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Japan: Blog Post Compilation and Travel Notes

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Japan Japan
Since I am now done blogging about my Japan trip, I’ve decided to compile all the post links in a list (mainly for the sake of having a neater archive) with some Japan travel notes too.

Blog post list:

Tokyo DisneySea

  1. Looking around DisneySea
  2. “Easter in New York” show
  3. Wandering around DisneySea in between shows
  4. The Legend of Mythica
  5. “A Table is Waiting” stage show and “Fantasmic”

Tokyo Disneyland

  1. Just here and there
  2. Toontown
  3. People-watching in Disneyland
  4. Jubilation! Parade
  5. “One Man’s Dream” stage show
  6. Easter Wonderland Parade
  7. The Electrical Parade

~~~~~

Stuff You Might Need to Know for Travel in Japan

Well, I certainly needed to know all of this. So it might be useful for others? ^_^

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How does one find out train times and fares?
Hyperdia.com – A pretty good website for looking up train times, routes and fares (given in Yen). And it’s in English. *thumbs up*
(If you’ve seen London’s train map and if you think that’s pretty confusing… try looking at Tokyo’s. It’s madness.)

You might also want to avoid peak hours in Tokyo, unless you wish to experience being squashed like a sardine, or worse. According to my Japanese friend, that means especially avoiding trains from 7-9am, and then from 5-7pm. The evening rush isn’t as bad, though.

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The JR (Japan Rail) Pass. What is it?
It’s a pass that allows you to hop on and off any regular JR train within the dates specified. This covers a good number of trains within Tokyo, and includes the Kodama and Hikari-class shinkansen (bullet trains). The fastest, the Nozomi-class (which make the least stops), are not covered by the JR Pass.

It’s also usable on JR lines outside of Tokyo. If there are no JR lines, it’s not usable. For instance, most of the trains in Kyoto aren’t JR trains so the JR Pass wouldn’t be very usable in Kyoto itself. The JR Pass also allows you to make seat reservations on the  Kodama- or Hikari-class shinkansen for no extra cost. If you choose not to make reservations in advance, you can still hop on any of the shinkansen – just don’t get into the reserved cars.

>> Kodama? Hikari? Nozomi? What?
There are three classes of shinkansen. The Nozomi, as mentioned above, is the fastest and makes the least stops. The Kodama is the slowest because stops at just about every station (which is why it’s slow). You want to avoid taking the Kodama, unless the place you’re heading to is only served by Kodama-class trains. The Hikari is the middle ground, and depending on where you’re going, there isn’t a huge difference between the Hikari and Nozomi travel times.

E.g. Tokyo-Kyoto travel time by the Nozomi is about 2 hours 15 minutes. Tokyo-Kyoto by Hikari is roughly 2 hours 45 minutes.

So if there’s no rush and if you’re using the JR Pass, really, I think the Hikari is fine. No need to get a separate ticket for the Nozomi.

Japan Guide gives a good overview of the shinkansen.

>> Is the JR Pass necessary?
It depends. If you’re not planning to use the shinkansen a great deal, it’s probably not necessary. You’ll have to roughly calculate your travelling costs to determine if you want to get one or not. If you’re going to be mostly in the city, then normal day passes would suffice, or you could get a Suica or PASMO card (Japan’s versions of the Oyster cards in London), which are also usable at some convenience stores, if my memory serves me right.

E.g. My 7-day JR Pass cost me RM1105. I estimated that a return trip on the shinkansen from Tokyo-Kyoto would come to RM1038 (with seat reservations). I also planned to make a day trip out from Kyoto to a place called Hikone and that would require using a JR train, which would total about RM100 (return). So in total, I would spend RM1138 without the Pass. Not a huge difference. But taking into account that I could still use the Pass within Tokyo, and that it covered the Narita Express (a one-way ticket on the NEX is about RM100+), well, I figured I’d save a fair bit.

>> So if you don’t use the JR Pass in Kyoto, what do you use?
I believe you can use the Suica or PASMO card on trains in Kyoto. But in Kyoto, it’s far easier to use the bus.

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Using the bus in Kyoto
First thing to note: in Kyoto, you board the bus from the second door, and exit from the front door. You pay the bus driver when you get off the bus.

Getting the Kyoto City Bus One-day Pass is a very good idea if you plan to take the bus more than twice in a day. Each bus ride (within the city itself) costs a standard JPY220. A day pass costs JPY500 (for now, at least). If you plan to go somewhere outside the city, like Arashiyama, then you just have to pay the difference. (I never had to do this as I was basically within the boundaries of Kyoto city itself except for the day I went to Hikone, and in that case I took the train so paying a difference in bus fare wasn’t an issue.)

>> How does one get the day pass? And how does it work?
You can buy the day pass from the bus drivers, or from the tourist information centre at Kyoto Station. Individual hostels or hotels might have them too. When I arrived in Kyoto I bought my day pass at the tourist info centre at the station, and on subsequent days bought the passes from the hostel where I stayed (Khaosan Kyoto Guest House).

This is how it works:
1. Acquire day pass.
2. Board your first bus of the day.
3. When you get off, put the pass through the machine that’s next to the bus driver.
4. The date will be printed on the back of the pass.
5. After that, for any other bus rides you take in the same day, you only need show the pass and the date to the bus drivers. (And pay the difference, if necessary.)

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Internet.
Or in other words: I need my internet. How can I stay connected without having to pay exorbitant data roaming fees? :P
Mobile wifi rental. I LOVE THIS. Try renting from Global Advanced Communications. I paid RM345 for all 10 days, including rental of an extra battery. Coverage was pretty darn good and stable (except when you go underground/through tunnels in trains or when you’re in places like Hikone). Speed was also good. The battery life was fair, about 6 hours with heavy usage (e.g. when I was chatting with people on Whatsapp. haha); I found the extra battery very useful to have.
It does heat up a bit after long usage, though. And when I picked mine up at Narita Airport, I discovered that it wasn’t pre-charged so I couldn’t use it immediately. And as I didn’t immediately go to my friend’s place (we went straight to Shibuya), I had no opportunity to charge it until evening. That kinda sucked.
But otherwise, I don’t regret it at all. It was just very convenient to have, especially when I was wandering around on my own.
I had mine sent to Narita Airport’s Terminal 2 so I could pick it up immediately but you can arrange for it to be sent to any of the other airports or to your hotel. Just pop it all back into the envelope and chuck it in a mailbox before you leave Japan. :Db


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