Last year I travelled to Japan and I still wonder what made me pick such a difficult country for my first international trip. Difficult not because of food (I love Japanese food), difficult because the communication there isn’t easy. I got some help from friends as I was planning the trip but most of the stuff I learned while I was there. In the past few months a few friends and acquaintances reached out to me asking questions about my Japan trip. So here’s a list of QnA that I have created based on those questions. It’s purely based on my experience and research. I was in Japan for 10 days and travelled to Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. There were a lot of things I wish I knew before hand, but then you always learn from your mistakes. I hope these questions help you in planning your trip.
What kind of budget should I look at?
I travelled to japan in September, which is an off season and my budget for a 10 day trip was Rs 1,25,000 (all inclusive); I was lucky to get cheap return tickets from Mumbai to Tokyo (Rs 30,000). I stayed at AirBnb Homestays which saved me a lot of money; I didn’t spend more than Rs 15,000 for my stay. The major cost (apart from travel tickets) was the JRR pass (Rs 20,000) which is essential if you’re planning a short trip. It saves you a lot of time as well as money if you plan to travel intercity.
Where do I buy JRR pass from and what does it include?
You need to buy your JRR pass before leaving your country. Go to their website http://www.japanrailpass.net/en/ and you’ll get all the details there. It will also direct you to the local agent in your city who will book the exchange pass for you and send it to your address. You can get this pass activated at any of the major stations once you are in Japan. Remember, activate it from the date you want to start using it.
The most basic JRR pass (Green Pass) will give you access to all the JRR trains. However, you can’t reserve a seat with this pass. But, if the trains aren’t crowded then you wouldn’t find trouble finding a seat.
How much time does it take to get the VISA processed?
I got mine on the third working day from the day of submitting the documents. So, it won’t take much time as long as you have your hotel bookings, rough itinerary, letter of purpose and bank statements in place.
What’s the transportation in Japan like?
Tokyo is well connected via metros and subways and it’s not difficult to navigate once you figure out the map. There are ticket dispensers at every station which are easy to access. You can also buy a day pass for the subways which will be cheaper than buying individual tickets. The last subway runs at 12am and cabs are pretty expensive so make sure you save the one off cab ride for the day when you plan to stay out till late in the night.
Kyoto has metros, buses as well as trams (just two lines). Bus is a more ideal way of transportation here and you can buy a day pass here too. The last bus leaves at 11pm.
In Kyoto, you can also rent a cycle to explore the city.
Is communication in Japan easy? Are people helpful?
Communication can be a bit of an issue especially if you’re lost on the streets. People barely speak English there. On train/bus stations it’s easy to communicate. The officers there will help you with exact directions. People almost everywhere are super helpful and will go out of the way to assist you even if they don’t understand your language. We lost our way to our homestay plenty of times and almost always had people coming halfway to make sure we were on the right path.
Where should I stay in Tokyo and Kyoto?
These two are big cities and you would ideally want to live near the main centres to shorten your travel time. In Tokyo try staying closer to Shibuya or Shinjuku since they are the main shopping districts and have plenty of night life.
The must visit places in Kyoto are spread out across the city so you’ll have to travel long distance anyway. However, stay around Shijo Street which is closer to some of the best restaurants/eateries near Kamogawa River.
Booking an AirBnb in Tokyo and Kyoto doesn’t guarantee a traditional home-style experience. The owner of the house in Tokyo and Kyoto weren’t even around.
What kind of food will I get there? I can’t eat raw fish.
Sushi is Japan’s most famous food, but that’s not all the country has. You’ll get a lot of pan-fried noodles, fried chicken, yakitori – grilled chicken on sticks, ramen, stews with rice, okonomiyaki – Japanese pancakes and plenty of stir-fried meats, seafood etc. Finding vegetarian food could be a bit of a challenge though. For those who aren’t too keen on trying the local food – and I am not too happy to say this – there’re a lot of McDonald’s, Burger Kings, pizza joints and a lot of coffee shops serving sandwiches and Italian fare.