You’re planning to go to Japan! Hooray!!!
What took you so long?
Oh, the scary P80k all-in package travel agencies were offering?
Yeah, we’ve all seen that. Sidetracked us for a bit there, too!
They say food (and everything else) is expensive?
Hmmm.. true and false.
Eat at fine dining in Manila, and food is expensive.
The same is true for Japan.
Enjoy side street food and fast food chains, then you get yourself cheap meals.
Cheap? Does that mean I live off cup noodles and Family Mart pastries?
Well, one, Family Mart pastries are still better than most pastries we know :);
two, cup noodles are not too bad. I lived off of that in college;
three, nope, cheap meals in Japan is still Japan-quality food. At times, still better than pretentious high-end restos in some places in the world.
Food being too expensive in Japan is actually now a myth. There are a loooot of options! Most of my selections (being a small, frequent eater) were the same cost as when I dine in the Philippines.
Eat at BGC and Greenbelt everyday, then yes, eating in the Philippines is expensive, too! If you get what I mean.
Meals in Japan is not cheap, but eating in Japan is not as scary expensive as people are trying to make of it. Just know where to go.
How about the tours, the transportation, and other travel essentials.
I got you. All that’s coming up. As usual, I’ll share with you our actual trip itinerary, expenses, and things to do to give you an idea how it goes there.
But first, get yourself a visa, get approved, and then we’ll move from there. (Getting Japan visa requirements, process, fees, and tips below!)
I’m telling you, you’re good to go with P23k in Tokyo for 6 days (airfare not included). That’s P4,000 per day with food, accommodation, transportation all in! We went to Japan during the Sakura peak season, mind you. Accommodation rates were off the roof! Imagine going off-peak?!
You can basically enjoy Tokyo for P2k/day or less (extreme budget travel sure can!) to cover your daily food and transpo. Not baaaadd!
So let us begin with getting you a visa.
Japan Visa Application Process
Secure all the visa application requirements.
Requirements from the Japan Embassy website:
Completely accomplished Japan Visa Application Form printed on A4 paper
Print this application form on an A4 sized paper.
This was a recent change in March 2016. We had to write our application by hand since we printed it on a letter size paper.
I highly suggest, as was recommended by the travel agency, as well, to put a hotel or hostel address, even if you’re staying at a friend’s house.
They tend to be stricter and more tedious in screening people who are visiting friends and family. Remember, the consul’s role is to assume that you have the intention to overstay or work illegally in their country. So your goal is to prove otherwise.
Besides, indicating address of friends will mean longer time to release results assuming that they still need to countercheck the authenticity of your relationships.
If you want easier and shorter application, and if you can support yourself, anyway, present yourself as an independent tourist as much as possible.
Do not leave not-applicable items blank. Put N/A, instead.
Passport valid within 6 months from the date of travel without tamper or damage and with 2 blank pages
NSO-certified Birth Certificate issued within 1 year of visa application
They can know the date of issue through the bar code on the bottom left corner of your birth certificate. Don’t try to be smart/sneaky about this.
Day-to-day Itinerary in Japan
You may use this form.
It doesn’t have to be super accurate if you don’t have the time to whip your real itinerary yet.
Just make it logical and put real contact details and addresses.
I think the purpose of this is to keep Japan government informed of your whereabouts, or at least they know where to find you in case there’s reason for them to find you.
There is no minimum amount required or recommended by the embassy but the logic behind this is to prove you are able to support your stay in Japan.
My suggested safe number would be to compute (average meal x 3) + accommodation cost + transportation cost and multiply that to the number of days of your stay. Then add costs of entrance tickets to attractions you indicated in your day-to-day itinerary sheet.
That amount will be enough to support you and your visa application.
For illustration purposes for a 7-day stay:
P10,500 = [P500 (average meal) x 3] x 7 days
P17,500 = P2,500 (average accommodation rate) x 7 days
P7,000 = P1,000 (average train/bus fare per day) x 7 days
P6,000 = 2-way train ride to and from the airport
This should be the minimum amount in your bank account to give you a higher fighting chance.
Make it more and make the waiting game a little more comfortable.
The logic is the same for those traveling as a family.
If you have a guarantor, meaning someone else is paying for your trip, submit your guarantor’s documents, as well together with a letter of guarantee.
Note that results for applications with guarantors may take longer time to be released. The embassy will still need to countercheck documents and contact your guarantors in Japan to validate authenticity.
Original copy of Certificate of Employment (COE) or Certificate of Business Registration (COR)
If not already, have this resized to an A4 paper.
This didn’t matter before, they said, but during our application last March, we had to run to the nearest photocopier to ensure we submit flawless documents.
It appears that the embassy got stricter, probably due to the influx of Filipino tourists/ guests.
You will take back the original after showing it to the inspector for authenticity.
Income Tax Return (ITR) (Form 2316 or 1702)
Resize to A4 paper, as well.
4.5 x 4.5cm (2×2) Photo on white background
Established photo studios know the size and requirement. Just mention that it will be for Japan visa.
Wear collared shirt.
Glue (not staple!) the photo on to the application form tightly to the sides making sure no area can be easily peeled up. The Japanese are strict even to small details like this. You have to respect their high regard for order even in their documents.
These are not required but may be submitted to strengthen your proof that you are an avid traveler, have strong ties to your country, and/or have no intention of staying in Japan longer than allowed.
- Old passport full of stamps and visas
- Printed copy of round-trip ticket if you have pre-booked already
- Other proofs of assets (property titles, stocks, etc)
Go to any of these 6 Accredited Travel agency by Japan Embassy in the Philippines to secure your Japan visa.
Prepare for cash from P950-P1800 depending on your agency. Japan embassy doesn’t charge for a visa fee. This amount is paid to the agency as processing fee.
- Universal Holidays, Inc – Dusit Thani Manila Hotel, Makati
- Rajah Travel Corporation – Makati | Manila
- Reli Tours and Travel Agency – Dusit Thani Hotel Makati | SM Megamall | SM Moa | SM Southmall
- Discovery Tour, Inc – Makati | Lapu-Lapu City | Davao
- Attic Tours Phils, Inc – Manila | Cebu
- Friendship Tours and Resort Corporation – Manila | Makati | Cebu
We paid for P950 at Reli Tours in Megamall. I’ve read accounts paying for as much as P1800 since that agency is the closest to them. They chose convenience over the hassle of commute.
This was the process we went through at Reli Tours in Megamall:
- Get a queueing number from one of the Japanese agents at the back of the office
- Show your accomplished application form with glued photo*.
- Sit and wait for your number to be called. It’s best to bring snack and drinks for this part. Sometimes it takes 30 minutes but there are unkind days with longer waiting time. For us, we waited for 3 hours! There was that much people applying for a visa. The whole agency was, in fact, filled with just Japan visa application clients!
- Bring complete documents to the agent. Once they have inspected the completeness and authenticity of your requirements, you will be asked to sign a form and write your name and contact details. This will be the documents you will present during passport pick-up. S/he will also attach Reli Tours stickers at the back and your name at the front of your passport for easy marking.
- You will then be instructed to go back to the Japanese at the back of the office for final document assessment.
- Once satisfied, he will instruct you to pay the processing fee at another table.
- The cashier will hand you your receipt together with your claim stub. Final instructions are given and other questions are entertained.
*We suggest attaching the photo after the agent has inspected your form especially if you only have 1 copy of the photo left. If they don’t approve of your form then you’ll be left to peel off and damage your photo. That won’t look good.
Come in as early as mall opening hours (10am) so there’s less people and you get a number ahead.
Results will be out in 2-7 days. Make sure that you wrote your mobile number correctly or you’re never going to get that text. You will be told to call them if you haven’t received a text after 7 days.
When to Apply for a Visa
Secure a visa 2.5 months – 1 month prior to your preferred dates to give you ample time to:
- Book accommodation
- Book an airline (if not a seat sale)
- Research your itinerary thoroughly
This was a big mistake on our part since we were only able to send in our applications about 1.5 weeks before our promo flight. So work deadlines got in the way of my desire for a thorough research.
Your single-entry visa will be valid with maximum 15 days of stay for 3 months from the date of issue (may not be the same as the date of your application. Your travel agency might submit your application to the the Japan Embassy the next day, or the next business day depending on their cut-off).
Don’t apply for a visa in January when you know you’re traveling in June or December. You’re only going to waste visa application fees.
If you plan to go in December, start the visa application process by 1st week of October, earliest. Last week September might be too close to visa expiration especially if you plan on going late December.
Wait for a message from your travel agent informing you of passport pick-up date.
They wouldn’t say if you got approved or not via text or call. You’ll need to go see it for yourself.
Thrilling waiting game! But definitely worth the approved visa of course!
Once you get the text message, bring your claim stub and receipt.
Go directly to the claiming area (at Reli Tours, it’s at the back of the office where the Japanese are)
If you didn’t get approved, you may apply again after 6 months from the date of your prior denied visa application.
If you got approved, celebraaattte! And then get on the exciting planning stage, stat!
Tokyo Travel Guide
HOW TO GET THERE
Several airlines fly from the Philippines to Japan.
Catch promo fare months before thru travel expos or watch out for online seat sales!
You can get as low as P800 1-way fare from travel expos to P6k two-way from online seat sale. Regular fares range from P15-25k
If you can’t decide which airline, it might help to choose based on where the airline lands.
There are two international airports serving Tokyo: Narita International Airport or Haneda International Airport.
“The Japanese government is currently encouraging the use of Haneda for premium business routes and the use of Narita for leisure routes and by low-cost carriers.” (Wikipedia)
Haneda Airport is closer to Tokyo. Travel time: 30 minutes
Narita Airport is 1 hour and 15 minutes away from Tokyo.
If you’re cramped with time, definitely make sure you land in Haneda.
FROM THE AIRPORT
There are several transportation options from Narita all listed here.
- NARITA EXPRESS – 3,190 Yen (P1,350) 1-way from Narita to Shibuya. You may avail of a discounted ticket at 4,000 Yen if you purchase a 2-way ticket (info on the link).
This was what we used going back to the airport. Only based on the next available time fit to our schedule.
- SKYLINER – 2,470 Yen (P1,045) 1-way from Narita to Nippori. When you purchase Keisei Skyliner tickets online, through a designated travel agency or aboard your flight, the price is discounted (info on the link).
This was what we took from the airport as it was the only train operating at the late night hour we arrived.
Had we prepared well, I would have purchased the discounted return ticket of Narita Express. I guess it was also a blessing in disguise because our flight got moved and then delayed so we arrived super late than planned. We would’ve missed the last trip if ever, and wasted money, consequently. Everything works out fine.
Note that you will be assigned specific car and seat numbers indicated on your tickets for these trains. We didn’t know, so we hopped on any car that stopped in front of us only to find another person already seated in our supposed seat number. Then we realized we were in the wrong car!
You can spend a minimum of P25,000 all-in for 4D/3N like this family.
Average, not-too-scrimping, comfortable budget for 6 days would be P35,000.
Have your Pesos exchanged to US Dollar or Japanese Yen before leaving the country. If you’re not sure how much more you’re spending for shopping, just have dollars ready. Forex MACHINES are available in tourism information offices scattered all over Tokyo. How. Amazing. Is. That?
Pardon the excitement but from all my travels, I haven’t seen and actually used a ForEx MACHINE ever!
It’s a no fuss, no haggle foreign exchange system. The machine shows the exchange rates. You insert the bill, the machine recognizes the currency, gives you the corresponding equivalent in Yen, and prints you the receipt. Super easy. Super user-friendly!
Here is our actual 6-day Sakura Season Tokyo Itinerary for your reference.
In this spreadsheet, you will find our actual expenses each day, which Tokyo attractions we got covered based on our interests, among others.
You may download a FREE Itinerary Template here for all your future travels, with instructions on how to use it.
Things to Plan Ahead
- Pocket wiFi – you may get one right from the airport. There are several counters from different networks offering packages.
Better yet, choose an Airbnb with FREE pocket wiFi included in your room.
It will be best, though, to rent one online way in advance so you’re sure to to have stocks especially during the peak season.
Here’s a list of pocket wiFi rental in Tokyo, Japan:
I was not able to personally rent from these companies since our Airbnb has it included. So discern well depending on the duration of your stay, the internet speed you need, your amount of consumption, and your budget.
- Google Maps (online)/ Maps with me (offline) – if you don’t have yet on your phone (why?), start installing already. It’s free. Make sure you have the latest version so you have the best features.
Google Maps helped us tons in our commute and in getting to places. Because Japan has a really efficient train system, Google Maps will tell you if you need to shift trains, what time the next car will come, and all the little but really planning-helpful details.
- Map of Japan (Tokyo) – if you’re not too techie and rather prefers the old but trusty way, get yourself a map from your travel agency or from the travel expo.
I got one from the travel expo (force of habit). They used Google Maps, I saved battery orienting myself with the real map. Just don’t mind the stares whenever you open your big wide map in trains :D. I held it loud and proud! 😀
- Download Google Translate – You can take a photo of a Japanese character and the app will translate it for you! Voila! Helped me tons when ordering food or looking for a place to eat!
I also communicate with non-English-speaking locals through it!
- Train Line Map – aside from the map of the city, get acquainted with the really complex but super user-friendly and well-thought out train lines.
Avoid overwhelm once you get there by being familiar ahead of time. It can get really crazy in the train stations especially during the rush hours! The confusion that envelops you with that much people and that much exits and train line shifts can just take a toll on you!
- Your network’s roaming plans – I just made a call to make sure my roaming was active prior to departure.
Globe has a P599 unli roaming plan for a day. This may come helpful if you’re arriving late at night and the wifi rental counters at the airport are already closed. You’re automatically subscribed to the roaming plan once you turn on your data cellular feature.
- Pasmo Card/ Suica Card/ JR Pass– Pasmo (available from Tokyo Metro ticket machines and other retailers) and Suica (available from JR ticket machines) are basically the same, only from different companies/brands.
You get the card for a fee (¥500) and reload it for how much you think you will need depending on your itinerary.
JR Pass is highly recommended if you plan to cross country. If Kyoto and Osaka are in your itinerary, definitely get the JR Pass (P12,000). It has been proven by travelers as the more cost-effictive option than getting single-journey tickets. You also get to ride Narita Express (¥3,190 1-way savings!) from the airport for free! You may buy ahead from your travel agency. Our agency, Reli Tours, is selling.
TRAIN TIPS IN TOKYO
- I highly suggest getting a tap/pass card if you’re staying for more than a day (which you should! :)). Aside from saving you time from getting single-journey tickets from the machine every time, the fare is charged cheaper as well (except for some lines).
- We covered the basic must-go in Tokyo in 6 days with ¥6,000 (with a few hundred Yens remaining for future use :)) topped up. You have the option to refund the balance and the refundable cost of the card prior to departure especially if you have no more plans on going to Japan. We kept ours. We’re sure we’re coming baaacck!
- There are unlimited-ride day passes available. If you plan a sights-cramped itinerary all in one day, you may save tons getting one. This entails thorough itinerary planning (where your destinations fall under which line), though. We didn’t have time to research much so we didn’t bother.
- Trains stop operation by 1 am and resumes at 5 am. 1-5 am is the window to super clean and well-maintained Japan trains. Be sure to schedule your night so you’re in your train before the last trip. Or walk the night away. Or burn your Yens in overpriced taxi hell.
- Ticket vending machines, ticket counters, and just about everything else in Japan is properly labeled (with English labels, too, at that!). Like your OC mother or sister was assigned to organize and label everything in Japan. Sooo goood!
So find the logo of your card to know where you can reload. If all else fails or if your eyes don’t do well, the ticket counter staff, or the random young Japanese are all nice enough to help poor, lost you :D.
- If this is your first time to ride a train ever, try MRT/LRT first to at least know how the system works. Where and how to insert your ticket, how to know which direction or line you should go.
Tip in a tip: always look for the end destination where you’re headed. That’s the signage you should follow. If you don’t see that end destination, you might be heading the other way. (E.g Taft or North Edsa, Monumento or Baclaran)
- The Japanese love organization and order (and that’s why I fell in love with them!). Having said that, they fall in line in trains, so leave your rowdy self where you came from and queue up!
- There’s nothing to worry about rush hour. We have far worse train situations during rush hour than them. haha
OTHER PRACTICAL TIPS WHEN IN JAPAN
- To know if what you’re getting out of a vendo is hot or cold drink, check the color marker below. Red means hot and blue means cold. We didn’t know at first so we were surprised each time! haha
- The Japs have a strong escalator and pedestrian etiquette. Stay at the left side so people in a hurry can walk by you at the ride side.
- When shopping, place you payment in the tray. Do not hand the money directly to the cashier as we do here. They will also return your change through the tray.
- You are designated a car and seat number (for reserved seating) for long-haul train rides. Don’t just hop on the nearest door only to find your seat number taken.
- You are expected to leave your footwear by the door of Japanese homes. Its culture.
- Do not stick your chopsticks upright in your rice. Here’s a whole bunch of chopsticks etiquette.
CONVERSATIONAL JAPANESE WORDS TO ARM YOURSELF WITH
Arigatou Gozaimasu – thank you!
Konnichiwa – hello!
Sayonara – good bye
Hai – yes
Utukushii – beautiful
Oyasumi – good night
Subarashii – good!
Whewww! That’s about everything I learned from our recent Japan trip. If you have any more questions not answered in this post, feel free to leave a comment.
If you have other tips from your own travel, do spill so we can update this post and share them to others!
Will write the story of our Tokyo trip here. Click if you want more of what happened in Tokyo!
Check out some of my Japan travel finds, too!