Backpacking Japan 101
ALL-TIME FAVORITE POST FROM 2010 RE-BLOGGED: The secret to an awesome holiday in the Democratic People's Republic of Japan is knowing you have a good plan to start with. Three things to remember to make your trip to the "Land of the Rising Sun" a phenomenal success are to do the following: 1) draft a research plan, 2) budget your travel money 3) pray to the gods of travel.
Looking back in 2010, it took me a month to plan this trip from end to end. Whether you're flying from Asia, Europe or North America, Japan is a destination not as easy to get to as Thailand or Singapore. You need time to prepare, unless you're booking everything through a travel agent. You may not have to worry about anything but you might be missing on some experiences if only you're traveling independently. My friend from New York skipped Japan on her way to Asia because she thought traveling to this country is ridiculously expensive. After telling her she can definitely get by, hopefully, she'll be able to check out this amazing country as well.
Three weeks before my trip, i bought a Lonely Planet Japan book online. Every night, i would leaf through a few pages to read about customs, traditions, in and out of the airport, and different prefectures around Japan. I spend about three to four hours Googling destinations, affordable hotels and reading articles about lovely countryside trips. I find Lonely Planet threads on Thorntree very helpful, the same with blogs from the Philippines and around the world. Most of these blogs provide tips on how to travel cheap and maximize your journey.
Recommendations come in handy when you want to read about awesome places to go to, hotels/hostels to sleep at, restaurants to dine in, and mode of transportation to use. I put my trust in blogger reviews because their stories are the most real you can find on the web. Moreover, taking time to read experiences of others is always a fuel to inspire you to go and just travel.
How do you draft your itinerary?
One of the most crucial parts of planning a trip to Japan is actually making a rough draft of your itinerary. I find it rude when people say "It's impossible to travel in Tokyo in 5 days." Let's respect that not everybody has the luxury of time to travel around Japan in a month. It's real traveling to immerse yourself in the culture and wander around off the beaten paths, and most likely, you will need a very long time for that. But it's also true that you can do all of that in five days, with a work around.
Prepare your Japanese visa application up to three months before the actual date of your departure. It takes time to plan your journey, and it does help to start early. By making sure you have submitted complete requirements needed, you should be able to walk out of the travel agency in a breeze and wait for your approval in no time. I got my Japanese Visa after three days.
|Pedestrian crossing in Shinjuku, Tokyo|
Budget, budget, budget your money.
How much money do you need to save up? It all depends on how you long you will stay, how comfortable you want travel, and how many places you want to visit.
Where can i get good, cheap food?
A good meal in Japan is priced from anywhere between $10 to $1,000. But if you know where to go, you can get a good meal for about 200 Yen or $4. A plate of sushi in one of those revolving sushi places in Tokyo and Fukuoka cost 100 yen for two pieces, that's 50 yen a piece, $.50 or P25. Three plates and you'll be stuffed. Water is free, but tea is more popularly served, so you don't have to spend money on colas which is around 140 Yen, less than $2. Another tip to get cheap but good food is trying out 7-11 or Lawson Station microwavable/ready to eat food. The numerous servings of packed goodies taste really good and portions are huge, good enough for sharing.
Where can i sleep cheap but comfortable too?
Accommodations need not be expensive unless you're staying in the Shangri-la or Peninsula, otherwise a decent bed in a hostel should cost you not more than 2500 Yen or less than $40. The prices listed above are more expensive when you compare it to prices in Thailand or China, but i tell you this, you get good value out of your money. I've had the best sleep in all of my travels when I was in Japan that's why waking up really early everyday is a challenge. The bed is comfortable, you don't need air conditioning but ventilation is good, bathrooms and toilets are tech advanced (toilets are like machines in Japan - you can press to deodorize, press to lower the sound of the flush, press to heat the seat, press for the bidet), and hot water and cooking is complimentary.
Also, if you're staying for 7 days or more around Japan and you want to see a lot of places, get the Japan Railway Pass. It's a sin not to take it, more so i think it's impractical not to buy one. More on JAPAN RAILWAY PASS in the coming days.
I want to share with you the luck i had while I was traveling around Japan.
Tag along with cool Japanese friends.
One. I have friends in Japan, and this i tell you, if you're with them, they'll pay everything for you. There are times when i want to shell out some money because it was within my budget, but the minute i grab my wallet, they'll tell you, it's well taken cared of. Maybe, it's part of culture or a custom that guests are treated with utmost hospitality. Generosity is one of the qualities i will never forget about Japanese people.
|Best of luck winning in a pachinko machine, Kyoto|
Japan Railways Pass is a good investment.
Two. I consider getting the Japan Railway Pass as a stroke of luck because i was able to maximize my trip far better than expected. I bought it a few days before my trip and it's one of the best decisions in all of my travels combined. I've been to six major cities in Japan, thousands of miles away from the capital, Tokyo. Apart from that, i was able to ride in one of the fastest trains in the world! Genius!
Get a good value out of your flight.
Three. Flights. I took the Cathay Pacific flight from Manila to Tokyo with a stop-over in Hong kong and it cost me around $500, Philippine Airlines flight was about $200 more, Cebu Pacific flight which flies only to Osaka then, was slightly less than $500. I ate good meals, ordered sodas and colas non-stop, watched my favorite TV show which i haven't watched in a long time, listened to In flight music which was actually a good selection (never heard of cruising music - music played while cruising at a high altitude), and the best part is the lovely Cathay Pacific flight attendants were very friendly to me. She served me complimentary Moët and Chandon, and I was really well taken cared of. I love Cathay Pacific.
After continuously flying with budget airlines, it is an awesome break to fly Cathay. I realize how important it is to choose a good airline company, as much as you choose a destination to travel to. The service in particular is outstanding, most especially when comparing it other airline companies where sometimes, service is last priority.
|Revolving Sushi Bar in Shogun, Fukuoka|
Excess Baggage? No worries!
On my way to the Narita airport, i was beginning to get anxious because i was pretty sure i had excess baggage. I Shopped a little too much in Shinjuku and i know my baggage was about 5-10 kilos overweight. I tried my best to re-pack everything on the train, and made sure i have passable hand carry baggage to lessen the number of kilos in my check-in bag.
The Cathay Pacific flight from Tokyo Narita to Manila got delayed due to bad weather. The lovely ground attendant who was wearing a red shift dress and her smile so endearing was apologetic, and suggested if it's possible that i get transferred to another airline which is JAL. My heart stopped. I've always dreamed of flying Japan Airlines because it's suppose to be the best. And so without batting an eyelash, i said yes. The cost of a cheap round trip ticket from Manila to Tokyo via Japan Airlines is around $500-$800. Meaning, i couldn't afford it. My new flight schedule is two hours away which is what i was wishing for. I haven't bought any souvenir food or trinkets for folks back home. Buy your souvenirs at the airport because most likely, you'll get the same price as in the city. Lastly, the attendant weighed my trolley and i saw how it was about 8 kilos overweight. She then asked me if there's anything more i can check in because the baggage allowance is more than as I'm now traveling premium economy, so I have less than 10 kilos still. I handed over my one big mega plastic bag of souvenirs, and roam around the airport with the biggest smile in my face. I was ecstatic.
|Colorful display in Dotonburi, Osaka|
REALIZATIONS: How can you forget about Japan? It's exciting, refreshing and inspiring. Packed with more than enough amazing spots, essential experiences and one of the most friendly people on Earth, you will most definitely want to come back sooner than expected. A successful trip to Japan is all about preparation. Travel smart and go back home with impeccable stories. In the end, nothing beats a traveler who always has a back-up plan. You will be able to travel more and experience more of this superb Asian country, and that's all that matters.