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Tokyo Auto Salon 2009: Get Your Flights Booked Already!

October 20, 2008

Well the dates are announced and the website is redone so Tokyo Auto Salon 2009 must be just around the corner. If SEMA wasn’t exciting enough to drag you to Vegas (why not?!) well it’s time to book your flights to Tokyo because you’ll definitely get your GT-R fix there.

I promised a few Japan/Tokyo Auto Salon hints and tips all those months back and here’s a couple of the first of hopefully a few posts on this. This one’s going to focus on the logistics of putting a TAS trip together. I’ve had the pleasure of travelling to Japan many times in the past few years and plan many more trips back. So what’s the best way to do it?

Click the Read More link below to get some advice from me and some friends who chimed in with ideas!

First up the flights. January is actually a tough time of the year to head to Japan for anything but skiing. If you’re a skiier or a snowboarder, you’ve probably already heard of Hokkaido’s amazing ski fields and high quality snow. Why is it a bad time you ask? Well it’s cold and it’s expensive. Cold is one thing yeah but expensive is annoying. A lot of flights book up early with people hitting Japan for the snow season or returning to Japan to spend time with their family for the holidays. What can cost $1,000 in July could be $2,000 or more in January.

If you’re based in Australia probably the cheapest way to get there right now is Jetstar. They’ve just recently begun selling fares direct into Tokyo Narita airport and while it’s not a direct flight it is cheaper and more available than the competition right now. Fares are going between $1100 and $1600 AUD depending on dates. US guys, submit your cheapest airfares to Tokyo and let us add to this. The main point to take away from this is, book early and shop around.

Next up is accommodation, you need to book this in advance as you’ll almost certainly find it difficult to organise in-country. Depending on your budget you have a few options here.

Firstly decide where you want to base yourself. Tokyo Auto Salon is at Makuhari Messe at Makuhari which is an hour and a half by train from popular Tokyo suburbs. A fair commute but it’s only 3 days of what could be a longer holiday for you in Japan. You may also find yourself only being interested in TAS for two of the three days it’s open. So really it’s a decision to make based on:

  • Are you willing to make the trek to TAS each morning?
  • Do you want to go out at night?
  • Are you staying for a holiday before/after TAS?
  • Do you want to experience real Tokyo culture?

If you answered yes to two or more of those questions you’ll want to be based in Tokyo itself over being in Chiba/Makuhari area. Given that as a starting point, if it’s your first time in Tokyo, your search for accommodation is going to be pretty overwhelming. I recommend the Tokyo entry at WikiTravel in the medium range of the “Sleep” section towards the end of the page. I’ve stayed in a few of those places and can say that they get the job done although here are my top recommendations when booking Japan accommodation:

  • Book in advance
  • Book the newest place you can find
  • Book a place within minutes from a train station on a good JR line such as the Yamanote Line
  • Read review sites and all the comments you can
  • Read about the area the hotel is in in advance, some places can be less desirable than others if you like shopping or staying out all night for example
  • Book non-smoking rooms even if you’re a smoker
  • If you know someone who can read Japanese that can be a big advantage (see using Jalan.net below)

Let’s go into these in detail.

Book In Advance

This is a no brainer, use the internet to book in advance. Either an online room vendor like AsiaRooms.com or the hotel’s own website. If you can read Japanese or you can find a friend who can use Jalan.net to book a hotel as they offer great deals usually with more than direct bookings get and cheaper too. Domestic tourism is huge in Japan and that is where hotels focus their marketing.

Decide your budget before you book, you can spend between $80 – $150 USD per night on a medium range hotel and the lower end of that scale is still a decent room with everything you need if you shop wisely.

Don’t kid yourself, yes this place is right next to Omori Factory but no you can’t stay in a capsule for two weeks!

Book the Newest Place You Can Find

Often you’ll come across a hotel that just looks dated in the photos online. The reason it looks dated is because it IS. Tokyo is FULL of old mouldy hotels that trade on their chain name or past history of being good but are now run down relics with green films of mould in the rooms and a musty odor.

One classic example of this I can recall very vividly is the Shinjuku Prince Hotel. At about $130 USD per night last I checked it fits in at the upper limit of what I would spend on a small, no-frills room in Shinjuku per night. It’s conveniently located and that’s it’s best selling point. It’s in dire need of renovation however, and it IS being renovated, but they’re still selling the old, unrenovated rooms at a small discount.

Staying at the Prince Shinjuku for a short time can be tolerated but not if you value a nice fresh room with value for your money.

Some hotels will advertise their recent renovation or recent openings, if you see that put a tick next to that box because new hotels are usually at a higher standard to begin with and not necessarily at a higher cost.

The Yamanote Line trains are marked with this green stripe

Book Near the Train

You’re going to be moving around a LOT in Japan and the only way to do it really is by train. Tokyo has the worlds best train system capable of moving countless millions of people per day and it’s fast, efficient, clean and cheap. Being near a train station will give you the ability to quickly get to and from other parts of Tokyo. No one wants to walk 20 minutes after being out all night or at a busy auto show all day.

Some train lines are easier to use and have more frequent trains than others. Staying on the JR system makes things a tiny bit easier to get to Tokyo Auto Salon but the Tokyo Metro / Subway lines are just as easy to use and get around.

Personally I stick to hotels near Yamanote line stations, Shibuya in particular but that’s because I like the area. You could just as easily base yourself in Shinjuku or Roppongi or anywhere.

Read up before you go – You might want to be right next door to the fugu skin shop!

Read Reviews Sites and Comments

Google is your friend here, many online vendors also have a section for users to comment on hotels. Some of these sites are better than others. This is a part where reading Japanese is an awesome skill to have because Jalan.net (see below) has usually hundreds of user submitted reviews on every hotel they list. For most of us that information is slightly out of reach.

TripAdvisor.com can be pretty useful to us non Japanese reading folk as they’ve also built quite a database of reviews of the more common hotels in Tokyo.

Roppongi Hills is a great place to stay if you have money to spend

Read About the Hotel’s Area Before Booking

Finding a great priced nice looking hotel is great! But if it’s in the wrong area you might have problems. Some parts of Tokyo get quite seedy after hours and while the majority of places are safe some might not be extremely comforting to walk around in at night. There’s a lot of reasons you might end up not liking a particular area, you might also find that the shopping, food or nightlife in your area lacks what you’re after.

So it’s best to check up on the general area of the hotel, this can be done with TripAdvisor, Google, WikiPedia, WikiTravel, GoogleMaps etc etc.

Book Non Smoking Rooms Even if you Smoke

Simple one, smoking rooms stink. Non smoking rooms usually don’t. If you are a chain smoker you might not be able to resist this one but ideal situation is a non-smoking room with a balcony for you to smoke on.

Crossing the road near Shibuya Station

If You Can Read Japanese: Using Jalan.net

Jalan.net is a domestic travel website for Japanese people to book hotels and such online. Of course thanks to the internet you can also use it. One catch is it’s only in Japanese and it’s not translatable by internet translators without manually copying and pasting stuff.

I won’t go into it too much except to say:

  • You can sometimes save at least 1,000 yen per nights stay using Jalan
  • Sometimes you can get really good upgrades to bigger rooms or free breakfasts using Jalan
  • Sometimes you can use the “Jalan” price to negotiate the hotel down directly

Anyways that concludes this installment of the Tokyo Auto Salon 2009 travel tips guide. Go ahead and book your flights and submit a comment if you have any questions!

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