#TRIPPinJAPAN (Part 1)

8:03 PM

Over the last semester break, I travelled to the country I've been dying to visit since my secondary school days - Japan. It's a trip with Trisha, and we had many of our firsts. For one, it our very first entirely self-funded and self-planned trip, which meant that from the sourcing of hotels to the air tickets, we paid and settled everything ourselves without either of our parents actually helping. I've never travelled without any parental guidance, much less visit a foreign country which I've never explored, only heard of.

It was pretty nerve-werking so we did lots of preparations and our homework waaaaay beforehand. We planned our trip such that we could see the first and last blooms of cherry blossoms, which was around late march to mid april. We also let the cheaper flight dates decide the duration of our trip! Initially we wanted 14 days, but staying for 17 days is actually cheaper (yes we did our thorough math) since the respective flight dates and timings have different prices. You can check use some flight search engine by searching on Google to get the best deal for your flights!

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Lodging in Japan:
For our accommodation, we spent weeks getting this done because we wanted a cheap place that's  clean and nice with all the basic amenities. I would say that your best bet is agoda, booking.com and airbnb. While the first two seemed rather sketchy at first, it had pretty good deals and we got half of our stays from them! The other half is from airbnb, where you could either rent a whole apartment or have a private room to yourself. I enjoyed the latter far more, because it'll give you the chance to interact with the host (more about that later) who might take you around, give you recommendations and whatnot. The best part is that it's super affordable (if you do your searches right and persistently, since there might be new listings weekly)!!!
We tried couchsurfing too (you can Google more about it but it's generally a community promoting cultural exchanges, and you literally crash at a person's couch/place, but for free), though we didn't have much luck with that. But it seems like a growing community, so if you're up for the adventure, you should probably give it a try. :)

By mid February, we have all our bookings and itinerary settled. If anything, my advice would be to always get a hotel near the station. Believe me, we learnt it the hard way when we had to lug our too heavy luggages each time we changed hotels.

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Transport in Japan:
We did a rather extensive research on the public transport in Japan, and whether or not we needed the JR railway pass. Basically, you don't need the JR railway pass unless you intend to take the bullet train, Shinkansen, (which goes to the different cities e.g. Tokyo to Osaka etc.) a couple of times in a few days. But we did get an IC card (or what we would call an Ezlink card) for smoother transportation. It saves you so much time from having to buy tickets for every trip, and you do not have to pay any extra costs for it either lol just a deposit that will be refunded when you return the card. They have different cards for different regions in Japan - we got a Suica/Pasmo for Tokyo, and the Icoca for the Kansai Region (Osaka, Kyoto). These cards are available for purchase at the top-up machines in every train station.

So instead of taking the Shinkansen to travel from one city to the other, we took an overnight coach! The bus is pretty comfortable too hehe. For two rides (Kyoto to Tokyo and Tokyo to Osaka), we paid about $350 for two? If you take the Shinkansen, it'll cost you over hundreds per one-way trip though you arrive at your destination rather quickly. But we would rather pay the hundred and save the cost of a night's hotel stay, which is more worth it. You can do your math. I still think that it's the best option after reading a couple of blogs and reviews. Besides, we're sleeping while we travel to the other city so no time wasted on long journeys!
We rode WillerExpress, and they have many options of buses and boarding/alighting stops to choose from. You can book and pay for the rides online.

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Getting around:
And of course, how could we survive without wifi? Aside from being unable to tolerate the hotel's shitty wifi, we still needed internet while we're out and about. There's the option of a temporary sim card and a portable wifi just to name a few, but I picked the portable wifi over the sim card simply because it's cheaper LOL. Besides, there's no need for me to text since there is always Whatsapp/LINE. And I had PupPuRu help me with this!
There are a couple of models of portable wifi but I picked pupuru's recommendation (Y!mobile) that offers 10GB, with average communication speed. We'll used it for only 17 days so 10GB is more than sufficient. And since we'll mostly be using the wifi for social media, whatsapp, Google Translate and Google Maps, we don't really see the need for super high communication speed either. I guess it depends on what you need the portable wifi for, but pupuru's recommendation is probably the best priced amongst all. There are a few of these portable wifi devices available for rent in Singapore but... While convenient, they are quite pricey.
I booked and paid for the device on pupuru's site, which is pretty straightforward. There's quite a few things to fill and some additional costs at the checkout (such as warranty which decided to forgo since we're pretty confident we wouldn't be that careless to damage it). Once you're done, you'll get an email to confirm your booking. The collection is super easy too! You could opt for collection at the airport where they'll place it at this station just outside the arrival hall (for Kansai Airport) and for returns, you just have to slip everything into the provided envelop and drop it in a mail before you depart.

The portable wifi is our life-saver, literally. We heavily depended on it since we needed Google Maps to help us navigate and Google Translate to converse. So, if you're a clueless soul who has never been to or have no friends in Japan, you need your wifi. Asking around for directions ain't gonna help you much unless you happen to be well-versed in the Japanese language. Not many locals know how to speak English there.

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Whether or not Japan's expensive is really dependent on the way you planned your trip. It's definitely not the cheapest place to travel, but neither is it as expensive as people make it to be? Most of their stuff are about the same price as Singapore's. Whether or not that's a good or bad thing, I'll leave it up to you LOL but to us it's quite the comfort.
For me and Trisha, we wanted to enjoy yourselves without spending beyond our means, so we cut costs wherever's possible, such as our flight and some accommodations. Yes, we do enjoy the thrill of pocketing cheap hotel deals, food and souvenirs etc but not at the stake of wholesome experiences. I still did quite a lot of shopping and ate awesome meals. We didn't budget on these things so I'd say that the expenditure is really worth what we experienced. But you can be the judge after seeing the next few upcoming posts of what I did in Japan.

Here's the rough breakdown for my 17-days expenditure:
Air ticket: $713
Accommodation: $780
Wifi: $63
Transport: $145
Food: $680
Shopping/Souvenirs: $1030
Total: $3411

I had many of my relatives (and even my parents) asking me how I spent only 3.4k in Japan for 17 days, and I don't really know how we did it either LOL. Initially I thought I've spent a whole lot of money but if you calculate each component individually, it's pretty okay?? Like I spent $780 for 16 days of accommodation, and that's about $45 per night per person. It would have been far cheaper if we were travelling in a group, but $98 per night is quite the deal right?

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Before leaving for Japan:
You should probably download a translator app to help you with any conversations you may have with the locals. It's not entirely accurate, but you'll need it. In fact, learn a little bit of Japanese before you embark on your trip because it'll really help you during your stay there. Basic phrases like, "Ikura desu ka? (how much is this?)" etc would really go a long way. We managed to learn a lot more about Japan and their way of life when we conversed a little with the locals. If you're visiting the more touristy areas though, it might not be exactly necessary but I still think that learning their language is part and parcel of immersing yourself into their culture. Anyhow, we had a host in Tokyo who taught us a little Japanese, and likewise, we taught him a little English! It was quite the cultural exchange haha.

Unless you intend to cab all over the place (which I suggest you don't because it's super expensive), download the Google Maps app so help you get to certain locations. You could ask the locals for help too, but that'll require you to be fluent in Japanese.

We also activated our debit cards for overseas use. Most of the ATMs in Japan's convenience stores accept the debit cards, so yay you don't have to bring that much cash. If you're looking for the best exchange rates, it seems like the Arcade money changer at Raffles Place has the best rates for Japanese yen thus fae.

And you might want to consider getting yourselves insured. Being the kiasu people we are, we bought ourselves a travel insurance from NTUC income for the 17 days we are overseas. I mainly got it because I heard so many lost luggage cases and I simply cannot afford to lose anything in it. Besides, it's only about $27 for the deluxe plan (you can go for classic which is even far cheaper) since I'm under 21 and still considered a minor LOL. It had us mostly covered whether its accidents, loss of money etc.

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And that's about it for the dryer details on how we managed the logistics for our trip! While the idea of bagpacking seems really cool and it's something I'd want to try someday, I won't really suggest doing that for Japan? You don't really wanna visit Japan without any hotel bookings, because it would be relatively hard for you to find vacancies in hotels especially during the peak periods such as the Cherry Blossom season.
Me and Trisha had a very general itinerary for the trip because we didn't like the idea of having to rise early or rush to places. We wanted it to be free-and-easy, so we simply had the places we're keen on visiting listed down. The rest is up to our exploration, and I'd say we had quite the fun walking aimlessly only to chance upon several gems that's not even up on Trip Advisor.

Anyway, most of the pictures are from Day 1 when we first arrived at the Kansai Airport (Osaka) in the afternoon! We bought ourselves Starbucks and an IC card before taking the train to our hotel, and then exploring the neighbourhood. I can still remember the fleeting moments of excitement from being in a foreign country without my parents, and how the walk to our hotel left me so wonderstruck because it's everything I see in animes and Japanese dramas right before my very eyes LOL. It all felt so surreal, finally being in the country I've always dreamt of visiting after the months of handwork at Gelato, coding websites and designing collaterals for blogshops. Granted, nothing is sweeter than your handwork being rewarded. And it feels great knowing that I'm not actually spending my parents money. That makes me more mindful of how much I wanted to splurge too.

Well, more about Japan in the next few posts! I'll cover some of the landmarks and places we visited, the food we had, the shopping we did etc. And I promise more pictures haha. Oh god this whole chunk took almost forever to type.

Check out my other posts on Japan:
▶ #TRIPPinJAPAN (part 1) - Japan tips
▶ #TRIPPinJAPAN (part 2) - Osaka Day 1, 2 & 3
▶ #TRIPPinJAPAN (part 3) - Kyoto Day 5, 6 & 7
▶ #TRIPPinJAPAN (part 4) - Kyoto Day 8 & 9
▶ #TRIPPinJAPAN (part 5) - Tokyo Day 10 to 17
▶ #TRIPPinJAPAN - iPhone Visuals #1
▶ #TRIPPinJAPAN - iPhone Visuals #2

On an entirely different note, school has started and I can already feel the impending workload that's going to suffocate me. Yet, I'm actually kind of stoked for the assignments to come because I got all the electives I wanted (Photo Journalism, Print Journalism and Advertising Creatives), and they're all actually kind of exciting?!?!
Aside from the compulsory modules which are so theory-based they'll probably kill me, I'll be spending this semester taking photos, writing stories for NPtribune and HYPE, as well as being attached to an advertising agency to work on a real client's work!! Tell me how do you not feel my vigour!!

Well, let's hope that I'll be able to cope with school while working. I'm still designing for Ohvola and it's a joy everyday when I work with really caring bosses and my colleague. I recently helped in filming their first promo video, which is available on their site/blog if you wanna stalk my work... HAHAHA just kidding.

It's been a super long and wordy post so I'll end it here. Can't wait to get the next post on Japan up asap!!

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