How to have an epic adventure in Japan
We are just back from our big holiday of the year to Japan. Graeme and I met in Japan in 2009 when we were travelling, fell in love and I moved to Glasgow not long after. It was our 5th wedding anniversary at the start of June so we decided to go back to Japan for a 2 week holiday. We went to Tokyo, Kyoto, Nagoya, Sapporo and back to Tokyo. We'd done Tokyo and Kyoto before but decided to try a couple of new places, too.
I started making notes while we were away because my best friend is going to Japan for the first time in a few weeks (hi Gemma!), so I thought I might as well turn it into a detailed series of posts.
We had such an amazing adventure in Japan and even though it might seem like a challenging place to visit, it really is worth it. We came home feeling like we'd done our trip properly – not like tourists at all (IMO), so I wanted to share some advice and recommendations about how we did it. Of course, I'm not an expert on Japan so remember to do your own research, but all this information is correct as of June 2016.
What to do before you go? So if you're planning a trip to Japan, here's what we arranged before we left.
Flights Obviously. We booked with KLM who were having a sale and got return flights from Glasgow (via Amsterdam) for just over £400 each. I'd never flown with KLM before but would highly recommend them – all our flights were on time, the food was delicious and they have decent movies.
[Where I've included links, it will mostly be to my more detailed Yelp reviews]
I booked most of our accommodation through Airbnb. Japan has really amazing public transport so look for apartments near a station. We rented whole apartments through Airbnb for around £60-£70 per night which is a much better price than most hotels. If you want a referral + credit for Airbnb let me know.
We booked into hotels for Nagoya (Airbnb listings in the city were scarce) and our last two nights in Tokyo.
The hotels we stayed at worked out to be a wide range of prices for mostly the same standard. In Nagoya, we paid £92 per night for a compact double which I’m pretty sure is only meant to sleep one person, so we had a cosy two nights there! And in Tokyo, we paid £150 per night for a modern double room. When we checked in, they upgraded us to a room worth more than £450 per night so we were over the moon!
We also ended up booking into a hotel in Sapporo. The Airbnb we booked was disappointing – bad area, mouldy bathroom and just not up the standard of other apartments we've stayed in. As we've used Airbnb for 10 separate trips now, we were pretty peeved and I was fretting that it would ruin our time in Sapporo. Within an hour, we'd booked to stay in a hotel instead, and got a very good price of £66 per night for a twin room. I complained to the host and to Airbnb, and got our money back which was great – I was really pleased with Airbnb's assistance.
I'll post more about these apartments + hotels in the coming posts.
Who wants to pay for roaming in Japan? No one. We booked a “wifi walker” for the duration of our stay – we dubbed him the White Walker and it was so, so useful while we were wandering around each day. We used it for maps, for finding bars and restaurants on Yelp, Google Translate and more. Last time in we were in Japan (7 years ago) there wasn’t the option of hiring a router so we made do without the internet and got lost many, many times.
We booked our router through Wifi Rental Store. They post the router either to the post office at the airport so you can collect it off the plane, or to your accommodation. We chose to have it sent to the airport and simply needed to show my passport to collect it. The cost was under £5 a day and it worked perfectly – except if you let the battery drain completely, it would take a few hours of recharging to come back on. You can connect multiple devices/phones to it and the one we got had unlimited data and worked in Sapporo. To return it, you just post it back in the bag they provide and they’ll email you to confirm receipt.
Money We arranged our travel money through the Post Office which was offering the best price and took ¥150,000 (£1,000) as initial spending money. In Japan, you can use the cash machines in 7-11s to withdraw money.
We really weren’t sure how much money we needed for while we were there so we waited until we’d spent all the Yen we’d gotten from the Post Office and did a rough calculation of how much we’d need for the rest of the time. We took out another ¥120,000 while there which lasted us right until we were getting on the plane at Narita with only small coins left over. But we did put some costs (two expensive meals + shopping) on credit card.
Japan is mainly a cash country – some places do take credit card, but it's easier to pay in cash.
We only made one. Most restaurants in Japan don't take bookings online and only after we were there did I discovered there is an online service called Gurunavi you can use to do this, but we never used it.
I booked lunch at Steak Otsuka after a friend's recommendation. Please note that they don't take reservations year round so you might not be able to book. They emailed to confirm the reservation and on the day it meant we could walk straight in past all the people waiting outside in the heat.
That's it! That's all we arranged before we left. Australian and UK citizens don't need to arrange a visa beforehand, you get issued a 90 day visa upon arrival.
I'll pop up another post in the next day or so with the details of what we did in each city. Let me know in the comments if you have a particular question!