I started planning in June, a month back from the trip. The original plan was to go in the Sakura season (Cherry blossom) in Japan which is usually observe in April in Tokyo. There were a few reasons that I had to shift the plan to August - a season known for heat and typhoons.
I started gathering basic information such as weather, what are the things I’m interested in, visa documents, things I will need in Japan, etc. I created a folder in Google Drive and started adding information there. Google Drive can be handy as all the documents can be saved offline and useful.
I couldn’t download the offline map of Japan due to some language support in Google Maps. Though I had downloaded the different app for offline navigation.
I thought I would self apply for the visa but realized that as this is the first time and I shouldn't take any chance. I chose Thomas Cook for my visa service provider as my colleague recommended and had a good experience. I gathered all the document and submitted to Thomas Cook. Thomas Cook asks more documents than what a consulate or Japanese embassy requires.
After a week when I visited Thomas Cook's office with all energy and happiness, they said your visa got rejected and they didn’t provide a reason. When I talked earlier to Thomas Cook they said there is a rare chance that a tourist visa get rejected. My case became rare.
They said they can’t do anything and you have to contact the consulate directly. I contacted the consulate and they didn’t provide me the reason but said I can walk in and talk there.
The next day I went there and I put my case to the consulate staff (Indian staff working in Consulate General of Japan, Bengaluru) they said you can re-apply next day.
I went with all the documents next day (asked them prior if they need an original copy of my leaving letter from company and stamps on bank statements as these both things are time-consuming, they said a print is sufficient). I went the next day and submitted my documents. They gave me a date (7 days from the day of submission).
The day arrived when I need to go and collect my visa. I was hopeless and frustrated. I enquired about my visa and she said "Yes" (I meant approved). I was extremely happy and excited to resume my planning which I decided to halt until I get news on my visa status.
Things to consider -
- You should have a 6 months bank statement till the day before you submit your visa application. Your bank statement should fit into the A4 page. I took the wrong print and the closing balance column was cut.
- They won’t consider your rent agreement as address proof. Luckily, I had a Bengaluru driving license that time.
The Japanese consulate in Bangalore is extremely helpful. Directly walk-in with the documents and get a visa in the next 7 days from the same office.
I wanted do few experiments with this trip. As a frugal traveler visiting an expensive country, I thought I should give a shot for Couchsurfing. I started reviewing and updating my CS profile.
I kept my cap to 3 people in a city as I have to write 1-2 personalized paragraphs. You should have a basic but modifiable template where you can insert personalized content. In all the 3 cities, I got the host.
I started canceling my hostel bookings. I finally lived in Tokyo with a Taiwanese family. One host canceled on me because he thought I’m asking too many questions. As a first time travel, I didn’t have any idea how this works and it was better to ask questions than facing an unwanted situation.
The other host and my timing didn’t match and I missed the opportunity to live with him. I was in touch with them regularly so that there is no information gap between us. The messages were not always about my travel plans but a regular small talk that doesn’t harm anyone.
Things to consider -
- Do read the profile and send a personalized request to each travel
- Keep your request to 3 in a city
- Talk to them in advance about your schedule and timings
- Try to live with a family, it will give you a sense of how locals spend their day
- Bring a gift to your host
I planned to buy a diary from Japan and write about my experience in it. I didn’t know that Japanese love to organize stuff and they have big stationery shops. I went to one and couldn’t find any fancy diary where there is a colorful cover page. I settled with one plain and simple travel diary.
There was no strict rule to write every day. I used to write in chunks especially when I’m sipping coffee in Doutor cafe. I knew I can’t write before I go and hug my bed. It is always better to write when the memories are fresh.
I have written about my daily plans, my observations and thoughts of culture. I got bored with writing on the 9th day and those two days are missing from my diary. There are two benefits of writing about your trip in a diary or documenting on a digital device. Though I will suggest writing in a physical diary.
- You have written your experience and now you can come back and read them. You can again go to that destination in your mind.
- When you write you go in solidarity zone and observe and compare the things and culture. You discover more about your identity.
I booked all my hostels through Booking.com and all of them have a cancellation policy without paying a single rupee. Though you have to put a credit card on file. I set a safe reminder dates in the phone calendar for all the hostel cancellation.
I canceled one booking in India and decided to cancel the rest in Japan. When Derma and I left from Shinjuku to her home, I realized that it is too much distance and need to deal with transfer too (changing trains called transfer in Japan). Now, It was dilemma between living in an outer area in a Japanese flat or hostel in the center of Tokyo. I thought and decided that I will live there, initially I thought I will leave her flat the next day. I knew that in cities like Tokyo, you can easily get a hostel that’s why I was confident to move to the city without thinking about accommodation.
Living in Derma’s house was one of the highlights of my journey in Japan. If you choose a hostel then go for breakfast option too. I find it convenient as a solo vegetarian traveler. Most of the hotel has shampoo and body gel too. It is better to pack shampoo and body gel in limited quantities.
I took around 66,000 INR with me. It was 20,000 INR cash and rest in a Forex card. It was a breeze to withdraw money from 7-Eleven ATMs in Japan. One thing that is weird for me in Japan is about ATMs. They are not open late at night or on weekends or public holidays. On the other hand, in India, you will see most of the AMTs are 24/7 at your service. Luckily, I checked the calendar and there was no such holiday.
Whenever you withdraw money from Forex card they charge you a fee so it is advisable to withdraw money in big chunks so that you don’t end up paying more in fees.
It is a big no to use your credit card as you will end up paying conversion fee every time and it might not be worth.
Things to consider -
- Check how is the ATMs' availability in visiting the country. You might end up in a situation where you don’t have any source to withdraw money for that day.
- Always withdraw money from your forex card in big chunks. Get another copy for the card in case one gets lost.
- Always check your balance in the email sent by the bank rather than going to the ATM and checking. Even balance inquiry costs.
- In case you need to reload more money in the forex, always carry printed copies of Reload form (available online from issuing bank). It is mandated from RBI when you want to reload it again.
Entry travel shopping
Entry travel shopping includes what are the necessary things you have to buy before you leave your home country. I don't know whether this is an actual term or I coined it.
As Japan is an expensive country and I’m frugal travel, I needed to balance my expenses smartly. In the beginning I thought I will buy a water bottle but then realize that I already have one and it’s in good condition to carry. I thought I will buy a rucksack but then dropped the plan as I want to buy a solid rucksack and it will cost me a hell lot of money. It is not worth adding this to my first expensive travel.
Though I bought a dry towel from Decathlon which is one of the best investments you will do for travel. You can buy vacuum bags to keep your toiletries and rubber band to keep things tidy.
I didn’t have a power bank and it would become a necessity there so I bought Mi Powerbank. Amazon has a detailed guide on which power bank to buy and I ended up purchasing 10000 mAH.
I knew that people will have a few things that they bought for their internation trip and there is no harm to borrow from them. I asked my colleague to lend me a converter which can be used in Japan to charge my Indian devices. I purchased one passport holder which is a travel document organizer and it was the best thing to buy for the long run.
It seems like I saved good amount by either dropping purchase, lending and seeking alternative or using existing stuff.
Things to consider -
- Always try to borrow things that you will use one in a blue moon.
- See if you already have an alternative.
- See if you can work with the existing things or can you buy when you travel next to a low-cost destination.
Apps to download
I had downloaded 4 apps in total for my travel to Japan travel. Two were Japanese and provide you an update on transport and usual touristy information. One was Navitime and another one was JNTO.
From rest of the two, one was for offline Japanese map and the last one was iTranslator. Google Maps for Japan was unavailable that’s why I needed to download a separate app. I subscribed iTranslator app but then realized I can live without it too. The subscription was for instant communication in dual language but Google Lens and Google Translator was enough to survive in Japan.
It is necessary to do some basic research on what’s the economical transport mode, how is the transport facilities, what’s the phone call and data rates etc. to make your trip more comfortable and economical.
- Few things I did for Japan -
IC CardThe rechargeable card that can be used in all public transport (bus, metro, trains ), some shopping outlets, vending machines, etc. This made my journey super smooth in Japan. You can recharge them from metro stations and get them from the metro station.
Calling and data cardI found that Jio in India has good plans for calling and I decided to buy only data card in Japan. Seems like India is the only country where Internet is extremely cheap. So cheap that many times cellular network provide free data. At the time of writing, Vodafone is giving me 1 GB free everyday at zero cost.
I bought a Japanese data card (SoftBank). It was 3 GB data for 30 days and costed me around ¥5,500. Though you will find wifi most of the places and you won’t require your data much.
TaxIn my research, I came to know that you can rebate 8% consumer tax when you purchase consumers and good worth of ¥5,400 from the same shop in a single day.
Metro transportThe black taxis in Japan are super costly. The metro connectivity in Japan is extremely good and cheap. I heavily used metro services. So much that I did take only one bus for my local transport. You can buy a single or multiple day metro passes. It is way cheaper than using an IC card. I usually opted for a single day and sometimes multiple days pass.Fun fact - never boarded a wrong metro in my 11 days journey.
Things you might need
Though needs are an individual choice but there are few that I want to advise you. These things apply to all your domestic and international travel. Again please do your research and make an informed decision.
Power Adapter and ConverterMany countries have their electricity standards and chances are that you need to buy a power converter that can charge your all electronic devices in a foreign country. You can buy a universal charger or borrow it from a friend.
SIM card insertion toolNowadays you see SIM card has an external slot and requires a sharp and thin tool to take the SIM card out from the slot. It seems like a small thing but why do you want to waste your time on figuring out how to take the SIM out.
ShortsDo carry two pairs of shorts to wear at night or when you want to take morning walks.
Flip flopThe flip flop is a must to pack. You can wear it when you want to take morning walks or stroll around the nearby area.
PenIt comes handy when you want to fill custom declaration form or want to leave a note to your host. Of Course, this website would have less content if I didn’t bring my pen with me.
Rubber bandSometimes you need to tie things and you don’t have anything. It is always handy to carry a packet of a rubber band. Though I didn’t require in Japan I bet it comes in handy many situations.