By Koushi A. Itagaki
Do not underestimate a visit to Japan. When I say this, I am not referring to the usual concerns about dealing with the language barrier, nor the instinctive fear that arises from visiting a completely unknown area. I am talking about what you can experience and the memories you can take away from visiting the country. And when the country you visit is Japan, it can feel otherworldly, but nevertheless I must reiterate that you should not underestimate it. Though perhaps stating the obvious, the best way to rid yourself of these commonplace concerns is to, of course, plan. Plan where you want to go, how to get there, when you'll get there, how you'll know whether you're going the wrong direction or not (this is big, trust me!), everything. Sometimes the preparation takes more work than the trip itself, and for pragmatic reasons it very well should be. The point of a vacation is to presumably get away from it all, isn't it? Well once you have planned, that will indeed be the case.
Going to Japan isn't a cakewalk like going on a cruise or a beach resort, but to be honest, a trip to Japan is infinitely more meaningful and memorable. Gather all the information you can get, especially from the JNTO website. Believe me, it's there for a reason! Since there really is no such thing as over-planning, be sure to visit other online websites, seek travel books, blogs, and whatever else you can get a hold of. Ask friends or family members that have gone to Japan for any logistical tips, but try not to mirror their trips. Do what you want to do and what interests you, and tailor your trip accordingly. There are tons of easily accessible resources to provide more than your fair share of perspectives and insights: pick and choose from them as you wish. The more you prepare, the more comfortable you will feel in knowing where you're going and how to get there.
The best part of planning, however, is that it opens your eyes to everything else you may miss through the chaos and franticness of having not planned nearly as thoroughly as you could/should have. And this is the sole reason why I began this entry by saying you should not underestimate a trip to Japan. We've all had messy vacations that had its fair share of borderline disastrous occurrences (then again, what would a family vacation be without it?), but it's hard to appreciate the unfamiliar when more time is spent simply trying to familiarize yourself with the process of getting there. You learn to appreciate your surroundings more, take in the beautiful land and the rich culture has to offer, and this unknown land suddenly gains personal meaning to you.
I always think of a visit to Japan as being akin to watching your favorite movie or reading your favorite book. Not only does it get better every time, but you also notice subtle nuances and more complex intricacies that you may have overlooked or missed the first time through. With each and every time, it just seems to get better and the picture seems to not only be more complete, but more thorough as well. And believe me, a trip to Japan gets better each time you go, but I'll save that for another time.