MY STORY :
On Feb 19th 2017, I met my friend Priyanka and her sister for lunch and that’s when she told me that she was going to Japan for work. She had been to Tokyo multiple times but this time Okinawa islands was in her “Must Do” list (of course after the end of her business trip 😊)
And from the moment I left the restaurant, all I could think of was doing tourist-y things in Japan. So, I decided on Feb 22nd (the following Wednesday) that I should go to Japan and put on my planning hat. I knew my friend wouldn’t keep me company everywhere as she had already seen most of Japan. So, I knew that if I have to visit Kyoto, Mt Fuji, Hakone, Odawara etc. I would have to do it alone. I made a rough itinerary, booked tickets for 28th Feb, gathered all my documents to go to the Embassy and applied for visa the next day.
VISA : Japan visa takes 4 working days if all your documents are in place.
Basic Documents needed for Visa: ( From INDIA to JAPAN )
- Passport ( minimum 6 months validity and enough pages )
- Photos ( you can go to any studio nearby for this , you will get it in 15 minutes )
- Bank statements ( you can just take a print online of the statements that your bank sends you every month )
- Pay slips & 3 years IT returns
- Flight Tickets and Accommodation Details
- NOC from you husband/father (I know, what the hell! But this is because they need the right reasons for Solo travel)
- Company Leave Letter
TRIVIA : Visa Fees is around 450 INR but this fees can be exempted if you show Okinawa in your itinerary and submit confirmed travel and accommodation details. I couldn’t do that as we planned for Okinawa after I applied for visa and I was running out of time.
FLIGHT: I got my visa on 28th Feb afternoon and the same evening I flew to Tokyo! The layover time for the connecting flight was just 50 minutes which I could just manage to get on time – Thanks to the airport staff who take you to the terminal gate themselves.
WEATHER: When is the best time to visit Japan?
Definitely Spring. March to May which has lovely cherry blossoms everywhere. You can see extreme temperatures during early March – I could experience snow fall as well as the warm weather on the islands of Okinawa. And in the month of May/June, tourists from across the globe gather to see the Cherry Blossom.
GETTING AROUND TOKYO :
- From the airport to your accommodation : there are couple of options – you can approach the counters for help.
- You can take the airport limousine bus – buy a ticket and let them know which hotel / where you would like to go. The airport limousine bus goes to the major hotels in the city. This will cost you around 3000 yen. Please do show them your passport to avail discounts if any.
- You can take the trains – ‘access bullet express’ train to the nearest station to your accommodation or you can take the ‘Narita express’ to Tokyo Central Station. This may cost you somewhere between 1500 to 2000 yen. From Tokyo Station, you can take the metro to your accomodation or if it is close by – you can take the taxi as well. Availability of trains depends on what time you arrive. If you have a JR pass, you can exchange it at the airport and use it for your travel from the airport.
- Avoid Taxis in Tokyo as they are very expensive.
- To get around Tokyo and visit the attractions in the city, buy a prepaid IC card ( initial deposit of 500 yen which will be re-imbursed once you return the card ) and keep re-charging the IC card ( Pasmo Or Suica ) for your travels in metro.
DO NOT forget to pick up the metro map from the airport or any train stations. If you cannot find one, you can approach the manned ticket counters.
- To go to places like Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima or Odawara – I recommend you pick up the JR pass. Please see the below link for all the details https://www.jrpass.com
NOTE: Please note that JR pass should be bought at least 6-7 days prior to your travel so that you can have the JR pass in hand before your flight to Tokyo and exchange it to the actual pass/ticket at the airport and start using it. JR pass can also be used for your travel from Haneda/Narita airports to your accommodation.
Unfortunately, as I did not have much time – I got the JR pass delivered to my accommodation and then got it exchanged at one of the stations. Please do not forget to exchange the JR pass that you would have received via post to JR tickets in one of the locations mentioned in the link below else your pass will not be valid. All information on where to exchange the JR pass to JR tickets is in the website http://www.japanrailpass.net/en/exchange.html . Do Check the exchange office timings !
Hyperdia.com is the go to website if you want to see train timings and connecting trains. This really helped me catch my train to Kyoto from Tokyo. ( I had to change three trains in the morning 4:30 AM so that I could catch the train to Kyoto at 6:00 AM )
Most of the train stations have free Wi-Fi; that helps! Else you can purchase a SIM at the airport that offers a data plan. Or even buy a pocket wifi if you have the budget for it.
There are couple of options that you can opt for : ( Check the map – it will be easier to interpret my suggestions below )
- Fly into Tokyo. From Tokyo, you can take a one day tour to Mt. Fuji and Hakone, From Tokyo , you can visit other places like Osaka, Kyoto and so on. But it all depends on how many days you want to stay in each of the city. You can also add Okinawa islands to your itinerary if and only if you have time else you can skip it. In my personal opinion, spend as many days in Tokyo, spend atleast two days in Kyoto and a take a day tour to Mt Fuji and Hakone. These are surely MUST DO’s if you are visiting Japan. And if have more time, you can add Hiroshima, Osaka and Hakuba. Some more options are Nikko, Kamakura, Disneyland, DisneyWorld or DisneySea ( These are all day tours from Tokyo ). The only thing you need to look out for is that if you have both Osaka and Kyoto in your itinerary – then stay in Osaka because Osaka and Kyoto are close by. Distance from Tokyo to Kyoto is two hours in a bullet train where as Osaka to Kyoto is less than thirty minutes in a bullet train.
- Fly into Osaka. Stay in Osaka and visit Kyoto from Osaka ( you can opt to stay in Kyoto for two days or even do two day trips to Kyoto from Osaka as it is close by. You can also visit Hiroshima from Osaka as it is close by to Osaka than compared to Tokyo. After you are done with exploring Osaka, Kyoto & Hiroshima or any other city close by to Osaka , then you can take a bullet train to Tokyo and spend your days in Tokyo.
- And of course during Cherry Blossom ( commonly known in Japan as sakura ) , you may just want to spend your time in the parks or just take a stroll in the city. The most famous parks for Sakura are Yoyogi Park, Ueno Park ( will be extremely crowded ) , Shinjuky Gyoen and so on. You can surely google for more info on this.
Kindly note that – for your travels from Tokyo to Osaka/Kyoto OR Osaka to Tokyo/Kyoto/Hiroshima, JR pass is valid.