Guide to Travelling to Japan part 1

January 13, 2011 § 7 Comments

So you’re ready to go to Japan. What will you need? What might be helpful?

I’m hoping that this guide is able to answer those questions and more for you. Note that a lot of my guide will be based on Tokyo, since most of my experience involves Tokyo.

One disclaimer however, I am by no means a guru sharing expert advice. I’d just like to share my personal experience and hope it sheds some insight on what to expect.

First Steps

First off, let me say that I highly recommend lengthier stays (i.e. 1 month) in Japan. Many people I know end up spending around 1 week or even less in Japan. You may be thinking “I’m going to get bored staying that long”, but let me assure you that will not be the case.

There were days that felt less exciting, but they were still great days. Having breathing room in your schedule allows you to actually enjoy the city more like a local, rather than your typical foreigner who is strapped for time and always in a hurry. I personally think it’s too tiring to keep up with a tight schedule like that; It’s a vacation, so you should have time to kick back and relax, not running all over the place trying to squeeze in time.

Personally I spent days in certain sections of Tokyo, such as a day in Shibuya, another in Akihabara, etc. Of course, I did end up going back to many places a second time. The city has plenty to explore, and a second trip usually lets you discover more. That being said, I personally would rather delay a trip then to go for a short period of time. The concept is much like watching a TV show; Nobody watches only one episode if they enjoy it.

So you’ve arrived in Japan, and you’re at the Airport. I’m going to assume that you will be at Narita, headed for Tokyo (it being a popular choice, and where I went)

Leaving the airport, you have several choices. There are several trains that will take you to different places, but I recommend taking the special buses. As far as I know they’re a fast way to get direct to where you need. Furthermore, many of them stop at hotels! It’s a much more convenient way I think as opposed to taking the train, which might require you to do some transferring and experiencing rush hour trains. Not exactly something you want to deal with while carrying luggage.

Accommodation

As far as how you’ll stay in Japan is up to you really, depending on preference and budget.

You have a choice between Hotels (Luxury, Business), Ryokan (Japanese Style Hotels), and Short-term Apartment Rentals.

  • If you’re staying for a short period of time, Business Hotels are nice and affordable. Most cost around $50-70 USD a night.
  • For longer stays, I highly recommend renting an apartment. This will save you lots of money per night as opposed to hotel.
    • You can find many websites online offering apartment rentals to foreigners specifically. Since they’re aimed at foreigners you won’t have to worry, they’ll be able to communicate in English.

Most importantly, I think it’s important to consider transportation when picking a location to stay. Personally during my trip we picked a location that was only 3 minutes away from a train station. Being able to just walk to a train station quickly is very very convenient!

Transportation

Tokyo’s most convenient form of transportation would probably be the Trains if you ask me. It’s affordable, fast, and will get you close enough to where you want to go. I would use them everyday; In fact, most of my transportation only involved Trains and walking. For instance, you can take the Train to Akihabara, then get off at the station and the entire area would be easily accessible on foot.

The Train lines aren’t completely owned by one company. That being said, take note when buying things such as the JR Railway Pass. Here I would highly recommend the Suica card, which can be purchased at any JR Line station at the computer where you purchase tickets.

What exactly is Suica? Folks from Hong Kong will understand if I tell you that it works like the Octopus card.

Suica cards look like this, and you can think of it as a debit card, only much more convenient. You can buy these at the JR Railway Station Machines that sell tickets. You might be able to get them at the airport too. Simply load cash into it at the machine, then when you reach the turnstile you simply tap this card on a specified area, and then it’ll deduct the amount off your card and you can walk through. If this is your only card that works in this fashion, you can likely just stick it in your wallet and tap your entire wallet onto the machine and it will work ^__^. Did I mention that you can also use the card in other ways? Many vending machines will also accept this as a form of payment.

 

Click to enlarge. Not sure who to credit this map to, but it certainly doesn’t belong to me~
Look at the middle of this map, and notice the lighter green line that goes in a loop.

This is the Yamanote Line. During my stay in Tokyo this was the most useful train line for me. It’s a JR Line by the way. Travelling on this line should allow you to get to your destination within 30 minutes, since it only takes 30 or so to travel halfway through the loop. Since it’s a loop, you would simply go in the direction with the shortest distance, so you’ll never have to travel more than half a loop. Notice that the Yamanote Line will get you to many popular places such as Akihabara, Shibuya, Harajuku, and Ikebukuro. Nice and convenient right?

 

You can also try taking Buses and Taxis, but I don’t recommend the former because like any bus route, it can get confusing. The latter can be expensive of course.

Many of you may want to visit other cities in Japan, not just Tokyo (especially if you’re going for a month), and a good way to get from city to city (and certainly a good experience) is by taking the Shinkansen (bullet train). Shinkansen can be pricy, so here’s where I’ll recommend the JR Rail Pass. Although it is pricey (about $300 USD for 1 week of use), the Pass will let you on most (almost all, really) JR Line trains, for an unlimited number of times until the pass runs out. If you’re simply traveling within Tokyo, this pass isn’t worth the money. Trains do not cost that much, given that you don’t travel excessively since you will be charged per trip. Taking one stop will cost you a bit over 100 yen. Taking many many stops to the other side of Tokyo only costs you around 300-400 yen. Save money by carefully planning where you will go, so that you don’t take the train back and forth! However, if you’re going to use the Shinkansen, this pass is definitely worth it since it’s usable on Shinkansen too. A trip on the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka will already cost around $150 USD for one trip, so this pass is definitely worth it in that case. More information about the JR Rail Pass can be found here.

 

Part 2 of the guide can be found here ;3

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§ 7 Responses to Guide to Travelling to Japan part 1

  • Very nice guide and its very helpful with some useful tips ^^

  • Hanshi says:

    Very informative, thank you.

    I was just wondering how long you stayed on your last trip to japan, and roughly the amount of money you brought with you.

    The reason I ask is so I can have some sort of rough guideline to look back on.

    Thanks in Advance.

    • Choco says:

      I stayed for about one month.

      Total amount of money I spent, after taking out my purchases is probably around 1-2 grand not including things such as accommodation. It really varies depending on how much you’d like to splurge on food and snacks and that sort of stuff.

      You should consider how much each meal will cost you (on average 1000 yen, dinner may be more)

      Of course if you’re renting an apartment there is always the option of cooking, once you figure out where the supermarkets are that is x__x;;

  • Kxan says:

    Quite helpfull !!!
    Thank you for the Guide it will sure be more convenient after having read it !!!

  • […] Choco’s post about traveling in Japan mentioned the Suica, which is a wonderful way to manage transportation while traveling in the Kanto region of Japan. […]

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