Shower beers from vending machines are her “jam” when in Japan. However, Theresa, warns eating on the move is a major “NO”. She recommends trying all the buttons in the hyper advanced toilet facilities.
From serene sites to bustling cities Japan is a country of dichotomies. This is why so many people love it and return as often as they can.
M: Hello and Welcome back! For listeners who did not hear your last podcast, would you please take a moment to introduce yourself?
T: I’m Theresa, owner of Get Out! Custom Travels. I specialize in custom trips and many of my favorite destinations are in Europe and Asia. I’m also the creator of FAM with Intention which is a course that teaches travel advisors how to improve the way they market their FAM trips on social media.
M: Where can people find you online?
T: The can find me on Facebook and Instagram @getoutcustomtravels and on my website www.getoutcustomtravels.com
M: So then – Where are we going today?
M: Ok, I have no idea where to start on Japan. I have never been to Asia at all. So please talk to me like a child and like a need everything explained in detail because… largely both of those things are true… If you had a client say, “What is there even to do in Japan?” What would you highlight real look like?
T: Japan is a country full of dichotomies, and I think that’s why people love it so much. On one hand you have the quiet temples and gardens and on the other hand you have Pokemon and quirky cafes. There is something for everyone. No matter how long you plan on staying in Japan, you’re never going to be able to experience it all. There’s always going to be something else to see and something delicious to eat.
For a first-timer in Japan, I would put as many iconic elements of Japan into the itinerary as possible. I would recommend 10 days MINIMUM. The sweet spot seems to be around two weeks for Americans who aren’t able to get any more PTO in a row. The typical first-timers journey will start and finish in Tokyo with stops in Hakone, Kyoto, and Osaka along the way. The main form of transportation will obviously be by bullet train. Tokyo offers the metropolitan experience with all glitz and shine of technology. Hakone is the national park area which is a good respite from the city. I will typically book a traditional inn, or ryokan, here for clients. Kyoto is one of the cultural capitals and here is where you’ll find the beautiful temples and gardens along with Gion which is Geisha District. Osaka is like Tokyo’s rebellious sibling. It doesn’t feel as strict here and the food is absolutely incredible. From Osaka you can take some day trips to Hiroshima and Miyajima Island.
M: I know you plan travel for a lot of millennials. What kinds of things are drawing millennials to Japan?
T: Millennials love going out of their comfort zone in terms of food and culture. They tend to be more open-minded and they like being immersed in a destination. They also like doing new things. Many millennials grow up watching anime (and many of them still do). There are also many brag-worthy things to experience there that make for amazing photos on social media. Japan is place where you can be really connected or not.
M: Can you simply tell us you favorite memory of traveling in Japan?
T: I have two favorite memories. The first one is that I ran into Norman Reedus at Shibuya Crossing and got a selfie with him!
The second is more destination related. Japan is known for their amazing vending machines. They are EVERYWHERE. You can even buy hot drinks out of there! My favorite memory happened at the ryokan in Hakone. I went in the spring so it still very chilly especially since it is a bit higher up in elevation. Ryokans are known for their onsens which are typically hot spring-fed baths. I always book my clients in a room with a private onsen on their balcony. These onsens are constantly full of hot water and perfect for warming up after a long day of chilly sightseeing. My favorite memory is getting a beer from a vending machine and sipping it while soaking in my onsen and looking out at the garden. I don’t know if you’ve heard of shower beers, but I think onsen beers are way better.
M: If you were able to be in Japan tomorrow, where would you go?
T: Part of me wants to go someplace new and head to Kanazawa which is renowned for its historic preservation with its geisha and samurai districts. Another part of wants to return to Osaka and eat all the food I didn’t get a chance to eat the last time I was there.
M: And a quick break right here for a word from our totes awesome network…. And WE’RE BACK!
M: Getting back to some geo-nerd level questioning…. Are there any ways to visualize Japan and identify regions by either geographical features or traditions? How do you break it up in your mind?
T: To keep things simple, I break up the different areas by what they are currently known for. For example, Tokyo – City, Hakone – Nature, Kyoto – Culture and History, Osaka – Food and Culture, etc. Of course this is an oversimplified way of viewing Japan but it helps with the planning process.
M: If you were to ignite the fire in the heart of a culinary critic, how would you pitch them Japanese food?
T: I don’t even know where to begin on this. Japanese food is so varied, but no matter what it is, the food quality is incredibly high. There was this one ramen place I went to where you order at this vending machine. The machine will spit out tickets and you bring them to the table for the wait staff to fulfill. At this same place, you have the option of choosing to sit at our own individual stall so you don’t have to interact with anyone… it’s an introverts dream. The sushi is beyond your wildest dreams. I can just list off other fantastic things to try: yakitori, okonomiyaki, Wagyu beef, takoyaki… the list is actually endless. There is a popular district in Tokyo called Harajuku where you find all the Instagram famous treats. Any place you go into will have amazing food even at the local 7-11. When I book my clients, I typically also make restaurant reservations for my them since many of these places have small capacity.
M: How is transportation? How do you typically handle it for you clients? How do you travel when in Japan?
T: To get from city to city, bullet train is the best way to go. Many people will get the Rail Pass but that isn’t always the most cost-effective option. Within the city, it is very easy to take public transportation. In Tokyo and Osaka, it is simple to take the train everywhere. In Kyoto, however, their bus system is the preferred way to travel. Taxis in Kyoto are relatively cheap so sometimes we just ended up taking a taxi instead of trying to figure out the bus routes. For intracity transportation, they have these refillable cards for you to use when you tap in and out. You can use them on any public transportation all over Japan. When I book clients, I will book their bullet train as well as give them public transportation cards with a prefilled amount already on there. I also provide them instructions on what train to take to get where they need to go. For example, if they have a restaurant reservation, I will give them the directions on how to get there so they know which train to ride and which exit to take at the station.
M: What about nightlife? I imagine there is actually a lot to do in the larger cities at night.
T: I was surprised by how early Tokyo closed. The city I visited with the better nightlife is Osaka. Since there is a Universal Studios in Osaka, there are a lot of Americans who work at the theme park and live in Osaka so I think there is more of a bar scene there. I was honestly so exhausted after each day that I didn’t really go out looking for nightlife… I may look young but I’m an old lady at heart.
M: And now for potty talk. Literally, what’s up with Japanese toilets?
T: The bathroom situation is so advanced it took me a minute to fully grasp it. First off, in many public bathrooms, there will be screen that will tell which stalls are open and which stalls are occupied. They have built-in adjustable bidets in the toilet seats, and the toilet seats have warmers! For people who are a little shy when they go to the bathroom, they have a sound effect of running water you can play while you are doing your business.
M: Are there any tips or faux pas you can give us a heads up on for Americans with very different cultural traditions?
T: Be respectful and observant of what’s around you. They follow a lot of rules in Japan and you’ll know if you’re doing something incorrectly by just looking around you. I think one of the most important things is if you see a pile of shoes, then be aware that you will probably have to remove your shoes as well. The Japanese people are wonderful and kind and are always willing to help you if you need it.
M: In your experience, what is the most unusual or surprising thing about Japan?
T: You always hear about how Japan is organized, efficient, and clean, but it’s another thing to actually experience it for yourself… and the vending machines and food at convenience stores!
M: What about language barriers?
T: There is still a language barrier but it isn’t impossible to manage with Google translate and the fact that many people in larger cities can speak some English. Because of the Olympics, they have included more English on signage and there’s a push to get more international travelers to visit Japan.
M: What level of planning is needed to visit Japan? Can you wing it on landing or is there a need to plan most of you itinerary in advance?
T: If you had unlimited time and just wanted to explore at your own pace, it’s doable. But for most people I would not recommend winging it at all, especially with the language barrier. There are many things that require advance reservations and if there’s something you really want to experience, then it needs to be planned out.
M: What else am I missing? Help me out and inspire me to get to Japan!
T: I mean, if you aren’t inspired now to go to Japan, I’m not sure what else will get you there.
M: To close out the podcast – are you available to answer questions from other travel agents?
M: Are you taking new clients?
M: How can people reach you?
T: Facebook or Instagram. If you’re a consumer, you can fill out my inquiry form on my website to get started.
M: Thank you for joining me on the podcast again!
M: This is Megan Chapa of the Travel Radio Podcast saying thank you for listening and please take a moment to subscribe and review the podcast. Byeeee!
Theresa Chu-Bermudez | Owner, Travel Designer
Theresa launched Get Out! Custom Travels in 2016 to help both novice and experienced travelers elevate their vacations. She credits her grandparents for instilling in her the love of travel when she was a child and has over ten years of travel planning experience. What she loves most about traveling are learning about new cultures, trying new foods, and discovering new things about herself and her travel mates.
Her favorite countries are New Zealand, Japan, Ireland, and Austria. She lives in Tampa, FL with her husband and her rescue dog, Abbey.