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Travel Questions - Your questions answered on independent travel in Japan
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Where can I go surfing in Kyushu? Where to surf in Kyushu?
Is Japan easy to get around? Is Japan easy to get around?
What about red tape? What about red tape?
Can I get by using English? Can I get by using English?

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Where can I go surfing in Kyushu? (Doug Long)
The best surfing on Kyushu can probably be found along the coast of Miyazaki Prefecture on the south-east of the island more...

I'm planning on going to Japan... where do I start?
With a deep breath and sense of perspective.

Go on..,
Japan is a chain of islands off the coast of East Asia which has for almost the whole of its history been partially or wholly isolated from the rest of the world. This means you can expect everything in Japan to be a little bit different from anything you may have encountered abroad before.

Okay, I'll read up. Which island is which again?
Of the thousands of islands which form the Japanese archipelago, the five most important islands are Hokkaido, the northernmost island, Honshu, which forms the Japanese mainland, Kyushu, an island the size of Taiwan, just to the south of Honshu, Shikoku, a rural mountainous island which looks toward Honshu across the Inland Sea and Okinawa, far to the south in the East China Sea which once formed the mediaeval island kingdom of Ryukyu.

Is Japan an easy place to travel around?
The most prohibitive factor when contemplating independent travel in Japan is the cost involved. Budget accommodation is practically non-existent in Japan which means, unless you’re camping you can expect to pay about thirty British pounds or forty five US dollars a night for business hotels or perhaps half that for a night in a capsule hotel (an option only available in large port cities, such as Osaka, Yokohama, Hiroshima and Tokyo). Traditional Japanese inns called ryokans (or the cheaper stopovers known as minshuku ) may cost as much a business hotel, even in the countryside. Transport causes further headaches: Travelling by local trains or by highway buses is affordable but slow, faster express trains are quite demanding for a tight budget and the super-express Shinkansen "bullet trains" guarantee a smooth ride (though not necessarily a seat) at practically the same price as an internal flight on ANA airlines.

What about red tape?
If you are staying in Japan for less than 90 days, you should have no problem with visas. Longer than ninety days and you will require not only a visa but a validated Alien Registration Certificate with your photo.

Can I get by on English?
Japan has a small foreign tourist industry (though a large internal one) in comparison with many other East Asian countries and the lack of foreign language presence on signs is notable. Visitors to Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto or any of the other big cities in Japan will probably be able to manage on English and hand signals, though in smaller towns such as Kurashiki or Takada, a little Japanese might come in extremely useful.

So, what's the bottom line?
Japan is essentially a treasure-house of history and culture, though in a misguided effort to catch up with the West, the beautiful landscapes surrounding the samurai castles and Zen temples are becoming increasingly cluttered with modern houses, amusement parlours, telegraph lines and convenience stores. Nevertheless, those with patience and optimism will be able to discover an array of breathtaking sights dating back over the last thousand years.


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