Time for some R and R!
To say that Japan was #JaFun is a gross understatement, plus it’s cliché. Been to very few countries really such as Philippines, Singapore (2x), Malaysia (KL and Legoland), Hong Kong then Japan. Japan is by far our favorite country, my charitable Ilocana and I.
I know you might say, of course, with the short roster of countries I’ve been, Japan is definitely the richest and most developed. I know, I know, but still, for us, Japan is very far in terms of beauty, development, culture and atmosphere possibly even versus countries I’ve never been. I’m imagining and expecting I will like it more than Europe or US (perhaps). Or maybe I’m just still on a high.
Japan is beautiful, efficient, elegant, clean, cool, hi-tech, very advanced, thoughtful, intelligent, culturally-rich, organized. The Japanese are very polite, respectful, helpful, law-abiding, beautiful. We only saw a few Filipinos in Japan maybe that’s why there were very few pasaway, if any. Sad to say, Pinoys are among the pasaways in some countries, jaywalking, littering, noisy, blocking the way in escalators etc. (together with some other Asian countries).
We were mesmerized by the beautiful and clean surroundings, the efficient mass transport, the timely shinkansen and other trains (if there are few delays, they are still accurate on how long the delay will be). The snow, the mix of both urban and rural, beautiful buildings, timeless temples, people obeying traffic signs, people lining up in train stations, remote controlled lights, orderly road constructions, warm toilet seats, various bidet options, microwaves with no rotating plates, the one press washing machine that adds its own water, the rosy cheeks of kawaii (cute) kids, the various winter apparel, the lack of traffic jams, cute school girls wearing skirts in the freezing weather (not as short as Sailor Moon’s though), the many vending machines, and of course the yummy food. Ramen, sushi, rice, katsu, bento boxes, seafood, KOBE BEEF! OMG KOBE BEEF. Melts in your mouth. Not overrated. Plus the relatively weird ones too (from a Pinoy perspective) like octopus, eels, scallops, and JPY1,000 slice of melon.
Let me share some travel tips and pics for those who also want to see the Land of the Rising Sun! Note that I will also be providing a summary of our itinerary but since this is Japan, there are countless destinations to choose from and countless resources from Google.
ESSENTIAL 1: JAPAN RAIL PASS
We really wanted to try the bullet trains (shinkansen) in Japan, and since our flights are to and from Osaka (Kansai airport via Cebu Pacific), we built our itinerary around using the trains and the shinkansen. We also wanted to make a brief stop in Tokyo, and possibly Kyoto, Nara and Kobe.
Enter Japan Rail (JR) Pass, and we got the 7-day pass since most travel sites suggest this for those who will go to Tokyo from Osaka and vice versa. It is only meant for tourists traveling to Japan, and Juan can only buy it outside of Japan (that’s why we’re having second thoughts migrating to Japan since there is no JR Pass for locals). As if. The catch is you can only use it for JR Lines and not for private train lines or bus etc. Still, we decided to avail, knowing that the JR lines are extensive enough for our needs.
We got ours through Flytpack (they have an office in BGC) for PHP12,567 per person. Yes, it’s quite expensive, but as you’ll see later on, we were able to maximize it and save a lot of money in the process, and besides this is Japan so almost everything is expensive relative to the Philippines. JTB Philippines is another option for you, and there are other accredited agencies who sell locally but we find Flytpack cheaper. Buy the voucher here locally (you need actual voucher, not something you print on your own online), and exchange it in select JR stations all over Japan.
Based on my computation, our total fare expense (excluding airfare) amounted to JPY57,260 per person! Of which, JPY55,640 was covered by our JR Pass (equivalent to PHP24,482). So we saved PHP11,915 per person (detailed in PDF file below). Sulit! Plus, you no longer have to line up and buy tickets every time. Juan can also avail of other day passes in various train loops (Tokyo Day Pass or in Osaka), or their ICOCA card, but for me, the JR Pass is something worth considering (especially if you have long distance travels like Tokyo to Osaka and v.v.
ESSENTIAL 2: MOBILE INTERNET
Juan will get lost somehow somewhere in Japan. The Japanese are very helpful and polite, but they love their own language that much that they prefer to use it more than English. Sure they can understand English, and the train signage / directions are translated in English from time to time, but most of time, Juan will have to deal with text written in Japanese. Your key when you get lost is mobile internet. Google maps, Google search, Hyperdia.com for train schedules and fares, etc, and of course, for your real time Facebook and Instagram posts and videos. There are many pocket WiFi for rent when you get to the airport, some AirBnB hosts also offer pocket WiFi, but since we bought our JR pass in Flytpack, we availed of their pocket Wi-Fi / powerbank as well. It’s PHP280 per day but we got 2 days free since we availed of the JR Pass from them so we only paid for 5 extra days. Connection is fast and very reliable, even in subways underground or in mountains filled with snow. No regrets.
Another benefit of mobile internet in hindsight, aside from navigation, is entertainment so that you don’t get bored or inip especially if you’re lining up in theme parks for entrance tickets or for rides.
ESSENTIAL 3: TIMEZONE, LANGUAGE, PRICING AND WEATHER
Japan is ahead of the Philippine time by 1 hour, so people are already rushing (through trains or biking) by 6am in Japan while in the Philippines, it’s only 5am (but yeah we’re rushing too because of our lousy transport system, sorry for the negativity). There’s very few people on the streets (especially in Okubo, Tokyo and Shin-Osaka by 7pm whereas people are still out, commuting in the Philippines at the equivalent 6pm).
Learning a bit of Nihongo will help but not a must. Japan is so thoughtful and efficient that you can understand where you are, where you are going, and what they mean even if you don’t speak their language. But it will be an advantage and less stressful on your part. I had a chance for a 3-unit course in Nihongo while still in the best blue college so arigatou gozaimasu, ohayou gozaimasu, sumimasen, wakarimasen, shinkansen, konbanwa, konichiwa, moshi moshi, gohan, asagohan, itadikimasu, irasshaimase and ganbatte kudasai are all a bit familiar.
Items in Japan are generally more expensive than in the Philippines. The sooner you get that straight the better. But in terms of food, the serving is much bigger. A typical meal in Japan will cost you JPY700 to JPY1000 but you get a bigger serving than possibly a PHP440 meal here in PH. The price is higher because the quality and serving is better. Besides, aside from tourist attractions, Juan goes to Japan for their food, so might as well enjoy their local food while you’re there right? #Takoyaki, #Okonimiyaki #KobeBeef #FTW
Went there during winter so we wore layers and layers of clothers. Temperatures dropped to 1 degrees in Osaka and Tokyo, especially at night. Better if you can wear jackets with hoods, and you might want to wear facemasks too to prevent windburn.
ESSENTIAL 4: WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER and TOKYO DISNEY SEA
Chances are you want to go to WWHP too right? You decide whether you want the Universal Studios Japan (USJ) Express Pass or if you are willing to wait. One can enter WWHP if you have a USJ day pass (JPY7,600) but during peak times, one will need a timed entry ticket for WWHP since it is only small but there are many people even during rainy winter days (such as when we were there). The trick is once you enter USJ, go straight to WWHP either to get a timed entry ticket or to enjoy the area outright. We got there around 10am on a rainy winter morning and there were no timed entry needed yet but the line to Forbidden Journey was so long already, waiting time was said to be 3 hours (for a 5-minute 4D ride). Try to smuggle some candies or rice balls if you can so you don’t get hungry. Besides food inside the theme parks is expectedly more expensive. WWHP only has 2 rides, the Flight of the Hippogriff being the other. Aside from that, the place is for sightseeing already, for wands, butterbeer, the train etc.
If you have extra cash on top of the USJ entrance ticket, and you like rides, and you have very limited time, consider getting an Express Pass for an extra cost. This also entitles you to 2 to 3 rides in the other USJ attractions.
Tokyo Disney Sea (TDS) is the only Disney Sea in the world so do consider going there too. By the way, the rides and dialogues in WHHP, USJ and TDS are all in Japanese so you might feel a bit O-P from time to time.
Again, we wanted to see Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and Kobe. We went there first week of Feb so it was still winter. The weather was friendly to us though. Yes it was cold but generally bright and sunny. It only rained once. Plus we got to experience our first snow, first in Gala Yuzawa Snow Ski Resort, and second, a milder snowfall while temple hopping in Kyoto. So aside from seeing many places at cheaper fares, we also accomplished our mission to experience snow. Below link will lead you to a summary of what we did for the 7D7N tour, the fares and the trains stations were we boarded / alighted to get to various destinations:
There are many places to see and go in Japan, and you can Google many resources to help you out. Our itinerary was built on the JR train system, plus the places we wanted to see.
We did not want to see all places or temples, just select ones, and we did not want to ride all the rides in the amusement parks either. My charitable Ilocana only wanted to see snow, Harry Potter and Hachiko. Mine was food trip, the Golden Temple (Kinakakuji), Gundam (before it gets removed by March), snow, and Harry Potter, plus experience the culture. It was a DIY trip for us, did not avail of any tours etc.
Our itinerary might not be friendly for those with babies or toddlers as it involved a lot of station exchanges (which means train fare) plus a lot of walking (like 21k steps daily average). At the office, they call it the Amazing Race trip, not the one where you rest and relax and sleep for long hours. But for us it was well worth it, we were able to maximize our time and our limited budget.
I hope you found my long post about Japan useful. We hope to go back there, maybe in another season (spring perhaps?) but there might be more people. Winter ain’t so bad though. Arigatou gozaimasu!