Sometimes guidebooks aren’t really helpful — especially for J-pop fans on their first trip to Tokyo. Sure, your guidebook might have every single bar, club, and pub listed in its pages — but if that’s not what you need, who do you ask? Well, thank God for the internet! On to Part 1 of Planning A Trip to Japan: A Guide for Filipino J-pop Fans.
Secure a Visa.
The biggest hurdle in flying off to Tokyo for a holiday is securing a visa. There is only one way of acquiring a tourist visa and that is by applying with an accredited travel agent. The three biggest ones are Universal Holidays, Rajah Tours, and Reli Tours; all three offer a wide range of visa processing services including tourist, business, and SOFA visas.
Before you lodge your application, it is important that you secure all your government documents and financial certificates beforehand. Failure to provide all the documents listed in the application checklist will jeopardise your chances of getting a visa. For more details, here are two previous posts on visa applications: Tips on Obtaining a Japan Tourist Visa and Getting a Japan Tourist Visa: An FAQ for Filipinos.
Settle transport arrangements.
The cheapest way to fly into Japan is via Kansai International Airport in Osaka, as Cebu Pacific operates flights from there to Manila. From Osaka you can simply board the Midnight Bus which leaves Osaka Station at midnight and arrives in Tokyo Station at 6:00 AM the next morning. This is slower but cheaper than going via Shinkansen — the Shinkansen will take you from Osaka to Tokyo in just under two hours, but will cost you JPY 13000 compared to the Midnight Bus’ JPY 6000.
If you want to head straight to Tokyo, you can book flights via Philippine Airlines, Japan Airlines,and Delta Airlines. Delta flights are usually the cheapest because many of them are actually connecting flights to the US, so when they dump you in Tokyo they can pick up another passenger headed for LA, Chicago or New York. PAL is a wee bit more expensive for similar flights on Delta, so only fly with them if you have no other choice. If you can afford to splurge, fly with JAL — nicer food, better planes, and excellent service.
Make arrangements for your accommodations.
Surf online to find good deals for hotel rooms. Try to find one in or close to the neighborhood you’re going to be spending a lot of time in — for example, Akihabara, Shibuya, Shinjuku, etc. Most midpriced hotels in Tokyo are in the same price range anyway whatever ward they are located in, so just try to save on money from transport instead.
Major hotels accept credit cards but all others prefer cash (actually, most of Japan prefers cash — credit cards are mainly for online transactions). Some hotels, hostels, and inns will require you to send them a scan of your visa before processing your reservation; this is to make sure that your trip to Japan will more or less push through and they do not lose business saving a room for you when it could’ve gone to somebody else.
Familiarize yourself with the transportation network and create a detailed itinerary.
Maximize your time in the city by studying transport maps and grouping your destinations together. If you are off to Nakano Broadway to score second-hand toys, you can also drop by the Square Enix Showcase in Shinjuku, or the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka — both museums are just a few stops away on the same train line. If you minimize the amount of crisscrossing you have to do, you not only save money but also precious, precious time in the city.
Do not limit yourself to JR East lines — there are plenty of smaller private lines like Seibu, Keio, or Odakyu that can take you to certain places closer and easier than larger JR stations. Also keep your eyes out for alternative transportation. For example, if you are off to Asakusa to visit Kaminarimon, you can take the Tokyo Bay ferry from there to Odaiba — it’s not just a way to get around, it’s also rather fun.
Secure all event tickets beforehand.
Are you in Tokyo to catch WonFest, Comiket, or an Arashi concert? If so, you need to secure admission before you head for the venue. There are two ways of securing tickets to special events: online, and through friends who reside in Tokyo. For online transactions, it’s as simple as surfing over to a website with your credit card in hand. But for everything else, it can get a little tricky.
If you are asking a friend a favor, make it as painless as possible for them. Do some research online: when and where the event is being held, which ticket service is handling the pre-selling (Pia, Loppi, etc.), and how much it will cost total after taxes and surcharges. You can then reimburse your pals via Paypal or in cash when you meet up in Tokyo.
If you are really desperate and have money to burn, you can always head on over to Shibuya Centergai and have a look at the dafuya or scalper booths. They usually have physical tickets on display for special events all over Tokyo, and you can purchase them at a premium price. Good seating however is not guaranteed — basically what you see is what you get. This is a last ditch attempt and quite pricey at that, but if you have no other choice this is pretty much it.
Continued in Part 2.