Planning a Trip to Japan: Parts 5 & 6

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Part 5: What to Pack

Must have:
  1. Passport - This is your legal identification while in Japan; you're supposed to carry it at all times.
  2. Clothes - Don't be naked. You'll be sitting on the floor in some places so be sure your crack doesn't show. I always add +1 to my underwear count, just in case ("in case" of what, I'm not sure and I don't want to think about it). Layering is important, as the weather varies.
  3. Shoes - Be sure they're comfortable to walk in and slip on and off easily, as you'll be doing both a lot. Update: And be sure they won't let your feet get wet in the rain!
  4. Socks - Since you'll be taking your shoes off for traditional Japanese hotels, restaurants, and temples, be sure you have nice socks either on your feet or in your bag.
  5. Toiletries - Check to see what your hotel provides, and bring the rest. Don't get all stinky and gross on your vacation.
  6. Phrase book - I recommend Japanese at a Glance. It has a ton of information and the sections are color-coded. After I got it as a gift I was able to take three of my old books and put them away.
  7. Guides and maps - I spent a lot of time looking at the area maps on Japan Guide and printed a few pages for my own notebook. I also got the Knopf Mapguide for Tokyo. It's thin and has fold-out maps of each prefecture in Japan, as well as a list of interesting things in each area. The back has train and hotel information too.
  8. Camera - For the love of all that is holy, don't forget your camera. Take pictures like you know that as soon as you get home a piano will fall on you and give you amnesia. You can never have too many pictures of a trip.
Also recommended:
  1. Document copies - Leave a photocopy of your passport and credit cards with your main luggage, in case your real one gets lost or stolen. Also leave a photocopy back at home with someone reliable, like your mother.
  2. Entertainment - Don't forget a few small electronics or something to keep yourself entertained on that long flight. I'm bringing my Nook and Nintendo DS. Update: The personal entertainment centers on Korean Air were actually plenty to keep me entertained. I watched a lot of movies and played Tetris.
  3. Hankie/tissues - I hear most Japanese restrooms don't supply toilet paper, paper towels, or hand dryers. Most people dry their wet hands with a hankie, and carry a small pack of tissues for wiping. Businesses in the area also give out these packets of tissues in lieu of a plain flier. So I hear, at least. Update: Both of these rumors are true.
  4. Ear plugs - If you're sleeping dormitory-style, in case you run into a snorer.
  5. Journal - For most of my past trips, I just have pictures to remember things by. This time I will have my Tokyo moleskine to journal in. A small notebook would work too; I was lucky enough to receive the moleskine as a gift. Update: I mostly wrote in my other notebook and use my moleskine to press flowers.
  6. Medication - Airplanes are little more than airborne germ tubes, so pack some cold medicine. You probably also want some headache medicine, as Japanese over-the-counter drugs are weaker than American drugs. Be sure you pack them in their original packaging. I also hear condoms are smaller (ha) and more expensive in Japan. Update: They are totally, like, way smaller. Wow.
  7. Umbrella - It rains a lot in Japan. They sell umbrellas at the 100 yen stores though, if you want to risk it. Update: Our hotel had loaner umbrellas that were much nicer than the ones we brought. Though there were a couple of days where it was nice to have a small one in my purse instead of carrying around the big nice ones anyway.
  8. Gifts - You're supposed to give gifts in Japan. I'm going to bring a couple of American magazines for our ryokan's proprietors. Update: I gave them a Cosmopolitan and a Mad and it was awesome. They gave me candy, charms with our names carved in them, and a painting. Gifts are fun!
  9. Watch - If you're like me, you use your cell phone to tell time. Well, in Japan you won't have use of your cell phone. Bring a watch!
  10. Room for souvenirs - Don't pack your bag too full that you don't have room for souvenirs! I'm actually packing a bag that folds up really small in my main bag because I plan on buying many cute things. Update: I filled that whole extra bag to the brim. Shopping was glorious.
  11. Plastic bag - I always bring one when I travel to put my dirty laundry in.
  12. Security bag - Keep your passport and some cash in a security bag under your shirt. Japan is a relatively safe country, but there are always shady people around. Update: I felt fine not wearing one, with my passport and money in deep pockets in my messenger bag, which I kept close at all times.
On Japanese plugs and power: Plugs in Japan are the same as American two-prong plugs. They run at 100V, while Americans get 110V. That said, most American electronics should work just fine plugged into a Japanese outlet, but if you have something you cherish you may not want to plug it in, as something temperamental could be damaged. (More on electricity in Japan.)

Whether or not that sounds like a lot of stuff, all of my packing will fit in my pink gym bag and purse. I don't plan on checking any luggage, unless I fill up that extra souvenir bag, in which case I'll have to check that on the way back. If I can go to Oklahoma for three weeks without one carry on and a purse, I think one week in Japan with the same is reasonable.

Part 6: To Do Between Now and Then
  1. Get a passport. We just went down to the library one day and applied for them. It was easy, but it took a few weeks to arrive in the mail so don't put this off.
  2. Check with your bank about their international ATM use policy. My bank, for example, charges a $5 fee for overseas withdraws. Not all "cash machines" in Japan accept American cards; 7-11 ATMs, Japan Post, Citibank, and Shinsei bank do.
  3. Call or email your hotel to confirm your reservation. I did this immediately after making my reservation through the Welcome Inn Resource Center and again a week before traveling there, via email.
  4. Call your airline and pick where you're gonna sit on the plane. If you want and they let you.
  5. Buy yen.You can do this at your bank, a travel agent, the airport before you depart, or you can wait until you arrive at your destination. More on this below.
  6. Call your bank and credit card company to let them know you'll be overseas. Otherwise they will probably assume fraud and cut off your card.
  7. Fantasize about your awesome trip.
On buying yen:
If you search the Internet for exchange rates they'll give you a number, but you're not going to get that number. When I called my bank and demanded they justify this horrible meanness they said that the prices reported by the media are "corporate" exchange rates, but travelers get "retail" exchange rates. I guess that makes sense. It's still rude though.

I called our bank and they said they don't keep yen on hand, so it would take a day or two to complete the transaction. They charge a $7.50 flat fee for exchanges over $1000. When we went in they said, oh, by the way, it could take up to five days. Too freaking late! We're leaving in four days! And weekends don't count!

Oh well, should've done it a week in advance.

I called the American Express travel agency. They offered the same rate as the bank with a $7.00 flat fee for anyone, or a $5.00 flat fee for AmEx card holders. I told them "My traveling companion is a card holder, does he need to come in?" and they said "No, don't worry about it." I drove down there with the cash (if you use credit your card company will list it as a "cash advance" and charge you extra fees) and they handed over the yen. Oh, and, because I totally forgot about the $5.00 fee I was like $2.63 or something short and was so sorry and they just shrugged and said "It's fine." How fabulous is that?

For reference, today Yahoo! Finance was listing the exchange rate at 93 yen to the dollar, our bank was offering 88 yen to the dollar, so was American Express, and LAX was offering 82 yen to the dollar.

Parts 1 & 2: Deciding When to Go and Buying a Plane Ticket
Parts 3 & 4: Trains?! and Deciding Where to Stay
Parts 5 & 6: What to Pack and To Do Between Now and Then
Part 7: Stuff I Wanna Do
Part 8: Links, Links, and Links


Anonymous said...

Just a suggestion - I work for a bank and get employee discount when I ask for currency exchange. I am not sure how close it is to whatever it is the exchange rate is (that changes every minute or second), but it's something to consider! Find a friend!


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