Osaka is one of Japan's major cities, known for its down-to-earth
attitude and hearty working-class appetite (the Osakans are famous for
their "kuidaore" attitude -- "Eat 'til you drop" -- and they eat
well , and are proud of it). One of the major touristy attractions
of Osaka is the Dotonbori, which is a hustle-and-bustle area in
downtown Osaka where rows and rows of cheap eats, dives, noodle
stands, and other no-frills but scrumptious eateries all loudly vie
for your tastebuds. Osaka is on the main island of Honshu and is a few
hours' Shinkansen ("bullet train") ride southwest of Tokyo.
Osaka is very close to the ancient capital cities of
so it would be very easy to "tourist around" these two ex-capital
cities before or after the conference. (You can reach either Nara or
Kyoto within an hour from Osaka.) Of the two, Nara is the older
capital city, much more rural, and certainly less glamorous
from a touristy point of view, but it has bucketloads of small hidden
treasures if you take the time out to look for them; moreover, if you
are a Buddhist-art and -architecture and -history buff, you really
can't do better than Nara. Kyoto, on the other hand, is much more
lively, has a red-light district, gives you a much higher chance of
seeing a real geisha (I did, the last time I was there), is a truly
urban environment but also has temples and shrines and museums on
nearly every street corner (or so it seems), has an abundance of
woefully expensive but utterly traditional Japanese craftwork shops,
and its main Japan Rail train station alone is worth the visit (the
train station is virtually a world unto itself).
Of course, there's always Tokyo. But for that you're on your own (but
see the guidebooks below).
Naturally, you should just go to a bookstore and find what you like,
but here are my recommendations. The most sensible, all-around
guidebooks to all of Japan that I have recently seen are
Frommer's guide to Japan, 7th edition,
The Rough Guide to Japan, 3rd edition.
NOTE: although Japan is a first-world, generally safe, industrialized
country, if you are (say) a North American, you WILL find that
traveling in Japan is NOT like traveling in (say) western Europe.
particular, Japan does NOT, as a whole, ``cater'' to Western travelers
nearly as much as you might expect. And most Japanese do NOT speak
English. And many Japanese signs (at train stations, roads, etc)
are ONLY in Japanese, with no English or even any Romanization. PLEASE please read the cautions and preparatory material in the
above guidebooks carefully and thoroughly while planning your travels
and before arrival!
Buying airline tickets:
Probably, what I'm about to say will only apply to those of you living
in major cities with a sizeable Japanese
population. But, if you're lucky enough to live in such a place, it is
absolutely worth your while to check your local Japanese tourism
companies in addition to the obvious Internet travel sites;
specialized Japanese tourist places often have special discount deals
for Japanese families going home to Japan for the summer holidays. For
example, I often see such very low rates (sometimes nearly
off of the regular prices that one finds on-line) advertised in the
Japanese-Canadian newspapers here in Toronto.
Many countries (62, in fact) have reciprocal visa-exemption agreements
with Japan, so citizens of these countries do not need to obtain a
"Temporary Visitor Visa" to Japan before arrival (you will be issued
one upon arrival). The Japanese embassy explains that these Temporary
Visitor Visas are "for sightseeing; visiting relatives, friends or
acquaintance; attending conferences; participating in business
meetings or atheletic tournaments and so on."
Here are some websites where you can obtain more information.
Find out whether your country has a visa-exemption agreement at
The Japan Rail Pass:
If you intend to tourist around Japan either before or after the
conference for at least a week, then
GET THE "JAPAN RAIL PASS" -- it's
the best deal in the country. There are 7-day, 14-day, or 21-day
options, and they give you unlimited access to all JR trains except
the super-fast Nozomi Shinkansen ("Bullet Train") for the duration of
your pass. This last exception regarding the Nozomi isn't a serious
limitation, since you DO get unlimited access to the Kodama Shinkansen
and the Hikari Shinkansen, the latter being nearly as fast as the
Nozomi -- it just makes a handful more stops en route, making travel
time an epsilon amount longer. Just one ride on a Bullet Train costs a
bundle, so if you catch just a couple of rides, you'll already be
saving loads of money.
To find out more about Japan Rail routes, maps, and
information, check the
Japan Rail homepage.
you MUST PURCHASE an "Exchange Pass" for a JR Pass BEFORE
arriving in Japan, because a JR Pass is only available overseas (it's
only meant for tourists; your average Japanese person isn't allowed to
buy it). You can buy it through most travel agencies. Then, upon
arrival, you can exchange your "Exchange Pass" for the real thing at
the JR office at the airport (such offices exist both at the Narita
International and Kansai International Airports). You will need to
present your passport in addition to your Exchange Pass in order to
receive your Pass.
Find out more details about the JR Pass in any tourist guidebook, or check out
Once again: you MUST purchase an "Exchange Pass" before arrival in Japan.
"Will I be bankrupt after I visit Japan?"
Japan has a long-standing reputation of being horrendously, inhumanely
(?) expensive. No doubt about it, it's not like visiting a
third-world country. Nevertheless, it IS possible to "do Japan" on a
tight(er) budget, if you're willing to do a little research and a bit
of extra legwork. (Also, keep in mind that Japan has been suffering from "deflation"
for many years now, so Japan is much more affordable than it used to be in the
heydeys of the Bubble.) To be more specific: for
example, Youth Hostels in Japan usually have no age restrictions, so
anyone can stay there, and they are usually well-kept, well-lit, clean, and
comfortable places to stay. (But you should check beforehand whether
the hostel requires an international hostel membership card.)
Just as an example, check out
the prices at Utano Youth Hostel, a hostel in Kyoto; an adult can
share a room for one night for 2500 JPY. Also, the Japanese people's
standards for food is such that even a bowl of street-vendor noodles,
a plate of "fast-food" curry, or a "bento box lunch" that you can get
at a train station, any of which you can get for about
400 to 900 JPY, are often above the quality of anything you'll find in
(say) North America.