Hey there. Been a while. The last time I wrote a post I still had 5 months until my trip to Japan. Now I’m down to 5 weeks. Time is flying by. Still not fast enough though, because I’ve been ready for this trip since 5 yesterdays ago (I have no idea what that means, but you get my point, right?). Well the holidays took up a lot of my energy since Christmas season is literally the most wonderful time of the year for me. Once the holiday season rolls around, all else goes out the window for me and I am dead-set focused on decorating and shopping lol. But anyway, it’s over and my focus has reverted back to planning for Japan.
So, with the majority of essential planning taken care of a few months ago (i.e. lodging, flights, location planning), my main focus has been on understanding transportation and scoping out general sightseeing locations. Transportation in Japan seems to be heavily reliant on the train system. There are local trains (metro system) and trains that travel between the prefectures (shinkansen a.k.a. bullet trains). Local travel doesn’t seem like it’ll be too difficult a task. I’d expect it to be pretty similar to the metro systems here in the States. The language barrier will probably be the trickiest part, but, luckily, Japan seems to be relatively English-friendly with a lot of its public amenities. I did want to get a better handle on how to manage my inter-prefecture travels though, since the shinkansen are slightly different, and the cost is significantly more than tickets for the metro, which appears to run an average of no more than ¥1000 (~$10). And that estimate would be for longer distance metro rides. A train ride from Tokyo to Kyoto can run about ¥18000 (~$180). So, you can see the obvious difference there. I did some research and came across a very valuable resource for someone who is looking to travel from prefecture to prefecture, as I am. It’s called the JR Pass. JR is a railway company in Japan (the most prominent one, from my understanding). They own not only shinkansen, but they also run some of the local lines in Japan. The rail pass is something that’s available exclusively to foreigners to help cut the costs of train travel. The pass allots you unlimited train travel on the JR owned trains for a set price of about $250 (it fluctuates slightly depending on where you purchase it from and, I believe, the currency exchange rate). So, instead of having to pay ~$360 for round trip travel between Tokyo and Kyoto (~$180 each way), I’ll pay $250 for the rail pass and still be able to use it again for any other trips I take using the JR train system, without any additional costs. Sounds like a great deal to me. The pass can be bought for either a 7, 14, or 21 consecutive day interval. The $250 estimate is for the 7-day pass, which I finally purchased last week for my boyfriend and me. There are different travel agencies that the pass can be purchased from. This site lists some of those agencies. I was originally going to purchase my passes from the Japan Experience site, but I ended up finding a Japan based travel agency called HIS International Tours that sold the pass for a couple bucks less ($247 each), and, since we could pick up the passes from their office (same day, might I add), I was also able to dodge the shipping fee 👍🏾. With this purchase out of the way, I’m about 75% ready for the trip.
*Sidenote: What the agencies sell are actually vouchers for the JR Pass. Once you get to Japan, you can then exchange the voucher at a midori-no-madoguchi (essentially an office for JR) for the actual pass that will be used for travel within the country. Click here for more info on the process.
My next focus will be on purchasing Yen and packing. I have been keeping tabs on the exchange rates through XE.com, and I’m just trying to get the best deal I can. The rates were really good around the end of last year, but, unfortunately, I hadn’t done any research until January since, you know, Christmas had taken over my every thought. I’m paying for it now, because I don’t really see the rates being as good as they were at that time. What can you do? So, for about the next 2 weeks, I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled to see when my bank hits a pretty decent exchange rate so I can jump on it. I hear that you don’t want to wait too late to to purchase foreign money because it does take some time to process and ship to you since large amounts are not usually carried at the bank branch stores. I had bought ¥1000 for my boyfriend as a little gift for Christmas in anticipation for our trip, and, at that time, I was informed that they only had about ¥8000 (~$80) on hand. So, not very much at all.
In my next post, I’ll be looking to do an update on when/at what rate I ended up doing the currency exchange, as well as a look at how/what we packed. So, be looking to hear from me in the next few weeks. Until then… ✌🏾.