East coast was not very
interresting either. What is beautiful is the drive
up the coast on the West side. The scenery is amazing
and very natural with a few villages but no major cities.
As the panoramic pictures shows below, the coast is
very rough with many cliffs offering spectacular scenic
views along the way.
Because we could not drive fast and stoped many time
to enjoy the scenery we almost ended up sleeping in
the car. Late in the night, we finally identified a
place to sleep somewhere between Ugusu and Yagisawa.
Once again a very nice hotel with a Japanese room overseeing
the bay (picture below).
next day we started to hate those road laces but when
passing over a hill we discovered a ferry docking in
a small port near the city of Toi. According to the
map it would allow us to head West directly to Shimizu
saving us 100km of small roads and laces. Once we understood
how to purchase tickets, we loaded the car on the ferry
and enjoyed a peaceful cruise. Half-way we started to
see Mount Fuji on the horizon with the snowy cap clearly
visible above the haze while mount Darumayama was fading
Once docked in Shimizu, we jumped on the Tomei expressway
on our way to Kyoto. We stopped at a rest/fuel stop
located above Hamanako lake to eat. The scenery was
splendid and the amenities are far better than Europe
or US rest stops. They have restaurants and shops ...
you almost forget that you are on an expressway. And
as usual, everything is sparkling clean.
was Japan's capital and the emperor residence between
794 and 1868. It is now the country's seventh largest
city with a population of 1.4 million. Kyoto offers
the most temples, shrines and other historically priceless
structures but also a very modern architecture such
as the main train station. We stayed in a hotel adjacent
to that station, a giant structure with an impressive
steel and glass roof including pedestrian suspended
bridges offering an amazing view on the city. The place
is very popular with many shops, restaurants and services
but also public exhibitions and shows.
From the train station it is easy to dive into the old
city through its narrow streets and to discover a very
traditional Japan. The houses are certainly very old
but maintained with attention to details. Everything
is very quiet when you are off major streets, a very
strange feeling considering such a big city. There are
many restaurants but you can see that it will be difficult
as a non-local to get food there. A few of those restaurants
though are making every effort to serve you and sometimes
they have 1 menu partially translated in english they
circulate around tables if other non-japanese need help.
We tried to visit the historical imperial palace but
unfortunately you need an appointment and it cannot
be on a Saturday ... bad luck, it was a Saturday. We
walked in the gardens around but the walls are huge
and we could not see anything inside. Then we visited
Nishi Honganji, the head temple of the Honganji faction
of Jodo-Shin Buddhism. The temple is in a beautiful
garden surrounded by huge protective walls that give
a castle look to the place. As the day went by we continued
to roam around the city before heading towards Osaka
for some evening entertainment.
If there is a place that can put Time Square to shame,
that's it! You take Time Square and expand it from 59th
to 30th Street and from 10th to 2nd Avenue and you have
the entertainment district of Osaka. Many young people
drive from Kyoto or other surrounding cities to Osaka
for the evening on week ends (or night considering how
popular Love hotels are over there). We only stayed
overnight to party and discover night life outside of
most difficult part is to select a restaurant or bar
in Osaka. The choice is incredible and overwhelming.
We finally found a Japanese "Grill" on the 12th floor
of one of the all-restaurants building and had quite
a good dinner. The place was crowded and we thought
service would be slow but we were wrong. They have a
call button for service so in anticipation of delays
I clicked the button in advance and started to think
about what to have after (I am French after all) … not
even a minute later our waitress was back … embarrassing
After dinner we had a long walk across the entertainment
district, an amazing sightseeing. Then we decided to
experience the famous Japanese love hotels so we know
what it is all about and it was a much easier choice
for the night considering our location. The rooms in
those hotels usually runs by the hour, but in some of
them, after 11PM you can keep the room until noon the
next day for a reasonable amount of money. A perfect
way for us to rest for the night.
Once tired of the neon lights and loud noise we started
to hunt our love hotel.
Finding a room in one of those hotels is a funny experience.
You enter the lobby of the hotel and there is, most
of the time, a giant panel where all rooms are described
with the price. If the room is illuminated it is available
otherwise it is dark. To select the room you press the
corresponding button and an attendant shows up at the
counter to take your credit card and give you room access.
There are many themes but it seems to be very kitch
in most cases. Our room
was extremely clean with some kinky decorations and
a giant wirlpool. I must say that we had a blast but
TV is not for the kids there ... we could not find a
single channel with a normal program or dressed people!
our Saturday Night Fever, we jumped on the expressway
again to head towards the Japanese Alps and get some
fresh air! After a quick breakfast at another rest stop
South of the huge Biwako lake we continued and reached
Takayama early in the afternoon.
Takayama is a beautiful small town on the West slopes
of the montains and it is very popular with a lot of
Japanese tourists. We enjoyed some regional specialties
for lunch and decided to drive East accross the montains
trying to find a nice hotel to rest.
After a nice afternoon scenic drive along the Kohachi
river, coming down from the Hirayu pass we arrived in
Hirayu village deep into a valley. The place is well
known for hot springs and finding a hotel there was
very easy. We could not find a room with a private onsen
but the price included 45 minutes free to enjoy one
of the hotel private open air onsen. After another very
interresting dinner we took a late onsen dip outside
by 45F or so but the water is so hot, you cannot feel
our last rural stop and a few detour to enjoy some the
montain we headed-back to Tokyo and completed our stay
with a more hurban touch.
If you do business while in Japan you have to be extremely
sensitive to their Business Etiquette if you do not
want to fail. In Japan appearance and behavior are key
to successful business transactions. Read
Japanese do not speak english a lot and communication
may be difficult. To prepare for you trip there you
can look at our page to learn a few Japanese
expressions and you can also check our page dedicated
to a few important written
Japan is easy to access as most major airlines go there:
Non-Stop from New York it is 14+ hours
a stop between Tokyo and New York and it can become
a 20 hours commute
class is more survivable and welcome on such a long
flight, coach may be tough
flown: Delta & Northwest
As a French citizen I did not need a visa and I do not
think that US or other European citizen do either (check
with your foreign affairs). Indians need a visa to visit
To Travel Around
Major cities have subways. Tokyo subway is very easy
to use and extremely clean. It is not as crowded as
we were told. To travel between cities there are a lot
of trains including the very fast bullet train (between
major cities). Train tickets are expensive but tourists
can buy a pass before visiting Japan (not available
over there). There may be internal flights but airports
are often far and it may take longuer than using a bullet
need, if you do not have a Japanese driving license,
a translation of your driving license in Japanese. We
translated our French driving licenses at the French
consulate in Tokyo (by appointment and they charged
2,000 Yens. It can also be done by mail).
Then you have to find a way to rent a car which is quite
a challenge if you do not talk Japanese (I don't). Unlike
the US, they may not have your selected type of car
immediately available but they will get it within 4
We used Nippon Rent A Car at Tokyo Train Station and
besides the language barriers it was a fun and pleasant
experience. As you can see on the picture the car was
nice ... I am not sure what it was though (besides a
Honda) because everything was in Japanese. Even worst,
the car, GPS and Toll system all spoke Japanese ...
all the time ... who knows what they were trying to
tell us. Very smooth car to drive though.
Extremely easy and nice. In a few words:
drive on the left so be careful (though it feels natural
because the driver is on the right).
commands are inverted so you will put the blinker
when it rains and the wippers to turn (it takes a
couple days to stop doing that).
roads are in perfect conditions.
signs are both in Japanese and translated.
is usually fluid even in large metropolitan areas
(much better than Paris or London)
limits are low on the freeway (80 or 110km/h) but
they usually drive faster (130km/h if not more). We
did not find any speed trap though I think they had
a few speed cameras.
are very respectful of rules (besides speed). For
example they will not pass you on the left, they will
wait behind that you change lane. They will eventually
blink their lights if you do not react.
are expensive from the US point of view but not that
expensice compared to France.
a road map or atlas in english otherwise it may be
difficult to navidate. We bought ours in a Tokyo library:
Japan Road Atlas from Shobunsha including City and
Sightseeing maps. It is slightly smaller than letter
format and 1/2 inch thick.
car had a GPS but only in Japanese. Playing with it
we discovered that we could point and click to define
our destination. By comparison with our english map
we managed to use the GPS. We could not understand a
word but it displays arrows and details intersections
so it was really useful. It also reported traffic and
helped us to avoid a few slow downs.
only booked our hotel in Tokyo for the first night in
Japan and then for the two nights before we left. We
stayed at the Marriott Courtyard Tobu Hotel in Ginza
(but even though it is a Marriott they do not really
speak english). Very comfortable rooms at a reasonable
price if you compare to a city like New York.
Everywhere else we looked for rooms on the fly ... we
almost ended-up sleeping in the car one night though
... quite an adventure. But every time we found a nice
hotel to spend the night. Diner and breakfast was often
included and it was really good if you do not mind Japanese
food for breakfast.
We tried to sleep in Japanese style rooms every night
for the experience. They are easy to find in rural hotels.
In large cities it is more difficult and they usually
are more expensive than the regular rooms. We also tried
a room with a private onsen and it is a great experience.