Japan - Plans go awry

Missed our first post on Japan? Read it here!
The Japan list of contents so far can be found here!
The best laid plans of mice and men...

When making a trip anywhere, the fear is always lingering that something will go wrong. A reservation not sticking. A plane being overbooked. Injuries or sickness while traveling. For us, things started to go wrong before the trip even began.

Cancellations on Airbnb

Our Airbnb hosts cancelled our stays with them leaving us with a little over 1 month to find accommodations during the busiest month in Japan for 5 nights. One of the hosts was in Osaka and would be 3 nights without accommodations, the other was in Sendai, leaving us with 2 nights to figure out there. We emailed the hosts back requesting they refund our stays immediately so we could begin our new search.

The funny thing about the situation was how it even happened. Airbnb has always worked well for us. We have used it extensively over the years, in Hawaii, New York, New Orleans, Hollywood, Santa Monica, and Los Angeles. Not once have we ever had a cancellation, because we always kept in mind we were dealing with normal human beings and not professional hospitality establishments. We always took extra precautions, such as:

* Confirming that the location was not a new host.
* Verifying that the host has a lot of positive reviews.
* We made sure the hosts always were active with those they hosted, which is almost always listed in the reviews.
* If a deal sounded too good to be true, it probably was.
* We always made sure we followed up with the host before our trip, just to ask about the area and the location itself.

When all of this happened we were in the follow up phase of the plan. As we had booked the locations almost 6 months before our trip, we wanted to be sure they hadn't "forgotten" about us. We sent every host we would be staying at a brief email asking about the area and maybe some dining recommendations. All of our hosts responded back with lots of tips and information, except for our Osaka and Sendai hosts. The response back from Osaka and Sendai were along the lines of, "oh, I forgot to tell you the apartment is not available anymore." Eek! When were you planning on letting us know? When we arrived?

We were most concerned about Osaka. We had already booked our flight tickets to land in Osaka from Yakushima, so we had to stay in Osaka as we would be landing at 7 at night. Our Osaka hosts informed us that the reason our listing was cancelled was due to the Apartment complex tenants agreeing as a whole to ban Airbnb from the complex. Luckily for us, the host was eager to work with us and had other accommodations she was willing to offer us. We were able to rebook with the same host somewhere else.

The Sendai host informed us that the original owners of the unit wanted it back. We don't know the specifics of the situation, if he was subletting, or a Real Estate agent acting on their behalf, but either way the Sendai location closed up shop immediately. We took a quick look over his once very positive profile to find that almost a years worth of reservations were being cancelled. Shortly after his account was closed. There isn't much in Sendai when it comes to Airbnb locations, at least, there wasn't when we were looking, even 6 months before the trip. We decided that since the only reason for going to Sendai was to see the fox village, an hour long drive away, perhaps it would be better if we found a spot closer to the Fox village.

This is how we stumbled upon Chikusenso - Mt. Zao Onsen Resort and Spa.

While it was much pricier than our Airbnb location, it would be much closer to the Fox Village, and also allow us a nice relaxing time in the mountains.

To say there were a few sleepless nights during this is an understatement.

As for those of you thinking, "I'll never book with Airbnb", let me go over a few things before you make any rash decisions. As stated above we have never had any cancellations from all of other stays at Airbnb. Airbnb also has a nice system to prevent cancellations, as they charges a "penalty" to the host if they cancel, which is not cheap. It puts the host into a situation of, not only do they lose all of the funds that were reserved for the location, but they also incur a penalty on top of that.

Bearing all that in mind, Airbnb is not welcome everywhere. A lot of communities are slowly started to ban it, as they don't like having strangers in their neighborhoods. It also takes a lot of customers away from the hotel industry, which are not just going to stand around and watch their money drain out of their pockets. In Japan, Airbnb is illegal... in a way. Japan's law is very vague on the actual legalities of Airbnb, and while many hosts run their bed and breakfast places without incident, foreign hosts have been busted. If you are planning to use Airbnb for your trip to Japan, and well, anywhere, be smart about. Stay in touch with your host and make sure the host is reliable by reading through all of their reviews.

Forcing us to look at our entire schedule over, the cancellations were a little bit of a blessing in disguise. In a... "well, the good news is, we spotted another problem before it got worst" kind of way.

Issues due to communication barriers

We discovered that there was a miscommunication between us and our reservation in Koyo-san, (our fault entirely), and it turns out we were without accommodations the night before we went to Koyo-san as we had thought we would be spending two nights there. This was due to the broken english in their emails to us. It was overlooked on the first read, but when going back to confirm things, we realized the error. Two nights suddenly became one. To make matters worst, the night we would be without a place to sleep landed on a Friday night. I am sure it is a global hospitality understanding that weekends are always going to the busiest times for the lodging industry, and that turned out to be true in Japan as well. Kyoto, the city we stay in before Koyo-san, was completely booked for what we were looking for. Koyo-san lodgings were also fully booked as well.

After a lot of stressful searching, hoping, and emailing, we were able to locate a darling Ryokan in the rural area of Osaka only 2 hours from Koyo-san and on the route. This also had the upside of allowing us more time in Kyoto as it turned our 4 hour train trip to Koyo-san into two, 2 hour trips.

Old Plan vs New Plan

There have been a lot changes since we originally started planning this trip in September of 2015 to when we finally finished booking everything in February of 2016. This post probably should have been our first post, but it didn't work out that way. While "The Plan - Japan" is our pretty rock solid Itinerary, it took us awhile and a lot of research to get there. For those reading this from some of the travel subs we post in, we figured it might be beneficial to have some of what we did, and why we did things the way we did. Here is our very first itinerary that we made back in September of 2015 when we were first dreaming up the trip. We hadn't even purchased the plane tickets yet:

The Plan - Old Vs New
This is our old itinerary and our new itinerary.

So much to do, so little time. Originally our main route was the same, but we were spending longer amount of time in Tokyo and Kyoto. Our original plan involved us staying in one location and making short day trips out to others locations. For example, instead of staying in Osaka, we would be staying in Kyoto and taking the train to Osaka, Kobe, and Nara.

Tsumago was a short trip in the middle of Kyoto. Tsumago is the location of the Kiso Valley trail, a well-preserved area that is considered a living museum of the Edo period. Almost all modern facilities are hidden from sight in this area. It is recommended by many to make the hour long hike from Magome to Tsumago or, for those who like a little bit of a challenge, from Tsumago to Magome. The path is uphill the latter direction.

Fukuoka (which is halfway between Hiroshima and Kagoshima) was originally on the list. Our idea was to fly to Yakoshima from there. After visiting Yakoshima for 2 nights we would fly back to Fukuoka, then all the way up to the far North side of Japan to Sapporo. For those of you not familiar, Sapporo is the birthplace of Sapporo beer and also the resting site of Japan's legendary Snow monkeys.

So why the change?

After looking at everything we wanted to do, and what was important to us, we wanted to spend time enjoying certain areas rather than be confined by train schedules. Almost every other day was a 1 to 2 hour train trip to a nearby town. We also considered that sometimes the best part of exploring a new destination, is seeing the local life, which is hard to do when there is only have a day to explore and the only point of reference is the train station. By changing our sleeping location to a local dwelling, there would a higher chance of seeing those things off the tourist path.

But not everything was changed because we wanted it to change. The Kiso Valley trail to Tsumago was one of the highlights of our trip, but we had to change that. Why? We simply couldn't get accommodations. Did we book in advanced? Yes. Were they full? No...

Rejection due to personal requests

For this traveling duo, (the piglet AND the boar, after all) one of us found out she has a mollusk allergy. I'll give you a hint, it wasn't "the boar". We discovered this, unfortunately, in our trip to New Orleans, while chowing down on some delicious charbroiled oysters. New Orleans is not the best place to be with a mollusk allergy, especially when it is something that was never an issue before...

Dealing with this new found allergy is manageable with over the counter allergy meds. It is important to note, however, that a lot of medicines that are easily available in the United States, are banned or not available in Japan due to their very strict drug control laws. For example, over the counter allergy medication should not be brought into Japan. Due to this, precautions need to be taken. When we made reservations at certain Ryokans, which normally serve meals during your stay, we informed them that one of the travelers had a mollusk allergy. We were quickly turned away and had our reservations cancelled. Our Tsumago reservation was cancelled after we had already booked it and given to someone else. We were also refused when we attempted to book a few different Ryokans in Osaka and Kyoto area when we were attempting to find a replacement accommodation before we found Nanten-en.

My advise to you, if you have any kind of food allergy, and you REALLY REALLY want to stay at that location and you don't mind eating somewhere else, do not mention the allergy until you are on site, if at all. You might have to find dinner elsewhere, which really would not of been a problem for us, but we were not even allowed the option. We were simply refused and when we made additional attempts to ratify the situation we were told the spot was given to someone else and they were fully booked. Learned our lesson.

Trains or planes?

After much deliberation we also decided that instead of flying from Fukuoka to Yakushima, we would take advantage of the JR pass and take the Japanese bullet train, called the Shinkansen, down to Kagoshima where we would be taking the boat from Kagoshima to Yakushima. Originally, we had Fukuoka on the agenda as it was noted as one of the best cities for Fugu dining. It is also home of the Wisteria Tunnel at the Kawachi Fuki Gardens. We were sad to find that the Wisteria Tunnel would not be in season though as it normally blooms in late April, around the same time as Japans "Golden Week". We would be long past Fukoaka by that time. After we were able to locate a popular Fugu restaurant in Osaka, we decided that a day trip to Fuokoka from Hiroshima would be a better suited for us. By taking the Shinkansen to Kagoshima, we would open up more of the country to viewing, and be near an active Volcano!

Cutting Sapporo from our Itinerary was a very hard decision. We both really wanted to see the famous snow monkeys that bathe in the natural onsen in Sapporo, but it was such a long journey to Sapporo and then back to Tokyo, so we decided to skip it.

So, how did Yokosuka and Isumi make their way into our travel plans? We saw the accomodations listed in various top ten Airbnb lists for Japan (which we cannot seem to find now as it appears the owner did not renew their webspace.) Since we wanted to explore as much as Japan had to offer outside of Tokyo, this would allow us the perfect opportunity while staying in highly regarded Airbnb locations. We hope they are as awesome as we read, and can't wait to report back after our trip!

Gearing Up!