Thursday 5 March 2020

What to do before booking a trip to Japan

Watching Pokemon from early childhood and then delving into the realm of subtitled anime as a geeky 16 year old girl, I knew that one day, I wanted to visit Japan. It went straight to the top of my travel bucket list and 10 years later, I was finally able to tick it off of my ever-growing list.

The people, the food, the culture - did I mention the food? Everything exceeded my expectations and more. It was definitely a memorable trip. However, it was one that required meticulous planning and researching.

I'm not the type to leave things to chance. I need to know about all of the best sightseeing and tourist spots, local food faves and unique experiences in fear of missing out. I mean, when will I ever have the opportunity to come back? Probably never *sob*, so I had to ensure that everything was taken into consideration. This meant thinking carefully about where the best place was to stay, how many activities (and food venues, of course) I could fit into a single day and how much I could realistically afford to spend.

For your information, I stayed in Tokyo for 2 nights, Osaka for 5 nights (visiting both Kyoto and Nara) and then back to Tokyo for 6 nights.

When to travel to Japan?
I was already aware that Japan has 2 major seasons which attracts people from all over the world. The first is spring, also known as cherry blossom season, which falls between March to May. Temperatures are pleasant and this is when the beautiful sakura flowers are in full bloom. The second season is autumn which falls between September to November. During this period, the weather is cool and crisp and the landscape is painted with a blend of red, burnt orange and golden yellow leaves.

As it was February when we, and by we I mean myself and my partner, decided to visit Japan, it was a little too late for spring as it didn't give us enough time to save up. Japan isn't cheap. Of course it's as cheap as you make it to be however, it's not like some places in Asia where I've heard that you could get away living like a king for £20 a day. In Japan, flights and accommodation will take a nice chunk of your budget. In regards to food, I'm huge on eating and willing to spend some extra £££ on fancy cuisines such as wagyu and quality sushi.

So after agreeing on when to visit Japan, we hopped onto Skyscanner and found some relatively cheap flights from London (£490) using Air France in mid-November which is perfect because we got to experience the beautiful autumn foliage and some early Christmas festivities such as the winter illuminations and Christmas markets.

Considering where to stay
With flights booked, the next task at hand was booking accommodation. When researching, I took into consideration what I wanted to do/see, proximity to train stations and customer reviews. I would rather stay close to the main attractions and spend a little more cash on accommodation than be on the outskirts and pay less. The justification is that I would have to spend more time and money on transport getting to and from the places that I want to visit. I would much prefer to be close to all of the hustle and bustle and not have to worry about how I would get back to the hotel at the end of the night.

Pro tip #1: in Tokyo, make sure you stay somewhere close to a subway station. Your feet will appreciate it after a long ass day of walking.

Money, money, money
In terms of currency, Japan uses yen (JPY). We in the UK use GBP. When I visited Japan, £1 = 137-140yen. Japan is a cash-based society so it’s important to always have cash on you although, most department stores accept card. You mainly need the cash for small, independent eateries, street stalls and vending machines. I've heard that the average Japanese salary man carries approx. £500 on him at all times. Don't worry, crime rates in Japan are extremely low so as long as you're generally vigilant and aware of your surroundings, you'll be fine.

Pro tip #2: apply for a Monzo and Starling card to take with you on your trip. I use these cards whenever I travel as you can withdraw a certain amount of cash from ATM machines with no conversion fees. With Monzo, you can withdraw up to £200/month and with Starling, you can withdraw up to £300/day. Also, both online banks used the Mastercard currency exchange rates. You'll find that not all ATMs will accept your card even though it shows the Visa/Mastercard symbol. Don't worry, just try another one.

Pro tip #3: 7-Eleven convenience stores are open 24 hours a day, located everywhere and the ATMs don’t charge for using them.

Other things to consider
  • Do you need to apply for a tourist visa? To date (March 2020), 68 countries including the UK are able to visit Japan for 90 days without a visa.  
  • Don't leave it to chance. Buy travel insurance.
  • Will you be travelling around Japan like I did? Consider purchasing a JR Pass.
  • How will you access data? Check your phone plan and contact your mobile phone provider or you can purchase a sim card/pocket WiFi
  • In Japan, they use type A and type B power plugs so make sure you purchase a power plug adaptor before setting off. Also, the voltage in Japan is less than the UK so don't be like me and almost bust up your hairdryer. Instead, purchase a voltage converter.
  • All of the hotels that I stayed at provided at least pyjamas, towels, slippers, shampoo, conditioner and body wash. Some even provided hairbrushes, toothbrushes and q-tips. I also found that the pictures that hotels upload of their establishment are 100% accurate. What you see is what you get. 
  • For some activities, you will have to book in advance to ensure that you have a ticket, e.g., TeamLab, Pokemon Cafe and One Piece Tower. This also includes restaurants - some may require reservations made at least 1 month in advance.
  • Your feet will hurt so make sure you pack comfortable footwear, thick socks and some cooling foot cream. Soak your feet every evening and treat yourself to a foot massage or several. I was averaging 20,000 steps per day and when I visited Fushimi Inari, it was 35,000+. My poor feet. 

Japan requires a lot of planning! Ensure that you have at least some idea of the places that you want to visit or else you may find things intimidating. There's just so much to see and do in such a short amount of time and without my day-by-day itinerary I know that I would have felt incredibly overwhelmed.


1 comment:

:-) said...

You left me and went not happy