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TRAVEL STORIES: Japan (The Pre-Travel Checklist)

Tags: train japan tokyo

So about our Japan trip some 13 months ago….

LOL. This is going to be quite a challenge, trying to remember what we did from beginning to end. I didn’t blog about Japan because there’s basically 100 other more informative blogs out there providing all you need to know about the country. But today, for lack of better things to do, I will squeeze out as much memory as I can from my unreliable brain, and hope my reader(s) can pick up something new from our itinerary.

This trip was a product of one my dad and his friend’s many coffee/tea hangouts. They have finally caught up with the travel era, and decided to do as today’s yuppies do: see the world while they can. In other words, YOLO-ing. My dad’s friend, Uncle Mario, is a Japanese descendant, so it wasn’t too difficult for them to think of their 1st destination. The minute this news reached me, I immediately checked for seat sales, and because malakas ako kay Lord, there was a buy-1-get-1 promo for MANILA-OSAKA via Jetstar. There would be 5 of us on this trip (I’m the free-riding 5th wheel with my parents, Uncle Mario, and his wife Tita Angie), which meant there will be one ticket that we had to purchase at full price. But paying 3 for 5 is always better than 5 for 5, right?  (Of course, they could have gone without me but they needed a youngER blood to do all the footwork, which I was too willing to fulfill).

The youngER blood. :))
The Originals. LOL

We flew to Osaka on May 10, just in time for the cherry blossoms…to wilt and fall and be swept in piles beside the street. LOL. These are the things you sacrifice for seat sales. Regrets aside, the 9-day trip was nothing short of awesome, which included a 4-day side-trip to Tokyo and 1 day in Nagoya.

Papa's photo with the last cherry blossom tree standing.

So, first things first: Here are the things you will need to settle/book before your trip....

Japan is one of the favorite summer destinations, so if you’re going there at peak season, it’s better to book your hotel as soon as you’ve booked your plane ticket. Ideally, give yourself at least 2 months’ leadtime. I had difficulty looking for a place to stay even when we still had a month before our trip. Of course, there’s also the fact that I had a budget to work on and had to skip backpacker/dorm-type hostels, as I was with company who needed to sleep comfortably at night and would prefer a little bit of privacy. J We had wanted to stay in authentic Japanese guesthouses -- those with small rooms where you just lie on futons, but even those were fully booked by then.

After painstakingly opening 20 accommodation websites in one window, Airbnb finally provided me the best options. I was able to book 2 apartments for us at Tokyo, which was just a short walk to the Shibuya Mark City and the Shibuya Station. And the best part, it’s near the Hachiko statue!

A moment of silence for the loyal canine…. J

Anyway, our host, MOCO (I think it’s a company than just one person) responded very quickly to my queries and gave very accurate directions to the apartment building from the train station. I really couldn’t find any cons about the place, as it literally had everything from washing machines to condiments. MOCO even provided a brochure with instructions on how to operate everything in the room and “how to cook perfectly cooked rice!” I mean, what can be more extra-mile than that? Lol. Its best feature of all was its pillows. I SWEAR. I wanted to take them home. They were sooooo soft that I could just sleep in for 4 days and say I had the best Japan trip ever. Check MOCO's Airbnb profile here.

No, the room wasn't this messy when we checked in. I'll take better "before" photos next time.
Even sugar and coffee sticks were provided
Waste segregation. Gotta commend the Japanese for their self-discipline.

Our Osaka apartment was also from Airbnb, this time located at Nipponbashi, near Den Den Town – the Akihabara of Osaka. Our host, Yasuhide said it’s a 6-minute walk from Namba station, and he wasn’t kidding. After getting off at Namba, we walked – no, hiked quite a distance to the apartment. I really didn’t mind, but my parents did. LOL. With a 30-kg luggage each, you really can’t blame them for getting a little impatient when I led them to the wrong street (my navi skills kind of short-circuited in Japan).  Thankfully the building was just at the next street, which could have been easy to find if I had stayed along the highway. J

Yasuhide’s place was very modern, which was a surprise because I kind of expected to find more high-tech appliances at our place in Tokyo than in Osaka. But certainly Yasuhide’s place was every inch the “Japanese” apartment, from electronic key tags to toilets with 10 clickable buttons and whatnot. It was smaller though, and we had to carefully stack our stuff to allow a little more movement in the bedroom. But we did appreciate how clean it was, and even thought that some of his appliances were new. The toilet was also separate from the bathroom, so that’s even more convenient. I have to mention that Yasuhide was also very trustworthy and helpful. My dad left his 2nd phone and only realized it when we were already on the plane to Manila (I know, right?). I asked Yasuhide to see if it was in the room we rented, and when he did find it, he assisted in having it sent back to Davao. We’re so grateful (thanks, Yasuhide!).

(Sorry I haven't taken photos of the rooms, but you can check his Airbnb profile here.)

Japan has a very complicated but efficient transportation system. The subway train was sufficient in getting us around, especially in Tokyo. Osaka’s railway stations are a little more spread out and far apart than at Tokyo, but that didn’t cause much inconvenience as interest points were right next to each other and thus encourage you to walk around more.

Since we were crossing from Osaka to Tokyo and back (with a short side-trip to Nagoya) and will therefore be using the Shinkansen (bullet train) often, we decided to purchase JR Passes online. A JR PASS is like a small booklet which serves as a ticket to ride the Shinkansen an unlimited number of times for a certain number of days. It also gives you unlimited access to JR trains (JR is one of the many subway train companies in Japan) within any city – Tokyo, Osaka, etc. – during the same period.  There are 7-, 14-, and 21-day passes, with regular and first class options. We got three (3) regular 7-day passes which cost us a total of $736.00, including the shipping fee.

Important Note: Only foreigners can avail JR Passes as this is Japan’s way to promote tourism across its regions. More importantly, do note that JR Passes can only be purchased online and should be done in advance, to allow for shipping time. Ours were delivered within 5 business days, but give yourself a little more leeway if you can. You can book your JR Pass here.

That being said, a JR Pass may not always be the best option for travelers. They’re not exactly cheap, and you may be better off purchasing individual tickets at the Shinkansen station, and then opt to get an IC Card instead for getting around Tokyo or Osaka.  An IC Card is Japan’s version of an octopus card.  Tokyo offers two (2): the Suico card and the PASMO card. The former gives you access to JR trains, while the latter is for trains from other subway companies. I realize in Tokyo we didn’t necessarily have to ride JR trains since lots of other companies served the same routes as JR. So you’ll definitely still be able to reach your destinations within the city with just the PASMO card.

You will need to map out your itinerary ahead of time so you can compare which option is best and more cost-efficient for you. If you think you’ll be using the bullet train more frequently and will be riding other JR trains within the cities, then the JR Pass might be for you. Otherwise, consider buying the IC card instead. Learn more about IC cards here:

Download the HyperDia app on your phone if you want to ride the subway and live to tell about it. It has a website, too, so you can use it in planning your itinerary. It provides every information you need from train schedules to routes and point-to-point travel time. All you need to do is input the starting point, your destination, and the preferred travel date and time (optional), and the app will give you directions together with the fare and whether you will need to transfer trains on the way. Use this app side by side with Google Maps and you’re good to go.

Sample search: Shibuya to Akihabara

There’s rarely a public hotspot in Japan (where is there ever?), so you can be the rich kid who uses data roaming or you can rent a pocket Wi-Fi so you can use the navigation apps...or merely serve your need to upload your travel selfies on Instagram. Note that these have to be reserved early as well, preferably a month before your arrival or even earlier if traveling at peak season.  Some pocket Wi-Fi companies can deliver the gadget to you upon booking, or give you the option to pick it up at the airport or at your hotel. The JR Pass offers this service as well so you may want to check that out and purchase it as a bundle or something. Rental rates are on a per-day basis and will vary depending how much KB you think you will be consuming. Candid Cuisine provides a guide to the best pocket Wi-Fi rentals in Japan which could help you pick the data plan that best suits you.

BUT WAIT, don't take out your credit card just yet, because there are some accommodations that would lend you a pocket Wi-Fi for the duration of your stay, so do look out for this feature when looking for a hotel/guesthouse. Both our Airbnb hosts provided us one so that was one less worry off our hands. Don't hesitate to ask your receptionist/host as this will surely save you loads of time and money.

There are rumors of a visa-free entry to Japan for Philippine passports, but until that’s officially announced, check the official website of the Embassy of Japan in the Philippinesfor requirements for visa application.  They are strict about the agencies who can process their visa, so make sure you are availing the service from an accredited agency.

Ensure that the application form has been completely filled out, and that every required document is attached. The Embassy of Japan is one of the least lenient when it comes to granting visas, so be compliant. Unlike other embassies, Japan does not recommend the inclusion of other documents apart from what’s required for your application. So you can keep your property titles in your vault, as the agencies would reject them upfront anyway. If you lack one pr more requirements, you may write a letter explaining why, but there’s no assurance that this will be considered. Processing time takes about 15 working days or more, so like everything else, apply ahead of time.

Application forms/Schedule of stay format/Letter of Guarantee:

VISA Entry Fees:

So there you go! You're all set for your Japan trip! I’ll write about the actual trip in another post. 

This post first appeared on JECK GARILVA: Travel Stories, please read the originial post: here

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TRAVEL STORIES: Japan (The Pre-Travel Checklist)


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