Friday, January 5, 2018

Japan Travel in one week itinerary and tips

Thanks to our family and friends who went before us and gave us many useful information so we managed to explore this beautiful county on our own. If you are thinking of visiting Japan for the first time below are the list of things to do and a few tips. Most of these information were given by my kind friends Rini and Yunita. Thank you!

3-6 months before:
  • List down the areas/ cities/ places you want to visit. Some people like temples, some like outdoors, shopping, eating, or amusement parks. The beauty of traveling on your own is you got to choose which places you want to go. If you are visiting for less than a week, focus on 1 or 2 cities. For first time visitor, my take would be visiting either Tokyo and Fuji mountain area such as Hakone or Lake Kawaguchiko or Osaka and Kyoto area. If you are visiting 7 to 8 days like us then you can visit all four of those cities.
  •  After deciding which places to go, book your accommodation as early as you can. Many hotels are fully booked months ahead of time especially during holidays or cherry blossom season. Some well known hotel chain with washer/ dryer like "Tokyu Stay" is fully booked 6 months prior. We use Agoda.com to book our accommodation but other travel sites such as booking.com or airbnb should work too.
  • If you want, you can book a free service travel guide in Japan through this website. We use this volunteer guide service on our one day in Tokyo.  As exchange of their service, the tourist usual pay for their transportation and meals. Our volunteer guide was very helpful and courteous. We won't be able to go to many places in one day without his help.


1-3 months ahead:
  • If you are planning to stay for a week and travel to different cities; it is worth it to buy JR Pass Rail than buying individual train ticket. You can buy it online or if there is a Japanese travel company in your city; you can buy JR Pass from them. When you purchase the JR Pass, make sure you use the same name on your passport. When you activate your JR Pass, the staff will match it with your passport so it is very important to have the exact same name. 
  • Rent wifi online. We use this website. We used google map to navigate our way in Japan. Our trip wouldn't be possible without wifi. You can also rent wifi at the airport but it will be more expensive. 

Upon arrival at Tokyo airport:
  • Exchange your money at money changer. You can do it at the train station but the airport one has better rate.    
  • Go to JR office to exchange your JR Pass with the "actual" ticket otherwise you won't be able to use it
  • Pick- up your rental wifi
  • If you need to leave your big luggage at the airport there is a place where you can store your luggage for a fee, about $8 for medium size luggage:
  • Buy bus ticket to Tokyo. Please note that Tokyo is quiet far from Narita Airport (about 45 - 50 minutes) and it is costly to ride a taxi. The best and cost effective transportation is taking a bus. There are 2 kinds that is quiet cheap:
  1.  "Access Narita". You don't need to purchase the ticket in advance. You just have to wait in their hub for the bus to come every 20 - 30 minutes. Once it arrives, you just hop in and pay the driver 1,000 yen and it will take you to either Tokyo Station or Ginza Station. The bus is quiet comfy and has toilet inside. The disadvantage of this is, if the bus is full, you won't be able to hop in and wait for another bus to come.  For detail about Access Narita Bus, you can look at their website: http://accessnarita.jp/en/home/

2. "Keisei Bus" You can buy at the ticket counter inside the airport.  and they will let you know what time will the bus arrive in order for you to take the bus. This way, you don't have to wait in the hub for so long. But the bus itself will come every 20 minutes. The price is the same as "Access Narita" which is 1000 yen.

For transportation to airport from Tokyo we also use Keisei bus. There is a Keisei bus stop across the street from Tokyo station. You can buy your tickets online. Just screenshot of the confirmation and show it to the bus driver. 
About The Train
  • Hold on to the ticket carefully so you won’t lose it. If for any reason you lose it, there is no way they can trace it for you. 
  • When you are traveling to other cities; if you are afraid the train will be full, check and decide the time and which train you are planning to take, then go to the JR office at the train station at least a day before to reserve the seat for your party.
  •  We use google map to check the train schedule but our friends said google doesn't work for them so they use www.hyperdia.com. Put in your from & final destination, date. Go to "more option" to uncheck airplane, airport shuttle bus, Nozomi/Mizuho and private railway. It will list you all the trains/schedules that you can take using your JR Pass. 
  • When taking train, pay attention to where you are supposed to get off. Some train has speaker that tells but some don’t. When the train start slowing down, check the platform at the station to be sure. My friends miss their exit and ended up having to waste half day to get to their destination.
·    Avoid rush hour (peak time 8:00 – 9:00 am and shortly after 5:00 pm).  Don't worry if you miss the train, there is always next train available shortly.

·    Please note that you can use JR in Tokyo but once you arrive at other city like Kyoto, Osaka, etc, you can only use their local trains or buses to travel within that city so you have to buy the local train/ bus tickets separately, but it's not expensive.

·     When you travel long destination using Shinkansen, you can buy ekiben (Japanese lunch box) so you can eat in Shinkansen. In Tokyo Station, there is a store that specializes selling ekiben. Try the self warm” ekiban only available only during winter months). It is interesting to see how the food can be warmed by just pulling string that is attached to the box.

TOKYO  recommended places:
·         Tsukiji Fish market => try their sushi
·         Shibuya => Hachiko statue & the busiest crossing intersection
·         Meiji Jingu => if you go on weekend, you may spot Japanese wedding
·         Harajuku => place where many young people hang out and wear unique costumes

HAKONE: well known for its onsen / Japanese hot spring. Our friend went to this onsen and highly recommend it. They have shuttle from the train station and it is very close to the onsen place. You can use share or private. If you a family choose the private one. The place is quiet traditional & private.

We were about to go to this family friendly onsen unfortunately I got my period the day before. 

KYOTO Recommended places:
·       Arashiyama bamboo forest & their monkey park => but have to walk about 20 minutes up and you can see Kyoto from above  
·         Nishiki market: Get the mochi, Sugi bee honey, and local noodle soup.
·         Kiyomizu dera
·         Kinkaku-ji
·         Higashiyama District
·         Fushimi Inari Taisha
·         Gion => meet geisha & maiko (if lucky), preferably early evening/evening. It's recommended not to ask them for picture because they’re usually in a hurry.
·         Tea ceremony. We didn't try this but our friend did and highly recommend the place they went
OSAKA:
·         Dotonbori => try blow fish, taiyaki (red bean, sweet potatoes and other fillings), and many other snacks
·         After arriving at Shin Osaka, you have to walk and change to a different station (about 10 minute walk) then take a local train.

ADDITIONAL TIP:
·         In Japan, it is rare to see garbage bin in public places. Everyone seems to carry their trash and dispose it at home. So if you bring snacks for kids, make sure you bring bag for garbage. 
·         Write down the name of the hotel and phone number, in case if the taxi driver doesn’t understand, he will call the hotel for direction
·         Keep away from the door of the taxi because it will automatically open
·         Many people don’t speak English, so if you need to ask, speak simple English for them to understand but they are very polite and helpful.
·         Don’t have too much/big of luggage because hotel/taxi are small and might not fit in the trunk
·         No need to leave tip
·         No need to worry about bringing food/ snacks for your kids. There are plenty of stores like 7eleven, bakery, or restaurant to buy food along the way. Check tripadvisor for recommended restaurants.
·         Wear comfortable shoes. Japanese people wear stylist and formal clothes. I don't recall seeing anyone wearing t-shirt, short, sandal, or flip flop.

Our One Week in Japan's itinerary:
Day 1. Arrive at Narita, eat ramen for dinner at Tokyo Station, and find the hotel.
Day 2. One Full Day in Tokyo
Day 3. Kyoto: Arashimaya Bamboo Forest, Iwatamaya Monkey Park, Gion
Day 4. Kyoto: Fushimi Inari and Osaka
Day 5. Kyoto: Aquarium, Railway Museum, and Nishiki Market
Day 7. Hakone

Have you traveled to Japan before? Please add if you have any other tips or recommended places to visit.

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