Friday, July 6, 2012

Planning for Japan: Visa, Flight Bookings, Hotel Reservations, etc.

Planning Overview 

The 6 days all expense paid trip to Japan, courtesy IndiBlogger and Expedia, was awarded to one person only - the blogger. Since I was quite apprehensive of travelling alone, I asked my father to come along and he happily obliged. What followed thence were lots of apprehensive and exciting moments not only for both of us but for the rest of my family as well, but in the midst of all this, we also made sure to make out some time towards planning our maiden expedition to Japan.

Here’s a low down highlighting how it all went -

Expedia: Visas, Passports, Travel insurance, Flight Tickets, Hotel Reservations.

The online travel portal, Expedia helped us with our visas and travel insurance. Flight tickets were reserved and bookings for Hotel Villa Fontaine, Roppongi in Tokyo were made.

Stamped Indian Passports

My costing for everything was completely accounted to by them, all the related extra amount for my father by us.

Research and Developments: Communication barrier, Cost, Food, Etc.

A few days that we had in hand before embarking on our trip, we got to know a lot of the country from our near and dear ones and research on the net. To help things further I got myself a Lonely Planet guidebook, though it is a completely different matter that I never got down to reading it further than the first 20 pages or so but even possessing it gave a certain sense of empowerment somehow.

Lonely Planet and Flight Tickets for Japan

Based on all the information we gathered, in the days warming us up to our first international trip ever, we charted a few vital impressions of Japan that needed attention and got down to tackling them accordingly. Here’s a list how –

1. Cost: Japan is a very expensive country to travel and things are very costly.

We made sure we were carrying all our things that needed to go along with us – clothes and toiletries in particular. After all, it wasn’t India and ‘Oh, I forgot to put that in’ would really be lame on our part.

2. Lack of Space: There is a dearth of space, rooms are small and if you are carrying a big suitcase, think of shrinking it to a smaller sized bag.

We made sure all extra items were cut out so that there were only 3 bags from our side – one mine, one my dad’s and one for food.

3. Communication: People are not very confident in their English speaking. Be patient, try a bit of Japanese language learning that can help break ice.

I sat down, made a list of the common greeting phrases in English, picked their Japanese equivalents and mugged them up.

Konnichiwa – Hello.
Arigato Gozaimasta – Thank You.
O-ai dekite ureshii desu – Nice to meet you.
Sumimasen – Excuse me.
...etc.

4. Vegetarian Food: Food in Japan is primarily non vegetarian with fish as the chief ingredient in majority of the dishes. More importantly, the word ‘vegetarian’ has different connotations for them than what it means to us - the Indians, hence one needs to be very particular when ordering food and having it. 

Being pure vegetarians, not consuming eggs, meat, fish, beef or the like, we sensed finding food could pose a big problem for us and we mentally prepared ourselves for the worst. My father suggested we carry some light snacks from India and in view of that we stacked one of our bags with munchies like chips, biscuits and nuts.

Japan Travel Itinerary:

After packing our bags, we now got down to the final step, the itinerary.

The first 3 days were reserved for Tokyo. Inspired by my Nara blogger friends - cosmos, sarah, stardust, snowwhite and Red Rose - it was decided to spend the rest of our days with them in Nara and Kyoto. Mails were shot regarding the same. Mails came back, faster than we could respond. The Nara bloggers put in all their strength so as to ensure that our journey to their part of Japan was enjoyable and  completely hassle free. From staying to eating, from transport to sightseeing – everything was taken care of by them and to think of it, all this was done in a short notice of only a week or so and for someone whom they had only interacted online via blogs and comments was more than remarkable!

Finally, a rough travel itinerary was prepared which looked something like this – 

-- Departure from Mumbai at 1.05 pm IST --

Day I - 1/6/2012 - Arrival at 6:00 am Tokyo Time.  Visit Expedia office.

Day II and III - Tokyo travel.
The following part was planned by Nara Friends -

Day IV - Nara travel tour.  Overnight homestay.

Day V - Nara sightseeing. Move to Kyoto in the evening. Overnight stay at Hotel New Miyako Hotel near the Kyoto Station.

Day VI - 6/6/2012 - Kyoto tour.  Departure for Tokyo in the evening.

-- Board flight at 10:35 am and land in Mumbai at 23:45 pm. --

Planning Conclusions:

In short, it wouldn’t be wrong if we say that there was hardly any planning from our side and even if there was, it was all hurried and last minute. The good thing happening was that everyone kept on assisting, and everything kept falling in place... and in the midst of all this, we found ourselves just sitting back and enjoying... a feeling... royal, a feeling... overwhelming, a feeling... special!


And what's more... in the days to follow, as we were soon to realize, all these feelings were only to amplify further more...

Fast Facts and Tips for Travellers:

1. Currency:

When in your home country: Carry a lot of Yen and not US Dollars (as was advised to us) and t
ake it from a bank in your country. Do not exchange currency at the Indian airport as the conversion rates there are near to ridiculous.

When in Tokyo: If you are in need for currency, best is to withdraw it from an ATM centre in Tokyo. One surprising and strange thing we noted was, the ATM’s in Tokyo offered us almost 15-20 % better exchange rates than the global exchange rates at that point in time in spite of a message popping on the ATM screen - ‘Extra charges will be cut in transaction’, in reality the situation was exactly the opposite and we were actually hugely benefited from it. Amazing!

Currency - Japanese Yen
Japanese Yen - coins and notes

Points to Remember in Japan: 

- ATM’s are hard to find in Japan and on Saturday’s and Sunday’s, banks are closed. Further note that not all international debit/credit cards are accepted, so make sure to find out if yours is recognized in Japan before leaving your country. From personal experience, MasterCard debit card is OK.

- Airports may not necessarily be easily accessible from your point of station. So it’s advisable that you carry enough yen currency in your pocket at all times.

2. Hotel Reservations

Check in time: Many Japanese hotels are quite strict with their check in and check out timings and don’t entertain flexibility of any kind. Co ordinate the timings of your hotel and flights and plan everything accordingly for a hassle free travel.

Book your hotel through Internet: Try to book your hotel via the internet; you might just surprise yourself with a hefty deal. This is what happened to us in Kyoto. Thanks to stardust, who booked New Miyako Hotel via the internet for us, a room that otherwise expenses 32000 Y cost us only 9600 Y! Astonishing discount for using technology, isn’t it?

Know the nearest station: Do not forget to inquire of the nearest station to your hotel and the subway route to reach your hotel from the Airport by train.

3. Rail Pass: Though we never bought one, consider taking a rail pass for yourself from your country as it apparently saves you a lot of money if you are going to travel around. You need to buy it when you are still in your home country.

4. Trinkets from your country: You will be meeting A LOT of friendly people in your way in Japan, make sure to carry a few trinkets as mementos to gift them and make those small little moments memorable for life.

45 comments:

  1. How very exciting for both you and your father. Husband dearest went several years ago and the only problem he encountered was being over 6 feet tall he felt very cramped a lot of the time and especially whilst in bed. Anyway, wishing you a safe journey, have fun and remember we expect lots of photos. x

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  2. I'm so excited for you, Arti! I worked for a Japanese company until I retired! Wonderful people! Have a fabulous trip!

    Sylvia

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  3. Ah! here it comes... I thought you enjoyed the japanese Sushi sushi and no wonder with your dad around, you had no scope to visit an sumo arena :)

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  4. That's comprehensive planning down to the minutest detail. Have a wonderful trip Arti. If ever I travel to Japan your post will serve as a very useful guideline. Warm Regards and Best Wishes Ram

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  5. Great...happy to see you back. Hope you had a wonderful trip:)

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  6. It is so fun reading about this and your advice too! Love it!

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  7. How interesting! Yes, Japan is quite expensive. But we truly enjoyed our 3 night stay in Tokyo in 2008.

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  8. Hello Arti,
    Thank you for your visit to my blog. You have a great blog and I am glad to visit yours.
    Have a pleasant weekend.

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  9. very important information Aarti !It will really come handy while visiting japan..

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  10. Hi what a great trip and I'm glad that you'll come Japan.

    I recommend downtown area such as Asakusa in Tokyo. You can see sky tree from there. Old tokyo tower is also okay for viewing the cityscape.

    In addition, there are various museums in Tokyo.
    http://www.cnngo.com/tokyo/visit/city-essentials/tokyos-best-museums
    My favorite is Edo Tokyo museum.
    Anyway, my office is located in Tokyo and I can guide you some places if you want. :D

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  11. Hi, Arti! I think your Japan Yatra going to be an idiot-proof guidebook to the travellers to Japan. I remember such a short notice that you were coming to Japan in a week and our urgent team works to prepare. You, too, must have hurried up to get all the preparations done but you did it, and came. Look forward to the next post.

    Yoko

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  12. a very informative post and you have written in an engaging way :)
    thanks for writing this :)

    bloggers are such a friendly and helpful lot right!!

    http://sushmita-smile.blogspot.in/

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  13. Happy to know that you had a wonderful journey :)
    It was interesting to read about the preparations.. waiting to know more about Japan from you. :)

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  14. Konnichiwa, O-ai dekite ureshii desu.

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  15. Oh! what a wonderful experience to share. Very useful information. My younger brother has just returned from Tokyo after an official visit. Of course every thing was taken care of by his office there.

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  16. Planning for a trip to Japan seems like a lot of work, but I bet it is worth it once you get there!

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  17. Hi Arti,

    It was great to read about your trip to Japan and what a lot of helpful advice here.
    It must have been wonderful catching up with some of your blog friends and seeing Japan.

    Hope you are enjoying the weekend
    Hugs
    Carolyn

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  18. Arti, It sounds as though you had quite the adventure! Glad our Japanese Blog friends could help you so much. Did you communicate in English?

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  19. Nice tips, Arti! Await more pics of the trip:)

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  20. So nice of your dad to come along with you. Looking forward to your photos and news. :)

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  21. Wonderfull tips ... you are very lucky your dad supports you so well on all your trips : ) Eagerly waiting for your remaining posts...

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  22. @Petty Witter @R Ramakrishnan I am already back from my Japan trip. Just documenting things now. :-)

    @cocomino Thanks a ton for taking the time to advice here in detail. I am already back from Japan but I did go to most of the places you mentioned. I have learnt a lot of your beautiful country from your wonderful blog postings. Thank you! :)

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  23. @stardust Thank you for your comment, Yoko. You all must have gone through hurried preparations as well after receiving my mails, I can only imagine.

    Thank you for everything you Nara bloggers went through for us and I look forward to the guidance and support of all of you in all my postings. Please correct me if and when i am wrong. :)

    @Barb I communicated in English only, only that I started my conversations with Sumimasen and ended them with Arigato Gozaimasta and I loved every bit of my conversations with them. The english speaking of the Japanese is really impressive and their zeal to learn and better it, even more!

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  24. great info...hope to use it some day!

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  25. Dear ARti - this is so exiting and i must come by for a quick hello! Can't wait to hear more about your trip soon! have a lovely weekend!

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  26. @Arti First of all thanks for the post & information's .Great to read your post.

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  27. Wow you travel with your father..? Just imagine how it will be going hehe

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  28. Thats a long list of useful info. Thanks for sharing.

    www.rajniranjandas.blogspot.com

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  29. I was really excited to read it and Japan is not a country for me for food reasons. I actually read your latest post before reading this. Anyways, thanks I can share it with someone who is travelling to Japan.

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  30. Arigato Gozaimasta.

    Thank you very much Arti for
    sharing with us the useful information and tips to visit
    Japan.I am also pure veg.
    I can understand the difficulty
    of veg.food in Japan.

    Enjoying the Japan Yatra with you.

    once again
    Arigato Gozaimasta

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  31. Great tips. Will certainly come back here if i plan a trip to Japan! I hope you put up more pictures of what you saw when you were at Japan.

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  32. Very informative as usual of your other posts Arti..!Hope u had a great trip..

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  33. quite an informative post .. archived this for future references !

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  34. fantastic post and Thanks for sharing this info. It's very helpful.
    B&B in Jaipur

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  35. Nice post Arti. Very informative.. Here's hoping for 2 things -

    1. You win more contests that involve overseas travelling.

    2. I get a chance to travel to the land of the rising sun very soon :D

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  36. I am so excited to start reading your Japan experience, it was a lovely post. looking forward to other posts. Being Vegetarian can be very hard can say as a fellow Vegetarian. Looks like I would complete all your Japan posts today only :)

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  37. I'm surprised to read that ATMs are hard to find in Japan. It's always good to check these things beforehand to avoid surprises. We do tend to thing everything will be the same as we have at home.

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  38. Started my virtual Japan trip :-)
    thanks Arti!

    Regards,
    Anunoy Samanta
    -------------------------------
    http://just4suzan.blogspot.com

    http://imakemytrip.blogspot.com

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  39. Wow,an all expenses paid trip to Japan:-) super.i had the opportunity to visit Japan in Feb last year and i was mesmerised by the culture n food. I was completely impressed with how people would go out of their way to help you.i would really love to visit Japan again specially to see Kyoto n old Japan. Now on to reading the rest of your Japan trip:-)

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  40. Congrats for getting awarded the trip. Going to read the other Japan trip posts. :)

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  41. Useful stuff!

    From my experience, exchanging money in the country you're traveling to always yields better rates than exchanging in advance in your home country.

    Also, one way to cut down on costs in Japan is by staying in "guest houses" rather than hotels (although you will have to sacrifice on location).

    Congratulations on the trip award!

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  42. Lots of great advice. I plan on backpacking in Japan in the near future and this post has answered a lot of my queries. Thanks and love the blog. :)

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Delighted u stopped by... Your suggestions, feedback are really appreciated. Thanks a lot! Hope you visit again!

If you have asked a question, please give me at least 2 days to reply back. Thank you :)

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