Travelling to Tokyo for the First Time? Here are Some Tips

By Mommy Donna and Kib - April 22, 2019

I can't get enough of Japan that I can't just have one big blog for our experience, hihi.  I also wanted you not to get overwhelmed if I've put everything in just one blog post.  A week has passed since we arrived from our Tokyo trip but I still feel happy whenever I think about it.  I think I left my heart in Japan, hihi.

The Lord God has indeed blessed us in this dream holiday.  Just like what I mentioned in my earlier blog about getting a Japan visa, I've prayed for this for two years.  Getting a Japan visa as a freelancer also gives hope to other freelancers like me that they can also travel to visa countries!

I know that Japan is also included in your bucket list too, and I'm glad to share my experiences so that you will be able to prepare for your upcoming Japan trip too.  

Here are some valuable tips that I can give you when you start planning for your Japan holiday:

1.  Get a Suica or Pasmo card. 

These are reloadable tap cards that you can use to pay for your bus and train fares.  When you have a Suica or Pasmo card, you get a discount on your train fare (around 5%).  Apart from using Suica or Pasmo card on buses and trains, the credits on the card can also be used to pay to the stores.  You can actually surrender it before you leave Japan, but if you have plans of going back sooner than soon, you can keep it.  The card can be used for ten years.  I got a Suica card via Klook and just picked it up at the airport when we arrived. 

How to reload/recharge:  You can see a recharging machine at all train stations.  Choose "English" on the touch-screen menu to guide you on how to add credits.  

You may have also heard about JR Pass.  If you're just going to stay in one place and not going to another prefecture (e.g. Osaka), it is not practical for you to get one.  JR Pass is quite expensive so if you will just stay around Tokyo, Suica or Pasmo card is enough.  I cannot tell you any other details about JR Pass since I didn't go to another prefecture, but if I will have a chance to go to Japan next time, I'll let you know.

This is an example of a recharging machine for either Suica or Pasmo card

2.  Book a hotel near the JR Yamanote Line.

You may have already heard how crazy the train system in Tokyo is from friends who already had been there.  When I saw the Tokyo train map on the travel guide I got from the aiport, I got nervous!  I thought having an experience in Hong Kong will prepare me for our Tokyo trip but I was wrong, haha.  

Tokyo has extensive systems of trains, subways, and trams.  It is really ideal that you always plan your train route before going out on a daily basis.

JR Yamanote Line is the one that goes around the main cities in metropolitan Tokyo, like Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ueno, Ikebukuro, Shinagawa.  Basically, most train and subway lines connect to JR Yamanote line, so it's easy for you to transfer trains once you familiarize yourself with JR Yamanote line.

There are also buses around Tokyo; however, I have limited experience in riding buses as they have designated bus stops only and arrive at a specific time.  There are also different kinds of buses too, but since you will only be in Tokyo for several days, riding trains is a more practical way of getting around.

Taxis are very expensive in Japan, even my Japanese friends discourage me from riding taxis.

Trains in Japan are until midnight so you don't need to worry about staying a bit late outside.  Anyway, I assure you that you won't be outside until midnight because you will already be dead-tired by 8pm that you want to already take a rest in your hotel room, haha.

The map below shows how crazy the train system in Tokyo is:

JR Yamanote line is the one in the middle (green line) going around metropolitan Tokyo.

In addition, you can also use a travel app to help you commuting in Japan.  The most popular app among tourists in Tokyo is Hyperdia (this is to help you with the train schedules and transfers), but I used Rome2Rio app to help me on getting from one place to another in all means of transportation (bus, train, foot).  I also used so I can also have offline navigation.

3.  Bring a water tumbler.

You can drink tap water in Japan!  You can also find a lot of water fountains in major places around Tokyo to fill up your water tumbler.  It also saves you money from buying drinks at vending machines every time you get thirsty.

4.  Book a midnight flight with checked luggage. 

It only takes 4 hours to get to Japan, so I suggest that you take midnight or a very early flight to Japan so that you will immediately start your Day 1 in Japan.  Moreover, take a late flight back home so that your last day in Japan can still be an extra day to shop and go around.

Why did I suggest that you have a checked luggage?  Because I will encourage you to shop in Japan!  If you can afford, I would encourage you to book a ticket at a regular airline rather than a low-cost carrier because add-ons on low cost carriers are more expensive than in regular airlines.  In addition to that, depending on the number of days that you will spend and the weather too, having a checked luggage is a must.

I really had a wonderful flying experience with Japan Airlines!  I'll share it with you on my next blog, hihi.

5.  Shop!  

I don't shop for a lot of stuff whenever Kib and I travel, because I spend more on experience.  However, this time I would encourage you to shop in Tokyo!  If you love Japanese products and food, I would highly encourage you to splurge in Japan.

You can check out these stores in Tokyo.  These stores also offer tax-free shopping so make sure that you have your passport with you every time you shop.  However, you have to meet a certain amount for you to be qualified for tax-free shopping.

Bic Camera -- famous for electronic items like cameras, laptops, mobile phones, etc. although they also offer non-electronic items like skin care products

Don Quixote -- 24-hour store which offers everything-from grocery items to clothing to accessories, it is an ideal store to buy things that you want to bring home to the Philippines

Seria -- 100-yen store (plus 8% tax, 108yen)

Daiso -- 100-yen store (plus 8% tax, 108yen)

Uniqlo -- biggest Uniqlo store is in Ginza, but there are other stores all over Tokyo too

Matsumoto Kiyoshi -- pharmacy chain in Japan where you can buy medicines, skin care products and make-up

Welcia -- it's like Watson's, they offer food and non-food items such as make-up, skin care products and toiletries

NewDays -- convenience store strategically located at the train stations

7-Eleven -- I would recommend that you also try visiting 7-Eleven!  They offer food that are not available in the Philippines

Family Mart -- we were able to see Family Mart stores in Japan but we were not able to check out the items inside

You can actually visit these stores in major shopping districts in Tokyo (Ginza, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Akihabara, Omotesando, Harajuku).

On the other hand, you can also visit Nakamise St. in Asakusa to buy souvenir items (food and non-food).  Nakamise St. maintains its old shopping ambience.

Moreover, there are also shopping outlets near Tokyo like Gotemba, Venus Fort, and Mitsui.  You can also shop at these places if you are in the hunt for best deals of branded items.  According to some friends who had been to Tokyo, you can buy branded items at 50%-70% off!  However, they're already outside metropolitan Tokyo (about one hour travel) that you really have to spend one whole day in the outlet store.  

To find these stores, it's ideal to have a navigation app on your phone, check item #2 above for travel app suggestions.

6.  Eat at Ichiran and Ootoya.

Of course, I encourage you to eat Japanese food!  These restaurants are popular among tourists.  Ichiran is famous for its tonkotsu ramen and you eat ramen inside a cubicle.  It is also open for 24 hours.  Since this ramen restaurant is popular among tourists, expect that the line going to the restaurant will be long.  Ootoya is famous for Japanese dishes other than sushi and ramen.  There are branches all over Tokyo, so just search for their branches via Google Maps.

Please note that in Ichiran they only accept cash payments.  You order via ordering machine (like a vending machine) and a ticket will be given to you which you will give to the store attendant.  At Ootoya, you have to pay at the cashier (approach the cashier) when you're about to leave.  This is the usual practice of paying at restaurants in Japan.

7.  There actually lots of places that you can visit for FREE in Tokyo!

Check my earlier blog on where you can visit popular spots for free!  There are some places that kids are either free or have discounts.  The travel guide that you will get at the airport has all the suggested places for you to visit, you just have to find time to check each and every one so that you can plan your daily itinerary too.  The places that we have missed visiting during our Tokyo trip might also offer free entrances, so better check them out too.

8.  Booking pre-arranged tours are OPTIONAL.

Klook, KKDay, and Hato Bus offers tour packages for tourists.  You can check out these websites to make your Tokyo experience more memorable.  However, some of the activities there are outside Tokyo so you have to wake up early for you to catch the tour.  In our case, I never booked a pre-arranged tour because we're having a hard time waking up early to prepare for the tour.  We still have to go to a certain meeting place for that.  Anyway, just like what I said, it is up to you if you would like to avail of such packages to make your Tokyo holiday an enjoyable one.

9.  Renting a pocket wi-fi or traveler sim is OPTIONAL.

Most blogs about Tokyo will say that wi-fi connectivity is limited but actually most public places in Tokyo have free wi-fi, even inside the trains.  If you don't need to be connected all the time, just make use of the free wi-fi on public areas.  Should you decide to rent a pocket wi-fi or traveler sim, you may get it via Klook or KKDay.

10.  There is a proper way of eating Japanese food.

We all eat Japanese food, but I just learned that there's a proper way of eating it, thanks to my Japanese friends!
     a.  Sushi--quickly tap the protein part (not the rice part) on the soy sauce.  You don't put wasabi and pickled ginger on the soy sauce; it is eaten separately.
     b.  DO NOT REST your chopsticks inside the bowl.  Rest your chopsticks on top of the bowl instead.
     c.  When eating ramen or any kind of soup with noodles, make a sipping sound.  This means that you're enjoying your food.

11.  Other things to take note of:

    a.  Japanese people always make a queue.  You will see Japanese lining up at train stations, escalators, cashiers, etc.  
    b.  Japanese people are territorial.  Japanese people are courteous people, but at the same time, territorial.  They do not want their personal space to be invaded by other people, like when Kib and I ate at the food park at Ueno, we sat on a different table.  That table was across another food stall and we were asked to vacate that table.  On the other hand, table-sharing is also a no-no for them.  Even if the seat on a particular table is vacant, as much as possible do not ask permission to share it with you, just find another table.
    c.  Always put off your shoes before entering a room.  There are establishments which requires you to put off your shoes before entering.  If you are particular with the hygiene, I'd recommend that you bring your own socks, or wear a pair of shoes that can be easily removed.
    d.  DO NOT EAT while walking.  Japanese people care much about cleanliness, so if you want to eat, finish your food first before you start walking again.  In addition to that, dispose of your trash properly.  In addition to that, Japanese people have different disposals for aluminum cans and PET bottles, so please check first before throwing your trash.
    e.  At the escalator: stand on your left, walk on your right.  Japanese people do also follow this escalator rule, but it is the opposite in the Philippines.  
    f.  There are ordering machines at certain restaurants.  Don't get intimidated on using these machines in ordering food.  It's just like buying something at a vending machine.
    g. English signs are limited.  Do not be afraid to ask if you really cannot understand anything, but please use simple English phrases only.  When locals talk to me in Japanese, I would respond, "English".  Either they change their language to English or simply move away, hihi.

Honestly, there are some of the things that I find weird in Japan, but just like from our previous adventures, I am tolerant of such things because I'm just a tourist.  If you felt offended, just brush it off, because again, you will only be in their country for several days.  

This is the question that most people ask me about my Japan trip:  How much budget should I prepare?

Airfare--this time, I would advise you to book a regular plane, not a low-cost carrier (LCC).  Why?  Because for sure you'll bring home a lot of goodies from Japan!  Checked baggage options in low-cost carriers cost more because it is an add-on to the base fare, compared with the regular airline that checked baggage is already included in the cost.  In addition to that, depending on the season that you're going, you might need to bring thermal clothes and jackets/coats with you, thus, having checked baggage is a must.  

Travelling to Japan on winter is cheaper compared with other seasons, so for sure the airfare is lower during this season.

However, you cannot book an airfare prior to your visa application, so it is better to find the right timing to apply for a Japanese visa.

In addition to that, weekday flights are cheaper than weekend flights.  Purchasing a ticket on a Tuesday US time is also cheaper.

Accommodation--There are different types of accommodation in Japan, ranging from homestays (check here), Airbnb, guest houses, ryokan (traditional Japanese homes), hostels, capsule hotels, and regular hotels.  It is up to you on what kind of accommodation you will get as long as you're comfortable and amenable to the facilities of the place.  Make sure that the place that you're going to stay in Tokyo will be near the JR Yamanote line so that you won't have to walk far, plus it saves you money on doing a lot of train transfers.  We just stayed at a guest house during our stay in Tokyo and I paid 29,000yen for it.

Transportation--I allocated a budget of 1,000yen for each person daily (but on our Yokohama day trip I put a budget of 2,000yen each on our Suica card).  When you have a tap card, your fare is discounted.

Entrance fees to museums/amusement park-- It really depends on where you will go.  Kib and I went to some places around Tokyo which offers FREE entrance.  You may check out my earlier blog on how much I spent for the entrance fees too.

Food-- On the average, allot AT LEAST 1,000yen per meal per person.  Your meal can be lower than 1,000yen or higher than 1,000yen depending on the type of dish that you're going to have.  Fastfood restaurants like McDonald's have value meals at around 500yen.

Shopping--It is up to you how much you're going to allot for this, but I really strongly recommend that you bring home some Japanese goodies that you can enjoy back to the Philippines!  Check out the shopping store ideas I gave on Item #5.

I'm glad to help friends and family to give tips based on my travel experience in Tokyo because I also wanted you to experience the same happiness that I had.  I pray that you will also have an opportunity to tavel to Japan because it's really a lovely country.

Don't hasten!  In God's time you will also be able to go to this country!  Give time to prepare for visa application and include your Japan travel in your prayers.

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