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Road trip in Japan - possible?

Kurou

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What I call a road trip here is basically travelling throughout Japan for the duration of approximately a month without much of anything but a backpack and some pocket change. A small group of friends and I would like to do that next year.

I know other people who did the same thing in Italy. They travelled from one city to another, sleeping in parks as if they were camping without tents. They found a way to get by from playing the guitar on the streets of Florence and other cities they found themselves in.

The thing is that I know Italy has a much warmer cultural atmosphere than Japan. I'm even wondering if it would be legual in Japan for a group of gaijin to sleep outdoors or to try and make a profit on the streets. We even have ideas of giving french lessons here and there to get by.

How are such tourists seen by the japanese people? Would we be offending them? Would all that be against the law? Would the japanese folks go out of their way to avoid us?

I guess that what I'm ultimately asking is... is this road trip possible in Japan?
 

Glenski

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Pocket change? Think again.

Make a profit on the streets? Nope. Some city ordinances prohibit that. What were you planning to sell? (Watch out for yakuza, too.)

Give lessons? No, that's illegal without a proper visa.

If you want to camp on the side of the road, or on a beach, etc. you might get by. Maybe. Japan and Italy are totally different in that regard, though. How would you communicate with the police if they told you to move along? What sort of "pocket change" did you have in mind carrying with you for a month? When? Where did you plan to go?
 

Kurou

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Thank you for your quick reply!

I don't have answers for your questions. My friends invited me on this trip they planned to do in year and a half from now, probably in September 2012, with this plan in mind.

The main idea is to see as much of the whole of Japan as possible - traveling from city to city - and visit the main cities and temples. That's why we wanted to make this a month long trip (though now I'm reconcidering the duration in regards of everything we would like to see). As for how we would live during this month, what I described of a road trip pretty much sums up what my friends had in mind when they told me of this trip.

I sure don't want to find myself penyless, starving and without resources in a foreign country which is why I'm explaining their traveling plan here and to find better alternatives. I need to force some sense into the heads of my enthousiastic friends.

I had my doubts. I wasn't convinced that it was possible before, but your answers are confirming that it will be much more difficult than they think. This trip of ours may sound completely crazy right now, but that's exactly why I'm posting it here. I need to get good advices for traveling through Japan and saving big time on expenses. Since what the people I know did in Italy won't be possible in Japan, is there some other way to do this?

Also, we are all learning as much japanese as we can to be able to understand and communicate when we get there, so if we do have the police telling us to move along, we would mostly understand.
 
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Mike Cash

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You certainly picked an apt user name, I'll say that much for you.
 

Glenski

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I don't have answers for your questions. My friends invited me on this trip they planned to do in year and a half from now, probably in September 2012, with this plan in mind.
I would say that your friends need to wise up. Traveling in Italy is not the same as in Japan. If you don't even know how much money you'll carry with you, that is the worst possible planning.

The main idea is to see as much of the whole of Japan as possible - traveling from city to city - and visit the main cities and temples.
You will see a fair chunk but not nearly close to everything in just a month. Trust me. I worked in Tokyo for 5 months, then took a vacation on my own for 23 days (saw 21 cities on Honshu and Shikoku), and didn't see nearly everything here. I visited castles, shrines, temples, festivals, Mt. Fuji, Hiroshima's A-bomb museum, gardens, pearl diving exhibitions, and more.

As for how we would live during this month, what I described of a road trip pretty much sums up what my friends had in mind when they told me of this trip.

...without much of anything but a backpack and some pocket change.
Sorry, but this is just plain stupid unless your pocket change is hefty. Go to the Lonely Planet web site (Thorntree forum) and ask seasoned travelers how foolish this is. They will tell you you will need roughly 8000 yen per day to get around and survive minimally. Sleeping in subway or parks is not smart or safe, no matter how much you want to save money.

Since what the people I know did in Italy won't be possible in Japan, is there some other way to do this?
Think hostels for cheap housing.

How much of the country do you plan to see? Perhaps a JR Rail Pass would be cheaper than buying tickets as you go. Compare with info from www.hyperdia.com . Of course, you can always do what Will Ferguson did (Hokkaido Highway Blues) and hitchhike, but I think it will be less likely for a group to be picked up than a lone hiker. Renting a bike might be a thought, but since 75% of Japan is hilly or mountainous, well, you figure it out. Whatever you do, get the book What's What in Japanese Restaurants.

Also, we are all learning as much japanese as we can to be able to understand and communicate when we get there, so if we do have the police telling us to move along, we would mostly understand.
This is wise for rural areas. Bigger cities will have enough people who can stumble through an English conversation. Bring a notepad for additional help.
 

Mike Cash

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You will see a fair chunk but not nearly close to everything in just a month. Trust me. I worked in Tokyo for 5 months, then took a vacation on my own for 23 days (saw 21 cities on Honshu and Shikoku), and didn't see nearly everything here. I visited castles, shrines, temples, festivals, Mt. Fuji, Hiroshima's A-bomb museum, gardens, pearl diving exhibitions, and more.

I like the thinking of a Japanese friend of mine who many years ago visited Turkey for a stay of similar duration. He knew no one, spoke none of the language, had no reservations, and in short just depended on the basic goodness of his fellow man.

What he did rather than engage in the silliness of trying to cram seeing as much of the country as possible into the time he had available was to pick one neighborhood in Istanbul....it mattered not to him which one....and spend his entire time there. He was very outgoing and got to know the people of the area. They befriended him, took him places, showed him things, treated him very well, and in general just made his stay a very meaningful and memorable part of his life.

I think he was very wise.

If you've never been to Japan before (and even if you've been here for decades, to be perfectly honest about it), one Japanese city looks pretty much like most other Japanese cities, one shrine looks like most other ones, one temple looks like most other ones, ditto for just about every other thing that you imagine you have to see or you'll just die. You can easily end up spending in total a major chunk of your time here riding on trains trying to dash about from city to city. If you have specific things or locations that you're burning up to see, it can't be helped. But if just casual wandering is what you have in mind, I would suggest saving yourself the time, expense, and bother of busily running around trying to cover the whole country in a month and instead perhaps take a lesson from my friend....instead of getting a shallow look at a wide area, get a deeper look at a narrow area. I believe that in the end you'll find you had a more meaningful stay and carry away with you more than memories of sore feet and countless train station platforms.
 

Kurou

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Thank you so much for your replies! I also have a few updates on the actual trip plan :)

Turns out the friend who told me about the trip is quite the optimist and told me his dream of a trip to Japan with no concideration to likeliness. From what I was briefed by his girlfriend (who will also make the trip) is that we're going to be staying more than a month. We are also going to get actual (cheap) loging and more than just a bit of "pocket change". There is also talks about getting a Working Holiday Visa which would allow us to work in Japan as well.

All this new information I got suddenly makes the whole trip possible. I read what you wrote, Mike, and I think that's what we're going to do :) Thank you!
 
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