Tourists tend to snub Japan (except maybe for the Chinese). Their reasons? A different language, alphabet, driving habits. The atomic pollution… I also think that people have preconceived ideas such as Japanese people looking so serious all the time, the cost of living that’s supposed to be very high, scary driving conditions and intimidating public transportation and signs…
All of this is bullcrap, let me tell you! Of course, I wouldn’t take a swim in the ponds around Fukushima, but for the rest…
The best thing I did, against EVERYBODY’S advice was renting a car. They all said it wasn’t practical because I wasn’t used to driving on the left side of the road, the signs would all be in Japanese and parking would be a nightmare… Boy am I glad I didn’t listen to them. Besides the somewhat expensive highways, it was the perfect choice and here is why:
- Japanese people are as polite on the road as they are in life. The driving experience is very relaxing.
- Maybe it’s because they don’t own as many cars as we do, but traffic is pretty light everywhere.
- No cops anywhere
- Even if you’re not used to drive on the left, don’t worry. You’ll hit the curb once or twice and you’ll learn :0)
- 2000 Kilometers cost less than the train pass would have. Gas is even cheaper than in the US.
- Parking is extremely easy to find and use, even in the larger cities. Every hotel offers parking.
- An Ipad with a mobile connection allowed me to go anywhere, anytime and find my way home easily. Just make sure that you bring a power cable. Using Google Maps or Maps will drain the battery really fast.
I truly think that to get to know a place, you need to let yourself get lost in it. Having a car allows you to see and experience things that public transportation simply never could. Even using a town car and a driver cannot provide the same experience. There is also something to be said about this incredible feeling of “danger”. Not knowing the dos and don’ts, not speaking the language, driving a car that isn’t yours in a country that isn’t yours… Even getting gas feels like an adventure!
As for lodging, I had not made any reservations (wanted to be as free as possible) and was always able to find very good hotel rooms anywhere I was for less than 60€ a night. Food is quite cheap too. You can always have a very good meal (and you guys know how much I eat) for around 20€. Often less.
Now, the very best travel advice I can give you is this: load photos of the things you want to see and do onto your phone as you are preparing for your trip. Wherever you end up, you’ll be able to make yourself understood when it counts and you won’t miss a thing. Want to find a specific temple or castle? show the photo. You want to eat a particular dish? show the photo. You need a hooker for the night? Show a photo! (just kidding! You know I’d never do that…)
Here are a few pictures of mount Fuji (taken from the lake region) + the mountain villages West of Fuji and the wild monkeys I found swimming in the lakes near Nagano. The lady in the green dress is the owner of the best tempura restaurant on earth. I ate every meal at her place during the three days I stayed in the lake district near Fuji. The guys in the black and white picture are fellow photographers (locals) that I met at 5:30am one morning after it had snowed all night on Fuji. I couldn’t understand them and they could not understand me, but they offered me a cup of hot tea and I used the pics on my phone to make them understand I was from Bordeaux. I could write about this encounter for ever, but all you have to know is that it was probably one of the most beautiful human experiences I have ever had… 4 guys, 1 passion, 1 mountain, a cigarette and some tea… Heaven!
Next Monday, Part 3/4: Kyoto