Planning to go on an inter-city tour of Japan? Do you have limited time and yet still want to see as many places as possible? I’m going to share how we explored 4 Major cities and managed to squeeze in 2 popular theme parks, the famous  Mt. Fuji, and  a few  of Japan’s most iconic hot spots.

Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo, Japan
Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo, Japan

This particular trip is special to me and Henry. It’s our first time to travel outside the Philippines. Somehow we feel lucky and terrified  to be able to visit another country, and  that that country would be Japan.  So many questions just needs to be answered and “obstacles” we want to get out of the way.

 

JR Namba, Osaka
JR Namba, Osaka

Out of all these worries, “Will our visas get approved?” is the most glaring one of all. Remember, we don’t have any prior trip overseas, and it is normally said that having other countries’s stamps on your passport would increase the chance of getting a tourist visa approval in a country like Japan. The fact  is, we had none.

Pablo Cheesecake
Pablo Cheesecake

 

PLANNING OUR JOURNEY

“What if we don’t get the visa? How about the tickets we’ve already purchased?” 

I devoured every information I can to find out on how to prepare for this trip; from various tips on how to increase the chances of getting all our visas approved, to ideas on places to go, where to eat, how to optimize money for the trip, etc. etc.

We wanted to visit Japan in the Spring time because we wanted to see the “Sakura” or Cherry blossoms. It doesn’t help that Sakura is Japan’s peak season for tourists (perhaps for the exact same reason that we wanted to be there) and it also coincides with their school’s spring break.

We had a hard time looking for accommodations because most of the options that matches  our itinerary is either (already) fully booked or  doesn’t fit our budget. Our hotel employee rates didn’t work either because the period that we are visiting is blacked-out for discounts, since it’s  peak season for all businesses.

Cherry blossoms at Ueno Park in Tokyo, Japan.
Cherry blossoms at Ueno Park in Tokyo, Japan.

FOR SAKURA / CHERRY BLOSSOM FORECAST, click HERE.

Having bought our plane tickets about 8 months earlier, we had to make a fare  estimate  (a guess, really) for the time we would be able to catch those cherry blossoms. Luckily, towards the end of the calendar year, the Japanese government released a forecast and the dates we had chosen fits the seasonal blossoming of the Sakura trees for our trip.

AN INTER-CITY TRAVEL IN JAPAN

Fisherman in Hakonemachi, Japan
Fisherman in Hakonemachi, Japan

OSAKA. KYOTO. NARA. FUJI. TOKYO.

Our itinerary covers multiple cities and tourist spots in barely a week’s time. It was meant to be fast-paced, and it probably won’t work for everyone. I just didn’t realize how breezy things would be. We missed some places we had originally planned to visit, though the situations (and places) we found ourselves in (read: not part of the plan) was a pleasant surprise.  With the excitement of being in Japan, coupled with the adrenaline rush, things were bound to be quite memorable.

I wanted to visit the Disney Sea (the only one of its kind in the world!) and visit the famous Kill Bill restaurant in Tokyo. My companions wanted to visit Harry Potter world and see the deers in Nara. All of us wanted to experience riding the Japanese bullet train and of course, see the majestic, Mount Fuji (!).

PREPARING FOR YOUR JAPAN TRIP

We began to get excited weeks before our flight and began preparingfor the trip. I needed to tick off these items one by one for our awaited vacation:

  1. Flight tickets. You can book this several months in advanced, especially if you’re trying to catch cheaper airfares.
  2. Visa application. This includes preparing the itinerary, making hotel/hostel reservations to include in your application. (also see HOW TO APPLY FOR A JAPAN VISA FOR FILIPINOS)
  3. JR Pass voucher. Having a JR pass is vital to achieve our planned itinerary. Remember to purchase your JR Pass only after you get your visa approved.
  4. Budget Planning. Preparing your expenses; allotment for accommodations, tickets, food, entrances, airport fees and ‘pasalubong’ or personal shopping needs to be considered.
  5. Packing season-appropriate clothing. This includes luggage allowance to and from Japan.

JAPAN ITINERARY

USJ Anniversary Parade

DAY 0: Arrival in Japan

Arrival In Osaka (evening) • Check-in AirBnb

DAY 1: USJ AND OSAKA

Universal Studios Japan • Osaka Castle • Namba • Dotonbori (The Running Man)

DAY 2: NARA AND KYOTO

Nara Deer Park • Todaiji Temple • Kofukuji Temple • Fushimi – Inari Shrine • Kyoto Station/Tower • Tenryu-ji Temple • Arashiyama Bamboo Grove • Kinkaku-ji Temple (The Golden Temple) • Kiyomizu-dera Temple (Spring Night Illumination)

DAY 3: TOKYO

Bullet train to Tokyo • Shinjuku Station • check- in to Airbnb •  The Metropolitan Government Building (sky view of Tokyo) • Godzilla’s Head • Shinjuku

DAY 4: FUJI AND TOKYO

Bullet train to Hakone • Hakone- Fuji DIY Tour • Tokyo Station • Ueno Park (2016 Spring Festival) • Hachiko Statue • Shibuya Crossing • The Disney Store, Shibuya

DAY 5: DISNEY SEA & TOKYO

Tokyo Disney Sea • Roponggi Hills • Kill Bill Restaurant (aka Gonpachi or The House Of Blue Leaves)

DAY 6: TRAVEL BACK TO PH

Bullet train to Osaka (Kix Airport) • Pasalubong Shopping

exploring Tokyo

We stayed in Japan for a week (March 30- April 5) but  the scheduled itinerary does not include the day of our arrival and the day of our departure. Basically, we did our itinerary in 5 days. Our trip is divided into 2 legs: The Osaka-Kyoto leg, which includes visiting USJ and having a ‘temple run’ that starts from Nara and ends in Kyoto; and the Tokyo leg which covers having a day tour of the Hakone-Mount Fuji area, a full day at Disney Sea, a little taste of Tokyo.

HOW MUCH WE SPENT FOR JAPAN

All in all, we spent around roughly 55k PHP per head for the whole trip, more or less. The money was not dropped in one go. First, you shell out for your airplane ticket. Then around a couple of months before your actual trip, you apply for your visa, and only then will you proceed with the other purchases – namely your accommodations and your JR Pass. The time between buying your plane tickets and visa application would give you enough time to save money for your other expenses. In our case, we had 8 months before our trip and that gave us enough leeway to save for the important stuff like Airbnb and train passes.

Japan Budget 5 Days Inter-city

Remember, accommodations can be booked on a pencil booking or made under a flexible reservation  – meaning you don’t need to pay for it with cash upfront and is still cancel-able. Also, the use of JR Pass is completely optional. The JR pass is considered a sizable chunk of our budget (12k) and that’s only because we wanted to experience riding the Japanese Bullet train and we will be traveling inter-city in such a short amount of time.

A Family Mart rack in Tokyo
A Family Mart rack in Tokyo

You can still tweak your budget and it really all depends on whether you want to spend more money on food or shopping etc. For example, if coming into the theme parks (USJ or Disney) is not your thing, or if you decide to skip some of the temples, then the total expense would be lower. Also, when it comes to food, it’s really up to you if you would be spending more money dining in expensive restaurants which will obviously cost you more. In our case, we loved eating Japanese street food and we took advantage of Family Marts and 7-11’s  that is present at almost every corner. And also since we were waking up very early  and starting  the day early at 6 AM, we would often buy food on-the-go food along the way at these convenience stores for breakfast. We would only be eating at diners and restaurants  for either lunch or dinner and it saved us money on our food budget.

Disney Sea, Tokyo
Disney Sea, Tokyo

THINGS TO CONSIDER FOR A MULTI-CITY JAPAN TOUR

riding the bullet train
riding the Shinkansen bullet train

THE PURCHASE OF JAPAN RAILWAY PASS

The Japan Railway Pass is a multi-discount train ticket which allows you to travel on all national JR (Japan Railway) lines (this is Japan’s public railway) including the Shinkansen Bullet train and the Narita Express. (In other words, LIBRE NA PO lahat ng train rides basta JR line po sya and not private railway line etc).

You can choose between 7, 14, and 21 day validity of the pass and this can only be ordered either online or thru an accredited travel agency (which is the case for our country, the Philippines). When you order a JR Pass, what you will receive is a JR Pass voucher  which must then be exchanged at any JR Pass Ticketing Office for the actual JR Pass when you arrive in Japan.

Shinkansen ride from Kyoto to Tokyo
Shinkansen ride from Kyoto to Tokyo

The JR Pass is not available to buy in Japan (as it is not offered to Japanese locals and is only offered to foreigners visiting Japan), so you need to buy it beforehand when you’re still at your home country. SO yep, this is one of the things to prepare if you plan on getting a JR Pass in order to take advantage of its use and explore more of Japan.

Obtaining a JR Pass covers most of your route in touring Japan, and it saves you the hassle of having to buy a ticket every time you ride a train (keep in mind that the trains is Japan’s main mode of public transport. Taking a taxi is VERY expensive). Also, it’s important to get the pass because it’s the only way to get from Kansai to Kanto region as fast as possible without taking a plane ride. Travel time via the Bullet train from Osaka to Tokyo would take around 3.5 hours. The JR Pass also covered the bullet train ride we took from Tokyo to Odawara (for the Hakone-Mount Fuji side tour) and saved us money when we bought the Hakone Pass (will expound on a later post).

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT JAPAN’s JR PASS HERE.

Hogwart's @ USJ
Hogwart’s @ USJ

DO-IT-YOURSELF

This means NO pre-packaged tours. Not getting one means you are able to manage your own time, craft your own itinerary, go at your own pace, and most importantly, save lots of money. You will be spending so much more on your expenses (sometimes even double) if you get the packaged tours. Just exert a little effort and you can do well on your own. 

Night Illumination at Kiyomizu-Dera Temple
Night Illumination at Kiyomizu-Dera Temple

TIME MANAGEMENT

Plot your itinerary and stick to it. You’d be surprised about how much more places you can cover if you just planned it ahead of time. 

Ueno Park, Japan
Ueno Park, Japan

TRAVEL IN A GROUP

We were 6 in our group and that saved us money when it comes to our rooms, otherwise you can still travel SOLO or as a COUPLE because there are a lot of lodging options in Japan which will still save you some money even if you don’t travel in a group. For our Japan trip, which took place on a peak season (Sakura or Spring blossoms), it was hard to get cheap lodging (since most of them are already fully booked), so we opted to use AirBNB.

Hakone, Japan

 

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To commemorate the anniversary of our Japan trip, I will be posting a series of entries detailing our trip to Japan (including expenses, etc). Please subscribe to my blog so we can keep you updated on these posts.

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