10 Things You Need to Know when Traveling to Japan

by - Friday, July 14, 2017

"Conquer your fears!" It's one of things I've been telling myself and other people I deeply care about. Doing something totally out of my comfort zone always felt refreshing and most importantly, rewarding. So last year, I started going places.

I know what you're thinking-- "yeah right, wanderlust, right? Instagram goals, right? Going with the trend? Tell me more bruh." However, as a child who couldn't even go to SM Megamall without throwing up, nor go to Quiapo and other places in the metro without feeling anxious this #travelgoalz a.k.a wanderlust for most people, is quite challenging for me.

I have motion sickness, I didn't even think of riding a plane nor go abroad nor boat my way to Boracay (PS: I haven't even been there haha) because yes, this is one of my greatest fears. You may ask my family about how often I'd get panic attacks when traveling and my suka ng suka phase, gross! Haha! Kidding aside, I hope I inspire you to travel now. Here are the things you need to know when traveling to the Land of the Rising Sun:

Universal Studios Japan (Osaka)
1. Travel apps and websites come in handy. I highly recommend Hyperdia for train schedule, track number and fare. It's so accurate that all of my travels through the bullet train and local train are based from here. I can accurately note down the type of bullet train, the time of departure, arrival and even transfers. I don't even need google with this!

For travel itinerary, I plan my trip with Sygic Travel (ios, android) app. It's so nifty as it suggests famous spots per country or city. It also tells how many hours tourists usually stay in those places so it's easy to budget time. It also shows how far each tourist spot from one another so you can tell how many minutes the walking time will be.

2. Don't forget your powerbank and pocket wifi! This one is pretty self-explanatory. While key cities in Japan like Osaka and Tokyo do have free wifi, most places do not. Well, there are wifi almost everywhere except most of them are not free. Be wary that while the Japan's train system is accurate and efficient, it can also be a confusing jungle for most people (even for Japanese!). Having a pocket wifi + your powerbank can be truly helpful in this situation.

Shinjuku (Tokyo)
3. Stay in a hotel near the Yamanote line in Tokyo. If Manila has MRT and LRTs which have different routes, Japan's train system is a huge jungle of interconnected railways and one of which is the Yamanote. Yamanote line is a loop which passes at stations: Shibuya, Shinjuku, Harajuku, Akihabara, Yoyogi, Ikebukuro, Ueno, Shinagawa, and of course Tokyo station. Aren't the station's names sound familiar? Because these are the stations of the tourist spots in Tokyo. You'll save up time and money if you stay anywhere near the Yamanote line.

Image via jrailpass
4. Get a SUICA/ICOCA tap card! You may wonder "...but I will only be in Japan for a day or three, why use a commuter's electronic card?" Remember that their train system is a jungle of railways and efficient transportation means a couple of transfers along the way. If you'll do a lot of transferring then you will also do a lot of buying from the ticket machine which also means a lot of computation.

Shinsaibashi shopping area (Osaka)
Be warned that the fare and time computation will not also come easy because again, their train system is a crazy maze. You'll end up either confused with the railway map, wrong fare computation or end up late for your destination. Your SUICA/ICOCA card will help you avoid these instances as it lets you inside by just tapping your card on the gate. All you have to do is to load in some amount to your card and off you go! SUICA = Tokyo (Kanto area; Sendai and Niigata), ICOCA = Osaka (Kansai region) and can be used within both areas. 

Nagoya Castle
5. Travel light and use sturdy luggage. Japanese businessmen are the lightest packers you'll ever come across with. I always get fascinated how easy it is for them to travel from one prefecture to another almost every week. The secret? They always travel light. Some of them just bring one or two sets of clothing, their laptop, and other business documents and they are good to go!

Traveling isn't exactly cheap, I know. However if there's a list of things you really shouldn't skimp on, your luggage should definitely hit the top spot. Suitcases take a lot of rough treatment: they get thrown, kicked, and trampled during your trip. You may not realize it for now but having even a single wheel broken will cause a huge pain in the butt. So much hassle. Really.

Cherry blossoms (Spring)
6. Prepare itinerary, in advanced. Nothing irks me more than a disorganized person. This tip is a little subjective, I know, but it's funny how some people don't realize how many hours will be saved if they already planned places to go ahead of time. Don't forget that Japan isn't easily an English speaking country yet. It's easy to get lost in translation. So if you can google tourist spots in advanced, including the train/bus schedule, fare, and even walking routes, the better! So much better!

Fukuyama Castle (Hiroshima, Autumn)
7. Kombini will be your best friend! Kombini/konbini is the Nihongo term for convenience store. Think of Lawson, Family Mart and Seven Eleven. Food in Japanese costs a bomb especially in key cities. If your hotel can provide free breakfast, the better. But if they don't? Kombini bentos will be your best friend! Cheap and hassle-free.

Tokyo Disneyland

8. Always bring EXTRA clothes and money. I went to Disneyland during Spring so I was really confident about the weather. It never rained but in the evening, the wind blew so strong. I literally felt my spine and hands benumbed by cold. The numbness slowly turned into pain. Rayuma lang? Haha! I dunno but it was killing me softly. I was only wearing a plain shirt and denim jacket. God, I was so underdressed for that temperature.

PS: the wind was so strong that night they had to cancel the electric parade and fireworks display.

Going to Japan? Always bring extra money. I've seen many friends who thought Japan can be enjoyable with very, very limited budget. While yes this is certainly possible, I can guarantee you that you'll go back home hungry for more experience. Can't stress this enough. This isn't Hong Kong or Bangkok where haggling and cheap markets are the place to be.

PS: Uniqlo is less expensive here in Japan, hoard!

Himeji Castle (Hyogo)
9. Yep, always check the weather / temperature. I live in a another prefecture in Japan, so the silly in me didn't think about re-checking the temperature in Tokyo. I only brought thin shirts with me plus a denim jacket and a sweater to protect me from cold. The wind in Disneyland was so strong that night they had to cancel the evening parade. (See #8) I was chilling to death, imagine wearing just short-sleeve shirt + denim jacket to a winter-like temperature. No. Never again.

I highly recommend Accuweather. Just type in your travel destination + 'weather'; You may also include the date in google search bar and hit accuweather from the list. Accuweather is also available in Google playstore and itunes store.

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest (Kyoto)
10. Take note of Japanese Holidays.  Japanese castles and gardens whilst beautiful, aren't usually free. However, you get to enter museums, castles and gardens for free during November 3rd (Culture Day). My suggested itinerary would be arriving to Japan around 30th of October (or any day before the wave of people for Halloween) and stay until then. You can also enjoy Halloween-themed Shibuya crossing, USJ or even Disneyland during October-November.

I don't advise traveling during the first week of May (Golden Week) and second to third week of August (Obon) as these are two of Japan's major and longest holiday seasons. Due to the almost week-long holiday, families usually go to famous theme parks or travel domestically or abroad. These seasons are two of Japan's busiest travel seasons and can be the cause various travel related concerns (crowded places, delayed flights and train/bus rides, long queues, heavy traffic, etc)


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