2009 trip

2007 trip

Yoyogi Park

Tokyo Dive




Nuts & Bolts


Traveling nuts & bolts from a 1998 trip
(The good old days of 143 yen to the dollar!)

This is why my e-mail name is otabe.
The porcelain-looking woman is a
machine that makes a slow, bowing motion.
It has to be seen to be fully appreciated.

     Japan is not so expensive at 143 yen to the dollar, when I arrived 2 months ago, but when I left 2 weeks ago at 117 to the dollar, then it did. Some points:

      Don't assume that the youth hostel in every town will be the cheapest place to stay, especially factoring in the transport to get there, as they are often way out of town. In Kobe, for example, the hostel costs 2940 yen and is a 290 yen train ride each way from town, plus a walk from there. Right in town is a capsule hotel, the Kobe Kur Haus tel (078) 222-3755. It costs 3800 yen and is open all night with excellent facilities. It is a 5 or 10 minute walk to the northeast from the station.
     Not so far to the East is the Kobe Student Youth Center. It is very near the Rokko station on the Hankyu line. One person costs 3000 yen and for two it is 2500 yen each. Tel (078) 851-2760
     In Fukuoka it is the same thing. The nearest hostel is in Dazaifu, far from town, but there is the Capsule Inn Hakata tel (092) 281-2244 almost right next to the mega-modern, massive shopping center, Canal City, and it costs nearly the same.
     In Osaka the hostels are far, but there is a woman named Nami tel (06) 717-3271 who speaks some English and lives a little east of the Mamodani stop on the JR Loop line. She charges 2700 yen for a room. Very nearby in the shopping arcade is a revolving sushi place with all sushi at 120 yen a plate.
     It has been suggested that in Japan you should always call ahead to make a reservation at a youth hostel, even if it is just across the street. This is only if you are planning to eat at the hostel. Otherwise, if someone who answers the phone doesn't speak English well, they may assume you want meals and if you don't show up when you say you will, you pay a fine. No hostels allow you use of the kitchen, but all have hot water for ramen and yakisoba and whatnot.
      It did happen to me once that I arrived in Hiroshima hostel without a reservation and it was full. It is the biggest hostel in Japan, I think, but it is often full with school groups. The manager gave me a lecture about reserving, but after some posturing he said that they had a couple of extra emergency beds for instances like mine. So it was no problem, just a little risky. Had I called in advance he would have just told me that it was full.
     It is totally unnecessary to bring a sleeping bag to Japan if you are not camping.
     Also, it is a good idea to ask tourist information about your options. In Kagoshima, (southern Kyushu) for example, I asked at Kagoshima station about the cheapest places to stay and I was shown a laminated sheet of several places in town that were cheaper than the hostel (including transportation to and from. All places to stay have a five percent tax, but it is never clear if it is included in the price or not.) Some of the hotels are in a negative way kind of infamous locally, but there is a little-known place called the Okinawa Seishonen Kagoshima Kaikan (something like Okinawa Boys Kagoshima House) Tel 224-9679 It is very near the station and charges only 1500 yen for a 6-tatami room for the night. No English is spoken there. (Nearby is a cheap barber shop, a cut for 1500 yen, but of the two barbers don't go to the guy with the perm. Trust me.)
     Another good reason to visit tourist information is to ask of places where there is free internet access. In almost every large town the main NTT office has a multimedia center where anyone can go for a half hour or so and surf the web. In places where it gets too popular they either cancel it altogether (Osaka) or don't allow you to access email (Fukuoka). In Takayama the municipal government office has free internet. In Hiroshima there are two computer retail shops downtown with free internet. In the ninth floor of the train station in Kyoto there is a prefectural office that has internet access at 250 yen for a half hour.

     Tourist information is also ready for questions about where to find ATM machines that take Cirrus system cards. Be careful, because in all of Hokkaido it is only possible in Sapporo train station, and in Kyushu only Fukuoka airport.

If you are in Japan for 5-7 days I think the best thing you could do is go to Takayama in Gifu-ken. It is a quaint, small place in a beautiful area with a lot to see and excellent accommodations. Right in town either the Rickshaw Inn (3360 yen for the best dorm in Japan by far) or just a few doors down the peaceful Rikkyoku-ji temple (3000 yen) are very good value. A new highway is being built that goes north from Nagoya to the west of Takayama. It is an amazing feat of engineering because it is almost entirely bridges and tunnels.
     I think the best two sights in all of Kansai are the Kyoto train station and the Osaka-Kansai airport. They are totally mindblowing and I dare say you will remember them long after you have forgotten all the temples.
     Japanese TV can be excellent. On Saturday night watch a wonderful TV show called "Susunu Denpa Shonen". It isn't really necessary to know much Japanese to appreciate it. It is on at different times in every part of the country, but ask any young person and they will know when it is on locally. You can also rent recent videos of the show in Japantowns in Seattle, San Jose, and Los Angeles.
     Another great thing to do is go to Tower Records or Virgin and listen to the latest CDs from Thee Michelle Gun Elephant(What a name!), Spitz, Cellophane, or my favorite, The Brilliant Green. Japanese pop/rock is the best! In Los Angeles in Little Tokyo there is a shop called J-Wave that rents all the CDs and videos that you would want at cheap prices. I hope to find a place like it in San Francisco, near to where I live.
     Still another great thing to do is try all the amazingly delicious Japanese snack foods. Just the pretzels alone are awesome. Try apple pretzels or chestnut pretzels, or mustard or butter flavor or corn or beer or even "Men's" pretzels. The Japanese are geniuses! For a meal I liked going to the nearest big Daiei supermarket at around 7pm when all the prepared food is heavily discounted. It is all delicious and healthy. (I lost 8 kg in 8 weeks there.)

     In Kyoto the two best places to stay are Tani House in the north or Toji-An near the train station. Both rent bicycles for 500 yen a day, really cheap when you figure that a single bus ride is 220 yen or 200 if you buy a strip of 5 (kaisuken) in advance. Tani costs 1700 w/o air con, 1800 with. Toji is 2000 yen. Tani is great if you want to be in the north near a lot of temples, but it is nice being closer to town at Toji-An, and the latter will let you use their washing machine for free. The book never really explains where it is, but it almost adjacent to the large temple, just to the northeast. It is perpendicular to the Omiya dori ramp. Also, you can always get a free ride back to the train station if you are near the Kyoto Handicrafts Center because of their free shuttle bus on the hour, every hour except noon. They will take you to the station or the nearby New Miyako Hotel, no questions asked. Not far north from the Handicraft Center is Kyoto University with two good, cheap cafeterias. A place to avoid is Aoi-so Inn near the Kuramaguchi hospital. It's cheap, but a witch of a woman runs it, and there are no fans. You will die in summer without at least a fan.

      If you are going to Hokkaido you might be surprised at how cheap the ferry is from central Honshu. From the Kansai area there are two ports both charging around 6000-7000 yen for the long, long trip. I went to Niigata thinking it would be cheaper, but it was still 5250 yen for about 18 hours of sailing to Otaru. Niigata has no hostel and the cheapest hotel is about 4500 yen, but ask the tourist info office at the station about a resort club sort of place that picks up people for free in town and takes them to this distant place that is open 24 hours and you can bathe, sit around and sleep on couches for about 2500 yen. Niigata has no capsule hotel.
     On Rebun Island you may want to think twice before staying at the Momoiwa-so Hostel run by the crazies who meet the boat. When I was there it was the only hostel open, so I had no choice. The book doesn't emphasize enough about how regimented and insane the place is. The hostel sets their clocks 30 minutes off from the rest of the Japan. They blast an old song on the stereo to wake everyone up at a ridiculous hour to do the 8 hour hike. Every evening there are skits, songs, performances, and other summer camp stuff. It is all entertaining in the beginning but then it feels like prison. The place itself is in an excellent location and is tolerable for 2 nights maximum. On the other hand, this is a good place to meet young Japanese. They come from all over Japan to visit this famous place and let their hair down, so to speak.
     In Shiretoko National park a landslide had cut off all access to the hot water waterfall, though it was rumored a kayaker made it from downstream. It was unclear when it would reopen.
     A nice town to visit though there is no youth hostel is Kuji on the coast of Iwate-ken.
     Nagasaki is a difficult city to find a spot to hitchhike out of but I wouldn't follow LP's advice and hitch out of Isahaya because it isn't much better. Besides, the train station in Isahaya isn't near the highway entrance.
     Immigration in Fukuoka told me that to get a work visa for teaching English you must bring all the paperwork to Immigration and then wait three weeks or so while they "investigate" to get a certificate that you then must take out of the country to get your actual work visa. The fast ferry to Pusan takes three hours and costs 13,000 yen if bought in Japan, and 85,000 won if bought in Korea. The slow ferry takes 15 hours and I don't remember what it costs.

Info from the previous trip--1997:

---Southern Japan at a highway rest stop---
The sweeping second hand on the big clock
kept hitting the 4 guys while they tried to plant flowers.

     Japan is NOT that expensive, and more people spoke English than I expected. I was there last month, spending 10 days in Kyoto and Tokyo. I flew into the super ultra modern, blow-your-mind-away Osaka Kansai airport. No tourist literature will tell you, but there is a normal train from the airport to super ultra modern, blow-your-mind-away Kyoto train station for 1830 yen. You must change once and it takes about two hours.
     I stayed at Tani House next to Daitoku-ji temple for 1700 yen. It is a peaceful, relaxing place when there are few people there, but I think that is seldom. The youth hostel near the river is better situated, but costs 2800 yen, including two mandatory meals, and beware of noisy, foreign school groups.
     Eat at the university cafeterias. Some are open for all three meals. Kyoto has a few near popular temples. Japanese feel sorry for you if you tell them you are eating there, but I thought the food was good and there's no way you'll eat cheaper. Well, you could visit Shakey's Pizza and their all-you-can-eat lunch for about 700 yen.
     This is an odd recommendation, but if you are into sweets, you have to try the strawberry yatsuhashi from Otabe. On the walk up to Kiyomizu temple, you will see this funny bobbing head geisha(?) machine in several of the tourist shops. That is Otabe-chan. You will want to name your first girl Otabe after you try her yatsahashi. Several places will give you free samples of this delicacy, and you will thank me someday for encouraging you to try it, but be warned! You can ONLY buy this stuff in Kyoto. In Tokyo it is impossible to find. (And if you can find out where I can buy that Otabe-chan machine, let me know!) I hitchhiked from Kyoto to Tokyo easily. Everyone seemed to understand the concept. The people who picked me up (young, old, men, women, families) usually just wanted to practice English. From Tokyo Ueno Station to the airport take the Limited Express. It is only a little longer than the Skyliner but it is much cheaper, only 1100 yen.
     On the other hand, maybe Japan is expensive. A round trip flight from Tokyo to Los Angeles costs about the same as 12-14 nice cantaloupes. (45,000 yen).
     Nihon--ichiban desu!!

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