The Japanese visa is easy to get, once you have all the necessary documents ready and follow the instructions as mentioned on the website. The Japanese are extremely particular and detail oriented people, which is clearly visible in the way they work. I applied for a visa from the Japanese embassy in Riyadh which cost me 5 pounds for a single entry visa and took exactly three working days to process (as mentioned online!). This was one of the most straightforward visa processes I have ever experienced. More information about which countries need/don’t need a visa to travel to Japan can be found here.
The official currency of Japan is the Japanese Yen (JPY). Japan is an expensive country as compared to the usual travelling standards for Asians but for Europeans and Americans, the currency is pretty close to their respective rates. The currency denominations are high and the smallest note available is a 1000 JPY note with coins being available for anything less than that. The prices are usually based on the multiples of 100 that make the usage of coins, quite easy. Despite having high currency denominations, Japan still provides 1 Yen coins which you will need from time to time. Currency exchange offices can be found at the airport itself.
As I said, Japan is an organised country and they acknowledge a tourist’s needs. You will find all the services needed right at the airport. You can buy SIM cards from vending machines at the airport. Many different companies offer different plans but most of them offer 200 – 250 MB data per day for 7, 14 and 21-day plans. You can choose the SIM based on the amount of data offered and the validity. The SIMs are already activated, so there is no need to worry. It doesn’t take a genius to put money in a vending machine and insert a SIM card in your phone. It’s as easy as that!
Tokyo, being one of the most famous cities in the world, is full of hostels and hotels. The hostels in Japan are usually more expensive as compared to the hostels in other countries but the rates are consistent throughout the country so there is no point in wasting time, looking for cheaper places. Hotel rates range from $30-$45 per night and they are definitely worth it. Japanese hostels are different from hostels in other countries for another reason they are silent hostels. They are clean and well maintained that give you great flexibility unlike in any other Asian country. Try booking a hotel in the Shibuya or Shinjuku areas because that’s where the nightlife is. Another reason why these areas are important will be explained in the transport section of the blog post. I stayed at Anne Hostel, Imano Hostel and an AirBnB.
The most important feature of the Japan trip was the transportation facilities available within the country. As a tourist, the most important points you need to know about the Japanese transportation system are the JR pass, the subway, taxis and bullet trains. So let’s break them down one by one, because they will be the lifelines of your trip.
If you are planning to visit Tokyo only (and no other city in Japan!), then don’t worry about this. It’s not for you. If you are planning to visit multiple cities in Japan, then the best bet is to buy something called the ‘JR Pass’. JR (Japan Rail) is a company that owns multiple train lines in Japan, alongside other private companies that own their respective train lines. JR is the biggest network so it’s recommended that you buy their rail pass to make travelling easier. The only catch is that this pass is only available for tourists and so it can’t be bought within the country. You have to go through the following steps to get a JR rail pass:
- Order a JR pass online from here: http://www.jrpass.com/. It can be available for 7, 14 or 21 days so makes sure that you choose the right option.
- FedEx will deliver something called an ‘Exchange Order’ to your address.
- Carry the exchange order to Japan and get it converted into a pass from the nearest authorised JR Rail office. The validity starts right the day you get the pass activated so make sure that you activate your pass at the right time so as to cover major intercity travels. Within Tokyo, tickets are cheaper to buy using the normal cash, so avoid using the pass if you have more days left within the country.
For example: If your trip is for 10 days and you bought a 7-day pass but had it activated it on the 4th day, cover the rest of the trip using the pass.
The rail pass is expensive, so it’s important that you use it wisely. If you choose not to buy the rail pass, travelling between cities becomes more expensive and hence, more of a hassle. So do your research and buy the pass beforehand as it can’t be bought in Japan later.
Two companies own the local subway lines- JR and a private company. If you have the JR pass, then you can use the JR lines with the pass. But if you use the subway, you’ll have to buy tickets from the station. Ticketing machines are all automated but there is always an officer at every counter, in the case of any queries or emergencies. Most places in Tokyo can be reached using the JR rail pass but sometimes, the shortest route may be via the subway in which case, the JR pass won’t work. The price of the tickets range between 100 – 300 Yen, so it’s not that expensive and might save time.
You can also buy a subway day pass; a JR Day pass or both day passes if you are planning to use these lines multiple times a day.
Note: All trains close at 12 AM midnight and start at 5 AM daily. So if you missed the last train, you better have a plan to keep you busy for the next 4 hours because you will need one. This is the reason I mentioned that booking hostels near the main areas are helpful so you can walk the distance, in the case of emergencies.
Consider taxis as the option even after your last option, because they are so expensive that it would be better to spend the night at a Karaoke bar than paying 3000 – 5000 yen as taxi fare.
One of the Japan’s most highlighted attractions is riding the bullet train. Luckily, a JR pass allows you to fulfil this dream. The JR line permits you to use multiple bullet train lines to go to different cities in Japan. They are incredibly fast and fun to ride in. You can reserve a seat in the train using your pass at the station or board the unreserved ones. It’s better to reserve as it gets you a guaranteed seat. I took the train 5 times during my 10-day trip and loved it every time. It was one of the items on my bucket list and I am so glad that I got to tick it off my list.