Thursday, January 21, 2016

Japan travel tips for first-timers

For those planning a trip to Japan in the future, here's some of the tips I can give as a first-time visitor. We asked advice from family and friends who've been there already as well as did our own research. We decided to only stay in Tokyo during our 8 day trip because we really wanted to see as much as we could in the city (and trust me, it still wasn't enough time!). We figured we'll just go back next time to explore Kyoto and Osaka so we could also get the full experience without having to rush through anything.

Getting the visa was surprisingly easy. You can find all the requirements and forms in the Japan Embassy website. Hubby and I applied for ours in Reli Tours (Southmall branch). Tourist visa handling fee was P950 each. We went on a Friday and our visas were ready by next Wednesday. We were given single entry only, but I read they can give you multiple if you already had a previous Japan visa. So hopefully next time multiple na. :p

For me, this site is probably the most useful in terms of getting information about travel. You can just read through the different topics and find that practically all your questions have been answered already. Or if you're still in doubt, just ask and someone will be willing to help. The Japan thread had all the information I needed on anything and everything about our trip, from transportation, accommodation, itinerary suggestions, and so much more.

We asked a lot of people for suggestions on which area to stay and a lot said either Shinjuku or Shibuya. In the end, I booked an Airbnb in the Shinjuku area because it was close to the main Shinjuku train station. And I sort of wanted to avoid the Shibuya area which I believe has more shopping options lol. But honestly, I think it's ok to stay anywhere as long as you are NEAR a train station. Ours was close, but it was still a 10-15 minute walk (not good when you're dead tired at the end of the day).

But we really liked how alive the Shinjuku area was especially at night. If ever we do go back to Tokyo in the future though, I think we'll try staying in Shibuya for a change.

our way going home every night

Japan-Guide is also considered the ultimate guide for travel to Japan. I used this site to finalize our itinerary since the destinations are grouped by districts (Central, Northern, Western, Southern Tokyo). This makes it easier to figure out which places are close to each other so you can maximize your day. Each attraction also has information like how to get there (what subway or bus to take, how many minutes, fare), as well as operating hours and entrance fees. I'll just do a separate post on our itinerary so I can go into more detail.

People told us to exchange our money here in the Philippines because of better exchange rates. We got our Yen a day before at Czarina's (Alabang Town Center). Better call if you can in advance because the money changers might not have available Yen. You can also get through banks but money changers have better rates pa din daw.

The only tour we took during our trip was for Mt. Fuji and we booked this through before we left, as suggested by a friend. They also have other tours based on your preference. I'll have more on our Mt. Fuji experience on a separate post.

Suica card
If you're traveling to Osaka and Kyoto, it's better to get the JR pass which you can buy from a travel agency before you leave (they don't sell it in Japan). But if you're going around Tokyo only, the Suica card is the way to go. This was the only card we used throughout our trip and it was so convenient.
"The Suica is a prepaid e-money card for moving around and shopping. There is no more need to buy a ticket from a vending machine. Just touch your Suica to the ticket gate and the fare is automatically deducted from your Suica. The Suica can be used not only for JR East trains, but subways and buses as well. The Suica can also be used to pay for things with e-money. Buy soft drinks and coffee from vending machines and on the train. Even buy a newspaper at the station kiosk without fiddling for coins. For traveling in Japan, the Suica makes a more pleasant trip."

The Suica can be purchased in major JR EAST stations at Multifunction Ticket Vending Machines, JR Ticket Offices and Travel Service Centers. We got ours at the Haneda Airport.

Initial load is Y2000 then just reload in any ticket machine as needed. It seems intimidating at first (hubby actually did all the reloading lol) but there is English translation naman on the machine.

Train system & Hyperdia
The train system in Japan can be so confusing but checking is such a big help even before you leave for your trip. Here you can check the trains you need to take, schedule, fares, etc. so you can plan your rail itinerary effectively.

To find out what trains to take, has all the info in their "Get There and Around" section per attraction. So let's say you want to go to Ueno Park from Shinjuku. Just input the locations on the Hyperdia website (you don't have to bother with the date and time if you just want to know fare and duration of the trip). You'll also get to know what track or line you have to go to.

After you click Search, you'll be given different route options. Like below, you'll see that Route1 and Route2 both cost Y200 but Route1 has a shorter travel time at 18 minutes and 1 transfer, while Route2 takes longer at 25 minutes but is direct. So it's really up to you what to take. 

But even if you have all the info, it can still get confusing and you will probably still get lost. And even if you ask someone, chances are they don't even speak English. Good thing hubby has a pretty good sense of direction and was in charge of all our commuting. If it was just me, I probably would never even find my way out of the subway haha!

Also, take note that some stations don't have escalators or elevators so we had to drag our luggage from the airport up and down some stairs. And we didn't even consider taking a taxi since it's super expensive so if you have a lot of stuff, get ready for some exercise getting to your hotel or Airbnb. Make sure your bags have sturdy wheels that can withstand the walk from the train station

Pocket wi-fi
Having a pocket wi-fi in Japan is probably the most useful thing ever! Good thing the Airbnb we stayed at provided one because it was such a tremendous help in navigating the city. So if you're planning to stay at an Airbnb, make sure you choose one that has this. Although most establishments have free wi-fi, but actually being able to go online and check Google maps while walking around was such a lifesaver. Plus, you can post pictures on IG and FB in a snap hehe! ;p

Disney Tokyo
We decided to just visit DisneySea instead of Disneyland in Tokyo because I'm such a huge Little Mermaid fan. Plus, you can only find DisneySea in Japan. We tried buying our tickets online but for some reason it kept getting an error. So what you can do is buy your tickets in any Disney Store in Japan. You can find the list of stores selling park tickets HERE. We bought ours in Odaiba Aqua City. Ticket per adult cost Y6,900 and we used credit card to pay. Saves you time than actually buying on the day itself because you can just enter the park straightaway.

Electrical outlet
Japan's electrical outlet is the same as ours (the 2 lines) so no need to bring an adaptor. However, my Medela pump wouldn't work (maybe because of the voltage), but good thing I had batteries so no problem.

Here's an article I found in Japan-guide:

I don't know about you, but I get crazy checking the weather whenever we go on a trip. It looked like it was going to be rainy in Tokyo when I checked a few weeks before. But right when we were about to leave, I checked again and the weather was going to be great! Personally, I base our itinerary on the weather if possible. For instance if it's going to be rainy, I'll schedule stuff that has more indoor activities like shopping in the mall or going to a museum. For the sunny days, I scheduled Mt. Fuji, DisneySea and other parks. Luckily, we had the best weather when we were there in late November! The sky was so blue with no clouds most of the time. Average temperature when we were there was about 12 degrees Celsius (which was already FREEZING for me). It only rained on the last day we were there, but not strong naman. We didn't bring any umbrellas, but you can buy in any convenience shop or borrow from your hotel/Airbnb if they provide one.

Japan is really such an amazing country, that all their public restrooms are so clean and technologically advanced. Every stall has tissue paper, everything is electronic and hands-free! I'm super maselan pa naman when it comes to bathrooms (I will hold it in until I get home if the bathroom isn't nice) but in Japan, pwede mag number 2 kahit saan lol! I just hope sa Philippines ganito din diba?

Since we were staying in an Airbnb, we figured we can cook for breakfast so we brought baon to save a little. Pero honestly, no need na since we barely even ate what we brought and you can buy whatever you need in the nearby convenience stores. But if you're still planning to bring food, you can, but just declare it when you get to customs. The officer just asked us about the canned goods and around how much everything we had cost and we said probably less than Y2000. They didn't even check our bags.

Anyway, hope this helps those planning a trip to Japan soon. I'll be going through more details on the places we visited in the upcoming blog posts. :)


  1. Even for those who have been to Japan more than once, your tips are very, very useful. Thanks!

  2. Very helpful post! Thank you!!

  3. Hello, your post was really helpful! By the way, have you written that your accomodation would be via Airbnb on your Visa Application Form? If yes, how did you write it? For example: Owner Name (via Airbnb)? Thanks!

    1. Yes, if I remember right that's what I also wrote :)



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