Visiting Japan Part 1: What you need to know

This is the first in a series of articles about travelling to Japan. I had originally planned to write up a single article, but realised very quickly that it was going to become quite large, and that it made sense to break it down into smaller chunks.

When I moved to Singapore in 2016, it put me closer to a range of Asian destinations that had been on my bucket list for ages. At the top of that list was Japan. As a child of the 80s who grew up in the UK, I’d been raised with my fair share of travellers’ tales that would make any make child want to experience Japan for themselves. In the fall of 2016, I finally made my trip there. I took a week off to visit Tokyo and Kyoto.

I was fortunate that I had some help planning this trip, both from co-workers who worked with me in Singapore, and an old friend who lives in Tokyo who was happy give me some advice to guide me.

Before I go much further on, I will say that Japan will capture your admiration. Their society has evolved over centuries of traditional values that are intertwined with a modern way of life. By the time I had finished my trip and was in the departure lounge at Haneda airport, I was already making plans of returning.

My 7-day itinerary involved three days in Tokyo, followed by three days in Kyoto before flying out of Tokyo. In hindsight, I would do a few things differently the next time I visit. These are my recommendations.

Groundwork

Before flying out, one should consider a couple of things that will help make your trip simpler.

Consider where you’re flying into when arriving in Tokyo.

Tokyo is a major destination in Asia and is served by multiple airlines from all around the world. It takes about 7 hours to fly from Singapore direct. Tokyo has two airports – Narita and Haneda. Edokkos (residents of Tokyo) will tell you that Narita is not in Tokyo. This is very true. Narita airport is a good two hours from Shinjuku Station in Central Tokyo by express train. You could hire a cab which will take you the better part of four hours to get into central Tokyo and about AU$200 in cab fare. If you’re visiting Tokyo, plan to fly into Haneda.

Now, I had flown into Narita, and I made the two-hour train ride, which is quite nice… but it’s another two hours of travel after an eight-hour flight, and essentially, two hours of your holiday that you could otherwise spend resting, or sightseeing.

Consider the need to get a Japan Rail Pass

Tourists to Japan have the option of purchasing a week, 15-day, or month-long Japan Rail pass that will provide unlimited access to all JR Train Stations during their period of validity. They also give you unlimited access to the Shinkansen Bullet Trains.

Japan has multiple rail companies who have different stations along different lines. The JR Pass will not get you into stations that are not run by JR. You can purchase the JR Rail Pass at their official website. They will deliver this to addresses in multiple countries.

Now, if you only plan to be in Tokyo and Kyoto, and plan on a round trip on the Shinkansen to Kyoto, the JR Weekly Pass does not make good value. You’re better off purchasing tickets at the stations as and when you travel. However, if you’re planning on doing more than two day trips to surrounding areas from Tokyo on the Shinkansen, the passes definitely make sense.

Internet Connectivity

Get a SIM card or a data device. If you are travelling from Singapore, you might choose to go with a portable Wifi Router from Changi through Changi Recommends. Alternatively, you could get a data SIM card from the Japan Rail Pass site.

I had opted to get a data-only SIM from b-Mobile. They offer a 5GB data-only SIM with 21-days validity for JPY3,480 (about AU$40) which you can order online and have delivered to your hotel, pick up at 7 major airports in Japan, or have delivered to your home address prior to your departure.

Visas

Japan is part of the visa waiver program, and allows tourists a 30-day stay, and then the opportunity to extend further if leaving temporarily. Eligibility varies for nationals of various countries, and is worth checking prior to travelling. In the past, I have used VisasDirect to run a check for visa waiver/visa-on-arrival eligibility.

Peak Seasons

Japan is a destination that appeals to visitors all year round, but there are two peak seasons which draw tourists more than any other time. The most popular season is in the Japanese Spring between March and April every year – the famed cherry blossom season. In reality, one can wait for decades to see the perfect cherry blossom. When the trees are in full bloom, they are susceptible to the weather, and in the event of strong winds, they may only last for a few days.

The other peak season is in the autumn, when the leaves turn red.

For both these seasons, book well in advance. Hotels tend to fill up quickly, and prices can jump by 5% every week as the season grows closer. Plan to have flights and hotels locked in three months in advance.

The Japanese summer can be very hot and humid. This is generally when tourists tend to visit other destinations. The winter season brings ski and snow sports enthusiasts to Hokkaido.

Destinations

Japan offers a range of destinations. I had originally planned on writing this as a single article, but realised that it would become too busy, cumbersome and overwhelming to read if I put everything in here together. The following are articles on destinations in Japan that I have been to:

I would also recommend watching my time-lapse short films from both Tokyo, and Kyoto.

The accounts in this article are compiled from my own experiences from trips that I paid for myself. This post has not been sponsored – be it by any individual, commercial entity, or any other organisation. The opinions reflected herein are strictly my own.

Visiting Japan Part 2: Tokyo

Tokyo is a city that needs no introduction. As a nation, Japan is a country of contrasts and harmony; a technologically advanced nation that is built on centuries of tradition. It is one of the most densely populated nations in the world. In spite of this, it’s centuries of tradition have developed into a code of conduct that has allowed the Japanese to live in harmony among one another while competing for resources with limited space.
Continue reading “Visiting Japan Part 2: Tokyo”

Visiting the South Island of New Zealand

New Zealand offers photographers an immense number of photographic opportunities to capture nature at its finest. These are just a few destinations which will offer a great experience. I’ve visited the South Island of New Zealand twice – in 2009 for 9 days, and in 2015 for 10. During both trips, I had rented a car, and driven a route that I had planned ahead of time. I would go back in a heartbeat!
Continue reading “Visiting the South Island of New Zealand”

Waiting for departure in Bangkok

This is a bit of a delayed post. Last week, I took a short break to spend in Bangkok. I’ll have a more substantial write-up about this trip in the next few weeks. This one is purely about the aesthetics of the departure lounge.

Suvarnabhumi International Airport is the crown jewel of Bangkok’s economic development. It’s a great airport – not quite as good as Singapore’s Changi (though that is a tall order to meet), but a very well organised and laid out airport. Their departure lounge is something that appealed to me, not merely in its aesthetics, but also in its functional design.

You see, all the departure gates are on the lower level from this level – and they all open and allow passengers down a ramp to the boarding area. The travelators all move in one direction – out – and there are no facilities in the area, aside of a couple of charging stations. This keeps the area free from crowding, while subliminally herding passengers into the duty free zones where there are plenty of restaurants and shops.

Windows 10 DOS Here

 

As an occasional developer, I like the ability to be able to right click and bring up a Command Prompt with minimal mouse clicks. In previous versions of Windows, there used to be the “DOS Here” Powertoy. Windows 10 got a little simpler, where by holding the shift key down while right clicking on a folder name, you can invoke a DOS Prompt at the location of the folder. No additional software tweaks required.

Windows 10 Powertoys

If you’re a legacy Windows Power User, you would have appreciated the benefits of having the Windows Powertoys are your service. Windows 10 offers this too, though there is a small hack behind it. To enable Powertoys in Windows 10, create a folder on your desktop and name it:

PowerToys.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}

The icon will change from a regular folder to a control panel like icon. It will contain “power user” settings for Windows 10, which while nowhere as impressive as in earlier versions of Windows, makes it convenient to have it all in one place.