10 Things You Need to Know when Traveling to Japan

by - Friday, July 14, 2017

I used to have motion sickness. I never thought of riding a plane, no go abroad or even boat my way to Boracay (PS: I haven't even been there haha) because yes, traveling is one of my greatest fears.  I'd get panic attacks when commuting around Manila. And also had my fair share of suka ng suka-when-traveling stories. Gross.

"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 felt refreshing and most importantly, rewarding. So last year I started going places. I hope this would serve as an inspiration!

If you're traveling alone for the first time, Japan would be my topmost recommendation and it will be your instant favorite too! Finally decided when to go? Here are the ten things you need to know when traveling to Japan:

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 a no-brainer. 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 power bank 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. Do the stations ring a bell? These are the stations near the tourist spots in Tokyo. You'll save up time and money if you stay anywhere near the Yamanote line.

When I'm in Osaka, I like staying near Midosuji Subway Line which passes through major stations like Shin-Osaka (bullet train), Osaka, Namba and Tennoji.

Image via jrailpass

4. Get the  SUICA or 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)

You might end up either confused with the railway map, or with wrong fare computation, worse 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 making commuting a breeze! SUICA is used mainly in Tokyo (Kanto area; Sendai and Niigata) while ICOCA = Osaka (Kansai region) and can be used within both areas. 

Nagoya Castle

5. Travel light and use sturdy luggage.  Unless you are traveling during the coldest season, try not to bring so much clothes, mix-match, economize. Notice how there are scarcely any elevators in train stations in Japan? (shinkansen and major stations are exceptions) Japanese are the lightest packers you'll ever come across with. I always get fascinated how easy it is for Japanese businessmen 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. This tip is a little subjective, I know some people want do it more laid-back and unconstrained by plans. I get it. But just in case you want to save more time and be able to visit as much places as possible, read up online and prepare an itinerary. 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 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.

Another Tipid Tip, go to a grocery store just before closing time to score delicious bento meals for a steal! Discounts could go as low as half the original price. (半額 hangaku)

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. I was chilling to death, imagine wearing just short-sleeve shirt and a 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 in Shibuya crossing, Universal Studios, and  Disneyland during your visit.

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 locally 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)

Hope this post has been helpful. If you have any more suggestions, feel free to drop them down below the comments section :)

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