Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010

Japan Trip Part 1: Planning and Costs

Last month I went to Japan for two weeks! Yes, by myself. Leaving on Dec 15th, with the help of an 11 hour flight and timezone changes I arrived on the 16th and stayed until it was time to leave on the 30th. Most of the time was in Tokyo. I had a great time, and kept some notes about what I did most days, so I'm typing them up as well as embedding a few choice pictures. If you want to look at pictures without context, they are here.

For this post I'm going to just write about my travel prep, and leave the details of my time there for my next post. I didn't fully commit myself to going until around November 6th. As such my flight and hotel costs almost certainly could have been lower, but I don't think the whole trip was that expensive. I paid $1358 for the base flight, which went from Seattle -> San Francisco -> Haneda plus about another $170 + $180 + $50 for some leg room extension upgrades on 3 of the 4 flights. At least this seemed to qualify me for 2 free checked bags rather than $50 each as is pretty common. For the international flights, being as tall as I am (about 6'5"), I found this to be a necessity rather than a luxury. There were some additional possible upgrades to what looked like a pod you could fully recline in, something to consider for next time.

So in total, cost of flight was about $1750. With earlier planning, and/or if you're smaller so don't require the extra legroom seats, I'm sure you could find something for half as much. (I actually found some flights around $800 even as late as I was looking but they were multi-stop huge travel time endeavors.)

The hotel was more reasonable. I stayed at the Hotel Villa Fontaine. It's in a pretty good location with a few subway stops close by, had free breakfast, free wifi (which I didn't use), and laundry machines (also didn't use). It wasn't too expensive, about $1250 for all 14 nights, which is close to an average of $89/night. Some nights were less, some more due to the time of year. If you're looking for something cheaper, they exist, and on the super-cheap scale there are capsule hotels and hostels some of which are sub-$10 per night (I didn't check AirBnB).

Since I wanted to travel outside of Tokyo at least a little bit, I bought a 7-day JR Pass from here (there are other vendors) for about $273 total. The JR pass gives you free rides on all but the two fastest bullet trains across the country (and several JR-owned local lines but I didn't bother with those much). I found the site HyperDia invaluable to help with these bullet train trips. Additionally it shows you the costs you would normally have to pay. With just a few there-and-back trips a few hours out of Tokyo, the pass pays for itself.

I wasn't sure how my cell phone would fare connectivity-wise. Sprint is owned by SoftBank, a giant Japanese headquartered multinational, so I expected it would be ok, but in any case my plan in theory only gives me free unlimited "3g speed" data in various international countries like Japan. If I wanted "high speed" / "tolerable speed" I'd have to pay for it and it would have cost around $100 or more. I wanted to be safe and have the greatest connectivity (Google Maps is invaluable for trains and everything, my offline maps app is good too but when I can I prefer a connection) so I rented a local "pocket wifi" device from here to use. I paid for the Premium Model, 75 down / 25 up (the up is better than my home internet, thanks Comcast...), and it cost $81 for the whole trip. It turns out I didn't really need it. When I arrived in Japan, Sprint sent me a text saying that lucky me, this time they were giving me free high speed that you usually have to pay for. Of course their high speed is still less than what the pocket wifi gave, but it was good enough, and I was connected pretty much everywhere the pocket wifi (which uses its own 4g internal SIM card) was.

So, cost of trip so far is $3354, with a lot of that optimizable by getting a hotel and flight earlier. Good to know for next time.

I paid another $290 through Travelocity to reserve two full-day tours with lunch as well as a seat at the Robot Restaurant show with a sushi dinner. I'll get to those in the next post, but they were totally worth it.

I converted about $1000 to Japanese Yen beforehand at my bank, since it's generally cheaper to do that on this side before you get there. This was to be my non-travel/non-lodging budget, aka food, local travel, local activities, and souvenirs, and I think it turned out to be a decent amount.

I did spend about another $100 with my credit card (no international fees! :)) because I could, and $80 for airport <-> home transportation. But all of this combined was my total costs and budget, so that makes the max trip cost close to $4800. It was less than that though because by the end I still came home with about $120 equivalent in Japanese currency, and that was after spending about another $80 to drain my Pasmo card (I had about $25 left after loading $100 onto it when I arrived, it's used to pay for non-JR subway/train rides and can also be used at some other places like convenience stores and vending machines) plus some remaining currency on crap at the airport.

Thus the final cost was really closer to $4700, $4600 if you don't count the airport splurge. ;) But if you're not counting that you might as well ignore some other costs (like the wifi or the second ~$60 suitcase I had to buy for returning because otherwise my primary one would be over the weight limit...) and then you're looking at closer to $4400... Anyway, hopefully this gives an idea of what an unoptimized 2-week trip for 1 can cost.

On the language preparation side, I tried to cram as much as I could beforehand (I've been very haphazardly learning vocab and kanji for a bit over a year now, I learned to parse hiragana/katakana around fall of 2016). I thought my preparation would help more, but upon arrival it quickly set in how useless my prep was. But it worked out, a number of people spoke English, a lot of signage and automated announcements have English, and most people I interacted with spoke enough English that we could communicate what needed to be communicated for the context.

For my own part, I maybe spoke ~20 unique words or phrases. Lots of "arigato gozaimasu" or "domo". So my advice would be: don't worry about language barriers, maybe memorize a few key phrases and Google Translate's app can help with some written bits but no need to think you need to prepare to e.g. the level of broken conversational fluency. One of my tour guides was from Australia, he said he hardly spoke at all during his first year. Additionally the country gets more and more tourism each year and seems pretty busy preparing for the upcoming 2020 Olympics, so you can only expect the English availability to improve.

For details on the trip itself... Go here.

Posted on 2018-01-08 by Jach

Tags: japan, language, personal, travel


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