Since the beginning of our relationship, my boyfriend Kelvin and I have always wanted to travel together. We never stopped talking about it and fantasizing about it, we kept waiting for the right moment. Finally, our wish came true and come the 16th of December 2016, we will be on a plane to Tokyo, Japan for 11 days of exciting travels!
Travelling sure is fun and interesting, but it would not have been possible without planning for the trip. Planning for an overseas holiday is definitely the most challenging and frustrating part about the trip, and even more so when it was my first time planning the whole trip without any guidance from my parents- it was just Kelvin and I. A plus point was that Kelvin already been to Tokyo once for a short trip, so he kinda had an idea of what it would be like over there, hence it would be less foreign for him than me. However, I believe that with careful, detailed planning, it won’t be as scary as I think.
In planning for my trip, I did a massive load of research. I read guide books, looked at websites for reviews and guides, read several blogs, and even watched travel videos on YouTube.
In this post, I would like to share a little of how I planned for my trip to Tokyo, for the record. Planning a trip is hard and many people do not know where to begin. So, if anyone of you are thinking of going to Tokyo free and easy, and have never been to Japan. Perhaps this could be a rough guide on how to plan a trip over there from scratch.
1. Understanding the geography of Tokyo.
Basically, if we want to plan a trip, a bulk of it is planning where to go right? And in order to do so, we need to know how the place is divided, and we can do so by locating the main places of interest. Hong Kong is divided into Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and New Territories, and within each of these areas they are further subdivided into different areas. From a tourist’s perspective, we can differentiate them based on what places of interests there are in each area. Tokyo is similar whereby it is divided into smaller areas with each area having unique characteristics. The biggest hint is through picking out the major train stations and lines.
A good starting point is the JR Yamanote Line, which is this line that goes in a loop and stops along major tourist sites- which includes areas like Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku, Ueno and Tokyo. Many of the tourist sites we research end up along this line. As we start to research more about the places of interests, we can branch out from there and add more areas to our travel map as we become more familiar.
Why understanding the geography is so important? Not only does it give us an idea of where the places we want to go are, but also makes planning easier. I like to group places that are near each other together, so I could plan where to go for each day better.
Another benefit of planning by area is that we are now able to go into detail and look for other places that may interest us in that particular area, instead of those commonly found in guide books and websites. For example, if you wanted to go to Sensoji temple, which is in Asakusa, then it may interest you to find more places around that area. After all we are going free and easy, we might as well explore as much as we can.
There are many ways of dividing each area, depending on the target places you want to visit. For me, this is how I did it:
Harajuku, Omotesando, Aoyama
Shibuya, Daikanyama, Nakameguro, Ebisu
Tokyo station, Tokyo Tower, Roppongi
Tokyo Disney Resort (Maihama)
By looking at this y’all can probably guess how my trip is going to go already (this is not in choronological order of course)! If you would like to explore further into the suburbs, then obviously your layout will be different from mine 🙂 and as you research more about interesting places to go, your layout may also change accordingly.
After looking through the exciting part on places to go, the next question we probably have in our mind is- where can we stay?
For me, the priority would be to decide the type of accommodation. In Japan, there are many types- Hotels (budget, branded, love hotels, capsule hotels), hostels, ryokans (though not very common in Tokyo), and more recently, couchsurfing and Airbnb. Wherever you choose to stay in should not only fit your budget, but also your needs. One thing to note though, is that Tokyo is known for their small hotel rooms. Although small, they’re clean and decent, and mostly affordable. Also, according to my research, Airbnb is relatively unheard of among the locals, and they absolutely cannot tolerate rowdy neighbours. Again, it depends on your budget and needs.
Another thing to consider is the location of which you’re staying in. I would recommend staying in Shinjuku, as not only are there several affordable hotels, the accessibility to other places around Tokyo is good too, since Shinjuku station is a major transport hub with several major train lines stopping there.
Majority of our hotel booking was done through Expedia, as POSB/DBS credit and debit card holders get to enjoy 10% off total bill!
3. Transport in and around Tokyo.
Won’t explain too much about it, but the best and most common way to travel around Tokyo is with the trains. Their railway network system is one of the most complicated in the world, but you’ll be fine after you get the hang of it. Since we will be in Tokyo for almost the entire trip, I found that a convenient way to pay for train tickets is by purchasing a Suica/Pasmo card. You purchase the card with a value inside, tap the card at the gantries and then go. It’s similar to the Ez-link card in Singapore. Although the train fare with the Suica/Pasmo isn’t cheaper than individual tickets, it definitely saves up the hassle of having to buy tickets at every train station.
4. Airport to hotel/city transfer
Limousine Bus, which is basically a coach that takes us to one of the many locations they have to and fro both airports. As our hotel was one of their pickup/dropoff points, why not give it a go right. It may be slightly more expensive than the train, but after a long flight it’s good to have a comfortable ride into the city. We bought our Limo bus vouchers (FIT Coupon) from JTB in Singapore, where we can exchange them for the actual tickets in Japan.Again, there are several ways to central Tokyo from either Haneda or Narita Airports, depending on your budget and needs. From Narita Airport, taking the NEX, or Narita Express, is very common. As Kelvin and I wanted convenience and comfort, we decided to purchase tickets for the
5. Flights to Tokyo.
Again, depends on your budget and needs. In our case, we wanted a direct flight so we were deciding between JAL and ANA. We were also considering if we should take Cathay Pacific since Kelvin could earn mileage points being a frequent flyer, but we were put off by the long layovers in Hong Kong (and I find HK airport really boring). For our flights, it was purchased as a package with JTB, which included return flights with ANA. Flights and hotel definitely took the biggest proportion of our expenditure.
With that, we have a general idea of the important things we need to plan for. For me, it is just the beginning. The most frustrating part comes is when we have to start planning everything in detail, from choosing which flights to take down to planning what to do from day one to day 11. And of course, another big part of the planning is packing for the trip.
Stay tuned for Part 2 on what I planned to pack to Japan!