In the segment of #ErinDoesJapan I am going to give you just a few small tips on how to maximize your trip to Japan so you can see as many places as you want, especially during cherry blossom season!
Over the Easter holidays, my friend Emiko and I, went to Japan and we planned a huge trip to visit Japan. We had 11 days to hit Arida, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Tokyo, and Nagano. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to Nagano because I was sick one day, but we did end up adding Wakayama to our trip, which was a great addition because we got to see my beloved cherry blossoms!
When we told people what we were planning, a lot were shocked. How is it possible to see everything in that short of time? Is it even possible? Yes! If you plan right and make the most of your days, it is quite possible. Of course I would have loved to have spent way more time in each city, my boss and my bank account would not have. But, if you do have a limited time in Japan, here are some tips to help maximize your trip.
1. Get a Japan Rail Pass
You will probably find this on most travel sites about Japan, but I kid you not this is the best investment ever if you want to explore a lot of Japan. Japan Rail Group (referred to as JR Group) not only owns/run most of the lines that connect you to all the major cities in Japan, known as JR Lines, but they also have a network for “metro JR lines” in big cities, such as Osaka and Tokyo. This means, you can use it on those lines without having to buy a metro ticket! Please note, if you switch to a normal subway line (owned by another company) you will have to pay, but it is quite easy to get around these cities on just the JR if you are looking to save money.
Emiko and I purchased our tickets through Japan-Rail-Pass.com and even with the shipping costs, it was less than actually purchasing the rail pass once we landed in Osaka. This is an option, however, if you run out of time to purchase beforehand. The site got us our tickets in two days – amazing! They have a 7-day, 14-day, and 21-day pass and may seem expensive at first, but when you look at what flying would cost you or single/return tickets, it is a steal!
We bought the 7-Day pass and a special 3-day pass for Kansai area only (Osaka-Kyoto-Nara and all inbetween). For each area you can buy separate passes designed specifically for that designated area and costs a lot less than adding 7 more days to your trip. These can also be purchased at Japan-Rail-Pass or at certain JR Rail Pass counters in the airport/train station.
Like I said, not all JR Lines are part of the subway system, so if you are spending time in Tokyo, I highly suggest getting a Pasmo or Suica card. I got a Pasmo card and I think it is fantastic because you can personalize it with your name and it makes a great keepsake from your trip! But, if you aren’t sentimental like me you can get just a normal card. The Pasmo card costs 1000 yen (500 for the card + 500 to use) and can be topped up easily at any machine in the stations.
If you hate to wait in line, fiddle with change, and just like to get to where you are going quickly, then this is why I suggest getting a Pasmo/Suica card. I hate going up to a machine, trying to figure out where I am going just to calculate the correct fair, and put in a large bill (because I have nothing smaller) and getting a bunch of change back that will just go to the bottom of my purse and I will forget about. If living in Hong Kong has done anything to me, it has made me a lot more impatient. I just want to swipe my card and get on the train. I always tend to lose my tickets anyway/forget where I put them, but a card makes things effortless and I can keep it in my wallet and scan it over. Plus, the card can also be used almost like a debit card at certain places in case you do forget your wallet! If you aren’t like me, tickets will be just fine.
3. Find a home base and stay there.
Finding hotels in Japan can be difficult, especially during high season and holidays (cherry blossoms and Golden Week). If you wait until the last minute (like we did, oops!) you may get stuck with a capsule hotel, which are predominately for males, or love motels. Yikes! Luckily, we ended up finding a great hotel in the end for both Tokyo and Osaka (despite it being next to a faux red-light district!). That’s right – notice how I said two.
If you station yourself in one of these cities and have the JR Pass, you can make these your base so you don’t have to switch hotels every other night, deal with the tax and booking fees, etc. each time. We decided to make Osaka our base for the Kansai area because it takes 15-30 minutes to get to Kyoto (bullet train vs normal train) and 35-40 minutes to Nara. Many of these have trains leaving every 15/20 minutes from Osaka to these cities and the trains run until midnight, meaning you can get to and from with ease!
This helped us because hotel prices skyrocket in Kyoto and Nara during the cherry blossom season, so we ended up saving a lot of money by doing this. Plus, it felt nice to not have to pack up every day for a new place, because a lot of the hotels in Nara and Kyoto had availabilities for only one night at each one – so not worth it. However, they do have more traditional style homes/hotels compared to Osaka, so if you do want to have a truer Japanese experience, just make sure you book in advance!
These are just a few tips for you to help maximize a short trip to Japan if you want to save time, money, and see the sites! Have anymore helpful tips? Please share in the comments below!