The Dream Day Guide to Japan Travel (part two): Things to do before you go.
So you've bought your ticket to Tokyo and you're counting down the days. It's excruciating, right? We once bought our tickets SIX MONTHS in advance (it was a hot deal) and it felt like 6 million years. Don't worry, there are things you can do to get ready for your trip. And they are actually pretty important!
GET YERSELF A WIFI DEVICE
Renting a wifi device sounds scary and expensive (like renting a car), but after you've done it for one trip, you'll do it every time you leave the country. It's so much cheaper than getting an international plan on your phone. Even better, you can also use it with your computer, iPad, etc. Real talk: you're going to need internet access. And probably lots of it. There will be a million things to post on Instagram, non-stop google maps searches, and moments when you just want to see some Netflix because you're exhausted and your feet hurt.
- There are many companies that offer wifi device rentals (along with iPhones, iPads, you name it) in Japan. I have used this one several times, but you should be fine with any company. Just check for reviews first!
- Reserve your device at least a couple of weeks before your trip. During busy seasons (spring/early summer) there is a chance that all available devices will be booked. Furthermore, the rental company will be shipping your order to the airport or your hotel, so they need a few days to get it packed up and mailed out.
- You should expect to pay about $6-7/day to rent the mid-range device. This will be fine for 1-2 people to use pretty heavily every day. I always connect to hotel wifi whenever I can, especially for battling jet lag via boring movies. However, I rely on the device pretty heavily any time I'm out and about or bored on the shinkansen. I also recommend renting an extra battery (about $10 for a week) because there's nothing more panic-inducing than no wifi (and no idea how to get back to the hotel).
- You will pick up your wifi device when you land at the airport. This is the easiest option, whether you fly into Narita or Haneda. You will receive email instructions telling you where to pick it up. Most companies also offer hotel delivery, but that tends to cost extra. And anyway, odds are high that you will want to use it immediately so you can post "I just arrived in Tokyo" selfies. You will need your passport for pick up.
- Returning it is SO EASY. Your initial package will include a self-addressed and postage-paid envelope. Before you go through airport security for your return flight, power down the device, pack it in to the envelope, and drop it into a red mailbox (there is usually one directly outside the security entrance at both airports).
NEXT, THINK ABOUT THE JAPAN RAIL PASS...
There are approximately 23 zillion articles on the internet debating the merits of the Japan Rail Pass. Is it worth it or not? The answer is pretty simple. Ask yourself this question: Am I planning to stay in Tokyo for the entirety of my trip?
If your answer is yes, don't buy a Japan Rail Pass. It just won't be worth it. Yes, there are JR trains all over Tokyo, but in general, the Metro/subway trains (which do not accept the Japan Rail Pass) are faster and cheaper. I will tell you more about my undying love for the Tokyo Metro in a future post. The Japan Rail pass WILL cover your trip to/from the airport. But at most, that would cost about $50/person round trip (if you're flying in/out of Narita). For context. the Japan Rail Pass costs $261/person for a seven day pass.
If your answer is no, OMG buy a Japan Rail Pass. You probably won't use it very often in Tokyo (see paragraph above) but you will use it to take the shinkansen (bullet train) from city to city. It's super fast and that speed isn't cheap. In addition to plain old JR trains, the pass also covers rides on the Hikari, Sakura, Kodama, and Tsubame shinkansen. It does NOT cover the Nozomi and MIzuho. Still, you will be able to get just about anywhere in an efficient manner. A Hikari trip to Osaka costs more than $300 round trip, so the Japan Rail Pass is a pretty hot deal! You can also buy it for 14 or 21 days.
So how does it all work?
- Once again, order your pass a few weeks before your trip. No matter which service you use, your voucher will be sent to your home address. You will swap this voucher for the actual pass when you get to Japan. So give yourself some time or you will have to pay for expedited shipping. YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO PICK UP YOUR PASS IN JAPAN IF YOU FORGET THE VOUCHER. I cannot emphasize this enough. That's why it's in all caps!!! My suggestion? Immediately put the envelope in your suitcase on the day you receive it. Then it will definitely end up accompanying you on your trip.
- There are several services that sell the Japan Rail Pass, but some of them charge more than others. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a lot of regulation around pricing. I recommend this company which seems to have the smallest surcharge.
- Like the wifi device, you can pick up your pass at the airport. You will go to the JR office in the airport to exchange your voucher for the actual pass. This is a good idea if you want to use it to cover your train trip from the airport. But what if you bought a 7 day pass and you're in Japan for 10 days? Ahh, the classic quandary! By the time you land, you will know when and where you plan to travel within Japan. Maybe it's in the middle of your trip. In that case, I would recommend picking it up while you're at the airport. Just know that you will have to pay for your trip back to the airport. If all of your travel is at the end of your trip, you can pick it up at the airport JR office and date it to start a few days later. This is a good option if there isn't a long line. You can also grab it at JR offices all over the city (including Tokyo Station). However, be prepared to pay for your train from the airport. No matter which option you choose, you will need your passport (and the voucher) to pick up the pass. Also, beware: on Fridays/Saturdays during peak season, the line at the JR office in the the airport can be excruciatingly long, especially when you're feeling tired and gross from the flight.
- In a future post, I will explain more about how to use the pass/reserve shinkansen tickets.
AND THERE'S MORE...
- If you need a special meal on your flight (vegetarian, gluten free, vegan, kosher, etc), request it sooner than later through your airline. If you bought your ticket through a third party service like Orbitz or Expedia, you will still go directly through the airline.
- Have the best flight you can have by ordering a good travel pillow, compression socks, and something to mitigate the jet lag. I swear by all of these!
- I recommend bringing an extra bag that stuffs into your suitcase (like a duffle) for all of the awesome souvenirs you're going to pick up from 1OO yen stores. Also, you're going to need a change purse for all of the yen coins you'll be using.
- Lastly, if you're a clotheshorse like me and you're going to require tons of awesome outfits for your trip, invest in some compression bags like these. You will be able to cram so many more hot looks into your suitcase!