Am thinking of heading off to Japan on 8 April for 10-12 days. My itinerary would be:
Arrive into Tokyo or Osaka - 1 night
Kyoto - 3 nights
Nagasaki - 2 nights
Kyushu - 2 nights
Hiroshima - 2 nights
Mount Fuji - 1 night
Any thoughts on the above? Any suggestions of places to stay/eat?
Now onto the real crux of my question - just how doable is Japan as a lone female who doesnt speak a word of Japanese? I thought it would be fine as I am a fairly independent traveller, but talking with friends last night, they have all advised that it would be very lonely and very difficult. Although some signs are in English, English is not spoken in very many places and hotels and other establishments are not always encouraging of tourists, especially single tourists.
I am a little daunted by this and wonder if it will spoil my trip.
I think you'll find far more signs in English than even just a few years ago and although people ARE incredibly friendly and helpful, very few people speak English: a good reason to practise some basic travellers japanese: http://itunes.apple.com/au/artist/worldnomads-com/id296305805
Navigating trains can be pretty daunting as the stations are truly huge, but they are a great way to travel since if they say 12:02:30 they really do mean it. To the second.
Personally, I'd try a less ambitious itinerary as you have a lot of travel in there! If you fly into Osaka, I'd spend more time in Kyoto (which is stunning), stop by Himeiji Castle on the way to Hiroshima, and only perhaps try to Kyushu.
Oh, and by your Japan Rail Pass before you leave as it's dirt cheap compared to buying tickets once you are there.
Couple of other tips:
1. Local food is one of the best kept secrets of the country and doesn't cost the earth
2. Try out locals Onsen (Spa's) they have to be one of the best experiences you can get of authentic Japan: http://journals.worldnomads.com/simon_monk/country/107.aspx
Happy travelling. about 10 years ago
Itinerary wise, I think you might be trying to get too much done in too little time - spending a bit more time at certain destinations like Simon suggested is probably a good idea.
While traveling around I found that the Japanese really do want to help you, but the english literacy there is very very low. Along with some basic japanese, it is very useful to learn Katakana (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katakana). Katakana is what is used when words have been adopted from english. It might look daunting at first but there are only 50ish characters you need to know, and they translate easily into english syllables. The reason katakana is useful is that a lot of signs you will encounter are just plain english words written in katakana, for example:
Toilet in english becomes 'toire', or トイレ. Breaking the word up into its syllables ト = to, イ = i, レ = re.
Basically this means in a lot of cases you can just read the katakana on a lot of signs to get an idea what it says, another example is:
bus = basu = バス
By the way, I am not saying that all japanese signs have an english version of the words in katakana on them, simply that the japanese use a lot of english words for a lot of basic things.
As for "lonely and difficult", while I was there I stayed at some really awesome hostels (mostly, k's houses http://kshouse.jp), and met some really awesome people whom I traveled around with - Hostels might not be for you, but it helps to stay somewhere where they can help you out with working out how to get around / catch trains or anything else like that.
If you are only there for 10-12 days, a lot of the stuff you will do will be more on the beaten track, and thus a bit more non-english-speaking traveller friendly. Japan has plenty of amazing things that are commonly traveled (the Japanese *love* to travel around Japan and see everything there is to see).
One final tip is to look up english versions of the subway / train maps before you go and print them out. My english Tokyo subway map was a great help! about 10 years ago
You have inspired me to reconsider. Thanks so much for your tips and for allaying some of my possible worries. It looks like its going to be Japan for me then! Going to go at the beginning of April to catch the cherry blossom. Man, I am excited! about 10 years ago
Don't worry about not speaking Japanese, you will have no problems in big cities. Japanese people learn English at school but don't get much opportunity to practise it 'for real'. If you need help/are lost, look for people who look like they might be students. If you're going anywhere more remote which may not have English signs, just make sure you have the name printed out/written down and learn what it sounds like. In my experience, people are generally very helpful.
Enjoy your trip! almost 10 years ago
I've also just come across this marvellous post. Only in Japan. I think I might try it on my next visit:
Enjoy almost 10 years ago