Trip to Columbus

Travel tips if you're going to Japan

Posted on 05/06/2016

If you’re planning a trip to Japan, I’ve got a few tips for you. These are tips that may work for other international trips.

1. Find a travel agent like ones here at Travels By Donna and buy your plane ticket. I’ve heard that you can get your best prices about two months in advance of your departure date. And it’s true. I did go online to find out the range of ticket prices on various airlines. The prices went higher the closer to the day I wanted to leave.

The reason I waited was because my mother was dragging her feet. It cost several hundred dollars more than when I told her we needed to buy the tickets. I should have just gone ahead and bought them when I first checked.

When they were coming home, my sisters and my mother were not sitting together. But having booked through Travels By Donna, all I had to do was email Cecilia and she got them all together with no problems.

2. Make sure you have a current passport. It takes two-to-four weeks to get one. And ask your travel professional if you need a visa. You don’t need a visa to go to Japan on a visit. I think if you’re staying more than four months you need a visa. Other countries require a visa.

A client who came in recently suggested that you make a photocopy of your passport and put it in your checked luggage. That way, you’ll have documentation in case you lose your passport or have it stolen. She said a friend had her purse snatched while she was in Germany and it was a pain-in-the-you-know-what to get back to the United States.

I never thought about that. I will do that the next time I travel anywhere outside of the U.S.

3. Go online and check the dollar-to-yen exchange. And when you get to the airport, exchange maybe $100 to use the bus or train. I’m not sure how much a taxi costs.

Fortunately, we have never had to worry about transportation since our relatives come to get us. But most of you do not, so be prepared. Narita, the international airport, has people who speak various languages, so don't worry.

Once you’re in Tokyo, go to a bank or post office to exchange your dollars for yen. I think you can get a better rate on your money rather than at the airport.

And I would not bother with traveler’s checks. Even though the TV commercials make it seem that they’re accepted everywhere, they are not. In fact, even a bank would not make the exchange for me. A bank!

4. Before you leave, download a few Apps on your phone or tablet.

There are some translation ones that will go from English to Japanese and back.

The train system in Japan is really complex. A really good App is Hyperdia.com/en. Type in the train station where you are and then the train station where you want to go. It will tell you which line to take, how long it will take to get there and how much the fare is.

Another one to try is http://www.jorudan.co.jp/english/norikae/e-norikeyin.html

My nephew and his wife and four of their high school friends went to Japan two summers ago and they got around on the very complicated train system just fine. They never got lost and they got to where they wanted to go.

5. Most of you probably don’t have family or friends living in Japan who can drive you around. You might want to invest in a Japan Rail Pass. The pass allows you to use any Japan Railways Group train or bus. There are private lines, too, that you cannot use with the pass. You have to buy tickets for those lines. But when you order the pass, you’ll get a JR travel guide and a JR network paper map.

You have a choice of 7-day, 14-day or 21-day JR Pass. Right now for the regular JR Pass, it’s $260 for 7 days; $416 for 14 days; $529 for 21 days. For the first class JR Pass (which allows you to take the newer “bullet” trains), it’s $349 for 7 days; $562 for 14 days; $733 for 21 days.

You can go to www.japan-rail-pass.com for more information.

You have to buy the Japan Rail Pass before you leave for Japan. Of course, your travel professional can order it for you, along with your plane ticket and hotel rooms.

6. Take an electrical outlet converter if you are taking any electronic equipment chargers. The voltage is different in Japan, so make sure to take one and use it. Otherwise, you will fry your phone, laptop or tablet.

7. Keep an eye on the weather. We were there in the fall, where it can be very hot one day and much cooler the next day. So pack accordingly. A long-sleeved T-shirt, khaki slacks and a sweater were just fine for me on the cool days. Otherwise, it was shorts and T-shirts. Yes, that attire is very casual for the Japanese, but I was going for comfort.

8. If you’ve never been to Japan, do a little research to figure out exactly what you want to see while you’re there. And check with your travel agent to see if an itinerary can be scheduled for you.

A good website to check is http://www.japan-guide.com/

I have a few must-sees. The newest attraction is the tallest building in Japan — the Tokyo Skytree. It is a little more than 2,000 feet high and can be seen for miles around Tokyo.

It’s not for those who have a fear of heights. There’s a clear floor at one place where you can see exactly how high you are. And it’s pretty high! Admission is about $20 a person.

The tourist mecca is Asakusa, with its Senso-ji Temple and hundreds of shops where you can buy anything from Japanese treats to traditional Japanese kimono to trendy T-shirts to souvenirs to clothes for pets to stationery. And there are plenty of places to stop to eat. You can spend a little or a lot.

For those who love electronics, Akihabara is the place to go.

Soft cream. This is the creamiest, tastiest ice cream ever! And don’t forget the shaved ice, which is also delicious. Unfortunately, shaved ice is only available during the summer.

There are market places including the world-famous Tsukiji fish market and Ueno’s Ameyoko (which started out as a black market after World War II). You can buy fresh fish and produce at both places. Many of the prices there are less expensive than in grocery stores.

Speaking of Ueno, there are museums galore — Tokyo National Museum, National Museum of Western Art, National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and Shitamachi Museum. And the Japanese are avid museum-goers. We spent 30 minutes in line to get into one museum. At another museum, people were standing four-deep to peer at the art. Some of them even brought monoculars to see even closer. Admission runs about $7 for adults.

Other museums include sumo, Kabuki Theater, anime master Hayao Miyazaki’s (“Spirited Away,” “Howl’s Moving Castle,” “Ponyo”) Ghibli Museum, Tokyo Edo Museum, Museum of Aeronautical Sciences at Narita International Airport and the National Museum of Japanese History. That’s just in Tokyo.

In 2011, the Cup Noodles Museum opened to honor Momofuku Ando, who invented instant ramen and began the Nissin company. At this museum, in Yokohama, you can make your own cup noodles for 300 yen. It is truly a must-see for anyone who loves cup noodles!

Of course, there are shrines and temples everywhere.

And don’t forget the world-famous traffic scramble just outside of Shibuya Station, where you can also have your picture taken with the statue of Hachiko, the dog who waited for her master every day, even after he died. And close to (within walking distance) Shibuya are the trendy neighborhoods of Roppongi and Harajuku.

Outside of Tokyo, don’t forget the Great Buddha at Kamakura, the beautiful temples and shrines of Nara and Kyoto, the Japan Alps of northern Honshu, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and the beautiful countryside of Hokkaido.

One more thing to remember: Wear shoes that are comfortable and that you can slip on and off easily. You never, ever wear shoes inside a home. Even some temples, resorts and restaurants are no shoes zones. Slippers are available at some places, so I’d recommend that you wear socks in case there are no slippers.

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