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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

5 days in Tokyo

My Tokyo To Do List:
  • Tokyo Disneyland
  • Tokyo Disney Sea
  • Tsukiji Fish Market (eat at Sushi Dai)
  • Shinjinku (eat at Katsukura and at Alice and Wonderland Cafe)
  • Shopping in Harajuku district
  • Shibuya shopping district (eat at Midori Sushi)
  • Check out Akihabara- Electric City

Tickets: Airfare and JR Rail Pass

For our flight, ideally we wanted to fly from LAX directly to Kansai (osaka) airport but it didn't seem to be an option. Most flights will stop over in San Francisco or Tokyo. I booked tickets through Orbitz for ANA (All Nippon Airways). Our trip was for the beginning of OCTOBER and it was about a little over a thousand for an economy class ticket. With about an hour between layovers, total trip time to japan was about 14 hours and 12 hours when returning back to LA.

I booked our flight for ANA but it turned out that the fineprint showed that our LA to Japan flight would be operated by United. I had read quite a few negative reviews about UA, but we had a relatively tolerable flight, considering its length. The coach seats even had personal tv screens with quite a few movie options as did ANA. What happened to the standard peanuts they used to give out? Did i miss those? Maybe... but both airlines provided plenty of bevies and eats, ANA providing the better food out of the two.

We planned on taking the bullet train to Tokyo from Osaka and use the train for getting around in tokyo and found the JR rail pass would be ideal for us. JR rail pass is good for JR lines, including busses and ferrys- however, for the bullettrain, it is not valid for the fastest train options.
See this page for more details . An adult ticket costs $356.00. Most ticketing sites only accept Visa or Mastercard, but i booked mine through the JTB travel website which takes AMEX.  Once you order, you will be mailed a voucher (not your actual pass) which you take with you to Japan and exchange for the actual Rail Pass at either the train station JR office or airport.

*Order your rail passes atleast a couple of weeks ahead. We had booked our flights early in May- it was tough to figure out when to get the best deals, as prices fluctuated all over the place esp with fuel charges.

** We actually had ended up having to cancel our Rail passes in the end after our flight to japan got rerouted directly to Tokyo due to a typhoon and we no longer had to use the bullet train. Local train travel within the Tokyo area was relatively inexpensive vs utilizing the rail pass.  JTB kindly processed our unused vouchers once we got back (minus 10% fee).

Picking a hotel wasn't too difficult. I knew i wanted to stay somewhere with easy access to the train station where i can get to Disneyland and get through my todo list easily by train. Shinjuku is a heavy
entertainment/shopping district, so i wanted to stay here so we would have plenty to do near our hotel and it was within 30-45 minutes to most of the places i wanted to go to. Disneyland also has affiliated hotels which offer free shuttle bus services to disneyland, but they were on the pricier side. I decided on Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku through .  It seemed very popular among tourists, very close to the train station, close to shopping plazas and reasonably priced. Average night cost is about $140. Through, they happened to have a free cancellation policy up to a few days before the trip, which ended up being a lifesaver as the typhoon resulted in having to move up our tokyo trip a few days forward. The hotel was kind to find us a room last minute calling from the airport, unfortunately i ended up booking it privately after cancelling through which costed a couple hundred more in the end. But we ended up saving some money overall after the JR pass cancellation. I hated that our plans had to change and it was stressful rearranging everything, but perhaps it turned out to be more advantageous as we went with the flow!

The airport bus (called limosine bus) took us directly from Narita airport to the hotel. I'm not sure if Haneda airport (newer, cleaner) has this service. The lobby area was quite nice- they offer free wifi in the lobby area, not in the rooms. The hotel receptionists spoke english and were very helpful when i had questions getting around tokyo. They have a good subway map you should definitely get, and they have a tip sheet available on popular tourist places and which trains to take. They also have tourist pamphlets by the check in area. Check in line can be long, as i noticed on a friday the line was almost to the door.
Economy rooms are VERY SMALL. Having been to japan before, i was used to small rooms, but if u have a lot of luggage with you or not a short person, it can be a challenge getting around the room. I'm not sure how much bigger the luxury rooms are, but i can't imagine them being that much bigger.
They had a mini frig, tea pot, TV, and 2 pretty comfortable beds. Japanese tend to like harder beds and pillows. They also had a long dress pajama shirt you can wear and they provide slippers. Although the beds, restrooms and hotel items were all very clean, the hotel rug and hallways looked quite worn. Bathrooms included hairdryer, a bidet toilet, shower/tub, refilled shampoo/body wash/conditioner dispensers, face wash/handwash, disposable razor, toothbrush/paste, Q tips, comb, showercap. I enjoyed the shower- perfect water pressure. Looks like they had laudry facilities ,but we did not use this. Didn't have a great view, but we could see a bit out into the front of the hotel street.
Elevators and rooms use a keycard which activate on touch, which i thought was pretty cool.
Hotel room :
Hotel bathroom

There is a Family Mart across the street, subway station to the right, Shinjuku Trainstation toward the left about 5 minutes out (Enter at Lumine Entrance across from Yoshinoya), a mcDonalds nearby and Takashiyama Square about a 10 minute walk. I was very happy staying at this hotel and would stay here again.

Phone Rental:

I was worried about not being able to use the internet easily in Japan and didn't want to risk incurring ridiculous roaming charges on my phone, so my friend suggested that I rent a smart phone for my trip. You can do this while you are in japan, but she told me that there are places in Los Angeles where you can rent the phone ahead of time and it will be activated once you get to japan. This was a great time saver.  
The place i used was KDDI mobile. I think some of the larger Mitsuwa locations have this type of phone rental service. Here is KDDI's branch locations through US.
There's also Docomo services:
At some of these places you can also rent compact wireless routers (mifi), so you can connect your laptops to it. Wifi is available throughout Tokyo, but it's not always free and you have to hunt for places that have it.
KDDI offered basic phones and smart phones. I went with a month rental of the iphone4S which i really enjoyed using. I had an unlimited data plan for 1 month for about $150. Phone calls and texts were $1.50 and only valid while use in japan (calls received in japan from japan were free). I could use the phone data service though through wifi while i was still in the US. Having a smart phone on my trip was definitely a life saver. When my plane got rerouted, i was able to rearrange my hotel reservations using the internet through my phone. I could check my e-mail regularly and looking up directions or reviews of a place was a breeze. Also, the iphone4s camera was kick ass- it took great shots and it was super convenient that i didn't have to carry a separate camera.

*Weather: weather in japan can range from freezing cold to unbearably muggy hot. This is the second time i have been in japan in october and for the most part, we hit some rain, but weather wasn't extreme- it was in about the 70s-80s and rained a few days. I'd recommend around this time to definitely bring a rain jacket/umbrella as it's typhoon season. Dress warm but bring a couple of t-shirts as well as a few of the days we were there reached the 80s.

Monatary: Most of the places i went in tokyo took Visa, MC and AMEX. They do charge a foreign transaction fee which usually ended up being a couple of bucks, but did add up for larger purchases.
During the time i went, the YEN was very weak at about 80cents for 1 US dollar as opposed to when i went years ago when i went there richer!

READY TO GO!  Got my tickets, my passport, my rail pass, my phone, hotel reservations, money, itinerary (i did plenty of research ahead of time on places i wanted to eat and shop!) and ready to enjoy my trip!!!

Great websites i used to plan my daily trip adventures:

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