10 Things I wish I Knew Before I Went To Japan

10 Things I wish I Knew Before I Went To Japan
 1. Japanese people love stairs.
Their metros don’t have escalators. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating. But one thing you need to understand about Japan’s metro especially Tokyo is that, it’s a complex maze of lines and exits. The most important thing that you need to find to get to your destination quickly is the correct line and the correct exit. And there are some lines and exits that don’t have escalators and elevators. So, if you’re like us who kept moving from one city to another with our luggage, you’d really wish that you traveled light with your backpack instead of carrying a 15 kg suitcase, up and down the stairs.
10 things I wished I knew before I went to Japan
2. Haneda airport is closer to the city than Narita airport.
If your entry point is Tokyo and if you have the option (which I did) to book Narita or Haneda airport, choose the latter because its closer to the city. It will save you time and money.
10 things I wished I knew before I went to Japan
3. City passes will not always save you money.
Same rule applies to Japan Railway pass. Shinkansen train tickets (Bullet train) are so expensive that some people thought it would save them money if they’ll just get the 7 days JR pass which will allow them to get off and on the Shinkansen train as well as all the JR lines. 7days JR pass itself is around P12300-P12500 depending on the exchange rate. It could actually cost  more than your plane ticket to Japan. So here’s an advice, plan and study your itinerary well, if you can get the value of what you paid for then go for it, if there are cheaper options then don’t get it. In our case, we only rode the Shinkansen train once, from Hakone to Kyoto. We also didn’t need to use the JR line as much because there are actually other train options that are cheaper. So we didn’t get the JR pass.
But I had the mistake of getting the Kansai pass. This pass will let you hop on and off all the buses and trains (except for JR lines and Shinkansen) in Kansai region for 3 days for ¥5000 or P2100+ depending on exchange rate. It’s actually a good deal, except that we were not able to use it as much. We only used that Kansai pass for 1 day in Kyoto and for the train ride from Nara to Osaka which I think never amounted to ¥5000. We cannot use the Kansai pass when we traveled from Kyoto to Nara because it was through JR line and we never got to use it within Osaka either because everything is within walking distance from our Airbnb guesthouse (we stayed in Namba). So for me, buying that pass was not worth it.
10 things I wished I knew before I went to Japan
4. Things are generally cheaper in Tokyo if you plan to shop.
I saw a white Nike sneakers that I liked in Tokyo. It was around ¥6000 but I didn’t buy it because my initial plan was to buy an Adidas NMD instead, if I can find it. Fast forward to our last day in Osaka, there was no chance of finding NMD anywhere, so I was thinking of getting that white Nike sneakers instead, but to my surprise it was around ¥8000 in Osaka. I felt cheated, so I ended up not buying any shoes at all. Haha! It’s not just the shoes by the way, I also almost bought a 64GB memory card for my camera in Tokyo for a much cheaper price. But I stupidly thought I won’t ran out of memory, so I waited till we get to Kyoto and ended up paying for a more expensive one. So, if you plan to shop for some things, please learn from my lessons.
10 things I wished I knew before I went to Japan
5. Kyoto is so beautiful, I wish I stayed longer.
Kyoto is easily my favorite out of all the places that we visited. There’s too many things to see and do in Kyoto, I honestly regret that we only spent 2 nights there. It felt hurried when we were there, especially because the sun sets too early in Japan. It gets dark as early as 5pm which is such a bummer because you cant maximize your time.
10 things I wished I knew before I went to Japan
6. Check the weather forecast if you plan to see Mt. Fuji.
We went to Hakone to see Mt. Fuji and we were actually checking the weather forecast everyday but we still pushed through with our Hakone trip. We had no choice because we already booked our accommodation and we cant cancel it. But no regrets, because even without Mt. Fuji, I was still so blown away by the beauty of the autumn foliage in Hakone especially when we rode the pirate ship in Lake Ashinoko. It was my first time experiencing autumn and it was magical. Plus our Airbnb guesthouse was to die for, it was so beautiful. I filmed it, so you can watch it on our Hakone video here.
10 things I wished I knew before I went to Japan
Autumn in Japan
 7. Okoge means burnt rice.

When we were in Nara, we saw this restaurant that has a really long queue outside. We thought it must be really good to have all these people wait in line, so we decided to eat there. We patiently waited for an hour, out in the cold, just to eat in this restaurant. When the food was served, I wondered why my rice pot smelled like it was burnt. And then I noticed that there’s a written guide in front of me on how to eat the iron pot rice and I realized that it was the restaurant’s specialty — Okoge which means BURNT RICE! It was slightly burnt so the rice at the bottom of the iron pot will get crispy. I waited for an hour just to eat burnt rice, otherwise known in my local dialect as “dukot” in bisaya or “tutong” in tagalog. We have this too in my country, but its not a delicacy. In fact I ate this almost everyday when I was a kid, back when there are no rice cookers and we have to use iron pots to cook our rice. I still laugh at myself at the thought that I waited outside the restaurant for an hour even when it was freezing cold just to eat burnt rice.

10 things I wished I knew before I went to Japan

I forgot to take a photo of the Okoge, but that’s me in Nara

8. Read the signs carefully in subways and metros

Have I already mentioned that the subways and metros in Japan are a complex maze of lines and exits, and one wrong turn can cause you a 1 or 2 kilometer walk. This happened to us in Namba station in Osaka. If you have been there, you know how long the Namba walk is. We’ve been walking the whole day everyday for the past 8 days and all we want to do at the end of each day is to go home as quickly as possible and rest our sore soles. One unfortunate night in Osaka (it was actually more of a one unfortunate day of walking and getting lost in Osaka) we were on our way home, dead tired as always, we didn’t read the signs because we were so confident that we were going the right way. So we walked and walked and walked until we were about to exit the building and realized that everything looked different. I literally wanted to cry at that moment but our stupidity was so funny that instead of getting frustrated, we ended up laughing at our selves. I felt like I can’t take any one more step because I’m too tired and if I can just crawl my way home, I would. I even kept joking at my friend that he can just leave me there and I would just sleep on the floor. Lol! Please do yourself a favor, read the signs carefully!

10 things I wished I knew before I went to Japan

9. Tax refunds aren’t done at the airport.

If you buy something that is tax free, please check the receipt if the tax has already been taken out from your total bill. There are shops that will charge you for the entire price including tax but you can get the refund at a separate counter inside the shop. Please ask where you can get your tax refund from the shop because you can’t get it at the airport. I had this mistake during my first purchase. It was a bag that was around ¥11000 but you can get it for  ¥10000 without tax. I got confused when they still charged me for ¥11000 but they checked my passport and inserted the receipt so I assumed that I can get the tax refund at the airport. I left the shop and didn’t bother about it until I realized at the later part of our trip that these tax free shops will actually give you the refund themselves. True enough, there was no tax refund counter at the airport, so I ended up paying the full price and not getting the tax refund for that bag. Boohoo! Also, not all shops are tax free but you can clearly see the signs if they are and I believe they have a uniform minimum purchase of ¥5000 before you can get a tax refund.

10 things I wished I knew before I went to Japan

10. Kobe beef, whether cooked as a street food or cooked in an expensive restaurant, tasted the same. Both tasted delicious, but the former is a lot cheaper than the latter.

Okay, maybe I’m not a certified beef expert. All I know is that the greater the marbling is on the beef, the higher the quality. But other than that, I can’t really tell the difference. When I bought a Kobe beef on the street, it was so delicious it melts it my mouth. So I convinced my friend that we definitely have to splurge on eating at a high end beef restaurant in Osaka. And we did, and it tasted the same. Lol! But the service in that restaurant was awesome and you eat in front of the butchered meat enclosed in an aquarium-shaped freezer (it was fascinating). Still, it was so delicious but so expensive too. We paid a whooping ¥7000+ for that meal as compared to ¥1000+ on the street. Oh, well!

10 things I wished I knew before I went to Japan

In case you missed my “Beautiful Strangers in Japan” photo collection, it’s posted on my gallery.

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    Field Guide: Tokyo to Osaka | Im A Lost Dreamer
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