©Y.Shimizu/JNTO

Back to Japan

Another big trip looms on the horizon, and I’m finally ready to share some of the details!  This year’s big adventure is a return visit to Japan.

Japan has stolen my heart.  The warm hospitality, the rich history, and the co-existence of ultra-modern and highly-traditional culture continue to pique my interest, and I feel there’s still much to be seen.

Chris is still over in Japan, and now has more than a few months of Japanese living under his belt.  That means I’ll be able to learn from him not only how to travel smarter, but also I’ll get to experience some of the “locals only” things that he has discovered as a result of daily life in Tokyo.

Getting There

I’m not going to lie – I had a bit of sticker shock when shopping around for plane tickets to get to and from Tokyo.  I had some real tough choices to make when it came to deciding on a flight.

For trips to Japan, I’ve had this imaginary threshold in my head of $1600 roundtrip as the most I’d like to spend.   In November, I was comfortably under this amount at about $1330 round trip.  Finding a flight as cheap this time around took some work.

Initially, I really wanted to replicate the same experience I had in November, flying Air Canada from Regina via Vancouver to Narita.  However, without any seat sales the cost was a bit more than I wanted to spend.  That’s when I started to shop around to see my options.

I played with some different scenarios on Kayak, looking at flights out of Vancouver, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Kayak totally elevates the price-shopping experience.  Best aggregator, IMHO.
Kayak totally elevates the price-shopping experience. Best aggregator, IMHO.

One seat sale back in March had a roundtrip flight on China Airlines from Vancouver to Narita (via Taiwan) for about $1200.  An Air Miles flight to Vancouver would have cost me about $150 in taxes and fees – which isn’t bad.  However, because it was a broken ticket, I’d be up the creek if anything happened en route from Regina to Vancouver that delayed getting on that China Airlines flight.  It wasn’t a bad risk, but once I factored in a night of hotel in Vancouver on the return trip home, it was clear I wasn’t saving money (and in the process, burning up Air Miles unnecessarily.)

Flights out of San Francisco and Los Angeles were around $1000, but also presented the same broken ticket risk and the night of hotel costs, which again put me close to the imaginary spending cap.

I then started looking at the American carriers out of Saskatchewan.  Delta was a bit pricier than United, and the connections weren’t any better.  That’s when I started digging in on what a trip with United would look like.

United flies to Narita out of Denver on a spanky new Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner.  As a bit of an air travel geek, I was stoked at the idea of being able to fly on this revolutionary next-gen aircraft!  The return flight (also on a Dreamliner) goes to Los Angeles before connecting in Denver for the trip back north.

United Airlines flies the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner from Denver to Narita. (Photo Credit / United)
United Airlines flies the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner from Denver to Narita. (Photo Credit / United)

I was fully prepared to book United out of Regina, then on a lark I decided to see how much it’d cost to fly out of Saskatoon.

By taking the two hour road trip up to the Paris of the prairies, I’d be able to save about $200 on the exact same roundtrip flight (albeit starting as YXE-DEN rather than YQR-DEN), with the total coming in around $1450 (taxes and fees included.)  Considering this wasn’t much more than what I payed in November (and I wasn’t seeing anything cheaper,) I clicked the buy button.

Since buying my ticket, I’ve yet to see any fares as competitive out of Regina or Saskatoon (and the Kayak price tracker confirms this for me.)  For those playing “how many days should I book before a vacation” poker, the answer for this trip was 63 days.

Plans

There are many things that we just didn’t get a chance to do when I was in Tokyo last time around.  Mt. Fuji was originally part of the plan in November, but we just never got around to it.  Same goes for things like the Tokyo Advertising Museum and the Studio Ghibli museum.

Hakone Ropeway near Mt. Fuji / Photo credit - ©Odakyu Electric Railway/©JNTO
Hakone Ropeway near Mt. Fuji / Photo credit – ©Odakyu Electric Railway/©JNTO

One thing I want to experience is the 2014 Grand Sumo Tournament that is taking place in Tokyo while I’m there.  Tickets are pretty reasonably priced (from about C$20 for the general admission nosebleeds to C$160 for ringside seats), and I think it’d be a fantastic cultural experience!

Sumo has a history spanning more than 1500 years.  (Photo credit : ©Yasufumi Nishi/©JNTO)
Sumo has a history spanning more than 1500 years. (Photo credit : ©Yasufumi Nishi/©JNTO)

I’m currently in the process of trying to figure out if I’m going to get a Japan Rail Pass again.  A 7 day pass runs just over C$300 ($43/day), and about C$490 for a 14 day pass (or about $35/day.)  The pass pays for itself with one or two Shinkansen rides, and I’d like to take a day trip here or there while Chris is off at work just to explore the countryside a bit more.  But I also don’t have any definitive plans in my agenda yet to do it.  This is a work in progress.

More to Come

As I get closer to the trip, I’ll be posting more about the planning process and things that end up making the agenda for the trip.

I can’t wait to get there!

Blog post featured image photo credit – ©Y. Shimizu/JNTO

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