Featured article, Written by Iyeesha Akim
This year, I had the opportunity to go and visit Japan with my younger brother. This was a trip that we had been planning for a long time and we had to make sure that we were fully prepared for the first-time visit. I must admit that even know, there are certain things I wish I had known before I left. In this long post, I give you some of the top planning tips and advice before travelling to Japan.
(1) Flight tickets: Which websites should I use and when should I book?
I have booked flights before whenever my Father would travel to Gambia through Thomas Cook. However, for Japan, I used the website + app called “cheapflights.co.uk”. At first, I wasn’t too sure if I would be able to get a good deal and realised that the prices would keep changing over and over again depending on the airline that I decided to travel with.
In the end I could pick Lufthansa + All Nippon airlines and also get a good deal to stay in Japan for the week. I also would recommend booking a flight about 5 months or more in advance to get the cheapest price as doing it last-minute is obviously not the right choice.
(2) Hotel booking: Which website should I use?
The main websites that I will only use for booking hotels are Expedia and Booking.com. With Expedia I can gain points and receive special member pricing towards my bookings which really helps especially when looking for these mini special deals and rewards. I also like the overall website interface and features since I can check local tourists’ destinations that are situated right near my hotel. This making it easier for me to pick out the main tourists spots without having to go on Google Maps or an information website first.
(3) Understanding the Japanese Yen?
The Japanese Yen is very simple. I am always using my rubbish math’s knowledge to try to compare it to local home currency. For example:
With a 2,000 yen bill I would move the comma down once and see it as £20 pounds but about 4 to 7 numbers lower which would really be £13.36.
With a 10,000 yen bill I would do the same method as above which would be equal to about £66.80 (100 pounds and then taking away 40). However, be aware that currency rates are always changing, and you need to keep an eye out for this when trying to exchange money.
Moving on from my confusing math’s calculations, the Yen bill comes in 1,000, 2,000 (which is usually very rare), 5,000 and 10,000. The coins come in 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 and 500 yen.
I would definitely encourage travellers to make themselves familiar with the money as it may be hard to understand at first.
(4) The Internet in Japan
The Internet in Japan was the number one priority on my travel checklist, it was even placed above hygiene essentials (ok obviously not, but you must admit that internet is important for everything, especially travel!). However, I had issues trying to figure out how to actually gain internet access while in Japan without using my 4G phone data abroad.
At last, I found a service called “Ninja Wi-fi” which saved my life at the last-minute. With this mini Wi-Fi pocket router, you get unlimited access to high-speed internet anywhere in Japan. I can’t recommend this internet service provider enough, especially with their fast replying customer service. They also have discount coupon’s every month that you can use towards your purchase, I recently used my October coupon for my visit to Japan next week.
(5) Japanese Weather
Please, do not be like me. I underestimated the weather before even arriving in the country and I have only myself to blame. This was the first time I had experienced any type of travel outside the UK and everyday rain is what we get used to. For some reason however, I didn’t even bother to check or do extra research into the weather during summer time and let me just say I suffered straight away once I landed in Kansai (the………HEAT). Now that I’m going back in November, I made sure to do RESEARCH and found out that it’s usually dry which is good to know beforehand.
(6) Trains, trains and more trains!
The best way to travel around Japan in by train. My brother, who is an expert at trains, buses and planes, was very excited to use the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) for the first time. We purchased the Japan Rail Pass which can be used especially for foreign tourists to travel all over Japan at different JR Shinkansen trains stations (we used the Shin-Kobe train station in Kobe). To reserve a seat is even more easier, all you have to do is visit the stations Shinkansen ticket office. I would definitely recommend any tourist visiting Japan to try out the Shinkansen as it was an amazing train experience that I will never forget.
Other transport also includes using the Subway, which in Tokyo is the best way to travel around to the different wards. Me and my brother were able to get from the main Tokyo Station (where the Shinkansen would end coming from Kobe) to Shibuya (about 15 minutes) and then Akihabara (about 30 minutes). Overall, we found it very easy to buy the tickets and have apps such as Google Maps and Citymapper on your smart phone to help get us around smoothly with no troubles.
(7) Medication, the most important part of holiday planning
Again, don’t be like me. It was only at the VERY last-minute I ended up learning that some of the medications we use in the west are pretty much banned in Japan. This includes some nasal sprays which in the end, became my biggest worry as I usually have the worst blocked nose and I am always needing to clear It away. I will keep this section short as there will be more information links at the end, but to give you an idea on how important and serious bringing medication into Japan is:
“Some common prescription and over-the-counter medicines are banned and ignorance may not be considered a defense. Foreign nationals have been detained and deported for offences.” – Foreign Travel Advice, GOV. UK.
(8) Halal Food Preference and Sampuru Souvenirs
If you’re a Muslim like me, you don’t need to worry about finding halal food places in Tokyo. I used the app “Halal Gourmet Japan” which was very useful in helping me to know the nearest halal shops, restaurants, and activities nearby my hotel. However other prefectures in Japan may not have as much popular halal areas compared to Tokyo.
Once you arrive in Japan you will notice a lot of restaurant shop windows that highlight fake food samples. They are seriously the best looking fake food I have seen in my life and makes it easier for me to know what a specific meal will look like before trying it. Oh, and before you research more into these “Sampuru” (that’s the actual name for the fake food), I want you to know that you CAN buy some as gifts and souvenirs! See external links at the bottom of the article for more information.
This was a question I was constantly asked by my neighbours when I arrived back. They were so captivated by the images I had taken pictures of Hiroshima and Osaka and the younger members saw Tokyo as the place of their future travel dreams. I can’t give you an honest answer for the best place to visit as I have yet to fully explore Japan. However, I would say to visit the Region or Prefecture that you are most interested about, whether you found about it from general research, media, games, anime, word out mouth etc. Make it a visit that you know you will treasure forever, Japan has always been a country of great interest to me and I can’t wait to visit in November again.
- Flights: https://www.cheapflights.co.uk/
- Hotel: https://www.expedia.co.uk/
- Ninja Wifi: https://ninjawifi.com/
- Japan Travel Guide (Medcations): https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/japan
- Halal Gourmet Japan: https://www.halalgourmet.jp/
- Sampuru Shops in Asakusa: https://matcha-jp.com/en/959
Written by Iyeesha Akim–