Hotel Deal: Room for Two in Tokyo, $85

Akasaka Excel Tokyu, in Tokyo
Twin rooms are on sale at the Akasaka Excel Tokyu, putting visitors right in central Tokyo near the Roppongi club district.

8500 yen is the asking price, which is roughly $85, though exchange rates do fluctuate.

Excel Tokyo hotels, in my experience, are pretty well-appointed.  They mostly cater to business travelers, but they're open all night, which fits the Roppongi area very well.  Split the price with a buddy and you're getting a good deal on a solid hotel in an exciting part of the city.

The deal is open through the end of March.  Check out Japanican for reservations.

Packing

So you’ve picked flights, booked a hotel or two, and it’s almost time to go.  We should pack those bags of yours.

Or rather, that bag.  For short vacations to Tokyo, I take one bag, and it’s just a carry-on. Whether it’s a backpack or a suitcase, it’s fine, so long as it’s small enough to fit in the overhead bins.

Why take just one carry-on bag all the way to Tokyo? Here are five great reasons:

  1. The TSA can’t break into your bag and steal stuff, because the bag is with you.
  2. You don’t have to wait for baggage claim, so you can head to the front of the customs line while everyone else is still waiting.
  3. You have less weight to carry around Tokyo. 
  4. You’ll look really silly if you take a gigantic suitcase and another huge bag onto a busy Tokyo train.  I speak from experience.
  5. All of the above reasons work for your return trip, too.

With that in mind, we’ll be cutting out a lot of the things you might have thought you need to bring.  Keep in mind that Tokyo is a big, civilized place.  Even if you have to buy something after you land, consider this: a $5 bottle of shampoo is cheaper than checked bag fees for two flights, and may be worth the peace of mind knowing you’re the only one handling your bag.

So, here’s a list of things you should not bring:

Half of your clothes: Bring enough clothes to last half of your trip and do laundry once while you’re there.  It takes a couple of hours, less than $5, and gives you a good chance to relax with a snack and perhaps your travel buddy.  We’ll cover doing laundry later on.  And while we’re at it, is it really going to kill you to “recycle” that T-shirt for a second day?  I admit, I’m a guy, but still I keep pretty clean.  Think about it.

More than two pairs of shoes: One comfortable pair for traveling and sightseeing, and one (optional) pair that’s a bit nicer for things like going out, going to nice restaurants, or nightclubs.

Your laptop: Unless you have some pressing professional need that specifically requires your laptop, leave it at home.  You can check your email at an Internet cafe, which we’ll discuss later. Or on your smartphone, which we’ll also discuss later.

Your cell phone (maybe): Unless you want to bring your smartphone and pay for roaming data, you’ll rent a phone once you land.

Shampoo, conditioner, soap: Your hotel will supply this, unless you’re staying at a hostel.  In which case, there may be some to mooch, or you can get it cheaply at a nearby pharmacy.

Toothbrush: Again, your hotel will have these, unless you’re staying in a hostel.

OK, with that space freed up, these are the things you should make sure you bring:

A small notepad: Go to a grocery store or office supply store and get the smallest pocket notepad you can find.  Mine is smaller than a business card.  You’ll use this to write down hotel addresses and phone numbers, flight and train information, and contact information for people you meet along the way.  Keep it in your pocket, not in your bag.

41NJx1yVeZL._AA280_ Space Bags: Get a set of the travel-size vacuum bags that you can shrink down without a vacuum cleaner.  I find it easiest to put small clothes like socks and underwear in them.

$100 in cash: Save this for after your arrival.  Don’t spend this money at your home airport, because we’ll be changing this into yen. Why just $100?

Medicine: Bring your own kind of the following medicines: allergies (non-drowsy!), stomach, cold/flu, and pain relief.  Expats generally consider Japanese medicine to be worthless.  If you take prescription medicine, bring the medicine and the prescription. 

A special note on medicine: Do not bring the behind-the-counter Sudafed or any medicines containing its generic form (pseudoephedrine) as it’s considered an illegal drug in Japan.

Toiletries: Bring deodorant, toothpaste (the Japanese stuff isn’t that good), and whatever hair styling products you like.  If you’re a girl, bring your girly stuff if you’ll need it.

Shaving stuff: It’s the most convenient to pack an electric razor, but if you manually shave, bring a safety razor and leave the shaving cream at home.  Buy some at a pharmacy after you land.

Make sure your toiletries fit TSA’s carry-on rules.  Nothing over 3 oz, and everything fits in a sandwich bag.

Got your bag all packed up and ready to go?  Let’s get you cleared for take-off.

Flight Deal: American from New York City, $616

The Small Statue of Liberty in Tokyo
Headed to Japan from New York?  Book a flight from JFK to Narita on a weekday in March and your fare will go as low as $616 after taxes on American Airlines. 

American has the only non-stop flight from New York to Tokyo, so long as you leave out the more expensive Japanese airlines like JAL and ANA.

You may be able to go even cheaper through connecting flights, but that's not recommended in the Konnichiwhoa travel guide.  Be sure to read up on why before you fly.

Book directly at American Airlines.

Flight Deal: JAL Premium Economy from San Francisco, $1694

JAL Premium Economy. Image courtesy JAL.Travel agency IACE extended its deal for the new Premium Economy class on JAL flights from San Francisco International to Tokyo.  The price is $1694, taxes and fees included, round-trip. 

The deal is only available leaving San Francisco, but offers service to Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya.  The catch: you have to depart on a weekday (Monday to Thursday).  Weekend flights are available for another $100.

With its renowned "Shell Seat," Premium Economy offers slightly more leg room and several first-class-esque amenities including multiple meals, hors d' ourves, desserts and premium check-in and lounge access.

IACE's offer goes through March 31.  See the website for information and reservations.

Hotel Deal: Luxury Hotels in Tokyo, $119

Grand Pacific Le Daiba Hotel in Tokyo. Image courtesy Summit Hotels & Resorts
Travel agency IACE is running a deal on four luxury hotels in Tokyo, including the famous Keio Plaza Hotel and the gorgeous Hotel Grand Pacific Le Daiba on the snazzy island of Odaiba (pictured). 

The four-star hotels in the deal start at $192 per night for a double and go up to $220. 

For single travelers, a night in the three-star Sunshine City Prince Hotel is up for $119 per night.

The deals are available through March 31.

See IACE for details and reservations.

Booking Flights and Hotels

OK!  So you’ve decided you’re up for a trip to Japan.  Let’s get this ball rolling right away.

You do want to do this cheaply, right? 

Of all the places where you can save money on your trip, your own desk is where you’ll actually save the most.  We’ll look at the three big ways of saving cash in a second, but first, a couple of important things:

How long should you go?
I usually recommend that first-time visitors schedule a trip between 1 and 2 weeks.  People with more international travel experience typically do better with longer stays.

Do you have your passport?
If you already have your passport, skip this section.  If you’ve never had a passport, follow this process [this guide assumes you’re a US citizen]:

1. Get passport photos taken at your local photo processing place (like a CVS Pharmacy).  You’ll be able to take them home with you.
2. Get this form from the US government [hit the “Complete Online & Print” button] and fill it out.
3. Take the photos, the form, a valid ID (like a drivers license), your birth certificate and $135 to the nearest post office.  Take $195 if you want rush service (which you do if you’re leaving in less than a month).

Got your passport?  Lovely, let’s get around to the saving money part.  There are three big steps:

1. Don’t go on a guided tour vacation.
Guided tours are no fun.  I promise.  All the fun stuff in Japan is what you find in between the famous places: the shops, the restaurants, the random people you meet along the way, and most importantly, the stuff you can’t possibly predict.  Plus, they’re really expensive.  If you’re independent, you’ll get to choose what you want to do and when to do it.

2. Book your flight with help
The flight can be the trickiest thing, and many people people think this is where they save or lose the most money.  Not true – that’s number 3.  Still, there’s a lot of money to be saved here.  When I book my flights, I do the following things:

  • Fly to Tokyo Narita.  The most flights go through here, and Tokyo is the best place to start your trip. If your airline serves Tokyo Haneda, feel free to go there. Haneda is more convenient, but flights are more rare and more expensive. 
  • Find a non-stop flight, or the closest thing to it. The fewer layovers you have, the fewer times you have to have your luggage inspected, take off your shoes, show people your tickets and passport, stop to eat expensive airport food, and turn your iPhone off then on again.  Plus, it’s a shorter trip, and who doesn’t love that?  Non-stop flights aren’t the cheapest option, but they’re still the best.
  • Use FlightFox to get you the cheapest flight. For $29 you can hire frequent flyers to play travel agent and plan your flights for you. They’ll save you way more than $29.

3. Book your hotels online.

Hotels, not flights, are where you’re most in danger of spending too much money.  Since you’ll be staying several nights in Japan, price differences add up quickly.  To get some help, there are three great English websites for finding and booking hotels:

  • Rakuten Travel: Basically like Expedia for Japan.  Lets you search by location, sort by price, see photos, and make reservations online.  Mostly has Western-style hotels.
  • Japan National Tourist Organization: The Japanese government’s official tourism promotion agency runs a hotel search engine with links to multiple reservation sites. Good for cheaper hostels and Japanese-style ryokan hotels.

While you’re using these sites, keep these tips in mind:

  • Expect to pay over 5,000 yen per night for a single room with a private bathroom, and closer to 10,000 yen for a room for two.  I typically pay about 6,000 yen for a single and anywhere from 8,000 to 15,000 yen for a room for two.  Anything over that and you’re getting luxurious.
  • Prices vary based on location.  Expect to pay more to be in really famous spots like Shinjuku’s business district or Shibuya Crossing.
  • Pick a single room if you’re alone, a twin room if you want separate beds, or a double room for a room with one bed that sleeps two.
  • If you want to enjoy Japan’s night life, pick a hotel that doesn’t have a lock-up time or else you’ll be stranded until it re-opens.
  • On Rakuten, choose Central Tokyo as your City and start with All locations unless you know you want a specific neighborhood. 
  • On JNTO, choose the Tokyo & Yokohama Urban Area to start searching.
  • On any site, my favorite areas to stay are Ueno and Asakusa for their neighborhood feel. Other good places include Shinjuku for a city feel, Shibuya for nightlife and shopping, and Ginza for fashionistas and foodies.
  • Shinagawa is a hotel hub where there’s always rooms available at any price. There’s nothing immediately in the area, but it’s less than 15 minutes to Shibuya and Ebisu, and less than 30 minutes from Shinjuku, Ueno, Akihabara, and Ginza. 
  • Both Rakuten and JNTO allow you to pay once you arrive at the hotel. This is normal in Japan, so there’s rarely a need to pay in advance. This also means you can cancel your reservations.
  • Searching for just the right hotel takes a little bit of time, especially the first time you try it.  Once you make your first reservation, you’ll be managing your hotels like a pro in no time.

OK, so you’ve got a flight and a place to crash.  Time to pack your bags!

Introduction

You can go to Japan.  Really, it’s easy.

I’m Blake.  I’ve lived off and on in Japan for the last five years. And I’ve found that it’s easier than most people think to travel to the Land of the Rising Sun.

The torii at Miyajima. Image by Kyoji "Jake" Arita. Here are the three biggest myths about Japan and why they actually don’t get in the way of  your visit:

1. You can’t do anything if you don’t speak Japanese, right?
Actually, it’s pretty easy to get around speaking English.  You just have to use Japan-friendly keywords, based on what the Japanese learn in school.  We’ll work on those keywords later.

2. Isn’t Japan the most expensive place in the world?
It’s not as bad as you’ve been told, I promise.  Now, it’s not a super-cheap place like Thailand or Vietnam, but you can eat a good, filling dinner for under $10 and get a big Japanese beer for $3 if you know where to look.  Expats – the foreigners who live in Japan – know all the tricks to find inexpensive hotels, good meals, and even the occasional all-you-can-drink bar.  I’ve been an expat in Japan on and off for the last five years, so I can help you book a hotel, pick out a delicious dinner, and have the night of your life – all in English.

3. Doesn’t Japan have really weird food?

To answer your question, yes, there are weird foods.  But here are all the ingredients that go into my three favorite Japanese foods (in no particular order): Pork, onions, green onions, cabbage, chow mein noodles, fish, rice, soy sauce, and a couple of sweeter, soy-ish sauces.  (That’s one list for three separate dishes, mind you.)

But none of those ingredients are too scary, right?  Japan has plenty of “weird” things, sure, but a lot of foods are really popular with expats, and we’ll talk about those.

Learn from the expats

In this guide, we’ll discuss every angle of your trip to get you up and running quickly and easily:

Planning: Cheap airfares, cheap hotels, and where to find them.  You save the most money before leaving your door.
Packing: Bring the smallest suitcase you can find.  Leave your laptop at home.  Bring medicine and a miniature notepad.  We’ll talk about why.
Flying: Beating jet lag, reducing the stress from airport security, and relaxing in coach class with Airplane Yoga.
Arriving: How to get cash and a cell phone.
Getting around town: Using the trains, speaking universally understood Keyword English, the best places to find tasty things to eat, and why you should always know where the nearest post office is.
Things to do: Tokyo is quite possibly the most diverse and fun city in the world.  We’ll just scrape the surface.
Worst-case scenarios: These things aren’t likely to happen to you, but it’s good to be ready.
5 ways to save more money: On a college budget?  Japan’s still doable. 
Leaving Tokyo: Riding bullet trains, climbing Mt. Fuji, and visiting places like Kyoto.

So have a look through the guide.  When you’re done, you’ll be a seasoned pro.

How to get started without leaving your chair

You can get started right now. Here’s how to plan a trip.