Boskone: Visiting Japan

The first panel I was on was travel advice for the Japanese Worldcon:

Visiting Japan,

If we attend the Worldcon in Yokohama this August, what knowledge should we bring along? What ten phrases are essential? What societal differences should we be prepared to accommodate? What are Japanese SF fans like? What will we eat? How much will this cost?

Vince Docherty, Chad Orzel, Peggy Rae Sapienza

The other two people on the panel turn out to be the official agents for the Nippon 2007 Worldcon for North America (PRS) and Europe (VD), making me the token guy-with-a-website. They've also been to Japan more recently than I have, and were thus able to provide some more current information.

I was a little disappointed that there wasn't more about what to see and do in Japan. The panel mostly focussed on oragnizational details of the con, and nuts-and-bolts travel information. Much time was spent singing the praises of the JR pass, and talking about the logistics of travel from one place to another. There was a lot more about the con itself than about Japan as a whole, which I thought was a bit of a missed opportunity.

A few interesting/ useful tidbits:

  • There was mention made of luggage forwarding services, which will ship your bags from one htoel to another for a fairly reasonable fee. We'll definitely need to look into this, because I'm not thrilled by the idea of lugging big suitcases around on trains...
  • Some of the convention programming will apparently be "gisted," which is sort of a condensed books version of live translation-- after a speaker finishes talking in English, somebody will briefly summarize what was said in Japanese, and vice versa. This sounds a little weird, but Vince Docherty assured everyone that they've been doing this in Europe for years, and it works pretty well.
  • There were copies of a short Japanese phrase book available. This had been put together by the con staff, and thus it has some SF-speific terms in it, but I can't find anything about it on the official website.
  • The panel went to great lengths to reassure people that the Japanese are really extremely nice and helpful, which is worth emphasizing. I'm sort of constitutionally incapable of admitting that I'm lost of confused, and tend not to stand still long enough for people to notice that I'm confused and offer to help, but even I had it happen a couple of times.

I was surprised by how dismissive people were about Tokyo, calling it "just another big city." With the exception of the western bit of Shinjuku (where the really tall buildings are), I really didn't find that when I was there. Yeah, it's a big city, but it's not really like any other big city-- there are oddly serene temples and gardens stuck right in the middle of the busiest bits of the city, and even Ginza is sort of like New York crossed with Las Vegas-- it's a big glitzy shpping district, but absolutely everything lights up for no apparent reason.

On the whole it was an ok panel, but there were a couple of things that made me a little uncomfortable. There were a number of comments along the lines of the "we just need to show them how it's supposed to work" thing veejane mentions in her panel report. This always gets my back up a little bit-- it strikes me as a little patronizing to say that the Japanese organizers don't know what they're doing, given that they've been putting on their own conventions for over forty years. They may not do things the same way that American conventions do, but that's part of the point of occasionally having these things outside North America.

The really grating instance of this, though, had to do with the hotel reservation process. The agents they're using for the hotel booking are apparently asking for payment in full well in advance of the actual meeting-- they're billing credit cards on March 31st, and that sort of thing. There was a comment that "We'll get them to see that this is Just Not How It's Done."

The problem is, Japan is most emphatically not the US, and it's entirely possible that that is How Things Are Done there. I don't know one way or another-- I didn't stay in any hotels there, but given some of the real estate practices there (requiring "key money" paid in advance, in addition to the normal security depost), it wouldn't entirely surprise me. Looking at Japanese travel sites also seems to suggest that it's not all that unusual for Japanese hotels to demand prepayment.

And if that's How Things Are Done in Japan, your chances of getting it changed are approximately zero-- they'll refuse very politely, in a way that might make you think there;s a possibility of a change in policy, but there will be absolutely no change. That's How Things Are Done, and that's that.

There was a bit of a "Oh, those silly backwards foreigners" element to the comments about the reservation policy, that I found kind of unpleasant. I really hope I'm misreading that, otherwise there may be some ugly moments as the con comes together...


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First, forget the JR rail pass. Unless you're going to spend most of your time going from place to place specifically with JR (and no other railway company, of which there are many), it's cheaper to just buy a ticket as you go.

Second, yes, as far as I've been able to tell, hotels usually want payment in advance, and especially so if you don't have a Japanese home address.

Third, don't worry about the organization. If I have found any consistent thing about this place is that any event or happening is well-planned and organized almost to a fault - it will quite simply be a matter of heroic effort for anyone to manage to get lost or miss any part of the event they're supposed to be on.

First, forget the JR rail pass. Unless you're going to spend most of your time going from place to place specifically with JR (and no other railway company, of which there are many), it's cheaper to just buy a ticket as you go.

We're going to be doing a fair bit of traveling around (Kyoto to Yokohama to Takayama (probably) to Osaka, with side trips to Nara, Kamakura, Tokyo, and possibly some other places), so the JR pass seems like a good value. Everything I've read about it says that it pays for itself with one Tokyo-Kyoto round trip.

But yes, in the immediate vicinity of Tokyo, it wouldn't really be worth it, given the proliferation of subway lines.

I agree that the JR pass is great if you're planning to travel around a bit. JR tickets are ludicrously expensive, and having the prepaid is also a nice psychological relief - plus, they let you ride in the reserved cars (if you remember to make a reservation) rather than the crowded unreserved cars.

When I was last in Japan a year ago, I made a few hotel reservations in advance, none of which required advance payment. For whatever it's worth.

You can find a pdf of the Japanese fannish phrase book on their original bid site, on this page.

I don't recall any of our hotels requiring payment in advance when we went before. We were really Not Happy about the convention hotels requiring that, but, obviously, if you're going to go.....

I'd really like to get hold of that phrase book. I was otherwise engaged during the panel or I would have gone.