Our trip to Japan was filled with utter delights because each day was allotted for discoveries. Everything in the country is incredibly efficient (I haven’t seen toilets so innovative), but there’s no air of snootiness. It's a must to experience this culture of graciousness once in your life.
Applying for Visa
We went to Reli Tours in Mall of Asia to lodge our applications. We have paid P950 and submitted:
- Completed application form with a photo
- Original NSO Birth Certificate – This has to be current. If you’re applying this year, you have to ask NSO for a 2017 copy. When we applied last year, we submitted 2014 copies which were rejected right away by Reli. They will notice because the certificate has a barcode that reflects the year.
- BIR Form 2316 (Year 2015)
- Letter to Consul explaining why my BIR Form isn’t updated – I don’t have an updated form yet since I have just switched jobs.
- Bank Certificate – Having a huge amount doesn’t guarantee approval (read our Korean embassy experience). You just have to make sure that the amount in your bank is enough to realistically cover the duration of your stay.
- Schedule of Stay – The embassy’s website has the template. It doesn’t have to be detailed. When I drafted this, I haven’t made hotel bookings yet. I just used Agoda to check hotels which we might book.
While these documents are not required, we added our:
- Certificate of Employment
- Flight tickets
Our passports were returned in less than 7 days with the visa.
Drafting the Itinerary
When we were younger, we liked cramming a lot of places in a day. This changed when we realized how tired we were after each trip. The last thing you want is to return from a vacation feeling like you need another one. We decided to spend 10 days in Japan to see Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, and Tokyo.
Apart from forums, my planning resources were Japan Guide (for walking itineraries which you can tweak), a Facebook group (the people here are accommodating when you have queries), Klook (my all-time favorite for pre-purchasing attraction tickets), and Google Maps and Hyperdia (for directions, train routes, and fare estimates).
I am satisfied with how things turned out although I wish we could have stayed longer in Kyoto. When we return, we’ll just focus on the Kansai region to further explore Kyoto and add Kobe to the list.
Where We Stayed
We have stayed in hotels, AirBnB flats, and a guesthouse. In Osaka, we stayed in the Dotonbori area because we wanted to be close to the action.
When we headed to Kyoto, we selected a guesthouse. It’s our first time and I am pleased to say that Kessei Guesthouse doesn’t have the elements that would make a cringe-worthy story. The house is charming and pristine! You just have to reconsider if you’re not fond of walking because it’s about a kilometer from the house to the main road.
Our flat in Ikebukuro, Tokyo is similarly situated in a quiet area, but walking for a few minutes will bring you the city’s bustling parts. There are plenty of restaurants and shopping places in the area including Sunshine City which has a 100-yen shop, a Disney store, and the Pokemon Mega Center. The flat is near the train station too. I was even surprised to see a tiny bookshelf in our flat filled with all of Haruki Murakami’s works.
Is Japan’s Transportation Tricky?
We bought the ICOCA + Haruka Pass when we arrived in Osaka. Sure, you can easily buy the unlimited Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) but make sure that it’ll be worth it. After working on our itinerary, I computed the fares covering our destinations and the total amount didn't even reach half of the JR Pass’ cost.
ICOCA can be used in many regions including Tokyo. The only difference is if you’re planning to refund the unused fare, you may only do so in Osaka. Reloading is a breeze because the vending machine has an English option.
Important: Japan has different types of trains and some of these skip stations. We learned it the hard way when we missed our stop because we were on an Express train. Here’s the classification I grabbed from Japan Guide:
Each type of train has a sign. The platforms also have signboards which you can check if the certain type of train will stop at your destination. If it’s too late to check, just ride the “Local” one. :)
Other people might have a different view but for me, pocket WiFi is indispensable if it’s your first time in Japan. Google Maps saved us many times. Our pocket WiFi’s from Klook. We picked it up from Kansai Airport and returned it to Narita Airport. There’s a 20,000 yen deposit and they only accept credit cards.
From Osaka to Tokyo, we opted to ride Willer’s overnight bus. Apart from choosing from its many routes, you can also select the type of bus. I’ve seen fancy ones with pink seats and bigger legroom. We booked the 10 p.m. trip and by 6 a.m., we’re already in Tokyo. The trip is quite long because there are stopovers, but it was a comfortable trip.
Don't worry about getting lost because the people are helpful. They are no doubt the nicest and most courteous we’ve met despite the language barrier.
Food – The Best Part!
Japanese cuisine has always been our favorite. It was exciting to plan for the trip knowing I’d get to stuff my mouth with authentic sushi, yakitori, okonomiyaki, and so on. Of all the Asian countries we’ve been to, Japan has the priciest food but don’t let this dishearten you. If you’re on a budget or if you're exhausted to come out at night and look for a restaurant, Family Mart and Lawson are your friends. They have the freshest and most delectable bento boxes! For 600 to 800 yen, you’ll get a decent and scrumptious meal.
Tip: Japan’s Disney and Universal Studios are not as strict when it comes to bringing in of food. While we had lunch and dinner at these theme parks, we bought snacks and sushi rolls from convenience stores.
No Japan trip is complete without visiting a kaiten sushi restaurant. Plates of various sushi are displayed through a conveyor belt and each colored plate corresponds to a certain amount. Everything is prepared in front of you. After an hour, I was able to finish 14 plates. :)
The country has the quirkiest finds. I enjoyed shopping in Japan because the items were cheaper than their counterparts in the Philippines. Some shops you shouldn’t miss:
GU – Despite my extensive notes, I forgot to check the temperature! When we arrived, we didn’t know autumn would be that cold. We headed to GU (Uniqlo’s cousin, I believe) which fortunately had floors of knitwear, coats, thermals, and wool boots. Almost everything is on sale and GU offers tax refunds.
Daiso – Japan is famous for its 100-yen shops. Don Quijote is famous but I liked Daiso more. This is where we bought a lot of our pasalubongs – candies, noodles, 2017 planners, fluffy socks, and even collagen creams.
Kyoto’s quaint shops – We took home traditional sweets and tea sets from Kyoto. If you’re a fan of Studio Ghibli’s works (like my friend who requested for a magnet), you may search for the Ghibli shop tucked away in a corner near the Kiyomizu-dera Temple.
Luxury goods thrift stores – Many Japanese women are fond of buying the latest “It Purse,” that’s why they find it easy to discard last season’s purses. These are typically in mint condition and sold for a heavily reduced price. You can get a basic LV Monogram Speedy 30 in “A” rank for 35,000 yen. What’s more tempting is tourists can shop tax-free.
There are many thrift stores in Osaka and Tokyo, but of all the shops we’ve entered, I fancied Daikokuya because of its vast selection. While waiting for your purchase to be ready, don’t forget to check out the “further discounted” racks. For example, everything in this photo is 20,000 yen below. That black Epi leather sling is such a steal.
Royce Nama stores – Royce is Sapporo’s pride and it’s justifiable because these melt-in-your-mouth chocolates are indeed irresistible. I just can’t buy them all the time in Manila because they can be expensive, but in Japan, they’re sold for half the price!
We bought our “Godivas of Japan” at Narita International Airport’s Duty Free while waiting for our flight. The shop also sells chilled bags for your perusal.
How Much Did the Trip Cost?
I won’t go into details but for comparison, many travel agencies offer a 5-day trip to Japan for P50,000. Most of these packages only focus on a single region and do not have theme park visits since tickets for these places can be costly.
For that same amount per person, we were able to spend 10 days in Japan, visit Universal Studios, DisneySea, and Ueno Zoo, and explore Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, and Tokyo. That amount already covered our flights, accommodations, attraction tickets, transportation expenses, and basic food. Let’s just finish here and not discuss what went into shopping. :P
If you want our itinerary and our detailed expenses, feel free to send me an email. Have fun planning!
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