When we first decided on going to Japan for honeymoon, we wanted to go with a tour group. It is, after all, a foreign country where none of our 3 languages would work very well. But after going through a lot of travel agencies and comparing packages from both the U.S. and Taiwan, the plan didn’t seem so promising. First off, very few packages are long enough to cover both Tokyo and Kyoto. Secondly, almost none of them works with Hong’s vacation schedule – even the most compromising departure date would effectively cut off 1/3 of our vacation time.
The frustration from calling travel agents coast to coast built up to the point where we just said, screw it. Why go with a tour group when we could do it ourselves? Thus, the real planning began. I wouldn’t have dared this 5 years ago, but now with Google Maps, Wikipedia, Wiki Travel, and sites like Japan-Guide, creating a bettery itinerary than any travel agent’s version is just a piece of cake.
But mapping out all the logistics could be time consuming. While a lot of tourist information provide directions from a central location (i.e. train station) to each site, it’s only partially helpful when you want to bundle multiple destinations into a seamless trip. Weighing sites by importance, proximity, convenience, hours, closed days, etc, and this becomes a complex traveling salesman problem. Can we kill a few hours in Ginza? Is a half day enough in Odaiba? What if it rains? Will we change our minds? There’s a need to prepare more than necessary for backup plans, but there’s also a risk of reading too much and wanting to see everything.
Coming from NYC, we take intuitive street layouts for granted. However, Japan has a strange addressing system where neighborhoods are not numbered by any geographical order and many of its streets do not have names. Directions like “the street parallel to and north of 4th Avenue” or “the narrow alley between this and that” really bother me. Supposedly, they say, you can’t really get around without asking for directions. But do I really want to do that? Meh.
We got a pretty comprehensive street map of Tokyo. But that’s probably not enough. I imagined getting lost on an island where I can’t communicate with anyone and don’t have access to Google Maps on my phone. Kind of scary, in today’s technology-dependent perspective. But I would still be able to receive GPS signals and identify my location by absolute coordinates, right? Figuring that far, I started writing down coordinates of each location, so at least we’ll know which direction to head toward in case we get seriously lost. For example, Tokyo Tower is at 35?41’35″N and 139?42’19″E. Will that work? Let’s hope.