It has been over a month since our trip to Japan and since then a lot has happened. For one, I proposed and I am now engaged to my girlfriend of nearly four years. I was able to pull it off in a country that I never thought I would get to visit, in a place that I have dreamt of going to in the past, and above all else, I got to see and experience the culture, heritage of Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto.
Now that we’re home, written a whole trove of experiences, and reflected on everything that has happened since then. I would now like to share some practical tips for surviving a trip to Japan.
How to survive!
- Stick to a daily budget – Japan may not be as expensive as you think or read but sometimes it pays to have one. I remember allotting at least ¥1,500/day and that amount can already cover a lot of stuff. It can buy you food in the convenience stores or pay for a bus ride here and there.
- Take advantage of convenience stores – Since we were staying in Airbnbs most of the time, we did not have breakfast waiting for us, we had to buy the night before or while we were walking. But it wasn’t just breakfast where convenience stores were a big help, there were the mid-morning and afternoon snacks, or the times we’d be taking a long train ride. For a couple of yen, we already had a nice meal and maybe a bars of chocolates packed in our bags.
- Rent a pocket wifi – I wasn’t really sold on the idea of renting a pocket wifi during our trip. For one, I was banking on the idea that train stations and public places would have ultra-fast wifi. This is true but having one was way better than connecting to public ones that were slow or unreliable. Plus, it made navigating very, very, very EASY! Check out the link of the pocket wifi company we used while we were there, alternatively, you can also rent one in the airport: Wifi Rental Store.
- Google Maps – Gone are the days of lugging around a Lonely Planet guide book or huge tourist maps, take advantage of your smartphone’s capabilities and download Google Maps. Armed with your pocket wifi, you can search and navigate your way around the big cities, plus their train directions are always spot on.
- Eat in unknown places – Well not exactly unknown but restaurants where you don’t understand the name. In our Kyoto Airbnb there was this small hole-in-the-wall ramen restaurant that was absolutely heaven and way better than our Ichiran experience. These places might not be well known, but this is Japan and they take pride in everything they do. Don’t expect to a bad tummy at any point in your journey.
- Be Punctual – This isn’t the Philippines where the concept of Filipino time can be applied. If you have a JR Pass and used it to reserve a seat on the shinkansen, better make sure you are at the platform at the appointed hour. These trains leave on the dot and missing that train would cost you almost a day’s worth of supposed sightseeing.
- Know the difference between a Local train and an Express train – Local trains stop at all stations, express trains stop at every other station, ’nuff said.
- Tax-free – The concept isn’t entirely new but it’s a godsend if you want some extra yen throughout your trip. Every time you shop, make sure you keep your receipts amounting to ¥5,000 or look for tax-free shops.
- Manage your coins – On the last day of trip, I began divesting all of my coins. For 10 days, I had accumulated at least ¥3,000 worth of coins! I had these exchanged in a local Starbucks for its paper equivalent and enjoyed some more shopping! When I got home, I found in the dark recesses of my bag more coins amounting to at least ¥2,500. When you travel, divest of these as quickly as possible, especially the annoying ¥1 coins that seem to take over every nook and cranny.
- ENJOY – Forget your money woes and whatever you have waiting for you back at home. Enjoy every second, minute, hour, and day of Japan, because in the Land of the Rising Sun, everything is so foreign and novel that you would be hard pressed to not be impressed or fall in love with the country. Savor the awesome automatic toilets with the sound effects, engross yourself in the culture, go nuts with the food, and take pictures at every moment.