Alright guys, let’s keep this as simple as possible. I’m not really into formal writing so allow me to do this like I’m just talking to you.
Are you planning on visiting Japan? Then, like any other countries you intend to visit, you should always do prior research and preparations about your trip. Here are a few things you might want to focus on before your visit to the Land of the Rising Sun:
There are countries you can visit within 30 days without visa requirement if you are a Philippine passport holder. Unfortunately, Japan isn’t one of them. The good news is that it’s easy to get. There are accredited travel agencies where you can head to for visa processing. Note that you are not allowed to apply directly to the embassy.
In my case, I chose Reli Tours & Travel Agency simply because their office is near my workplace.
Here are the requirements you will need for single entry visa application:
a. Application Form
c. Taizai Yoteihyo (itinerary)
d. Photo (4.5cm x 4.5cm)
e. Birth cert.
f. Bank cert.
g. Income tax return
h. If you have a financial guarantor:
- Guarantor’s letter
- Proof of relationship
- Guarantor’s bank cert.
- Guarantor’s income tax return form
Start researching on the places you want to see, food you want to taste, and activities you want experience at least a month before your actual flight. Planning your itinerary will allow you to maximize your budget and time.
Get a map, plot your target locations, then decide the places you will visit on a certain date. Be strategic as possible. You don’t want to regret spending too much time traveling from one place to another simply because you chose to go to locations that are too far apart on the same day.
Contrary to popular notion about Asia being cheap, Japan is an exception (along with Singapore and Hong Kong). I have been with fellow travellers from Europe, who are earning Euros, and from the US, who are earning in USD, that would still not consider it as cheap. So if you plan on allocating the same budget you wish to spend for Thailand, Philippines, or any other Southeast Asia countries, you are in big trouble! Try to research about the cost to avoid unnecessary surprises.
Let me tell you a story. I heard of a person who traveled to a foreign land with the assumption that the weather would be just the same as in the Philippines. Then lo and behold, it was winter.
Guys, check the weather! It’s one of the most basic things to do. The clothes you will decide to pack will depend on it.
Let’s face it, accomodations are just for bedroom and bathroom. Most of your active hours will be spend outside. So I suggest you make this the least priority on your travel budget. Just give yourself a few qualifications – such as safety, cleanliness, good reviews, near a train station, wifi, etc – for choosing where to stay.
I would highly recommend Hotel Owl in Arakawaku. It’s just a 5-minute walk from Nippori Station, which is just 1 train ride away from Narita airport. The staffs were friendly. The facilities were good. There was also free drinks available for the guests.
It would also help if you book it in advance. I got my accommodation at PHP 6,000 for 8 nights (that’s just USD 115 or 12,890 Yen) because I booked via Agoda 2 or 3 months before my stay. If I didn’t book it in advance, it would have cost me USD 213 or 24,000 Yen. Talk about value for money!
6. Tickets to paid tours and attractions
I booked 3 tickets in advance – Disneyland, Disneysea, and Mt. Fuji Daytour Package. Similar case with accommodations , booking in advance can save you money.
For example, my ticket to Disneyland and Disneysea cost me PHP 6,151 (USD 117 or 13,201 Yen). If I opted to buy the ticket on the same day, it would cost me 7,400 Yen per park. That would be 14,800 Yen or USD 131 for both parks. Not much of a big difference, but it was still discounted.
7. Transportation passes
The first thing you might want to check is if you will be needing a JR Pass. If yes, then what kind of JR Pass – nationwide, certain regions – and for how many days will you need it. I was told that it is cheaper to buy JR pass outside of Japan so prioritize on getting one.
In my case, I planned on exploring Tokyo Prefecture only, with a little bit of Chiba. I didn’t need a JR Pass so I got a Pasmo instead. This is like a e-money card you can use for various train lines and buses. You can also opt for Suica. I heard they function just the same. The only difference would be the companies that issue them.
8. Internet access
“I cannot survive without the internet!” is no longer a joke nowadays. You need it for navigation, for on the spot research, for translation, and for communication. I will not be able to navigate the transport system of Japan without the internet. I would not know what platform to go, what kind of line to hop on board to, what station to transfer, etc. It is really a must have when you travel.
Booking it in advance will save you the hassle because all you have to do is claim it after clearing immigration. I got an unlimited data for 8 days provided by NTT Docomo. I was looking for a 9-day unlimited package but I wasn’t able to find anything.
9. Read on ethics
Every country has its own ethics. It is your job, as a visitor, to read about them. I am a firm believer that you should never insult your host country. Never act like a rude tourist who thinks he owns every land he lands on.
I studied on ethics in Japan because I didn’t want to offend them. I’m not sure if I did a good job, but I tried to follow what I’ve read. I also practiced using chopsticks before my trip so I won’t embarass myself during eating time.
10. Customized tours and walking tours
There are a lot of walking and customized tours in Tokyo. All you have to do is research them.
The first set of tours I booked are from TokyoLocalized. They had good reviews in TripAdvisor so I gave it a go. True enough, every tour was insightful and my tour guides were awesome. Just give them a tip after the tour. I’ve read that Japan is a non tipping country, but their website explicitly said that tips are welcomed and I think expected.
The second tour I booked is from JLB (Japan Local Buddy). This is more of a customized tour where you get to indicate what you want to do, what areas you want to see, when you wish the tour to start, how long you want the tour to last, etc. They will then match you with a volunteer guide. At first, I was very nervous in booking this. I didn’t know what to expect because I never experienced a customized tour before. There wasn’t much details on what to do in the website. I had no idea on how to communicate with whoever my tour guide will be. In spite of these, this was actually one of the best decisions I’ve made for this trip. It’s a topic for a separate post for some other time.
11. Learn basic Japanese words
Japan is a non-English speaking country. You will see signs and directions in English, but most people don’t speak much of it. But even so, they are willing to help you. Be grateful and respectful enough by exerting effort in learning a few words in their language.
Here are a few phrases that might be helpful:
- Sumimasen – excuse me, can also be used as sorry (let’s say if you accidentaly bumped into someone)
- Arigatou gozaimasu – thank you
- Ohayo gozaimasu – good morning
- Konnichiwa – hello/good afternoon (greeting uttered between 10am to 7:59pm)
- Konbanwa – good evening
- Oyasuminasai – good night
- Gomenasai – sorry
- Eigo o hanasemasu ka? – Do you speak English?
- Oishi – delicious
There might be other helpful words so I encourage you to read about them.
12. The checklist
Check and double check all items you need to bring to your trip. You don’t want to forget your passport or any other important document you should bring. Again, this is basic practice and should be common sense.