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Planning Your First Trip To Japan - What You Might Not Know

If you have been following my Instagram, then you must have known that I just spent my semester break at Japan, together along with my family. I had been planning to take a lot of photos and videos so I could make some exciting blog posts or even vlogs, but the 'good' news was my camera kept giving me errors. This really messed up my mood that I didn't even bother to take pictures anymore, even with my phone camera, so I don't really have photos to share with you about the trip #booooooooooo.

But I DO want to share some information that I have about preparing your first trip ever to Japan because before I went there, I thought that traveling there would be overwhelming since I had no idea on what to expect and how it was like there. So, I thought it would be pretty helpful if I can share things that I know to those of you who had the desire to travel there without the help from tour agents. 

I will also leave some of the useful links I found when I was doing my research while preparing for the trip, it might save up some of your time not having to Google for everything because I had done it for you :))

PS. Click on the pictures for image source/credit.

Before buying your tickets, you'll have to know that there are some major airports in Japan which were Narita Airport (Tokyo),  Haneda Airport (Tokyo) and Kansai Airport (Osaka). If you plan to visit Tokyo first, note that Narita is pretty far from the central Tokyo, but you can use N'EX (Narita Express) train or Airport Limousine Bus (despite the name, it's actually just a normal bus) to get to your destination in the city.

Lacking information about this, I bought the tickets of JAL (Japan Airlines) via Kuala Lumpur which arrived and departed from Narita, so I had to get back to Tokyo again before going back, which now I believe wasn't quite the best way. If I were to do it again, I'd buy the tickets which depart from different airports, for example: arriving at Narita and departing from Kansai, or the other way so I wouldn't have to go back to the same city just to catch my flight back.

Speaking about tickets, I got mine at JAL at the rate of around IDR 4,000,000 which I believe wasn't the cheapest one, but I really thought it was a pretty good deal; 7 hours flight on JAL was pretty bearable and they serve you drinks non-stop (plus, they served you Haagen Dasz too! LOL). You can find a lot of cheaper tickets online but if I can give you a suggestion, if you can, don't use low-cost carrier airlines because trust me 7 hours on a tiny space like an airplane was torturing. Just add just a little budget on your flight and I promise, it'll be worth it (back pain and fatigue don't make good friends on holiday, right?).

Oh right, one last tip about this, try to avoid midnight flights because I tell you ya, it is really energy draining. Yep, even when you think that it would save you a night on your accommodation booking - been there, done that.

If you owned yourself an E-Paspor, you are eligible for visa waiver (bebas visa) and that means you don't need a printed visa to visit Japan (please CMIIW) but you still have to register yourself beforehand. For more information about the visa waiver, you can click on this link.

Now, since I don't own an e-passport, so I'd have to obtain a 'manual' visa. If you're in big cities like Medan, Jakarta, Surabaya, Makassar or Denpasar, lucky for you that you'll be able to apply for the tourist visa by yourself without the help of the tour agents, if you want to (click here for a good and brief explanation how-to and the documents needed). But since I lived in Pekanbaru and there was no Japan embassy here, I chose to let the tour agent take care of that for me.

I used the service from Dwidaya Pekanbaru on this and it cost me around IDR 450,000/person (by May 2017) for a 15 days single entry visa that was valid for 3 months from the day it was issued. The documents needed were the same with the ones you'll need if you're applying it yourself (more about it here). My visa was done around a week after I submitted all the required documents to the agent.

The other agent in Pekanbaru that I know which also handle Japan visa application is Sanel, which I believe the prices were about the same with Dwidaya.

A tip that I got from a friend; if you don't own an e-passport, you can consider applying for an e-passport instead of a visa because they cost about the same. Plus, if you already have the e-passport, you won't have to apply for Japan visa anymore the next time you visit Japan. PS. I didn't do this because the immigration in Pekanbaru hasn't supported e-passport application at the moment (CMIIW).

Hotel rooms in Japan were generally expensive and they're usually not so big (space is luxurious thing there). So I thought for 5 people, the best thing that I can opt for was Airbnb. It was my first experience using the service so I had no idea about how it worked at the beginning.

But thankfully all the three Airbnb places that I booked were just like what they were described and I had no major problem on my total of 7 nights on Airbnb places. Here are some of my top tips while browsing and choosing for the best Airbnb's:

  • Check the location, usually the nearer to the tourist spots, the more expensive it will be, but at the same time if you can save on transportation cost and energy, it might be worth the extra cost. The other hand, good thing about staying in a place quite far from the crowds is you can feel the real neighborhood without all the noisy crowds. Which one is better; your call :)
  • Pictures are deceiving. Hosts have their own way to portray their houses to look spacious and comfortable - the best they could be. Most of the places I booked were a lot smaller than what I thought it would be, actually everything was the same as the pictures, but just.. a lot smaller. So, don't expect for big spacious apartments in Japan with low prices because again.. space is a luxury.
  • Take your time browsing to get the best of your money. By this I mean, try to find a place which provides you the best deal from what you'll pay for. Try to find ones that provide you every basic thing you'll need for your travel like towels, shampoo, soap, hair dryer so that you won't have to carry them from home (well, but if you are a hygiene freak who wouldn't dare to use other people's towel or any other brands of vanities that you don't normally use, it's your absolute right). Most of the Airbnb's now provide portable WiFi device too, which is a great thing, in my opinion.
  • This is probably the most important tip of all: READ THE REVIEWS! In fact, every single one. This is the only way for you to have an image about how your stay will be. One of my friends forgot this one step and found out that the house they rented didn't have a heater (it was on winter!) and ended up booking another hotel room instead.
  • Ask for recommendations from people who had been there. I did too, in fact one of the house we rented was recommended by my sister's friend and we ended up staying there for 4 nights while we were in Tokyo. Because sometimes words from people that we know are just easier to trust, aren't they?

Now if you wish to know the places I rented, here are the three places we booked while we were in Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo. They all didn't disappoint me but I think the only one I'll be back again if I have the chance is the one in Osaka since the location was excellent and the host also provided every little thing that we didn't even thought we'd need, so I highly recommend it.

If you haven't tried Airbnb service and are interested to, you can click on this link which will give you a free credit worth IDR 350,000 off your first trip. You know that Airbnb can be used worldwide, don't you? Well, you're welcome!

We spent our last night in Japan at a hotel near Tokyo Disneysea which we booked from booking.com and I think it was a pretty good deal; IDR 1,600,000 for a night in a four single beds room (which of course, we fit 5 people in there LOL) at Mitsui Garden Hotel Prana Tokyo Bay. Maybe you'll think, "Hey, it's not that cheap!", well yes it is not that cheap but considering the fact that it was a 4-star hotel and it was very convenient to travel back and forth to Disney parks since they have the FREE shuttle buses, I really think the price was really quite fine. I'm also recommending this hotel if you are interested in staying near Disney parks.

The Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) is basically just a piece of thick paper which has the superpower to let you get on unlimited rides on trains, buses and ferries that are operated by the JR company and also Shinkansen (Nozomi and Mizuho trains excluded) for a certain period of time (7 or 14 or 21 days from the first day you have chosen). This pass is only available for foreigners and it's better for you to purchase it before you arrived in Japan since if you get it in Japan, it'll cost you way higher!

Question is do you need or do you not need the pass? Well, there are two answers to that; yes, you do and no, you don't. Yes, if you're going to explore a lot of places in different provinces during your visit in Japan. And no, if you're planning to spend quite a time in a city to explore more of it.

Sample case: an ordinary 7 days JR Pass cost around JPY 29,110 at the moment, a single Shinkansen ride from Tokyo Station to Osaka Station cost JPY 14,140 (yes, Shinkansen ride is THAT expensive). So if you're planning to travel back and forth from Tokyo to Osaka then back to Tokyo, it will already cost you around JPY 28,000 so a JR Pass might be a good option for you. But if you're planning to spend a week just exploring Tokyo, I don't think this pass will be necessary. 

My tip for you is before deciding to purchase JR Pass, do plan your itinerary before getting one so you can decide what's best for you. The other quite useful tip is: Shinkansen isn't the only option to travel around cities in Japan, you can check on flight tickets because sometimes it can be cheaper than a single Shinkansen ride and they took about the same time, for example: flight tickets from Tokyo to Osaka a lot of times are waaaay cheaper than Shinkansen.

Click here for more information about JR Pass, and here on how to use it.

Oh, I almost forgot. I got mine at Kenikura on Tokopedia at the rate IDR 3,229,000 (around JPY 26,908 by May 2017) and so far that was one of the best deal that I've found on the internet. The price may differ from time to time because of the currency exchange value. Once you purchase, you'll get a paper that they call Exchange Order and when you reach Japan, find the nearest JR East Travel Service Center to exchange it with your real pass.

While in big cities in Japan, you'll sometimes need to use prepaid card so you can avoid buying single journey tickets every time you're heading elsewhere, just tap and go. The most popular ones are Suica, Pasmo and 8 others that I can't recall. Not only you can use them for train rides, you can also use them for buses, and even paying at convenience stores. For more detailed information about these cards, click on this link.

I personally did not get myself any of these cards because I have found an even greater alternatives to travel around the city, which is what we'll be talking on the next point...

Transportation cost is definitely one thing you'll be spending your budget most since transporting in Japan is quite expensive, but I was surprised on how there was almost none of my friends who recommend these passes to me and when I told them about this, they too were surprised to know that such things existed.

Japan is a very visitor-friendly country and they have made traveling so much easier for foreigners like us. Most of the big and also touristy cities provide passes that enable you to travel unlimited around certain cities using either buses or metro trains at a very inexpensive cost! So my tip for this point is to do research first before you go to check if the city you're visitting have any kinds of tourist pass.

The ones that I have purchased were Kyoto City Bus 1 Day Pass and Nara City Bus 1 Day Pass that both cost JPY 500/pass. I personally think it was a really good deal since a single ride already cost you JPY 230, so if you just hop on the buses for 3 times in a day, you'd already be saving money!

Now the one that I highly highly recommend is.. Tokyo Subway Ticket! This ticket covers UNLIMITED rides on certain period of time that you can choose from (24 or 48 or 72 hours since first use) on ALL trains in Tokyo Metro and Toei Line. Trust me, this is what you call a real deal! If you have this card, then you'll be able to save money too if you stay in areas near any Tokyo Metro or Toei line trains and I think these two lines have covered most of the places you'll need to visit in Tokyo (for other lines you'll still have to buy single ride journey tickets).

I purchased my 72 hours ticket at an app called Klook. After I got the confirmation, all I had to do was to exchange it with the real ticket (it was in a card form) at the designated places when I reached Japan. For this ticket, you don't really have to purchase it outside Japan, you can purchase it when you're already there but then you'll have to show your passport since this ticket is also only available for foreigners (more information here).

This is another crucial thing while traveling, in my very own opinion. Pocket WiFi has saved me from unnecessary getting lost experiences and of course.. keeping my Instagram stories updated all the time LOL. I'll also recommend you the WiFi rental service that I have used: Jetfi. Their prices are very competitive, but the most important thing is.. it provided us UNLIMITED data usage in Japan (up to 5 devices) and their speed was pretty amazing (in my opinion, even better than my house's WiFi speed LOL). So if you have plans visiting Japan, you can check them out. 

If you are wondering, free WiFi wasn't that easy to find/access at Japan, so I really wouldn't rely on getting free WiFi service. Just rent a pocket device, or get a SIM card if you want to.

Of course, this one will be one of the most important part of your trip. I do suggest you to make an itinerary before arriving so you can make the most of the precious time you have there. Do research about trains or subway routes too and it will be a great help to know how to reach your destination and how long it will take you.

One other thing that I really recommend you to do is to come earlier in the morning to those mainstream tourist spots to avoid the crowds. Some spots are open public for 24 hours, like Fushimi Inari Shrine and Arashiyama Bamboo Forrest in Kyoto so you can make a good use of that. I arrived pretty early at those two places and thanks to that, I can take some pretty good photos (of myself, of course) without any people as the background. 

Now, here are some of the best websites/apps/links that I found helpful while I was planning my itinerary:

  • Hyperdia shows you the route from one station to another and how much it costs, also the timetable of the railway and flights in Japan. 
  • Google Maps will be your best friend while in Japan, you know what it does.
  • japan-guide.com gives you great information about any tourist spots that you want to visit, including historical background, opening hours, ticketing price, etc etc.
  • TOKYOCHEAPO for tips on how to travel on budget around Tokyo areas.
  • AccuWeather to check on pretty accurate weather forecast in Japan.
  • tdrnavi for Tokyo Disneyland or Disneysea crowd calendar, so you can decide which is the best day (read: the least crowded) to visit the parks.
  • Klook has some of the best deals for Disney parks tickets (the cheapest I could find) and also others that you might be interested in (pocket WiFi rental, USJ tickets, city passes, one day city tour etc), not only for Japan but also several other countries in Asia. Highly recommended!
  • This article about seasons in Japan and best time to visit.

Before I went there I really had no idea at all about the places but thanks to reading blogs and watching YouTube videos, at least I had an image of what I'd have to expect. Here are some blogs that have helped me plan my itinerary better: Jane From The Blog, Catatan Nyempil Kalau Lagi Ada Waktu, House of Fun, ANAKJAJAN.COM and I think I had read waaaaaaay more but these are the ones that I can recall at the moment. Do check them out too if you are interested.

There is also this one YouTube channel that I found really helpful and informative but is not really getting the attention that it deserves: internationally ME. I believe this could be a great source of information for you who wished to know more about Japan, even if you're not planning to visit :)

By the way, if there's any of you who's interested in my itinerary, I'll be very generous to share it with you LOL. Click here to view and feel free to use it as reference if you'd like to. I think my itinerary was pretty doable and not too energy-draining, and for a first time visit, I think it has covered some of the most mainstream/must visit places in Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and Tokyo

I also used an additional one day Mount Fuji - Hakone tour service from JTB Sunrise that I booked also from Kenikura. I was with family and I wasn't feeling too confident with taking them myself to see Fuji so I went with the day tour. The service cost us IDR 1,635,000/person and overall it was a pretty good service. But since it was with a group, we couldn't stay too long in a place to enjoy it and we were taken to too many souvenir places. Did we manage to see Mount Fuji? Oh, no we didn't. The weather went bad on the day of the tour so the mountain decided to hide behind the clouds. It's okay, it's just another excuse for us for having to come back again to see Fuji :))

At this last point I'll let you know some of the random things that I found out during my trip, who might just know it can be useful for you:
  • It's really difficult to find trash cans in Japan. I heard that it was because Japanese doesn't have the habit to eat/drink while walking, also trash management (is that even how people call it) in Japan was really strict. You have to separate garbage according to its category, like burnable/non burnable etc etc.
  • Knowing Chinese characters does you great help (note: Chinese characters, not knowing how to talk in the language). Most of the Japanese signs are adapted from Chinese characters so even though you don't know how to pronounce it, you'll at least know what it means.
  • Japanese are super friendly, they'll try their best to help you out if they can. So don't hesitate to ask even with super limited body language :))
  • Bring a coin purse because they'll give you a lot of small changes in coins.
  • Tokyo Banana is overrated. Try Royce' Potatochip. Oh, and Pablo's mini cheese tart, OMG I swear it's sooooooo good!

Phew, that was surely a one long post, wasn't it? Did any of you really read all the way until here though? These are all I can come up with at the moment and if I have more information later, I'll probably update it. If there's anything more that I can help you with, you can let me know and I'll try to help as I can. I know I am no expert about this but sharing what I know does no harm to anyone, right?

Japan is such a magnificent country that I bet if you have been there once, you'll want to go there again. So if you haven't visited Japan yet, put it on your to-go-list and I can guarantee that you won't regret it. If you enjoy this post, you can let me know in the comments so I can at least feel happy because someone appreciates my hard work LOL. Well, until the next posts then, arigatou gozaimasu!

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