With the plan in place, it was time to put it all into action. It was a bumpy ride to say the least!
Once I had all the finances in place, it was time to look at all the paperwork. Essentially this involved getting the visas for Japan, making all hotel and flight arrangements and any tours, if required.
One of the silly things to get a Japanese visa is to show your entire itinerary with all the bookings made. So just in case our visas got rejected, we’d have to cancel all bookings. Normally I get visas first and then make the bookings, but oh well, catch 22 it is.
So in the interest of just fulfilling technical requirements, I made my flight reservations and hotel bookings for 8 days & nights. The hotel obviously blocked the entire amount on my credit card, but almost all of it was later returned (sans $80 in non-refundable reservation charges). The visas were free, so I’m not too miffed about the extra charges on the cancelled hotel booking. And the flight bookings I kept, because they were the most optimal.
Once our visas were approved, a mere 50 hours before actual flight time, we had to make the real hotel bookings and sign up for some guided tours.
One of the first things I did was to figure out how to stay connected with the rest of the world. Now I didn’t really need a call plan, but having data was essential. My plan wasn’t to keep checking my social networks, but having instant GPS was a necessity. And after a little bit of Googling, I found out about this company called Global Advanced Communications. I got a nano-SIM for my iPhone 5S for a period of 8 days, with pretty decent international calling rates (which I neither used, nor remember) and unlimited data. The latter was particularly useful, especially because I was getting 4G/ LTE speeds everywhere in Japan. Total price was $105. Not bad at all considering how extremely handy the unlimited data came into place (what with GPS navigation, getting instant translations, and finding out good restaurants nearby). The SIM was ready for collection at Narita airport when I arrived, and I had to return it in a prepaid envelope at the Departure terminal.
With communications established, it was time to get there. For this we used Qatar Airways, which meant a slight stopover in Doha. The flight from Doha to Narita, Tokyo, took just under 11 hours. So heading out from Dubai on night of 23rd April, we reached Tokyo on the evening (6pm) of 24th. The cost of the return flight from Dubai to Tokyo was just under $950 per person.
The plan was to stay 2 days in Tokyo, followed by 3 days in Kyoto and then the last 3 days in Tokyo again. Given how much I wanted to go to Japan, and the extra bit of savings I’d made, I said ‘screw it, let’s do it!’ and book a room for 3 nights in Cerulean Tower Tokyu Hotel in Shibuya. Apart from being a 5-star hotel, one of the biggest advantages of Cerulean is that it’s one of the few high-rise hotels with incredible views in that area. And by ‘that area’ I mean the famous Shibuya crossing, as the hotel is only a 2 min walk from the Shibuya station. Cost for 3 nights was $1,285.
Additionally we booked a full day tour for Mount Fuji, from a company called K’s House Mt. Fuji. Cost per person was about $70.
Going to Kyoto, we booked 2 nights in Gionsano Ryokan, a 3 min walk from the famous Yasaka Shrine (at the end of the main Shijo street), or more famous because it’s adjacent to the (in)famous Geisha district. Cost for 2 nights was $320.
For Kyoto we booked a morning tour with The Last Samurai, costing $30 per person which took us on a tour around some of the popular areas in central Kyoto. On the same evening we booked another guided tour which would take us through the Geisha District of Kyoto, costing a mere $10 per person.
Coming back to Tokyo I wanted to stick around Akihabara (I mean, obviously!) and so what better a place than right on top of Akihabara station? For this, Remm Akihabara was used, costing $410 for 3 nights.
The rest of the money was spent on food, and shopping, and everyone’s mileage will severely vary so I’m going to leave those costs out.
Oh, and one more thing to buy. Japan Rail Pass, which allowed us to use all Japan Rail owned stations (almost 75% coverage), including Shinkansen (bullet trains), normal trains, as well as all metro trains (literally all of Tokyo underground). One 7-day JR Pass costs about $280 and is ONLY available outside of Japan to non-citizens. This was a no-brainer because just a return bullet train journey from Tokyo to Kyoto costs about $260.
So that’s all as far as the major costs are concerned. A lot of people can find cheaper flights with long stopovers, and obviously not stay at 5-star hotels and save a lot of money there as well. And if you’re planning to just stay in one city, you can skip on the JR pass as well. For instance a 2-day all-access Tokyo Metro pass costs $30 per person.
With the costs out of the way, my next 3 posts will focus on the stay and activities (including the guided tours) for each of the three parts of our stay in Japan, i.e. Tokyo, Kyoto and then Tokyo again.
See you soon deculture!