A first-timer’s guide: Japan

There’s always a first time to everything. I’ve noticed that my way of coping with heartbreak is to leave and just go somewhere. So this is my first time traveling on my own, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

I’ve always wanted to go to Japan, mainly because of the food. It was a place where convenience is important and people value discipline. Life is quite easy in Japan. The food is good and the culture is present. I used to think I couldn’t possibly go there alone, but good thing something pushed me to finally do it. Not waiting for people, not waiting for other decisions to be made, I just did it.

Let me share with you how I winged it in Japan alone. First, there was the airfare. I use skyscanner.com when looking for cheap flights. Luckily, I found a round-trip flight with Jetstar for only Php 13,703 with added 10kg check-in baggage on my way home. I know there are other cheaper flights out there, especially when airlines have their promos. Just do take note that some of these airlines don’t land in Kansai Airport (Osaka’s Airport). You can find the airport train station just outside after you go through the travel booths. It’s located just across the bridge.

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Second, your Japan Visa. Now, this is the part where it gets kind of lengthy. I got my Japan Visa with the help of Reli Tours (Megamall Branch). I needed to get a tourist visa, which is also referred to as a 1-B Tourist Visa with No Guarantor because I was paying for the trip myself. If you’re planning to go to Japan ALONE, I suggest you start saving up money in your bank account first, because one of the requirements for getting a Japan visa is a bank certificate. You will need a reasonable amount in your account for your visa to be approved. Since I was alone, I tried saving up to 50k on my account just to be sure. One of the requirements for getting a visa is a birth certificate, which I requested from NSO (Php 315). Once you submit all the other requirements to your chosen agency, in my case Reli tours, you need to pay Php 950 for the handling fee. I will break down the full process of getting a Japan Visa with a Philippine Passport soon on another blog post.

Next was a place to stay. Since I was on a budget, I opted for a traveler’s hostel. I chose ARK Hostel because it was very convenient to places I wanted to go to and it’s really adorable! I booked with them via booking.com and my four days three nights stay cost me only Php 4,505. That’s not so bad. I cannot recommend this hostel enough. I have everything I needed. The bathrooms were nice and clean. There’s a common area and a kitchen. There are lockers you can use and a computer too. Best part was I met new friends because of this hostel! 🙂

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I wanted a hassle-free way to go around, so I purchased the 3-day use of the Kansai Thru Pass via Klook for only Php 2,339 and it was a charm indeed. The Kansai Thru Pass can be used on trains and buses within the Kansai area. Do take note that this pass can’t be used on JR lines. It was very helpful that it can also be used from Kansai Airport to Namba Station using the Nankai Line.

Another thing I know I needed was internet connection. I knew I was going to get lost somehow and google maps would be my only hope. My friend recommended that I rent the Pupuru pocket WiFi. I rented 4-days use of Pupuru pocket WiFi, which cost me around Php 1,840. It was indeed helpful to have wifi wherever you go. You pick up the pocket wifi at the airport. On your last day of rental, you just drop it on one of the red mailboxes you can find around Japan. Return packet with address is already provided.

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Here’s the breakdown of the essentials:

  • Round Trip Flight via Jetstar from MNL to KIX – Php 13,703
  • Visa Handling Fee + Birth Certificate – Php 1,265
  • ARK Hostel Stay 4 Days and 3 Nights – Php 4,505
  • Kansai Thru Pass for 3 days via Klook – Php 2,339
  • Pupuru Pocket WiFi 4 Days – Php 1,840

Total of Php 23,652

Now all you need is an itinerary and your pocket money. I’m a person who doesn’t like planning so I kind of just went with the flow. There were places I had in mind that I wanted to visit, though my four days wasn’t enough for all of them. So here are the places I got to visit.

Osaka Castle
This wasn’t really part of my plan but it was nice that I got to go here too. I met a friend in my hostel and we went there together. You need to get ready for the long walk to reach the actual castle because it’s really in the middle part of the compound. It was quite far from the nearest train station. There are food stalls before you enter, and you can find the famous green tea ice cream in there. The area of Osaka Castle is very calm and serene. You can sit by the benches and enjoy the view from the outside, or you can opt to buy a ticket to enter the castle.

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Dotonbori
Now, this is my favorite part of all, lots and lots of food! You go to Dotonbori to eat and to shop. In my case, I was really just there to eat. From takoyaki to okonomiyaki, to ramen and gyoza. You need like a whole day to explore this place. Try as many as you can. The famous shopping place called Don Quijote can be found here. I bought so much stuff to bring home that I couldn’t fit all of them in my luggage anymore. The famous glico man can be found here.

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Fushimi Inari Shrine
Kyoto was one of my favorites. It was an area in Japan where I could feel that I was actually in “old japan”. Kimonos everywhere and shrines for prayers. It was really just so overwhelming to visit this place. I tried ringing the bells on the Inari shrine. I was hesitant at first because I really didn’t know how to do it and it might come off weird if I didn’t do it right. Still, I had nothing to lose. I was in another country alone and on my own. I watched the Japanese people as they do their prayers. I quickly learned that you have to throw in some coins, ring the bells, bow twice, make a wish, clap your hands twice, and bow for one last time. It was a great experience to try new things. Near the Inari shrine there’s a mini market with lots of food stalls. My always-hungry-self got giddy with excitement when I saw them.

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Universal Studios Japan
A ticket to USJ can be quite expensive. If you’re really not into all the fun rides and shows, then you can actually just skip USJ. For me, I was a huge Harry Potter fan and I wanted to see a life-sized Hogwarts. I don’t have it in my heart to skip USJ. Let me tell you how you can lower that whole-day ticket price. I just found out that you can actually purchase half-day tickets and that’s like a helpful price drop-down. From 7600 yen, the half-day tickets cost around 5800 yen. That’s going to be our little secret haha. With the half-day tickets, you can enter the park after 3pm. That’s still a lot of time! But please do go there on a weekday to avoid herds of people. In my case, I went on a Thursday, and the crowd wasn’t that bad at all. The queuing wasn’t that long and was actually reasonable for a theme park. Maybe we were just in luck because I’ve read about people queuing for long hours just to get on a ride. I guess Thursday afternoon is the best time. Can I also just say that I love the ladies restroom down in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. They actually have Moaning Myrtle crying in the restroom. Props to them!

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TRANSPORTATION

Don’t fret, because trains are Japan’s forte. From high-speed bullet trains to the numerous train lines making it easier for you to get from one place to another. Do not be intimidated by the train lines and ticket system. In fact, getting a ticket from the machine is quite easy, that you can ditch that JR pass. First, you should know which line to take to get to your destination. Stations in Japan can get quite big and you may get lost. Just follow the arrows to the line you need to get to or if you’re lost, ask questions and they would gladly help you. When you get to your line, you will notice ticket gates. There are always ticket machines beside them. The ticket machines have an English option so don’t worry. When purchasing a single journey ticket, you basically just select “Single Ticket”, put the amount of money in, then select the amount you’d like to buy (usually 180 yen for single journey). As far as I have understood, single journey tickets on main city lines are around 180 yen. JR lines are a different case though, they’re a bit more expensive because they travel long distances. Never lose your ticket while on the train journey because you will be using it to go out. I am in no way a local in Japan and I only got to understand the ticketing system quite a bit. There are tables you can check and maps that have the prices of your destinations. If your purchased ticket came short and you can’t get out of a station, there are always ticket adjustment machines available. This is my new friend Diane navigating through a ticket machine.

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I have also observed that Japanese people love to walk and they’re fast walkers. If you’re going somewhere pretty near, I suggest walking because that’s what everybody does. I noticed people overtaking me whenever I’m walking. I mean, I couldn’t possibly be that slow am I? Remember, Google Maps will be your best friend. Bicycles are also used aside from walking. Just do be careful with bikes because I almost got rammed over by a dozen bikers. When riding trains please give way to the people getting off the train, before you go inside. It’s simple etiquette but it makes everything easier. Taxis in Japan are also expensive. I chose to ride the train back to the airport even if it means I have to carry my luggage around, as long as it’s cheaper.

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FOOD

Food in Japan is the best thing ever. Who would have thought that I’d be loving 7-11 microwaveables. They’re that good. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Japan, eat like the Japanese. Don’t settle for familiar, try new things! Try as many as you can! Being the cheap-ass that we were, whenever we’re hungry at night, we’ll grab a rice meal from 7-11 with a can of Asahi beer. That my friends is a good combo. Hungry for a small snack? Get an onigiri by a local convenience store. Don’t know exactly what to eat? Just go to Dotonbori and spend a day eating your heart out or devour everything they sell on that mini food market near Fushimi Inari. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

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PEOPLE

I have nothing more than good things to say about the Japanese people that I have encountered. They were all very nice. The day I came to Japan, I already got lost in Namba station. This nice man approached me asking if I was okay. I told him that I was looking for the Yotsubashi Line, and instead of just directing me where to go, he went all the way to actually walk with me to the gates of Yotsubashi line. Of course, at first I thought it was kind of sketchy, but wow he actually walked with me there. That was really nice of him. Same thing happened to my friend who was looking for Dotonbori, she got walked there by a nice stranger. They’re mostly nice people based on my experience. Just still be cautious ALWAYS though. Also, please understand that English is not their main language. If they are trying to help you, they’re actually taking their time to explain to you properly even if they speak a different language.

OTHER SIMPLE TIPS TO GET BY:

  • DO NOT walk while eating. You will get stares of disapproval.
  • DO NOT talk so loudly inside trains. You will get stares of disapproval.
  • DO NOT throw or leave your trash anywhere. You will definitely get stares of disapproval.
  • DO wait for your turn and stand on the right side to enter the train, after everyone has gotten off.
  • They are fast walkers. You might want to keep up with their pace when walking.
  • There aren’t many elevators in Osaka most especially in train stations. As much as possible bring a small luggage. You’ll be carrying them up the stairs.
  • Sometimes the distance of train stations and lines can be very far from each other.
  • You need to be ready to walk loooong distances. So wear comfy shoes.
  • Sometimes, eating at a restaurant can be an “eat-and-run” kind of thing. Don’t spend like two more hours just lounging around after eating.
  • It never hurts to use phrases such as “Sumimasen” (Excuse me) and “Arigato” (Thank you)
  • Do not be afraid to ask questions! They’re nice!
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New friends from the hostel. Shiori and Diane 🙂

I have to admit that my four days in Osaka were very short. I was even planning to go to Kobe but I couldn’t anymore. My first solo trip was a great experience. I met new people, done things I haven’t done before, and I just went for it! I had nothing to be afraid of. It was actually really fun. Glad that I started it off in Japan. Here’s to hoping I get to come back soon. Japan is now my favorite country by the way. I’ll rate everything 5-stars indeed! 🙂

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