5 Quirky things about booking Japan: Part 1

If you’ve made any bookings for Asia in the past two years, chances are, at least one of them will have been to Japan. If not, don’t worry. Your time is coming. Japan is Asia’s ‘it’ destination at the moment. But there are some interesting things about booking Japan that you might surprise you.

Price
Compared to the rest of the world, Japan is not outrageously expensive. For some reason, however, people seem to have this idea that they need to win a lottery to travel to the land of temples and shogunates. Price wise, it’s no different than vacationing on the Tuscan coastline. Japan certainly seems pricey compared to the rest of Asia, but even then, if you know a bit about Japan, it doesn’t have to empty the pocketbook. With that in mind, let’s talk quirks!

Quirky item 1: Airport transfers

When booking Goway to Asia, private transfers from the airport are the norm. After all, after a long flight over the Pacific, it sure is nice to be greeted by someone who appears genuinely excited to see you. They whisk away your bags, navigate the lines, and before you know it, you’re sitting in a comfy, air-conditioned vehicle en route to your resting place for the night.

In Japan, however, things are a bit different. Most travellers fly into Narita Airport which is about 80km or 50 miles outside of the main areas of the city. Booking a private transfer will cost about $500 US and that’s for a small car that allows a maximum of 2 suitcases.

But there are many different options available to passengers depending on their comfort level. Many of our Goway passengers opt for a meet and greet service, which offers that friendly face at the airport,but no cushy private vehicle. Instead, Goway’s representative will welcome the guests and help them navigate the airport. This can mean finding an outlet to book an airport limousine bus service or buy train tickets to downtown.

Airport limousine services will drop clients off at a select group of centrally located hotels. Choose one of these hotels for the night, and the whole transfer situation is seamless.

Quirky item 2: Tipping

While accommodation and food are undeniably more expensive in Japan than in many parts of Asia, you’ll never have to shell out money for tips. Japan is a non-tipping society where the price is the price. If clients were to offer a tip, it’s likely the recipient would giggle in discomfort, turn red and wave the tip away indicating that it wasn’t necessary. They would not be offended. It’s just something they don’t do.

Quirky item 3: Getting Around

In most destinations, you grab your suitcase, toss it in the back of the vehicle, and are off to your next locale. In Japan, the most affordable way to get around the country is by train. The country has even designed the highly coveted Japan Rail Pass – only available for tourists – to entice foreigners to use the high-speed bullet trains. These trains are so known for their accuracy and on-time schedules that even a 15 min delay in a train’s departure will make the nighttime news headlines across the country.

But…

Riding the trains does require some advanced planning with luggage. While officially, luggage is allowed on trains, you’ll almost never see any, unless it belongs to a tourist not in the know. The Japanese don’t want to bother schlepping their Louis Vuittons up and down stairways at train stations, and since the trains wait for no one, the preferred method of transporting luggage is to pre-ship it to the next destination. Cost of shipping does depend on the distance, but if you budget between 15 to 25 USD per bag, that will be enough. Simply arrange with the hotel’s concierge the day before, drop off your luggage, and by the time you reach your next destination, your bags will be sitting there, wondering what took you so long.

Traditional Ryokan
Quirky item 4: Sleeping

Twin beds vs. double.
Most hotels in Japan have a more extensive inventory of twin bedded rooms because that’s the preferred bed configuration in Asia. If clients want to sleep together, there will often be an upcharge, and if clients want a king bed, they’ll probably have to upgrade to a 5-star hotel or consider a pricier 4-star. Simply put, space is at a premium in Japan’s big cities, so it’s not common for anyone to have a King bed. Only hotels that specifically cater to the western market will offer this luxury.

Ryokans/Onsens
Staying in a ryokan in Japan is similar to staying in a yurt if one is ever in Mongolia. It’s something you just have to do “when in Rome” as they say. Ryokans originated back in the Edo period in the early 1600s as a traveller’s respite during a long, arduous journey. They dot the Japanese countryside and offer traditional lodging characterized by thick tatami mats on the floor and communal baths. These days, the quintessential ryokan can still be found but for those who are a bit shy or think sleeping on the floor is for camp children, comfortable ryokans with private onsen (bath) are now found everywhere.

We recommend clients to stay in an actual onsen town. Guests walk the village in traditional yukatas with Japanese wooden sandals supplied by the ryokan.

Insider tip: For clients who can afford to stay in a swanky ryokan, I would highly recommend they book a minimum of 2 nights. A ryokan is a destination unto itself, so the last thing you want is for clients to have touring all day and then show up too late to enjoy the facilities. Further, most ryokans will come with a breakfast and dinner plan that allow guests to enjoy authentic Japanese cuisine which shouldn’t be missed. But you can’t saunter up at any ol’ time of the evening and expect dinner. It’s served on a schedule, so make sure clients understand this, especially since it’s so foreign to our North American “come-as-you-please” attitude.

Insider tip two: Some clients like to go all-in as they say and request a week at a ryokan to get the full experience. Generally, we caution against this. Too much of a good thing is… well, sometimes too much. Choosing to sleep on a tatami mat may sound like an adventurous experiment but after a night or two, it can become a little tough on our delicate North American bones.

A myriad of massage options
Quirky item 5: The Toilets

Almost worth the ticket price to travel to Japan (kidding but only a little)! Heated seats that wash your bottom with a myriad of massage options will have you pushing buttons like a 5-year-old in an elevator. I have colleagues who have been so mesmerized by the high-tech design of the Japanese commode that they hauled one back as a souvenir. You don’t have to be staying at the Park Hyatt like Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray to enjoy one of these bad boys either. Even the train stations in Japan come equipped with these porcelain thrones on steroids.

Booking Japan is so full of weird and wonderful quirky nuances that I’ve decided to split this article in two. Stay tuned for Part 2 in the coming weeks.

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