Heading to Japan for the first time? Here’s some tips!
If you’re a social media addict like me, or you plan to rely heavily Google Translate and Maps to navigate, then you’ll want to get a Mifi-like device for your travels. I find these to be far better to data roaming overseas, as they are dedicated machines. The two services I’ve used and can vouch for are:
They’re cheap, reliable, and their customer service is really, really good. I asked them questions about their wireless service and they answered me in quite a reasonable fashion. Additionally, I made a miscalculation with my monies and could only pay the following month. Japan Wireless was willing to hold my order for me via a Paypal invoice until I could get them sorted out.
Service connectivity was pretty good, considering that I was pretty much in the city most of the time. The modem held up well, and was quite alright even underground. There were 3 girls and 4 devices on at any given point in time, and the Internet connection was pretty good.
In fact, I could even do an impromptu Google Hangout to show people back home what things looked like from where I was. It was awesome, though the Internet did kind of choke a bit. That though, I chalked up to data connection speeds at home. xP
This was the other service that I used last year. It was quite good, though a little pricier than Japan Wireless. I used it because both Marauderz and Tyzro recommended them to me. It’s of a similar make and model like Japan Wireless, but it uses WPA security instead of Japan Wireless’ WEP.
If it helps, I Ingressed on Tabitha with it last year. Internet was pretty good, though location could be blocked due to the tall buildings we faced in Osaka.
I recommend this heavily if you’re doing the “free and easy” thing and want to upload on the go. It’s also great for talking with friends and family back home.
Note though, that most hotels and hostels DO come with free WiFi, so if you’re the patient type, you can just upload everything back in the hostel.
Edit: You may also want to download Navitime app to help with public transport and finding free wifi!
Where to stay
I’ve stayed in a variety of places with differing costs. There are some places that I love and recommend, like Hostel Mundo in Kyoto and now, Vessel Inn Sapporo, Nakajima Park in Sapporo. The prices may not be cheap, but you get what you pay for.
Hostels are great if you’re the kind who’ll bring your own towels and don’t mind cleaning up after yourselves. They are also good for meeting other people (I’ll always remember that mother, daughter and grandmother family whose daughter was traumatised by deer in Nara. Beautiful people. But yes, deer).
Do your research. Find out from your friends what their requirements are, and work from there. Note that not all hotels and hostels will have bidets, so remember to ask. Some places may have WiFi only in the common areas. Others may have coin laundry machines for you to wash your things (priceless during summer!) and so forth.
For me, I’d pay a premium for good location. I lucked out with Vessel Inn Nakajima Park this time around, because not only was it RIGHT NEXT to the station, but it was also just a few minutes away from Susukino where we had our dinner most nights, and near the concert hall. In spring, the cool breeze makes walking back very pleasant.
Do your research on the places you intend to go. Tripadvisor is a great starting point, but don’t forget to Google the name of the hostel or hotel and see if anyone else wrote something else. You should also contact the reviewer if you have any questions; most reviewers (including yours truly) are usually quite happy to help, as long as you’re nice about it.
I cannot emphasise this enough. Especially for Malaysians, keep an eye out for Airasia Specials and prices. Osaka trips can go as low as RM800, including tax, for a round trip. Nagoya right now, can be as low as RM600. That said, please check your dates BEFORE you go. Springtime will always be expensive, but with a bit of forethought and planning, you can stretch your money’s worth.
There are some times when it’s not a good idea to visit Japan, such as Summer (the temperature is the same as Malaysia’s but with much lower levels of humidity, so it is VERY possible to dehydrate yourself) and Golden Week. The latter is simply because it’s when the entire country goes on holiday, so everywhere is packed and costs soar.
For Malaysians, I’ve noticed that the exchange rate has been steadily decreasing in our favour, so keep an eye out when you’re converting money. In my experience, the time right before the Tōhoku Earthquake anniversary is when the yen’s usually the lowest for the year, so you might want to try to convert your money then.
Other Misc Stuff
If you plan to take the subway within the city, either invest in an IC card, such as a Suica (Tokyo) or Kitaca (Hokkaido) or get them from your friends. They’re basically prepaid subway cards that let you tap and go with public transportation. The best part is that they’re usable ALL OVER THE COUNTRY, so a card you got in Hokkaido WILL work in Tokyo, for instance.
Note though, that if you want to collect the 500 yen deposit you’ll need to get it back from the state you got it (aka you can only collect your Kitaca deposit in Hokkaido and not in Osaka, for instance).
Which brings me to another point: In Kyoto, if you’re going around on the buses, get the daily pass. It’s cheaper in the long run than paying the 230 yen per trip. The JR Rail Pass is EXCELLENT if you’re planning to hit up different townships, and in Osaka, the Unlimited Pass is a must.
Spouse of Edit: Neon suggests Kansai Thru Pass if you’re concentrating on the Kansai area.
I hope this helps! Enjoy your trip!