Booking, booking, booking

4 sushi pink   As the week unfolds

   what shall we now discover

                to threaten our trip?

With the little frisson of Takayama Festival safely behind us I settle down to the slog of going stage by stage, train by train, car hire by car hire through the whole itinerary. My daughter-in-law commented on an earlier post with a fine Japanese word for us – Ganbatte. Apparently a literal translation would be Exhaust yourself but it’s used as an encouragement to hang on in there, chin up, stick with it or come on my son. With this exhortation taken to heart and being of a thorough, and cost-conscious nature I start out consulting about four or five sites for each location. A pattern soon emerges – the Japan based sites with the extra hassle of converting yen or dollars to pounds soon start to fall by the wayside with fewer and fewer hits from me among the forest of tabs open across the top of my screen. Then there’s the tedium of consulting my master plan to see what dates to enter and the number of nights for each hotel and entering them in different formats on each site.

I discover that to select a hotel I think will be appropriate, bookmark it for ratification later in the day by Dee who doesn’t share my benefit of working from home and book it with a secure ability to cancel with no fee all takes about an hour to an hour and a half depending on the destination. Choosing the one hotel with a room near Takayama should have been speedy but I still had to look at all the SOLD OUT ones before I got there. Even checking the “show only available rooms” option is not infallible as it doesn’t filter for my choice of a double room so I look at a lot of hotels with only singles. It’s time consuming, frustrating and one day I’ll invent a proper booking site that meets all my criteria.

Oh do stop whinging! It may take a while but you are going to Japan! Get over it and get on with it! My alter ego always was most encouraging. Eventually it seems the best option for me is to use Trivago.com to do a comparative trawl and then as it transpires select the best option on either Booking.com or Agoda.com which always seems to have the lowest rates between them – sometimes one, sometimes the other with no real pattern, rhyme or reason.

Three days later, I finally manage to get a spare hour or so to show Dee my selections. She starts to glaze over after about the fifth but we plough on and agree that without her looking at all the available options herself I’ve done a good job. Well time will tell won’t it?

I’m fairly comfortable with e-tickets, showing my phone to go to the cinema, green about recycling and cutting down on paper but I can’t resist printing out each booking confirmation – being careful just to include the core information and not the other three pages of guff that incautious printing from websites always seem to include. At the top of each I write the hotel number and the dates we’re staying there. The last one reads “Hotel 15, 3 to 9 May Tokyo”. So we have accommodation for every night of the 29 nights we’ll spend chasing all over Japan except for one night on a train still to be booked.

There’s a map of our day-by-day schedule on the blog but the main stages are:

1 Tokyo 2 nights 2 Mount Fuji area 1 night 3 Kiso Valley 1 night
4 not too far from Takayama 2 nights 5 Kanazawa 1 night 6 Kyoto 3 nights
7 Okayama 2 nights 8 Takamatsu 2 nights 9 Kobe 2 nights
10 Osaka 1 night Train Osaka – Hakodate 1 night 11 Hakodate 1 night
12 Tomakomai 1 night 13 Sapporo 1 night 14 Asahikawa 2 nights
15 Tokyo 6 nights

And then Hong Kong for four nights where we hope free accommodation might be on offer.

So far so good – it looks like it will work but now to gauge the distances, train fares, mostly with a Japan Rail Pass – but the extras for sleepers – car hire, fuel costs and expressway tolls to give us an accurate estimate of what it will cost and whether I or the tour operator experts were right.

             

Friends and festivals

3 sushi pink.  Will our friends’ advice 

   suffice to make our raw plans

               any more than half-baked?

Well then, it’s decided. The first flight and the first hotel are booked. It’s also clear that we can’t afford an agency to do all our bookings so it’s a plea for help. We are very lucky that my daughter-in-law studied Japanese, is based in Hong Kong and has lots of friends who are knowledgeable about Japan. She very kindly emailed them our outline schedule and to my amazement – these are high powered businesswomen – we had wonderfully detailed and informative responses including, and I quote, “my dorky walking map of Kyoto” which is quite the most useful thing I have ever been sent. Real insider knowledge set out clearly on a series of maps we can follow when we get there. So it was onto the tablet straight away with those. It also helped us to resolve a travel issue that was proving very perplexing.

Kyoto Kate 1             Kyoto Kate 2

Hiroshima is an important place to visit for anyone with an interest in history – my wife, or anyone with an excessive sense of guilt – me. But it’s a very long way to travel and if we do include Hiroshima we have to drop some other Murakami or garden locations. Do we not go from Kyoto to Nara for the day? Do we miss out on the wonderful sounding Naoshima Art Island which we’d seen in a leaflet from JNTO and was highly recommended by one of our experts above. On balance and with a memory of a glazed look from an admittedly very young lady in the tourist office when asked whether she would make the long journey – it’s a no for Hiroshima. I know there will be a little regret at not standing in the peace garden to reflect – especially with Garden of the Evening Mists’ Japanese war in Malaya setting fresh in our memories – but apart from the peace park the Japan Guide lists the next three attractions as a garden (not one of Japan’s top three), a concrete reconstruction of the nuked castle and downtown. On balance it looks like the right decision.

My daughter-in-law had always said that festivals in Japan were manic, wonderful occasions and as luck would have it I discovered in the trusty japan-guide.com that Takayama has its Spring Festival on 14-15 April when we had planned to be in Tokyo but hey it’s not far so a quick schedule shuffle and the Takayama festival is on the itinerary. After all japan-guide.com says:

   “Takayama is considered one of Japan’s best festivals”.

The citizens of Takayama are greedy in that they have another festival in October but given the proximity to the Northern Japan Alps maybe spring is the better option.

With my excited enthusiasm of course I’d only done a boy look at the guide. Later I discovered the hard way what it told me quite plainly had I bothered to read it:

 “The festival gets especially crowded if one or both festival days fall on a weekend or national holiday. As a result, hotels in    central Takayama get booked out many months in advance of the festival.”

Never in my life have I clicked on booking site hotel flags with increasing lack of concern to their proximity to the centre of town to find every single one with the legend “SOLD OUT”. Ooops! Ooops! Ooops! Spread the net to 20 miles from Takayama and a room is available. I’m usually sceptical of the exhortation “only one left book now” but in this instance my click is very firm. Who knows what the Pension Green Lake will be like? It’s not far from the festival, it has a bed, it’ll accept my booking. Tripadvisor had two high starred good reviews – but in Japanese and Google translate didn’t help much.  However it’s only an hour from Shirakawa Mura the UNESCO World Heritage Site with its steep sloped, thatched-roofed houses which we want to visit anyway and we can get to Takayama.

It’ll do.

We’re there for two nights – it had better do.