Japan is a beautiful, modern country, but you could get ripped off by taxis, nightclubs, and internet providers if you’re not careful. From super-strong sake to talking toilets, there’s a lot to know before you go, writes Sean O’Riordan.
Avoid getting taxis as they are “extremely expensive” compared to Japan’s public transport system, which is regarded as one of the quickest and most punctual in the world. That’s the advice from Travelagent.ie’s Yvonne Cronin.
If you are an independent traveller, and not part of a package tour, don’t dream of heading to the underground tube stations carrying your own luggage. Surprisingly for such a modern country, there are several stations where there are lots of steps instead of escalators, which would also prove problematic for those with mobility issues.
Private transfers of luggage can be arranged from the airports in advance and cost about €20. However, be warned, your luggage won’t arrive at your hotel until 24 hours later.
“The Japan rail pass (for overground bullet trains) is not valid on the subway. The subway is very cheap, though. It costs anything between €2 and €5 to get around all of central Tokyo,” Yvonne said.
Haneda airport is Tokyo’s secondary airport, but is the nearest to the city centre, just 30 minutes away. The main airport serving the country is Narita, two hours away.
The Citadines Shinjuku hotel is in central Tokyo and is within easy walking distance of train stations and surrounded by restaurants and bars.
If you’re staying in a hotel, make sure you charge your mobile phone there, as many restaurants and bars will often refuse to let you charge them on their premises. Even more importantly, mobile phone roaming charges in Japan are “phenomenally expensive”.
This can be countered by getting a pocket wifi device. They can be booked in advance online from such companies as Tokyo Wireless and can be picked up on arrival at Japanese airports.
“The pocket wifi cost me about €70 for two weeks. You will make a considerable saving by getting one. It’s essential to have your phone to gets maps and directions, although Japanese people are very helpful and will go out of their way to aid you,” Yvonne said.
“You get an envelope when you pick up the device and you post it back to the company when you’re finished with it. The envelopes can be returned through post offices and hotels.”
Japanese railway staff are also extremely helpful and the majority of them can speak English quite well. Unlike the soccer World Cup in 2002, all signs on the railways, both over and underground, are also now available in English.
Tokyo’s streets are “spotlessly clean” and one of the reasons for that, unlike Ireland, is that smoking isn’t allowed in most public areas. There are some designated areas on the streets, but they are few and far between. These designated areas look like bus shelters. Smoking is allowed in a number of the hotels and bars, however.
“The disparity in prices between Japan and Ireland is a lot less than when the soccer World Cup was on there in 2002,” Yvonne says. “For example, you can get a beer and a two- or three-course dinner for around €40. Wine is expensive, though. It’s about 30% dearer than in Ireland, although beer is cheap in Japan, as is their sake.”
Sake is brewed by fermenting rice. Be warned — the Alcohol by Volume (ABV) of sake is far higher than that of wine or beer. Japanese champagne is “very nice” and doesn’t usually cost more than €30 a bottle.
There are lots of different types of restaurants all over Japan, and people can get European food quite easily. Good quality seafood is actually cheaper than in Ireland. Yvonne has a word of warning for people going night-clubbing in the capital.
“Avoid invitations into bars or nightclubs from people standing outside, as you’ll get ripped off badly. Genuine premises don’t have people outside trying to get customers in.
“Soliciting to invite somebody into hospitality venues is illegal in Japan and the police won’t be able to help you if you’re ripped off in one of them. It’s an emerging problem in central Tokyo,” Yvonne said.
She also says to avoid Irish bars, which are frequently more expensive than anywhere else. On the plus side, Tokyo is very safe to walk around, even at night.
“There is no anti-social behaviour and no pick-pockets,” Yvonne said.
But unlike New York, it is a city that sleeps.
“Even with a population of 9.5m, it’s not a 24-hour city like New York. Public transport shuts down at 1am and doesn’t reopen until 5am or 6am. You often see people who have missed their trains go into the 24-hour internet cafes until the subways open again,” Yvonne said.
When choosing a hotel, it’s also very important to pay attention to the room size.
When checking online, they should say if they are European standard size. “Some hotels sell rooms which are hardly much bigger than the bed that is in them,” Yvonne warned.
Fans will also marvel at Japan’s public toilets, which would be somewhat more upmarket than what they’re used to at home. Yvonne explained that they are highly computerised. There’s even a programme to select a noise to cover flatulence.
Many of the toilets also act a bidets and the user can select their own desired temperature for the water used for the wash. Fans will want to explore the country between games. Yvonne said that those interested in computer gaming and animation should visit Toyko’s “very impressive” Akihabara centre.
“A serene part of the city is the Nakameguro district. It’s a riverside suburb which is low-rise and has more European-style restaurants than anywhere else in the capital,” she said.
If visiting Kyoto, top of the list as far as Yvonne is concerned is the Nishiki market.
If supporters want to linger in Yokohama after the Scotland game, or want to revisit it at a later stage, the “must-see” there is China town.
“It’s a great place to simply wander around. There are thousands of restaurants and shops and lots of pedestrianised streets there,” she said.
“There’s also the Cat Cafe in the city where people can go and see hundreds of different cats just sitting around. People relieve their stress by just rubbing them. It’s probably also good for people who, for one reason or another, don’t have their own pets,” Yvonne said.
There’s also the famous Kyoto Tower, with its great observation deck. The city’s large underground food market is also well worth a visit. Yvonne said another lovely place to see is the city of Nara, which was the ancient capital of Japan.
The city has significant temples and artwork, including a 15m-high bronze Buddha dating back to the 8th century. Deer roam in Nara Park. On the park’s east side is the Shinto shrine Kasuga Taisha, which dates to 768 AD and boasts more than 3,000 lanterns.
No visit to Japan would be complete without seeing Hiroshima. The city was largely destroyed by an atomic bomb during World War II. It was bombed by the Americans on August 6, 1945, and it is thought that around 129,000 people died instantly, or later as a result of radiation poisoning.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park commemorates that event. Within the park are the ruins of Genbaku Dome, one of the few buildings left standing near ground zero. Other prominent sites in the city include Shukkei-en, a formal Japanese garden, and Hiroshima Castle, a fortress surrounded by a moat and a park.
“City trips around Tokyo are very good value at €35 for a half-day trip. People can also go to places to enjoy cookery classes and sake-tasting,” Yvonne said.
When the soccer World Cup was held in Japan in 2002 it was so expensive it was dubbed the ‘Land of the Rising Sum’.
Fortunately for Irish supporters thinking of heading to the other side of the world for the forthcoming Rugby World Cup, prices have dropped considerably since.
However, it is still likely to cost fans in the region of at least €5,000 each for a budget stay in Japan to watch all four of Ireland’s group games, which are set to take place from September 22 to October 12.
Yvonne Cronin from Travelagent.ie has recently returned from Japan after carrying out a reconnaissance mission for rugby fans.
Her company has sourced economy class return flights from Dublin, leaving on September 20 and returning on October 13 for as little as €1,080. A three-star hotel in Tokyo is pretty good value at €138 per room per night, while a similar one in the city of Fukuoka can be had from €129 per room per night.
The Ireland team kick off their campaign against Scotland at the International Stadium in Yokohama on Sunday, September 22, at 4.45pm local time. A train journey from Toyko to Yokohama takes about 40 minutes.
Ireland then play the hosts, Japan, at the Stadium Ecopa, Shizuoka, on Saturday, September 28, which is likely to be a complete sell-out. Kick off is 4.15pm local time.
The train journey from the capital to Shizuoka can take anything between 60 and 90 minutes depending on what service you catch. The city of Kobe hosts the Ireland game against Russia on Thursday, October 3, with kick off at 7.15pm local time.
It takes three hours by train to get to Kobe from Tokyo. The final group game against Samoa will be staged at the Hakatanomori Stadium, Fukuoka, on Saturday October 12, with kick off at 7.45pm local time.
This will be the fans’ longest train journey from Tokyo, taking five hours and 30 minutes. Japan’s high-speed bullet trains always run on time. Passes for them cost €250 for seven days, €400 for 14 days, and €520 for 21 days.
Train transport is good value considering the distances fans will have to travel for some of the matches if they base themselves in Tokyo. If Ireland qualify out of the Pool A they will progress to the quarter-finals, which will be held on October 19/20.
Should that hurdle be overcome the semi-finals are on October 26/27. The third place play-off is on November 1, with the World Cup final itself on November 2.