In the previous section, we talked about how to get a tourist visa. This time around, we’ll delve into the logistical nightmares of the trip: transport and accommodations.
Part 2: Booking Transportation and Accommodations
Despite what some people will tell you, getting a ticket or a hotel room before you apply for a visa is not a guarantee of getting your application approved, so it’s much better to purchase everything after you have secured your visa. This is what we did in our case, which was why we all ended up in the same flights and accommodations in Japan.
Booking Airline Tickets
Three of Japan’s largest cities have direct flights to and from Manila and Cebu: Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya. There are also plenty of options for flights, from the always impressive Japan Airlines to the cheap and cheerful Cebu Pacific Air.
In our case, we selected Japanese airline All Nippon Airways for three very good reasons: 1) they are the most affordable airline that flies directly to Tokyo (only Cebu Pacific Air is cheaper, and their flights only land in Osaka); 2) they depart from NAIA Terminal 3 (new!) and arrive at Narita Terminal 1 (accessible!); and 3) they offer a whopping 46KG checked luggage allowance per person (a maximum of two pieces at 23KG each).
To secure tickets, we simply surfed to their official website and looked for flights that both fit our schedules and our budgets. A rule of thumb with ANA is to book as early as possible, as their low-priced seats are limited and you might end up with pricier regular-fare tickets.
Booking Hotel Rooms
After airline tickets, the next thing we had to secure were hotel rooms. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to find cheap hotel rooms in Tokyo as long as you keep your expectations reasonable. Yes — they are still pricey, especially if you are used to prices in Manila or Bangkok; however if you scale your budget to Singapore or Sydney then you’ll be able to find something you can work with.
In our case, we narrowed out options to two hotels: The Prince Sakura Tower Tokyo in Shinagawa, and Sakura Hotel in Ikebukuro. The Prince was one option because they had a four-person family room that could easily fit six (I stayed in that room by myself and it was huge — larger than most Tokyo apartments!), while Sakura Hotel was picked because they had affordable four-person rooms with tatami flooring (a plus in our books!).
In the end, we stayed at Sakura Hotel not just because their rooms were cheap (we stayed at their four-bunk hostel room since the tatami room was booked), but because they were in Ikebukuro — which put them in walking distance to Otome Road
If I could share just one money-saving tip when picking your hotel in Tokyo, it’s this: try to find a hotel close to the place you will be visiting most. It could be Akihabara if you want to go toy shopping, or Shibuya if want to shop your fashionista heart out. The important this is it has to be walking distance to your favorite haunts, so you can save money from train rides since the minimum fare is JPY 130 or PhP 65.
Booking a Japan Rail Pass
The last thing we booked were our Japan Rail Passes. For the uninitiated, JR Passes allow you to travel on all Japan Rail lines unlimited — including Shinkansen or bullet trains, for a set number of days. Passes are sold as 7-day, 14-day, and 21-day blocks of unlimited travel time.
You can only purchase JR Passes outside of Japan, so make sure you buy them before you leave for Tokyo. The best place to get a JR Pass locally is from Attic Tours along Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City. The cheapest pass is the 7-day ordinary pass at JPY 28,300 or PhP 14,500.
Since we were swinging by Osaka and Kyoto for three days, we decided to purchase a 7-day pass that would take us west and back up to Tokyo. One of our travel companions Nina was using her pass to work her way up to Hokkaido in the northern tip of Japan — literally traveling for free since her pass was paid for on the Tokyo leg alone.
Although the JR Pass seems pricey (you can actually go on holiday to Vietnam or Cambodia on the price of the pass alone), it is really great value for money since a one-way bullet train ticket costs JPY 10,000. For the price of a round-trip ticket, you can travel from city to city to city with the JR Pass; it’s a great travel bargain!