10 Tips for DIY Japan Solo or Group Travel

I always keep this in mind, traveling to a different town, city or even country is always an indulgence. Visiting your favorite places is definitely a privilege. One thing is for sure, if I keep coming back that means it left a mark.

The first time I visited Japan, I left a promise that I will come back. The culture itself is something to keep coming back to. The merger of industrialization and history has been put into balance. Whenever people hear one is heading to Japan, the first thing that some utter is “that is going to be an expensive trip” especially if you are coming from the Philippines. Mind you, if you actually get tours it will definitely be one. Back in 2016 I was with colleagues and we had a travel agency arrange things for us and we chose an airline that cost more than I would usually pay for a 4-hour flight. Fast track to 2018, I traveled to Japan once again with half the price that I paid for – of course cutting off two amusement parks on the list and gone full on the historical path in Osaka.

If you are wondering and if you have stumble upon this blog because you are planning on taking a solo trip, Japan is great for solo travelers. Now there are a lot of sites that will be able to give you the very specifics that you need but let this article be an additional reference for you.

We took a budget airline heading to Kansai (KIX) Airport and left Japan via Narita (NRT) in Tokyo. Our trip was about 6 days, flight time included. Here are some things that you can consider when planning your trip whether you are heading solo or with a group of friends.

Tip 1: If you plan on traveling around Osaka, Kyoto, Nara for the prefectures, you need to get a JR West Rail Kansai Area Pass. We got our 3-day pass in Klook.com and this costs about Php 3,000. Now this depends on how long you plan on staying in Osaka. This would save you a lot of money because from Kansai Airport to Shin-Osaka (main point station, depending on where you are staying. I am using this as my point of reference because this is where you will get the tickets for Shinkansen – Bullet Train bound for Tokyo), it would already be too expensive. Now from the airport, you will need to follow the direction indicated in your klook voucher on how to get your Kansai Pass. The booth closes at 10pm. Once you get your pass, you will have to go to the platforms. Go straight to the entrance and show the Train guards your pass, they will stamp it with the day that you started using it. This is what you will do every time you use JR trains, use the one for the differently-abled passengers or those with passes. DO NOT LOSE YOUR PASS, they will just verify everytime you pass the dates indicated at the back. The pass looks like the pictures below. This is what we used throughout our trip in Osaka through Kyoto and Nara. Mind you, you can get off the wrong platform without worrying how much you have to pay for your next train ride as the trains can be a bit confusing for some.

The train that you will be boarding heading to Osaka from Kansai Airport will be like this, not the usual train. This takes about an hour and you will be seated in a non-reserved car number. Please read the destination carefully.

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Tip 2: Get Unlimited Data Sim card for your entire trip. This is very important so that you can navigate your way to and fro. There are public areas that offer wifi and even the JR trains give you access but it would be so much hassle to keep registering as most ask for you to create a log in. We got ours in Klook as well. This was about Php 1,000 but depends on how many days and if there are sale available.

Tip 3: Download a train app. I downloaded the Japan Official Travel App because that gave me reference on what time the trains I needed to board leaves and also it is very helpful for those with JR Train Pass. It is available in booth google play and App Store. You can indicate your current location or it does it for you depending on your GPS. Helps you as well with maps when you are to take a walk. Again, it pays to get unlimited data sim. Though you have to be patient with this app, it sometimes become sluggish.

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This is how you read the train destinations. It would show you the different stations that the train will be stopping at. The destination on the trains would usually mean the last destination it will be heading to. So you have to look at your stop whether it falls anywhere between your current platform to the last stop indicated. The app also shows what platform number you have to go to, this get tricky for some but its easy do not worry, the numbers above the stairs heading to the platform mean it is the platform numbers. Make sure you look at the LCD prompters too as to what time the train arrives and leaves. They are ALMOST ALWAYS on time. Catching your train is always an exercise if you do not have enough time.

Tip 4: Now if you are a frequent traveler you already know how to score the best flight deals but for those who are first timers or who travels rarely, use skyscanner, cheapoair and some other flight search apps or sites to give you an idea for the best and cheapest flights. In the Philippines, for budget flights I usually watch out for CebuPacific Air’s Piso Sale. I got my flight for Php 8,000 and I know it is still expensive for some but that is already 3/4th cheaper than my flight before. I’d throw this in for more, make sure you either leave Wednesday or Thursday and come back either Tuesday or the same days you left as they tend to be a bit cheaper than weekend flights.

Tip 5: Places to Stay? I usually use Booking.com for my accommodations. Make sure to consider the proximity to the train stations. If you are willing to walk for about 1.5km then you will be able to get a fairly reasonable priced place to stay. That is what we did in our stay in Osaka. Best to take the ones near Osaka station or Shin-Osaka station because this is where you will go for your Tokyo trip. The places near Namba station can get pricey also mostly capsules and shared bathrooms due to space. We wanted to move freely so we chose a place far off center and it was peaceful but far more than a kilometer from the main JR train stops.

Tip 6: Bring trusty walking shoes. If you love walking, Japan will satiate that need. Bring band aids too as I had callouses due to the daily walk or that silicone you can buy for your toes. My daily steps counter would always post about 15,000 steps a day sometimes would reach 20,000 steps.

Tip 7: Buy your treats in Don Quixote, this is a famous shop for treats and other groceries and they have duty free counters too. Just ask politely not to staple the receipts in your passports as some cashiers would do that but because immigrations are strict with dilapidated passports, it might cause a problem so just ask them not to. I will not spoil what you can see in here but there is a place where you can get all those treats you can give your friends and family when you head back home. It can get quite croweded so patience will be required.

Tip 8: Bring a coin purse. You will be getting a lot of coins for change so make sure you have your handy coin purse with you for this. I made a mistake in putting my coins in one of the Gachapons and it gave me hallow yellow bird when I was actually aiming for Star Wars but it proved to be helpful because that is where I put all the coins I got.

Tip 9: Travel to Tokyo via Bullet Train. It will get you there faster, about 2 hours from Shin-Osaka Station. Platforms for the regular JR Rails and the Shinkansen Train are on different directions. Your best option on a peak season is to get a reserved seat but it would be about 800 Yen higher. We took that to have less fuss over finding our seats. If possible ask if you can be seated on the left side of the train because they say you can see Mt. Fuji from this side. I am almost always asleep so I cannot vouch for this. There is another way of heading to Tokyo, the night bus and it takes abour 8 hours. Other blogs can give you an idea about this, we wanted to try but was quite tired so bullet train was the best option.

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This is what I mean in Tip 3. Nozomi is the last stop as you can see on the picture above for this train but it will pass by Tokyo Station, where I get off. The price of bullet train is 14,450 Yen which is roughly around Php 6,500. We took the reserved seat so its a bit expensive. Include this cost in your budget as this usually would eat up the bigger chunk of your expenses.

Tip 10: Buy a NEX ticket if your flight out is in Narita Airport. This is about an hour trip from Shinjuku Station to Terminal 2 (our main station in Tokyo and where we stayed). There are different stations as to where the NEX stops before it heads off to either Terminal 1 or 2, you can ask information. Narita Airport Express costs 2,990 Yen.

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If you are wanting to know where to go in Japan, I am still in the process of writing it. Will edit this once it is done. It would also contain what you will do if you do not have an Income Tax Return (ITR) as one of your requirements, if you are applying Japan Visa in Manila Philippines and a Philippine Passport holder.

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