Simon Calder's Holiday Helpdesk: Help me plan a first-time visit to Japan
Simon Calder’s career in travel started at Gatwick Airport, where he cleaned aircraft for Laker Airways and later worked as a security officer. He became The Independent’s Travel Correspondent in 1994, and is known as “the Man Who Pays His Way” because he does not accept free travel facilities. He writes across the Independent titles, as well as for the Evening Standard.
Monday 11 March 2013
Q. I am planning a first trip to Japan, and wondered where to stay in Tokyo - and which other places to visit?
A. My strong advice is to spend a good chunk of time getting to know Tokyo. Japan's capital is a dazzling, beautiful and multi-faceted city. The contrasts between intense urban life and serene escapes are enthralling and energising, even more so than London. In a few minutes (using the superb public transport) you can venture from the high-voltage retail dazzle of Akihabara “electric town” to the friendly, villagey area of Yanaka, with echoes of pre-war Japan.
My most recent 48 Hours in Tokyo - which you can find online at bit.ly/48Tokyo - prescribes an action-packed couple of days, but you can certainly extend your stay to explore more of the city.
The place I stayed most recently, the Hotel Villa Fontaine Roppongi Annex, is fabulous value and reasonably central.
Going beyond Tokyo: well, you could do what I did on my first visit, and buy the excellent-value Japan Rail Pass. A week's unlimited travel throughout Japan costs costs £226 for 7 days, and enables you to venture to the fascinating northern island of Hokkaido; the imperial city of Kyoto; and the sombre memorials of Hiroshima. But unless you want to feel like a hyperactive Inter-Railer, I'd suggest you consider instead the easy escape from the capital to Hakone National Park - an intriguing combination of volcanic scenery, pretty towns and a world-class sculpture park. There are special fares for short breaks on the high-speed, narrow-gauge train (another uniquely Japanese experience) that runs direct from Shinjuku station in Tokyo to the edge of the national park.
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