This is a follow up of sorts to my first Project Japan post. Like the previous file, this Excel file has the itinerary, the budget, the actual expenses, and the list of all the trains I’ve ridden while in Japan. This file also includes the Japan travel tips that is listed in this post.
The Japan Rail Pass is not the cheapest transport option. Though I am a big fan of the JR Pass, I have to say that it is not the cheapest option when getting from Point A to Point B. There are overnight buses that are cheaper, and saves you a night’s accommodation. However, if you want to ride the bullet trains, the pass is a great option, as it can save you some money, and those trains are crazy expensive. The JR Pass is also good if you plan on traveling great distances. If you are limiting your trip to just Tokyo or just Central Japan, you’re better off buying the JR East Pass (for Tokyo and the Kanto area), or just paying for each train individually. I suggest that after you have drafted your itinerary, plot how you’re going to travel from one point to another, tally the JR train fares, and see if it’d equal or be more than the cost of the pass you plan to get.
Hyperdia is your best friend. Whenever I am planning a trip to Japan, Hyperdia.com is my go-to site when it comes to transport queries. It shows me the trains to take, how long it will take, the cost of the ticket, and different options if I miss a particular train. Unfortunately the official app for mobile devices is limited to certain countries, but there are third party apps that can pull the information from the site.
Ekiben. One of the reason I ended up going to Fukuoka is that my friend Khursten wants to go on an Ekiben trip. Ekiben is basically train bento. What makes this different from the usual bento is that they offer regional specialities. In the big stations, look for the bento shop that has the Ekiben logo (there’s Ekiben written in it, don’t worry). In Tokyo Station, near the South Exit, there’s a big shop that sells different bento. It has a display in one wall of the different bento they offer, including an octopus tentacle bento, served in a small clay pot.
Your peso can go a long(er) way. I learned the hard way that the Philippine peso is getting much better rates for the Japanese yen, compared to the US dollar. However, not all money exchange kiosks in Japan exchange peso (if you can find them, that is). The solution is to buy Yen in the Philippines before your trip to Japan. Sanry’s Money Changer sells Japanese Yen, but you have to buy in ¥10,000 increments.
ATM it. If you have no time to exchange money before you leave Manila, or if you run out of yen while in Japan, you can use your ATM card to withdraw money in Japanese yen. Just make sure that your card has the Visa or Cirrus logo. One more thing: international cards can only be used at 7-11 ATMs and the ATM in the post office. My BPI ATM worked without any problems, but you need to notify BPI before you leave that you will be making international withdrawals, otherwise you won’t be able to use it. A good security measure, but quite a hassle, especially if you have a shitload of things to finish before you leave.
Debit it. If you have a debit card, you can use this to pay for goods in shops that accept credit cards. Basically, as long the shop accepts Visa or Mastercard, it should work (of course, your card has to have the logo). My Sterling Bank of Asia Shop N’Pay debit card worked without any problems in Japan. This means I was able to pay directly from my account, without having to withdraw the money from the ATM. The rate’s not too bad either. Do note that a lot of hostels and guesthouses do not accept credit card payments, so be sure to ask ahead if you plan to card it.
Tax Refund. If you went crazy shopping, note that you can get a tax refund for items over ¥10,000. You pay for the list price first, then claim the refund at the customer service counter. Just make sure that the shops you’re buying from is licensed for duty free shopping.
Free wi-fi. If you’re like me, wi-fi is the one of the prime criteria when you’re picking a place to stay the night. How about when you go out? The big train stations in Tokyo (Tokyo, Ueno, Shinjuku, etc.), Osaka, and Nagoya have free wi-fi. You’re just required to register or login/accept every time you want to use the wi-fi. You can use the Japan Free Wi-Fi App, but at best, we just used it to see where there are free wi-fi and forgot about it afterwards.
Souvenirs. As I mentioned before, the Japanese are big on souvenirs. You’ll find a souvenir shop (or two) in most tourist places. However, if you’re on a strict budget, you can do your souvenir shopping at the hundred yen stores like Daiso and Seria. Just note that the prices do not include the tax yet, so the total comes out to ¥108 per item. Another cheap option is Don Quixote, which has branches in various cities in Japan.
To Nihongo or not? Japan is an easy place to travel in, even if you do not know how to speak Japanese. If you’re sticking to the big cities, you’ll find that a lot of places have signs in both Japanese and English, and you’ll find someone who can understand and speak a little English. The farther you go from the city, however, you’ll run into some problems, as there are little to no English. If you’re completely paranoid and want to travel with a tour guide and interpreter, do contact our tour guide from our Chubu trip, Ms. Yoshi Tomiyama. She’s a very nice lady, energetic, cheerful, and have a great sense of humor. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Great hotel deals in Tokyo via Agoda