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AGT: The Japan Diaries

On Sunday morning this weekend, my girlfriend and I will fly to Japan. It will be the start of six whole weeks travelling, time which will be spent variously lost in big cities, hiking around the countryside, climbing up mountains, watching the world flicker past from the window of a train, and eating a potentially bewildering range of foods.

This isn’t going to be a cheap trip. The usual maxim of budgeting £1,000 a month for travelling has been roundly abandoned, and our budget will need to be quite considerably more than that. This is mainly for two reasons: first, Japan is a more developed and thus a more expensive place to be. Second, we’ve chosen to spend six whole weeks in that expensive place. These things combined will exert considerable and sustained downward pressure on my bank balance.

Pure, wonderful, organising geekery.
Pure, wonderful, organising geekery.

Thus we’ve left little to chance. We’ve planned a relatively thorough itinerary. My girlfriend, Trang, has succeeded in actually out-organizing me on this occasion. She even set up a Google Docs thing, complete with a range of supremely detailed spreadsheets, so we could effectively co-ordinate our trip. What’s come out the other end looks like incredible (if extensively well organised) fun.

I’ve said before that I’ve got no time for these ‘hardcore’ ‘just arrive and see what you find’ traveller types. We live in an age of the internet, and that internet houses numerous travel sites full of impartial and up to date reviews. There is no longer any reason to accept staying in a shit-hole. I know you think its cool and hip to just turn up and check into the first place you see, but at my advancing age I’d much rather be less cool and hip, and more comfortable and wealthy. Where’re my slippers?

I digress. We’ve planned a very thorough and indeed hugely varied itinerary. We’ll spend as much time in big cities as we will out in the countryside. Watching the pennies we’ve inevitably booked some budget places to stay. The compromises seem to not be in the comfort of the rooms, but rather their size: some reviews we’ve read tell of hotel bedrooms so small guests had to stash their luggage in the shower. For two nights in Kyoto we will stay in a capsule hotel, and we’re also ready to take on sleeping in a manga café in Tokyo.

At the same time, however, we’ve also selectively chosen to splash out and treat ourselves some of the time, including staying in a rather lovely looking traditional Japanese Ryokan for a few nights in the onsen town of Kinosaki. A few more nights will be spent wallowing in the luxury of a five star Tokyo hotel (courtesy, it has to be said, of my Dad’s hotel loyalty card which rewards him (read: me) with several free nights a year in InterContinental hotels anywhere in the world).

The Japan Rail Pass.
The Japan Rail Pass.

Travelling around Japan will be done almost exclusively by train, using the apparently cost effective Japan Rail Pass which allows the bearer unlimited train travel in a 21-day period. We’ve had to buy two of these tickets each to cover the whole of our 6 week stay, at a total cost of near $1,000. We’re assured, however, that this is a much cheaper way of doing things than trying to purchase tickets in-country.

We’re going to spend days splashing around in natural hot springs; nights munching on sushi, ramen and whatever else we can get our hands on; and even three days up a mountain, living in a Buddhist temple, meditating. This really does promise to be quite the trip.

If anything worth telling you about happens, it will be faithfully relayed on these very pages. So watch this space, as Adam’s Grand Tour: The Japan Diaries unfold…