KSB2015 Travel

So you want to go to Japan in 2015 for KSB2015. That’s great, but you don’t know where to start with planning. When and where should you buy your plane ticket? How much money should you bring? Will your credit card work in Japan? Where do you stay while you’re over there? How will you get around?

This will be a guide answering a lot of common questions on what to plan for and how to plan when traveling to Japan.

Map of Japan

You will notice a lot of markers on this map. It marks major cities, airports, arcades, sight-seeing spots, and much more. It is hard to find everything on the map visually so you should use the tables under each layer to search for things depending on what city you’re in.

Passport

US Passport Site

A lot of people start planning to travel abroad without even thinking about this. You need a passport. No ifs, ands or buts. You should secure your passport as early as possible in the planning process because sometimes it can take a while to get. Depending on where and how you get your passport, it can take anywhere from 1-6 weeks before it’s in your possession. You do not want to make this the last step of your planning process. You will also need it to before you purchase your plane ticket.

What you need:

  1. Money for Fees. Roughly $135 for a Passport Book. If you wish to have the process expedited you will be playing about $60 more. Overnight shipping will cost you more as well.
  2. Evidence of US Citizenship. Your original birth certificate works best if this is the first time you’re applying for a passport and you were born in the United States (it needs to have a raised or multicolored seal). A copy of your birth certificate will not work, it needs to be the original. If you have an old passport, that works just as well. Other options include a consular report of birth abroad or a certificate of naturalization/citizenship.
  3. Photo Identification. Any photo identification works: drivers license, military/government ID, school ID, old passport, or certificate of naturalization.
  4. A Passport Photo. This will be the photo used inside of your passport. You cannot “troll” like some people do in their driver license: it must be a recent picture that looks like you. These pictures can be taken at a couple different locations such as a post office or a CVS. If you decide to take your own picture, the photo requirements are laid out in the above URL.
  5. Forms. Depending on how you choose to get your passport, you’ll either have to print out the forms and mail them or fill them out in person.

All other questions you might have can be answered by searching in the above URL. If you’re not traveling from the US you’ll need to do your own research on what is required of you in terms of passports, visas and vaccinations.

Money

The second most important thing you need for this trip is a no-brainer: money. The following will be tiered by how much money you should be saving, depending on how comfortable you want to be if you want to spend a week in Osaka. I’ll be breaking this all down in the next few sections. This was put here just as a general goal you should shoot for.

  • Just Enough To Get By – ~$2000
  • Comfortable – ~$2600
  • Super Comfortable – $3000+

It should also be noted that because of exchange rates, you could be bringing more (or less) money than what you originally intended. In 2013 there was a point where 1 USD was the equivalent to 80 JPY (ouch). To make sense of this, pricing in Japan is pretty much the same as our own, and 1 cent here should be the equivalent to 1 yen in Japan, or in other words 1 USD = 100 JPY. Right now, as I’m writing this (December 2014), the exchange rate is 1USD = 117.85 JPY. This means you get more bang for your buck. Let it be said that there is a long time for this to fluctuate in the coming year, so you should definitely keep your eye on this rate because it could mean the difference between a couple hundred dollars.

Plane Ticket

Unless you’re already in Japan you’re going to have to buy a plane ticket. Depending on where you start from (East Coast USA vs West Coast USA vs Canada), your price can differ in the hundreds of dollars.

Common sites to search for ticket prices:

The date for this event is May 2nd – 4th 2015. Some current ticket prices as of December 2014 from April 30th – May 7th to ITM (Osaka, Japan) are as follows:

  • From EWR (Newark, New Jersey): $1467
  • From LAX (Los Angeles, California): $850
  • From YUL (Montreal, Canada): $1089
  • From ORD (Chicago, Illinois): $1462
  • From MIA (Miami, Florida): $1411
  • From JFK (New York, New York): $1521

Some current ticket prices as of December 2014 from April 30th – May 7th to KIX (Osaka, Japan) are as follows:

  • From EWR (Newark, New Jersey): $1081
  • From LAX (Los Angeles, California): $857
  • From YUL (Montreal, Canada): $1326
  • From ORD (Chicago, Illinois): $1167
  • From MIA (Miami, Florida): $1646
  • From JFK (New York, New York): $1026

Some current ticket prices as of December 2014 from April 30th – May 7th to NRT (Tokyo, Japan) are as follows:

  • From EWR (Newark, New Jersey): $1015
  • From LAX (Los Angeles, California): $1006
  • From YUL (Montreal, Canada): $974
  • From ORD (Chicago, Illinois): $1164
  • From MIA (Miami, Florida): $1229
  • From JFK (New York, New York): $1023

A good rule of thumb is to check prices frequently and to track them on Kayak (they’ll send a tickler e-mail when the price is updated for a flight you choose).

Ground Transportation (Narita > Tokyo)

Even though you landed in Narita Airport, you’re still kind of far from Tokyo. The best way to get to almost anywhere in Japan is by train. Their train system is ridiculously efficient. It’s even efficient enough to force airlines to be competitive in pricing. There are three trains that run between Narita and Tokyo: Skyliner, Narita Express, and Kensei Limited Express.

  • Skyliner
    • 2,400 Yen (One-Way)
    • Stops at Nippori (Yamanote Line)
    • 40 Minutes
  • JR Narita Express
    • 1,500 Yen (One-Way For Foreigners) and Free with Railpass.
    • Stops at Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Ikebukuro (Yamanote Line)
    • 50 Minutes
  • Keisei Limited Express
    • 1,000 Yen (One-Way)
    • Stops at Nippori (Yamanote Line)
    • 80 Minutes

Ground Transportation (Around Osaka)

Coming soon…

Ground Transportation (Around Tokyo)

The Yamanote Line is the train line that you’ll most likely be using to get around Tokyo to visit different sites, restaurants, and not to mention: arcades. Without getting into too much detail, there are different train “lines” in and around Tokyo. The main lines are owned by JR, so I will only be talking about those. If you plan on using another line to travel somewhere, I will leave all research up to you on what line to take and how much it will cost.

There is no single guideline to how much money you should bring for ground transportation since it solely depends on how much you intend to travel each day. Most of the time a single ride will run you anywhere from 100-200 JPY (~$1-2 USD). To be conservative, take $2 and multiply it by how many times you plan on traveling by the Yamanote line per day, then multiply that by how many days you plan on staying in Tokyo.

Example: 4 subway rides a day, for 7 days = $2 * 4 * 7 = $56.

You should come up with your own trip cost for train usage. Plan where you want to go and see how much it will cost to get you there. To look up prices between stations use https://maps.google.com/ and find directions by public transit. Stay on the JR lines for convenience. I would only take another line (outside of JR) if it saves either a ton of time, money or if you’re forced to take another line to get to your destination.

Food

Who could forget? You’re going to have to eat while you’re over there, and planning on how you’ll want to eat is important. If you want you can spend as little as $10 a day to as much as $40. I’ll be honest, you probably won’t be eating (or spending) much in terms of breakfast. You’ll probably buy some sort of snack (100 – 200 Yen) from your local convenience store (combini) along with a drink to hold you out until lunch. At lunch you’ll buy some sort of fast food (~800 Yen MAX) such as ramen, beef bowl or curry to hold you off until dinner. For dinner you’ll either splurge on something like all you can eat yakiniku or keep it simple with another lunch type meal.

I don’t think I ever had a legit breakfast in Japan both times I went (except when Jiyuna made me scrambled eggs). Combinis are just too damn convenient and cheap. Most lunches consisted of ramen, curry, or fast food. Dinner was about the same as lunch but if you eat out at a restaurant you’ll be spending more (I would compare it to buying a restaurant dinner vs fast food lunch here). Also, it should be noted that when you eat out in Japan in a large group the bill is usually split evenly if you’re sharing with everyone at the table. You’re not going to be asking for split checks and you’re not going to be paying with credit card most likely either. Which leads me to the next section…

How to pay for things and how to get money.

I know that this section might seem pointless to you right now, but don’t worry, it will all make sense very soon.

To start off with the obvious: you won’t be buying things with USD (US Dollars) in Japan. Everything has to be bought in JPY (Japanese Yen), so you’ll have to exchange your useless dollars for the almighty yen. “But why not just use my credit or debit card for purchases” you’re probably asking yourself. Japan is a cash society, credit cards are rarely used (except for expensive purchases) and since your bank isn’t based in Japan you won’t be able to use your debit card either. What I’m saying is you’re most likely going to be using cash to make all of your purchases, so you’ll have to exchange USD into JPY. What’s the best way to do this though? You have a couple good options and a bunch of terrible ones.

  • ATM + Debit Card.
    • I know, I know, you’re probably saying “but Alan, you said I can’t use my debit card blah blah blah”. You’re correct in that you can’t use them to make direct purchases, but there are some ATMs in Japan that will let you withdraw money in JPY along with a transaction fee. How much is the transaction fee? That all depends on your bank. This is definitely something you should look into before going abroad because this method will probably save you the most money in the long run. The ATMs that will let you withdraw money can be found in the airport for your initial withdrawal and at all 7-11’s for the remainder of your trip.
  • Order money from your bank.
    • Before you travel you can always exchange money at your bank before you leave. Sometimes your bank will have to “order” the money, so don’t expect to walk in with $1000 cash and expect them to instantly hand over 100,000 Yen. One drawback from all of this (if this is the only way you plan on taking money with you) is that you could be left with having to travel with a lot of cash, which is a big no-no. God forbid you lose whatever you were carrying your money in, whether it be your wallet, pocket book, or luggage. Sometimes there will also be a fee associated with this transaction as well, and as with using your debit card the amount depends on your bank’s policy.
  • Travelers checks, buying cash online, or using the exchange kiosks at the airports.
    • Please don’t do this to yourself. The fees are outrageous and it’s usually a base percentage with no fee cap. Stick to either ATM + debit or ordering money through your bank and you should be good to go.

Where to stay.

Sadly, this will be the most expensive part of your trip outside of airfare and I have the least amount of information in it. Both times I traveled to Japan (for two weeks each time) I mostly stayed with friends, so my room cost was next to nothing. I don’t have a lot of experience when it comes to this but it’s not extremely difficult since you can research beforehand and there are english websites that will book for you (not to mention you can book and pay with your credit card).

  • Western Style Hotel
    • This will be the most expensive option listed. $90+ dollars a night depending on the hotel you choose to stay at. The closer to a train station the more it will cost you (usually). You can book hotels like this online with no additional fees.
  • Hostel
    • The cheapest option outside of staying with your friend who lives in Japan. This will start at $20/night and go up with the location and quality. Think of a hostel like a dormitory. There are a few people to each room and there is usually a shared bathroom and kitchen (sometimes). There’s even a chance that you could end up rooming with a complete stranger. I’ve never done this and probably never will, but I’ve known a lot of people who have done it without any problems.
  • Capsule Hotel
    • The one man wolf pack. Capsule hotels are pretty awesome. You have your hole in the wall (literally) and a locker for your stuff for at ~$30/night. There will be a communal bathroom/spa and a few vending machines. These weren’t designed for people making long stays, but you can definitely still make reservations for a week long trip.

Essentials and Recommendations

There are a couple of things I’ll recommend purchasing/ordering/getting while in Japan to make your experience a lot less stressful.

  • 3G/4G Cell Phone Data
    • There are a couple ways to get a data plan while in Japan. One is to buy a travel SIM card and put it into your compatible phone. Compatible meaning it uses the same antenna frequency as Japan and the phone allows for a different SIM card. (http://www.bmobile.ne.jp/english/index.html) The data comes in handy when you need to access the internet on the go (free wifi exists but not everywhere), and it also helps when using GPS to get directions. I don’t recommend getting a voice plan since you probably won’t be using it. Another way of getting cellphone data is to either rent a hotspot or smartphone. Splitting the cost of a hotspot with a few friends probably wouldn’t be a bad idea if you plan to always travel together. Hotspots and phones can be rented at the airport(s). Travel SIM cards can be purchased and then picked up at the post office in an airport or hotel.
  • Portable Phone Charger
    • When waiting to sit down at an arcade cabinet or while you’re on the trains, you’ll definitely be looking at your phone. Most days you’ll be away from your room for 12+ hours, and with heavy usage your phone it will probably die sooner or later. Most public places don’t have complementary outlets so you’ll either have to not use your phone that much or get a portable charger. Portable chargers can be picked up on Amazon for cheap. Look up the capacity of your battery and multiply that by 1 or 2 times and that’s the charge capacity you should get. At first I wondered why everyone in Japan had one of these and then I quickly learned why.
  • Change Purse
    • The manliest assist of all time: the change purse. There are no 1 and 5 dollar bills in Japan, so when you’re buying anything under 10 dollars (almost everything) you’ll be using nothing but change. Also, Japan does something great: it includes taxes in the price of an item. Because of this, while you’re waiting to pay at a register you can prepare the exact change you’ll need to make your purchase. When it’s your turn, you put your money on a little change dish (you never actually hand your money to the cashier), they’ll count your exact change and then you’ll be on your way.
  • Suica Card
    • A Suica card is a rechargeable debit card. You can get one at the JR office in the airport and you can add money to them at the ticket machines in almost all train stations. So what can you use them for? Almost anything. You can use them to quickly pay for train fare on JR lines (instead of having to buy the correct ticket) and make purchases at most combinis or vending machines. You can also use them to pay for lockers in train stations which are incredibly useful when you buy stuff and don’t feel like hauling it around. The card is free (500 JPY refundable deposit) and makes your trip super convenient. There’s no reason not to get one.
  • JR Railpass
    • http://www.japanrailpass.net/eng/en001.html
    • Both times I’ve gone to Japan I’ve gotten a railpass. You purchase a railpass voucher before you travel to Japan, and then you exchange the voucher at almost any international airport in Japan for the actual pass. Depending on how much you spent on the voucher, the pass is good for either 7, 14, or 21 days. The pass pays for all of your rides on all JR lines including Shinkansen (bullet trains). There are restrictions to what trains you can ride on and how far you can actually go, but you’re an unstoppable traveling force on JR lines with this in your hand. Definitely worth the price if you plan on riding the shinkansen a lot during your trip. To give you an idea on the price, a regular railpass for 7 days costs about $290. A one-way ticket to Kyoto from Tokyo is about $140. If you think about it, you’ll be spending more than $10 on ground transportation that could also be covered by the pass, so after one trip to Kyoto/Osaka (or the other way around) along with a couple days in each city the pass pays for itself.
  • Travel Dates
    • Since the tournament is during the last weekend of Golden Week, it’s better that you plan for your first weekend  to be in Osaka and then get in any traveling you wanted to do. Why? Traveling during Golden Week in Japan is extremely difficult and frustrating. Almost everyone is off work and on vacation so booking shinkansen tickets can be difficult (even with a railpass). The major cities are packed and so are the subways/trains.

Useful Japan Travel Resources

Language Preparation

Learn the language. I’m not saying that you should be fluent, but learning simple expressions and understanding how to order and/or buy things will make your trip more enjoyable. The more you know and understand the better off you are. Also, don’t forget that this trip will be planned for a tournament, so being able to communicate with foreign players would be a good goal to work toward.

Most police officers and station attendants speak pretty good English. They will be able to ask or answer questions in English. If you want to have a casual conversation with a player though, it will probably be up to you to learn Japanese.

There are a couple good free/cheap tools I recommend for studying:

[Android]: JA Sensei – I recommend you buy this as it has pretty much every tool you’ll need for studying.

[Web]: http://www.guidetojapanese.org/learn/grammar – Good free Japanese grammar guide and learning tool. Also comes in iOS and Android apps.

[Web]: http://jisho.org/ – Japanese dictionary.

Closing Remarks

Going to Japan is an adventure in itself and you will have fun just traveling there and experiencing the culture shock. The tournament will be awesome, but experiencing a new country will be even better. The first time I went I made side trips to Nagoya and Okinawa to see friends, but I mainly stayed in Tokyo for most of my trip. After coming back to the states I realized that I pretty much never left a city. My second trip I got out of the cities more by going to Hakone (for a hot spring) and Koyasan (to stay in a buddhist lodging). What I’m saying is: even though staying in a city and going to the arcades are both awesome, there are a lot of other accessible things to do that will make your experience more enjoyable. Go to a hot spring, go see Mt. Fuji, visit the beach, or go to the fish market. A lot of gardens and historical landmarks are cheap (or free) to get into once you get there, so the only real cost is travel. Arcades were great, but experiencing and seeing a different culture was, in my honest opinion, much more enjoyable.

I hope this guide was at least a little helpful. If you see in grammatical errors or have any requests for topics I should consider adding please don’t hesitate to contact me through either Twitter (@St1ckBuG) or this website.