We recently spent seven days in one of my most favourite countries to visit - Japan. We had a few days in Tokyo, and then we headed to Hakuba (near Nagano) for four days of fun in the snow. As great as the skiing was (and it was great), and as delicious as the food was (and it was delicious), and as fast as the Shinkansen was (and it was fast), this week in Japan was not our finest travel moment.
I think we got a bit lazy because hey! we've been to Japan more than a handful of times, we know what we're doing. And it's only a two hour flight from Seoul, it's basically like going to Brisbane. And besides, our friends are organising most of the trip. So...we don't need to do any research or anything, right? As it turns out, wrong.
Here's some of the mistakes we made:
1. We planned our trip so that we had a few days in Tokyo before we went skiing. We forgot that all of Japan goes on holidays for the first few days of the new year. That's a lot of people going on holidays. It means a lot of restaurants and other things are shut, and it means that the places that are open are really, really, really busy (see point 2). If we had done some research we would have headed straight to the snow when we landed and had our time in Tokyo at the tail end of our trip. (For more information on Japan during the new year period head here.)
2. We went to Tokyo Disneyland. Now the husband would say this was a mistake in itself, he is not a fan of the big rat, but that's another discussion for another day. The real mistake was that we went on January 4, and from the looks of it so did almost everyone else in Tokyo. We were smart enough to pre-buy our tickets online, but that didn't help much...
Inside there were incomprehensibly long queues - two and three hour waits for rides; 'fast passes' that meant you could reserve a place to get on a ride at 9pm (we were there at 11am). There were unbelievably lengthy queues for popcorn, toilets, soda. So even though it was fun to see the Disney fanatics all dressed up, and to marvel at the sheer mass of humanity and the way everyone was so patient and calm and happy, it was a bit disappointing especially for the under tens in our group.
3. We didn't do a lot of research on how to get from Tokyo to Hakuba. Because we've done it before, we thought we knew what we were doing. I'd forgotten that was over five years ago, and that it was in the early days when we were travelling with the stepson's mum/husband's ex-wife and I have a feeling my head may have been focussed on things other than travel arrangements and local holidays and what-not.
Anyway, we caught the Shinkansen to Nagano and nearly fainted at the cost of tickets (I'm not suggesting we could have got them cheaper, but at least if I'd used this site I would have been prepared for the cost!). And then when we arrived in Nagano we discovered the bus to Hakuba wasn't leaving for another hour, which meant we decided to cram four people and their ski gear in to one of those quaint Japanese taxis that I love so much (doilies!). We remembered that the ride last time wasn't too long or too expensive, but memory is rather faulty isn't it?
4. We didn't research where to stay. Our hotel was actually pretty good - it was chosen by our friends who co-ordinated the whole trip with a bunch of other families (thank you!) - nestled amongst the trees it had decent-sized rooms, a nice bar/breakfast area and wasn't too far from the Happo One ski area. But...let's just say they were right in the midst of some um, 'management issues'. There was a strong whiff of Faulty Towers about the place.
5. We didn't research where to eat. I've mentioned before that a large part of my reason for travelling is food. There is no shortage of deliciousness in Japan, but going in blind meant it took us a few nights to find our feet (ever tried to mime 'more breast, less gizzard' in a yakitori restaurant?). Once we got our bearings though - oh my! The food! We had three incredible Japanese meals in Hakuba (one here, and two nights in a row here) and the best pizza I've ever had in my life at...Haneda airport! Who would have thought?
So, we messed up a bit. But even with these few hiccups it really was a good trip with fabulous skiing, fun company and beautiful sights. It reminded us what great snow really is (we'll be going back, for sure). And it reminded me that I need to get to Tokyo without husband and stepsons in tow, so I can spend a whole day immersed in Tokyu Hands and Itoya and all the other amazing retail spaces the city has to offer. So...I'm doing exactly that in a few weeks! Y to the AY! And I'll be doing a post on Tokyo tips when I return. Stay tuned!