Thursday, 16 February 2012

How I Planned My Trip to Japan

Voucher for my Japan Rail Pass

I'm a planner, much to the annoyance of some of my friends and family, the "go with the flow" mantra never sat well with me. Call it long term trauma from being the only and eldest girl, but I have always been the overly responsible one, highly skeptical, asking tons of questions until I felt satisfied. Right or wrong, I also apply this level of due diligence to travel. Before I land in a new country I need to know the national emergency number (because 911 is not universal), what the tipping policy is in that region of the world and whether or not they are "tolerant" of Black folks (yes, people still have to think about this in 2012).  

A few months ago I scored an amazing deal with the Russian airline, Aeroflot. My round trip ticket cost 439 Euros from Berlin to Tokyo with a stop over in Moscow. After receiving my email confirmation I immediately started panicking:

OMG OMG Japan what was I thinking? Do I need to bring my own slippers? No, I'm sure they communal slippers...Communal slippers, eww.What if I press the wrong button on one of those funky toilets and go flying through the ceiling? What if I get bitten by a monkey? 
Does my travel insurance cover monkey-bites? What if some clown tries to slip me the kancho!!! KANCHO! ARGH!

I literally suffered from Japanese toilet operation anxiety for 3 weeks until I watched this instructional video

Once I bested irrational fear, the logical concerns started to hit me. I would be traveling for two weeks in a country known around the world for being ridiculously expensive. Of course I got the plane ticket but what about accommodations, transport and food? YEEPERS.

The first thing I wanted to tackle was my itinerary. I had no desire to spend all two weeks in Tokyo because the country has so much to offer. After researching online for suggested cities, and bothering my worldly friends, I came up with a list of what I wanted to see. The winners were: Tokyo, Nikko, Osaka, Kyoto, and Kamakura.

Photo Credit: Scene With a Hart

Then I made a list of what specific things I wanted to experience while in Japan, mixing a bit of culture, Japanese hospitality and downright weird stuff ( In no particular order):

Visit temples and World Heritage Sights Take a Japanese cooking course
Witness a tea ceremony Spend one night in a capsule hotel
Bathe at an onsen Stay at a ryokan (Japanese inn)
Sing Karaoke Visit a cat cafe
Purchase odd Kit Kat Flavors Take pictures of huge fruit
Take the bullet train Snap a picture of Mt. Fuji
Get silly on sake Find the Tokyo Cupcake truck
Try Jamaican Food in Tokyo Shop for cosmetics

Huge perfect fruit in Japan
Now with the cities and a big list of interest, I could map out an itinerary

Feb 20 - Monday - Arrive in Tokyo
Feb 21 - Tuesday Travel Tokyo to Osaka
Feb 22 - Wednesday Osaka
Feb 23 -  Thursday Travel Osaka to Kyoto
Feb 24 - Friday Kyoto Cooking Class and Market Tour
Feb 25 - Saturday Kyoto
Feb 26 - Sunday Kyoto
Feb 27 - Monday Travel Kyoto to Tokyo
Feb 28 - Tuesday Tokyo
Feb 29 - Wednesday Tokyo Day Trip to Kamakura Tour
March 1 - Thursday Tokyo Day trip to Nikko Tour
March 2 - Friday Tokyo
March 3-  Saturday Tokyo
March 4 - Sunday Tokyo
March 5 - Monday Depart for Berlin

There were two major pieces outstanding, transportation all around Japan and accommodations, this is where the bulk of my budget was spent. Luckily in regards to the long distance bullet train, Japan gives tourist a break on travel, offering the Japan Rail Pass. The Rail Pass can only be purchased from outside of Japan and is sold in 7, 14, and 21 day increments. I bought the 7 day pass which I intend to use to get me from Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and back to Tokyo. The 7 day pass is a whopping 328,300  YEN (277 Euro) for Standard class. You receive a voucher and you pick up the actual ticket in the airport. After examining the prices of single tickets this was totally worth it.

Japanese bullet train or Shinkansen
The hardest part of this trip was arranging accommodations. I haven't actually counted but I am changing places a lot, and totally running the gamut. For starters, I will be losing my Couch Surfing virginity. ::pause for dramatic effect:: Considering the cost of accommodations in Japan and the fact that some of the coolest people I know swear by couch surfing, I though this would be the perfect time to give it a try. So I am staying with two hosts, one in Osaka and another in Tokyo. They seem really cool and I am anxious to meet them. Before agreeing to even put in a request for their couches, I read their profiles in detail and scoured their referrals. One guy is actually a friend of Adam from Travels of Adam, so I think I am in good hands, which reminds me I need to buy gifts!

As you might remember, I wanted to stay at a ryokan and a capsule hotel. In Kyoto I will be spending one night in a capsule hotel with a twist called First Cabin. The hotel has an air plane theme. I will only do that for one night and head over to NISHIYAMA Ryokan to experience Japanese hospitality at it's best. (and yummy food)

I will also be sampling a few hotels. After my long flight I wanted to treat myself so I will be checking out the Claska in Tokyo, a really funky hotel I found in my LUXE Tokyo City Guide. I also wanted to check out this beautiful boutique hotel in Kyoto called Hotel Mume.

Lastly for my final weekend in Tokyo I decided to rent an apartment where all the action is in Harajuku. I found the place on and believe me when I tell you, for the location, renting a studio apartment for a few nights was the best option.

The Wind Room in Hotel Mume, Kyoto
I still have to sort out food and local transport within the individual cities. Luckily my buddy Fidel wrote a post about cheap eats in Tokyo, so I will be pulling that up when I am in Japan. Local transport is a mystery to me but I have a few days to figure it out, cabs are way expensive in Tokyo and I won't be throwing any money away.

You all will be able to keep track of my travels throughout Japan because I will have PocketWifi, provided by a new Japanese provider called eConnect. As the name implies, PocketWifi is a mini portable Wifi router that will enable me to check in all over Japan as well as update you guys on Facebook and Twitter. I won't have to be tethered to an internet cafe or pay insane data charges if I just want to stay connected.

I am so geeked for this trip, and even more excited to be able to share it will all of you. Be prepared for some great photos, interesting observations, reviews and of course lessons what I will be learning along the way. 

For the record 119 is the emergency number in Japan, tipping is seen as horribly offensive, and Japanese people have an odd fascination with Black people, so I might end up a celebrity, wish me luck!!

Have you ever been to Japan? Have you ever thought of going? What's holding you back?


  1. OMG - I may have to just copy and paste your itinerary for when I go in April. I love your choice of acommodations...I will be checking here often to see what you think! And good tip on the wifi..I have a lot of planning work to do!

  2. I love being able to help a friend :-)
    I also wrote the guide to public transportation in Tokyo for you yesterday. I'm writing my guide to Kyoto today and posting tomorrow. It will provide tips on what you must-see and what will be okay to not see. Also, if you haven't selected where to go for a tea ceremony, I have that for you also. :-)
    Helping a friend plan is as much fun and brings a big smile to my face just like it does when I am doing my own travel planning.

    As far as clothing goes, it's still pretty cold here this time of year. It doesn't rain as much, but bring a medium raincoat. Kyoto is a lot colder than Tokyo so you may need your basic Winter clothing there.

    Thank you for sharing one of the photos I took. :-)

  3. My pocketwife is through emobile and it works so great that I practically canceled my mobile phone 3G connection. You will get service everywhere that 3G users get it because they use the 3G networks. Good choice!

  4. This is a dope itinerary, ma!!! Thanks for all the useful info! In the throes of doing a similar post for Paris!

    1. ooh paris, pretty.i will be sure to look out for it!

  5. Have a great time~! I'm leaving for Korea next week Wednesday for a year. I'm hoping to visit Japan during that time... hopefully your posts post-Japan will give me a few tips.

    PS. I noticed from your dedication to Whitney post that you said you grew up in Newark, New Jersey. I lived in Newark until I was ten. :)

    1. oh cool! newark represent. oneika about you has been to korea. she would have loads on info. but you are going to live, that should be really interesting!! good luck!

  6. since you are interested in temples I would suggest taking a day from Tokyo and going to Nara - check nara wikitravel - it's only an hr max from kyoto and can be a half day thing. Also take one of those from Tokyo to go to Yokohama - China Town and Minato Mirai. Enjoy and yokoso he

    1. yes i heard about nara, i chose these other two day trips instead. i might sneak one more in but dont want to overwelm myself i would like one day of vacation :)

  7. You're going to have an amazing time! Seems like you planned the trip really well and arranged for a lot of great opportunities. Enjoy!

    1. thats what i am hoping for, memories of a lifetime and all that and seeing cool stuff. OMG i cant wait, just bit a longer

  8. Sounds fun, I can't wait to visit Japan so I will wait till you get back and read your suggestions before I head out that way. Have a wonderful time.

    1. haha thats a good way to go about it, also check my post about the the JNTO giving away a free trip. you might get lucky!

  9. Nicole, I came across your blog from the Zite app on my iPad. (it links me to many sites of my favorite topic: Japan) 20 years ago I made my first visit to Japan. Amazingly, 4 years ago I was working and living in Tokyo and do love the country so very much. I have visited Japan every year for the past 6 years (well, until this past year). I read with great interest your itinerary and clearly you have done a lot of work in your planning. I've been to all the places you have listed and each one of them is a treasured memory. I find fascination with many things in Japan and with their "attention to detail" with nearly everything. The quality of life in Japan is like no other place I have lived and even in my many years living in San Francisco, I've never had replicated the experience living in Tokyo. I won't add recommendations to your list. I think you have wisely sought out great reference material on places to visit, affordable food to eat, and lodging. I've not stayed at the hotels you have indicated, but they look like unique and wonderful places and I have noted them for my future trips to Japan. There are no worries about the toilets there. Most all the high tech toilets have some graphic as to what the button function is, but it was very cute that you searched out a youtube video to quiet your concerns! Oh, on my last trip for two weeks in November 2010, I traveled fairly extensively around Tokyo and south to Hiroshima. I had rented a wireless router and carried in my jacket pocket. It was one of the wisest things I had done. My companion and I were able to access wireless coverage virtually anywhere including the long journey on the Shinkansen. Enjoy your wonderful journey and please take lots of photos and post them in your free time. I'll be anxiously reading of your experience. Bon Voyage! Patrick

    1. patrick
      thank you so much for the comment and welcome, glad you found the blog. yeah i have done some research, some would say too much LOL. i am so glad i got the pocket wifi, i am so excited about that, it will take a load off. and i can share the train rides, and everything with my audience!! i know people laugh at me cause i youtube everything. i learn how to use software and repressurize my hot water heater, all from youtube. i love it!

  10. This sounds amazing! How did you manage to find the round trip ticket from Berlin to Tokyo for only 439 Euros? We are planning on visiting Japan later this year, and I think we've already learned a lot from your planning.

  11. LOL I like the way your mind works :) Fantastic itinerary, filed for future reference and looking forward to hearing about the trip!

  12. Interesting itinerary! This sounds amazing.