First timer tips for a free & easy trip to Japan

Photo 26-12-15, 11 24 04 AM

Here’s the official hashtag on Instagram for all my eats in Japan – #explodinginjapan!

This Japan trip was initially planned for May earlier in 2015, but because I was a hardcore basketballer (HAHA), I refused to go as TRAINING > everything. Stupid shit. Then my parents decided to go in July, and I could not resist any further but it didn’t happen due to unforeseen circumstances. This trip almost didn’t happen in December as well, the prices of the air tickets during this peak period when we booked in November was CRAZY. $1.4k per ticket to fly by Singapore Airlines. Cannot lah.

1. JTB Singapore

JTB is Japan’s largest travel network with more than 500 offices worldwide, and we are lucky to have one of their offices here in Singapore – 391 Orchard Road, Takashimaya Shopping Center Ngee Ann City #03-11C, Singapore 238872.

Our trip was made possible with the package that JTB Singapore offered us – $999/pax to fly by SQ from the stipulated dates 24th to 29th December, so we thought why not? Seriously, if you guys are gonna go to Japan and are not too sure where to start or what to do, head on down to JTB because they have their packages to every part of Japan, and also group tours!

Besides, if you do not want to go through the hassle of looking through different hotels and comparing rates, and being unsure of the standards of your accommodation, they can advise you in this area too! We’ve booked our hotels through them, and checking in was a seamless process. We just dropped our bags and headed for shopping, and came back to check into our rooms! You can also book your rail tickets and disneyland or USS tickets through them to save some time from the queues at the parks!

If I’m not wrong, you can’t get the data sim card from Japan like you do in Taiwan or Hong Kong, but you can purchase this SIM card from them at about $60 with a limit of up to 500mb/day (max. 3GB for 8 days only). But I’ve got a better plan for you guys, read on to find out!

2. Planning your itinerary

Planning the itinerary for Japan is not an easy task especially since it was our first trip there. I KNEW NOTHING ABOUT THE PLACE. Perhaps only the Shibuya crossing. Googling only brought me to blogs and many other Japanese sites which I didn’t know how to read and understand. I thought blogs and travelogues were very useful as I managed to pick up some places through them, and realize things like OH I CAN WALK FROM AOYAMA TO HARAJUKU TO SHIBUYA. 

Do note that for my 6D5N trip, we did not so much of sightseeing and it was mostly me accompanying my mum on her shopping sprees, so we spent the bulk of our time at departmental stores (SIAN. but she paid for the trip so…), in turn I got to decide what we eat in Japan. Actually.. I got to decide everything, but I had to let her shop, otherwise I’ll see her black face 24/7. Nonetheless, I made sure we covered the essentials for first timers like dotonbori in Osaka, Tsujiki Fish Market and the Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo.

Read the other upcoming posts to find out our itinerary and FOOD RECOMMENDATIONS.


Day 1: Osaka Station (Shopping) – HEP Five (Gudetama Cafe)
Day 2: Kuromon Ichiba – Dotonbori – Shinsaibashi
Day 3: Osaka to Tokyo – Ginza Shopping District – Nihombashi – Tokyo Station
Day 4: Aoyama – Omotesando – Harajuku – Shibuya
Day 5: Tsujiki Fish Market – DisneyLand
Day 6: Omotesando – Harajuku – Narita Airport

3. Navigation woes (Brief introduction to the system in Japan)

My biggest worry before heading over to Japan was the crazily complicated train map, and I was really afraid that we would get lost or take the wrong train and end up spending a bomb on the cabs. Their cab fares are pretty costly. Why do I worry? Here’s a look at their Tokyo subway map. tokyo_metro_map
Jaw got drop or not?

You don’t have to worry too much as long as you’ve got your portable wifi and charger by your side because GOOGLE MAP will be your best damn friend. Even though I don’t really know when or how do some of their trains switch from one line to another midway through your ride, my advice is… Trust Google Map. It will tell you when to remain on board for the line switch to your destination, or get off to switch lines. It even has the estimated train fare for each trip, but that varies depending if you have a Suica or Pasmo card (their version of EZ LINK). The price differences are not too bad so it’s okay.

If you’re wondering why there is a difference, you have to first know that the trains belong to different companies. The Suica card is catered for the JR trains, hence cheaper fares if you board the JR line, and slightly higher fares for the non JR trains; while the Pasmo is the opposite. If you really have to save, try to map out your rides first to see if you’d be riding the metro or JR trains more, and then decide to get the type of card you want. You can only get Pasmo cards at non-JR stations (you can tell cause there are signs), and Suica cards at JR stations.
imagesLike this!

Oh you’ll have to pay a 500 yen deposit when you first purchase these cards but you’ll be able to get them back + whatever amount remaining in your card at the end of the trip at the station office (NOT THE MACHINES). You can ask around to find out where the office is, most of the people will be able to direct you there!

So… I’ve no airport transfers, how do I go to my hotel?

Google map. Once you’ve found out what station you have to alight, and what transfers you have to make, you’ll be fine. We were lucky because we landed at Kansai International Airport (KIX) and our hotel is located at Osaka station. A straight rail ride would be able to get us there!

First, we bought our rail pass from JTB in Singapore. Don’t be too surprised if it costs above $100, I think ours did, but the transport costs are slightly higher there!
File 2-1-16, 3 33 39 PM
Mickey mouse tickets are disneyland tickets! HAHA!

The Kansai Area pass allows you to travel to Kyoto, Osaka, Nara and Kobe on unlimited number of rides. But first, after landing in the airport, follow the signs to the train station, and you’d see a huge train office that reads JR PASS. You wouldn’t miss it. Go on in, queue, and exchange the documents for actual tickets.

If like us, you are also heading to Tokyo from Osaka, you can get your Shinkansen (i.e. Bullet Train) passes here, at the same time. We spent a total of $300+ (for 2) on our Shinkansen tickets to Tokyo and had an extremely difficult time to get them because we didn’t know how the system worked and the person could not explain it to us in english.

Here’s a tip:
Go for the Reserved seats tickets, request for them if they don’t ask you. Reserved seats simply means you’ve got your seats booked in the train. The unreserved tickets are just slightly cheaper (<$15), but that means you may have to rush into the train to get your ass on one of those seats. Not an easy feat if you’ve got crazily huge and bulky luggages.

Also, don’t worry about not knowing where to go when you’re at the shinkansen station! I was trying so hard to get the guy to explain to me how (because first timer, nervous what), but he wasn’t able to. I later realized that the details are all printed on the tickets, and you just have to arrive slightly earlier to find out where and how. The station number, train number and seat number are all printed. You can also bring food up to the shinkansen to enjoy!

5. Google Maps

I know I’ve been talking about google maps since the start of the post, but seriously, it will be your best damn friend on this trip. One thing great about google map is, it tells you when you can actually walk to your destination. We’ve walked a lot on this trip, averaging 14km a day. If my 56 year old mother, whose only cardio is shopping in Singapore and spends the rest of her day sedentary can do it, you definitely can do it too. HAHA!

Google maps is also useful in telling you which platform your train will be at, so you don’t really have to be looking around like a headless chicken, wondering which direction your train is heading towards. If you don’t understand what I’m talking about, it is pretty much like how we see if the train is heading towards Pasir Ris or Joo Koon. They have different platform numbers for that, i.e. platform 1 is towards pasir ris, and platform 2 towards joo koon, but the only difference is that they have a couple of lines at one station, not just red and green, but can have red, green, blue, orange. BUT you don’t have to worry about all these using google maps, because it simply tells you which platform to go to, like this,
Photo 2-1-16, 3 54 38 PM
I google map from my hotel to shibuya station, and it tells me this! My favorite, because no transfers have to be made. YES.
Photo 2-1-16, 3 54 49 PM
Here it tells you the platform number. Platform number 1, find it, train comes, board it, 7 stops later, alight. They have english instructions and all on the train, so don’t need to fret.

If you still don’t know, ehhh, sponsor me, I go with you.

6. Your best companion on the trip – WIFI ROUTER
Photo 30-12-15, 5 46 16 AM
Like what your mother always tell you, don’t judge a book by its cover. This ugly looking pouch contains your BEST companion on this trip – the Wifi Router, and you can get them conveniently from the airport at ANY time! Without this, there will be no google maps. Photo 30-12-15, 5 45 49 AM
For travelers to Japan, for just $8 (U.P. $12) per day – they have a promo running now. You get to enjoy 1GB data usage PER DAY, and up to 10 device connections. It’s a lot better than a data sim in my opinion, cause you are entitled to a lot more data per day and your other devices can connect seamlessly. The down side? If you are going out for the whole day, you NEED to bring along your portable chargers for your phones, and also to charge this router, because it lasts for only 8 hours! Cable included (it’s the same one as Samsung phones)!

Changi Recommends have routers for all the other countries as well, click here for more details! Eh not sponsored pls. I just think it was really useful and good things must share! Haha! I wouldn’t have survived trying to study that complicated subway map in Japan!

7. Airport Transfer

I can’t think of anything else you might need to know before heading to Japan, because it’s really quite simple lah. Just need to go for the first time to experience and you’ll find it easy the subsequent times. It’s not really as scary as what other people make it up to be TO ME. Tell me confirm will lose my way and all, and the subway damn scary cause will confirm take wrongly. Nonsense.

Here’s one last thing we fretted about for a moment, because we were so used to having hotel transport and buses to bring us to the airport for departure. First, as my hotel was quite near to Narita (tokyo) airport, we could actually take a train there with a few transfers. But we decided against that because we went to Japan with 2 bags, and came back with 6, and I didn’t want to let my mum carry any of the luggages so it was tough! And cab was too damn expensive.

We found a really convenient way, which can apply to those of you who are staying in Airbnb apartments too! You can google to find out the nearest hotel that has an Airport Limousine! For us, it was the Dai-ichi hotel (5 mins away). Go to the concierge and ask for the Airport limousine bus, and they will get you a ticket. It’s a normal bus lah, don’t get too excited.Photo 29-12-15, 4 16 39 PM This bus will make a few stops at the hotels in the same area and then head off to the airport. They have specific timings though, so do be aware of that! This is for the bus at Dai-ichi hotel. It’s similar at all the other hotels so you’ve got to do some quick homework for that.
Photo 29-12-15, 4 19 44 PM
We had to pay 930 yen, which was about S$11. I thought it was quite okay for all the hassle we got to save for ourselves. AND DO TAKE NOTE THAT the Japanese are really anal about their timings, 5.40pm means 5.40pm. They wouldn’t wait till you come before they leave, so try to be there before the stipulated timing!

Do drop me an email or a comment if you’ve got any other enquiries, since I can’t think of anything else that would be of help for you guys! Stay tuned for the day 1 travelogue in Osaka coming up soon!

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1 Comment

  1. Sam Shue Sam Shue
    September 13, 2016    

    If it’s your first time going through the bigger stations, allow at least 20 mins (point A to B, No stops or distractions) to 40+ minutes (toilet & food stops, taking photos ect) to get from the platform to the outside street.

    Doing a dry run the day before will save you Alot of stress and time when it comes to making connecting transport.

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