I was in Japan a year ago (gosh, the time flies), it was my first time visiting a country so far from home and without a travel agency. But in the end, everything was (almost) perfect. Here are a few tips how to make such a trip work and enjoy your holiday in Japan without complications. Some unexpected things can always happen, but don’t let it destroy your holiday.
We traveled to Tokyo from Vienna via Aeroflot. We had a 3-hour layover in Moscow, which was just about right to not worry about our plane from Vienna being late and having enough time to eat lunch at the airport. The tickets cost about 550 euro. There were cheaper tickets available, but the flight was longer and not so convenient for us. Check the portals for cheap flights and you can definitely find a ticket for less than 500 euro from Europe to Japan.
The flight itself was pleasant without any problems. We had two meals on the Moscow-Tokyo flight which were pretty good. All flights had been on time including the return trip. Thankfully our baggage was not lost, but we were ready for such a scenario too. We packed all the important things like money, papers and some clothing into our hand luggage.
Prepaid SIM card
We ordered a prepaid SIM card with data from eConnect. We had it delivered to the post office in Narita Airport, Tokyo. We had no problem with picking it up, but that is the first difficulties started. The SIM cards did not work on our phones. My SIM card worked sometimes, but mostly the phone displayed no signal. My boyfriend could not get it to work at all. We contacted the support of eConnect and they replied as promptly. I must say they were really professional and tried to help us as best as they could. In the end, we agreed that they would send us a portable wifi router and we could insert the purchased SIM card inside it. That worked well and we had internet during the whole stay in Japan without any further problems.
JR Pass is a ticket for all the JR trains in Japan. You can purchase it through internet here. You print out the voucher and exchange it for the pass in the JR ticket offices. The offices are located at each airport and at some train stations. The JR Pass is especially useful if you plan to visit more places in Japan and not stay in one city only. It is valid for the Shinkansen trains too (not all of them, check the JR Pass site!). However, in Japan, there are more private train companies and the JR Pass is valid only for the JR trains. The busses are not included either. How does the pass work? When you approach the gates which open after inserting a ticket, you will use a side entrance. There should be a train station worker in a small cabin. You will show him the Pass and he will let you in.
As is commonly known Japan is not a cheap country. That does not mean you can’t find pretty good accommodation for a reasonable price. There are a lot of hotels and hostels in each city to choose from. Expect the rooms to be tiny with hardly enough space to open a bigger coffer. But you want to be outside most of the day anyway and explore, so I would not worry about the size of the room too much. I recommend checking out Airbnb too. We rented an apartment through Airbnb in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka and they were all nice and more spacious than the hotel rooms. However, the offer of accommodation on Airbnb in smaller cities is much more narrow. And definitely, don’t pass up on the chance to sleep a few nights in a traditional ryokan. It may cost a bit more, but the experience is worth it. We booked the ryokan Hodokaso Yamano Yori in Takayama. Here we also tried the traditional Japanese breakfast. It was probably the most expensive breakfast I ever had (came out to ca. 27 euro), but when will you ever have such an opportunity again?
Finally, if you are not sure about what to see in Japan or need any more practical information, visit Japan-guide. This site has all the information you need before visiting the country of Sakura and sake.