I’ve been traveling to Japan since I was a small child. There was a time that I used to have my mom and uncles take care of everything for me. Then I turned into an adult with adult responsibilities and somehow overnight, I turned Type A [shut up, friends who have known me for decades] and had to start planning EVERYTHING. Suddenly, I’m the one planning our HUGE family trip to Japan.
Here are some simple tips that I’ve picked up along the way. Hope it’s of interest to you!
Cellphone: Bonaventure Cellphones is the best plan I’ve found so far. They offer a family plan that allows you to call within your “family plan” for free! All incoming calls are free as well, for the low price of $5.95 per day. Unfortunately, with my large group, I had a difficult time finding that many cellphones so be sure to reserve EARLY, especially during the high season summer months.
Takkyubin: I love this service. I bring an @$$load of omiyage [gifts] for my family when I visit. Trying to navigate the train stations with a lot of luggage nearly sends me into a meltdown [especially when I get knocked over by 80 year old women rushing for their train]. Having Takkyubin ship to my first [or second] destination makes my life a sweet dream. You’ll find this service once you exit the baggage claim and immigration area. Rates depend on distance. [I normally use Kuroneko]
Get familiar with your surroundings before you leave: google maps is the best thing in travel. I can see the neighborhood and visualize the actual walk! It’s fantastic and has saved many of my trips, just based on visual confirmations!!
Japan Rail Pass: I have mixed feelings about the Rail Pass. Depending on your travel, it doesn’t always pay to get this. My family lives pretty far south of Tokyo so it’s almost always a necessity for me to get one. However, if you’re just doing day trips from Tokyo, it may not necessarily be cost effective to have one. Check with Hyperdia [see below] for rates.
Train Departures and Routes: It’s not perfect but I find that this search engine is the best thing for helping me find out which trains will get me to my next destination, how long it’ll take and what time it departs. www.hyperdia.com
Kanji: You’ve searched high and low on Chowhound for the perfect restaurant. You wrote out the name [in English, of course], the address, and phone number only to discover that the address means nothing to you since the numbering system is illogical [and you forgot to google map your walk], you can’t speak Japanese to get directions to the restaurant, and the only restaurant name on the building is written in Kanji [Japanese characters]. Trust me, once you figure out what neighborhood your restaurant is in, you’ll want to have the restaurant name in Kanji so you can identify it enough to get IN to the restaurant.
ATM and Credit Cards: Call your bank and credit card companies to let them know that you will be traveling abroad so Loss Prevention doesn’t put a hold on your cards. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about special “chips” that are in credit cards/atm cards in Japan, however, as of this writing, I’ve never had problems with my US issued ones. The best place [for me] to withdraw money has been at post offices, even with the limited business hours.
Well, I’m off to Japan and I’ll see you when I get back! Be on the lookout for my postcard to you!