Gone are the days when visiting Japan would cost you an arm, a leg and other body parts. If you have a regular income, you’ll definitely be able to grace the shores of the Land of the Rising Sun just by saving for it and doing your homework (read: research) to carefully plan your trip. Thanks to promo fares and budget accommodations, you can now easily tick Japan off your bucket list.
Here’s a Japan travel checklist that you can take inspiration from and share away!
By the way, if you care to know the latest figures on how many Pinoys have gone to Japan as tourists and why the rise in the stats over the last few years, read this light article.
Now, back to the checklist. Here we go!
If you can’t be bothered to put together your own itinerary, you have the option to ask your travel agency to book you a packaged tour. If you go for this rather expensive option, your legs and feet will be well taken care of as you’ll just hop on and off the tour bus.
If you’re the adventurous type and you like doing things your own way, creating your own itinerary is the way to go! Among friends, this option is more exciting and more fulfilling. But be prepared to do a lot of walking, map reading and train rides. Taxi rides are not an option in Japan – outrageously expensive!
Among the airlines that offer flights to Japan are Japan Airlines, Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, All Nippon Airways and Jetstar Airways.
Book your flights months and months before your travel dates. Follow the social media pages of your favorite airlines and subscribe to their newsletters so you’d be among the first ones to get notified of their promos. If there are no promo fares available for your preferred travel dates, use Google Flights to know which airlines offer the cheapest fares.
See the visa fees and list of requirements here. Standard processing period is 7 working days but sometimes, if your papers are complete and accurate, you get your passport back with the visa a a couple of days in advance.
Bring US Dollar bills and get them changed to Japanese Yen at the money changers at the airport or in a Japanese bank in a city. Many ATMs in Japan do not accept cards that are issued outside of Japan. Learn more about that here.
To give you an idea, USD 600 is more than enough for meals, snacks and local train rides for 9 days – shopping, Shinkansen (bullet train) ride, theme parks, tours and other indulgences are not included.
City Navigation Guide
The Japan rail network is highly organised but could appear very intimidating to a first time visitor, so you need to be good at reading train maps and knowing where to get on, get off or change lines. Make sure to carry with you at all times printouts of the railway and subway maps of the cities you’ll be visiting. If you’re going to Tokyo, you can download the Tokyo Subway Navigation App, available on iOS and Android.
If you get confused or worse, you get lost, don’t panic, station officers are trained to give you directions in English.
If you’re travelling to multiple cities, it’s best that you buy a Japan Rail (JR) pass. A 7-day pass would cost you USD 232. This pass covers your rides on the Shikansen (bullet train) and on JR lines. The pass will be shipped to your address for free then you can just get it activated at the JR ticket counter when you arrive at the airport. When you enter any station along a JR train line, you will need to show your JR pass to the station master/officer for them to let you through.
There are train lines that are not covered by the JR Pass. This is where you’ll be needing a Pasmo card or a Suica card. You can buy and top them up at the train stations. You can also use these prepaid cards for bus rides and purchases at shops and select vending machines. There’s not much difference between these two cards but if you want to know more about them, read this blog post. My friend and I used the Suica card and the experience was fine.
Again, taxi rides are not an option in Japan!
It is advisable to rent a pocket wifi that you can use for the entire duration of your stay. It’s cheaper than if you turn on your data roaming as you and your companions can split the rental fee. You will have internet access wherever you are in Japan so you can easily get directions to your preferred shops and dining places and post your photos on social media real time.
Book a pocket wifi online, receive the rental confirmation in your email and print it out to claim the device along with its charger and power bank at the designated counter at the airport when you arrive. Of course, you need to surrender it before you fly out. The Japan Rail Pass website offers this service but a cheaper option would be Global Advanced Communications.
Book a room in a hotel that’s walking distance from a train station. You can check out hotels within your budget at www.tripadvisor.com, www.booking.com and www.skyscanner.com. You might want to consider staying in a traditional Japanese inn. To sleep on a futon in a tatami mat room is an archetypal Japanese experience you wouldn’t want to miss.
If Osaka and Kyoto are part of your itinerary, what you can do is just stay in a hotel or inn in Osaka and just ride the Shinkansen (bullet train) going to Kyoto and back. One way ride is just 15 minutes. Why recommend this? Because hotels in Kyoto are way too expensive.
If you’re in Osaka and you’re a Potterhead, make sure you visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios. The place is so delightfully magical! You’ll have a blast walking and taking photos around Hogsmead village, reminiscing your favourite scenes in the series, drinking Butterbeer (it’s non-alcoholic), and enjoying the 3D ride inside the towering Hogwarts Castle.
Places to See
Don’t be pressured to see everything in the lists. Go for the ones that you like the most, based on the write-ups you’ve read, the photos you’ve seen and the how accessible they are from your hotel.
Mt Fuji Tour
When you’re in Tokyo, going on a day tour around Mt Fuji is a must. You can check out available tours at www.viator.com. When you book a tour on this site, you will be emailed the confirmation along with the instructions as to where the meet up will be.
If you’ll choose the Mt Fuji Day Trip including Lake Ashi Sightseeing Cruise, you’re in for a real treat! Your deluxe bus will depart from your meet-up place in Shinjuku at 9AM. Before 11:30AM, you’ll arrive at the 5th station of Mt Fuji, which is elevated at 2,400 meters. For 45 minutes, you’ll get to enjoy the cold temperature while checking out the souvenir shops and taking photos of yourself with the snowcapped peak of the mountain in the background. From here, you’ll be whisked to a restaurant by the Lake Kawaguchiko where you’ll have a sumptuous Japanese lunch. After lunch, you’ll ride the Hakone Komagatake Aerial Tramway to go up to an observation deck where you can relish a postcard perfect view of Mt Fuji. Afterwards, you’ll go down and board a big boat that will take you on a cruise on Lake Ashi. Your little heart will have a hard time containing all the beauty that you’ll see in this tour, promise!
The view of Lake Ashi from the Hakone Komagatake Aerial Tramway ride
Japan offers a vast array of delectable snacks and sweets that you can bring home to your loved ones as pasalubong (presents). If you want some recommendations, check out these yummies!
Etiquette / Social Rules
The Japanese people are well-behaved and very dignified so it’s best that you take note of these unspoken social rules before your travel dates so you don’t make a fool of yourself when you get there.
Bonus tip: If you can’t make it to Japan during the Cherry Blossom Festival in March, make sure you’re there on 31 October so you can party with the hippest Japs wearing the most awesome Halloween costumes in Shibuya, Tokyo!
That’s all from me. Have a great time planning your trip!