It was quite interesting to know that a lot of people I met find travelling to Japan as very challenging. Not only because of the language but because of the high cost of living, strict implementation of laws, and difficulty in getting a visa. But still, a lot of the people I know put touring Japan in their bucket list. Although I just returned here in Japan less than a week ago after 3 years of staying in Manila, I am sharing some tips based on my own experience on how one can enjoy Japan without spending a lot of time, effort, and money...
TIP 1: Remember some key Japanese words like Sumimasen, Gomenasai, and Arigatou
One cannot really master Japanese in 24 hours but learning some key words would help a lot especially if you are a foreigner. Always say "Arigatou" which means Thank you whenever possible. And when you accidentally stepped on somebody's foot for example, say "Gomenasai" meaning "I am sorry" or you can also try a more common word used by Japanese like "Sumimasen" which means "Excuse me." Sumimasen is also very useful in calling the waiter or server in restaurants.
TIP 2: Explore your surroundings
Oftentimes tourists tend to explore places in Japan which they have read from travel books or magazines that they started travelling to different places the moment they landed their luggages in their hotels or hostels. Hence, they miss a lot of unexplored places which are most of the time just within 100 meters radius from where they sleep. I have noticed that ever city here in Japan have their own unique place to offer. Some you can even enter for free. For example the Gyosen Park in Nishi-Kasai, Edogawa-ku, Tokyo where families especially children can play, interact with animals, and play in the ponds.
TIP 3: Plan your travel very well. Consult Jorudan or Hyperdia.
This may be unescapable and something to accept that travelling within Japan is quite expensive especially the train rides. But this can be lessened with proper planning. If you are not sure how to get to the place where you want to visit, it is recommended that you consult http://jorudan.co.jp/english. This site provides information such as what train you need to take, what time the train will arrive, travel time or duration of the trip, and cost of travel. Another good thing with this site is that it provides options for the trip. With this, you can estimate when do you need to leave the house, how much you need for the travel. I just knew about Hyperdia recently. It works the same as Jorudan.
Another factor to consider in planning for a place to visit is the variety of things that one can visit. You can either consult some travel advisors in the internet like http://www.japan-guide.com which gives comprehensive travel guidelines especially for the newbies. Also, you can ask for tourist maps at the local tourist information office which located in the major train stations. They even have street maps with good visuals. Try to explore at least 5-6 tourist sites within the area.
For example, you want to see the unique and colorful costumes more popularly known as "cosplay." The best place to visit is Harajuku in Tokyo on Sundays. A lot of cosplayers can be easily seen at the bridge going to Meiji Shrine, one of the major shrines in Tokyo. Just across Meiji, is Takeshita Dori which is famous for its trendy shops, fashion boutiques, used clothes stores, crepe stands, and fast food outlets targeting fashion conscious youth. And if you walk a little further to the south, you will reach Omotesando, which is twice as big as Takeshita Dori and offers more branded stores catering to older clientele. Other places of interest are Nezu Museum and Ota Memorial Museum of Art that showcase traditional East Asian artworks. And since Harajuku is just between Shibuya and Shinjuku, one can choose either to walk or go by train to Shibuya or to Shinjuku for more sightseeing.
If you are meeting some friends, most common meeting places include the "Koban" or police station which you can always find the moment you exit from the train station or chain restaurants or coffee shops such as Mister Donuts, Lawson, Mini-Stop, Family Mart, or 7-11. Other places include famous landmarks such as the statue of Hachiko in Shibuya.
TIP 4: Explore for cheap but good food.
One thing I like in Japan is that it offers good food which you can find in reasonable priced restaurants. No need to go fancy for good authentic food! And no need to learn Japanese as you can order them by just pointing out from the window or the menu. Most of the restaurants have displays of their menu outside which look very similar to the real food. This fabricated food displays would give you a good visual of how your food would look like once served inside. Also, most of the time during lunchtime, they offer reasonable lunch sets complete with rice, soup, salad, and tea. Just dont forget to practice your "Sumimasen" to catch the attention of the servers.
And if you are in tight budget, you can always run to a "100 Yen" store where you can buy almost anything you need like food, toiletries, clothes, school supplies, kitchen wares, gardening tools, etc. These type of store are located almost everywhere especially near the train stations.
TIP 5: Enjoy the vendos.
You are really in Japan if you can see vending machines everywhere you look! Most of which offers a variety choice of drinks but sometimes you can also see a vendo for ice cream, umbrella, and other things.
And a have full Japan experience.. don't forget to drop by a karaoke center! Never leave Japan without trying the Karaoke 🙂