Dear visitor, if you know the answer to this question, please post it. Thank you!

Note that this thread has not been updated in a long time, and its content might not be up-to-date anymore.

First time visiting 2019/5/19 21:00

I've wanted to go to Japan my whole entire life, and I can not express how excited I am it is finally becoming a reality.

However, I am completely new to traveling alone. Never done a flight or hotel on my alone, let alone internationally. But, doing my best not to make any mistakes, I used Skyscanner and bought a ticket off the JAL site itself, which will be on their airline. I also booked the hotels on Booking, again carefully.
Even with the amount of research on all of this, I still need help. I'm probably a little stupid when it comes to this :P

So the plan is: A round trip, the first flight departs from Sea-Tac Airport (Seattle) on December 3rd, arrives the next day at Narita Airport in the afternoon over there. Returning flight is on December 17th. I plan to stay in Shinjuku, Tokyo from the the 3rd the the 8th, at a hotel called Hotel Empire. On that 8th, I want to checkout and then ride the train to Abeno, Osaka and check into to my hotel there called City Inn Nishi Tanabe, from that Sunday to the next. When I check out then, I want to ride the train back to spend my last 2 nights back in Tokyo, this time I want to try out staying at a nearby Manga and/or Capsule hotel. Then as soon as I wake the next morning, ride the train back to Narita Airport and head home.
I want to get a JR pass for this trip, so I just want to make sure the JR will cover all those mentioned rides, and it will all be free? I was also planning to visit Akihabara by train, and maybe a couple other places.

First question I have is, for a first time solo flyer and traveler, what all am I required to bring (Passport, which I already have, that's all I know so far)? And what is every little step, I need to take as soon as I'm at the airport that I'm going to depart from, and every step I need to take as soon as I walk off the plane in the Narita Airport? Where to go, to do what etc. I was going to exchange my money when I get to the Narita airport. Unless, if I wanted to order food on the plane on the way there, would I have to pay it in USD or Yen? Also, after I bought the ticket, I received 2 emails from JAL. One is a conformation email, the other is an Electronic Ticket Itinerary/Receipt, it says, which is a a long regular looking text email with all the information. What do I with these exactly to present it to the airports when the time comes? Do I print them out at home, then bring it with me there to show them?

I'm also confused about trains, I have zero experience riding trains at all. How would the process go on getting on a train with the JR pass, step by step? How do I know which train to go on? And when you *get on* a train ride, does the trains stop at other trains stations on the way, and you just have to wait until it stops at the station you're trying to get to? In which case, how will you know when it stops at yours? Or does it just run straight to your intended station?
I mostly want to know the process for step by step process for the first time I have to do it, which is obviously after I've gone through everything else at the airport. Where and what exactly will I have to use to get from Narita Airport's train station to my hotel in Shinjuku?
The address for Hotel Empire is: 169-0073 , Tokyo, Shinjuku Ward, Shinjuku-ku, Hyakunin-cho 1-15-33

Thank you very much for your time. I'm sorry for how much information that I'm asking. If there's any questions you have, or need me to explain anything better, feel free to let me know!
by Esnc95  

Re: First time visiting 2019/5/20 11:41
Hi Ensc95,

I want to do my best to give you as much information as possible to help you with your queries.

Assuming you are a US citizen all you need to visit Japan for 90 days is a valid US Passport. I do know someone who arrived in Japan with an expired Passport. Don't be that person.

When flying Internationally, I don't tend to check-in on line, because I almost always want to check a bag since it's free and it's just easier to do that at the airport. If your JAL flight did not include a seat assignment you can book one 24 hours in advance of your departure when you check in on-line. After checking in, you can either have an e-ticket sent to your cell phone or print out a ticket or just re-check-in with the staff when you take up your suitcase and they will give you a boarding pass. For International flights I do tend to use the staff at the airport check-in to receive ticketing, and they will give me my boarding pass. All I need is my passport for them to find me in the system, if that were to ever fail I would use the email confirmation.

The best way to figure out exactly where your hotel is, is Google Maps. Many people rent SIM Cards or rent a cell phone or rent pocket WiFi while in Japan. I happen to be on Project Fi, Google's cell phone service, and when I turn on roaming my cell phone works in Japan as is. I will occasionally have dropped texts to Japanese numbers, but the internet and calls always work and I can text people in the USA just fine. It's cheaper than renting a SIM or pocket WiFi for me.

You can use Google Maps now to get some idea where your hotels are. So for example, your hotel in Tokyo while in Shinjuku is actually much closer to Shin-Okubo and Okubo train stations. Both are on JR lines (the Yamanote and Sobu respectively.) Your hotel in Osaka is near Nishitanabe subway station. The subway is NOT covered by a JR pass. Most JR (Japan Railways) passes only cover trains owned by JR. They don't cover the subway.

I am still a huge fan of hyperdia http://www.hyperdia.com/ for finding how often trains or subways run. I've not used them for bus routes, but I tend to prefer trains and subways.

Yes, when you get a train you must wait for your stop. Depending on the train and your stop it could be a long wait or a short wait. The shinkansen or bullet trains make the announcements in English and in Japanese for all stops. They play a helpful chime to let you know you are approaching the station so you can gather your belongings. Other trains and the subway frequently have a screen inside the car letting you know what the next station is in both Japanese and English characters. All train and subway stations I've ever seen are also always written out in Japanese and English characters. You really just need to stop and take a deep breath and look around.

For taking JR trains with a pass, just look for the manned ticket windows and show your JR pass. If you want to reserve seats for a train, you would go to a manned ticket office in a larger station and let them know where you would like to go and approximately what time.

However, I am not sure a JR Pass actually works for you. A 14 day Pass will not pay off with the travel you currently have listed. A 7 day Pass also won't work since you say you are in Osaka Sunday to Sunday. To get a 7 day to barely work, you would need to leave on a Sunday and return to Tokyo on Saturday the last day of your pass. (Sun (day 1); Mon (day 2); Tues (day 3), Wed (day 4); Thurs (day 5); Fri (day 6); and Sat (day 7.) A JR pass will not cover any of the subway transport you plan to use in Osaka.

You might be better off getting a JR East discounted Narita express ticket for helping you take the Narita Express from Narita to Tokyo roundtrip. https://www.jreast.co.jp/e/pass/nex_round.html

For travel around Tokyo/Osaka you will want to get some sort of IC card. Since you're starting in Tokyo it would make sense to get a Pasmo or Suica. Other than the picture and where it is purchased, there will not be a lot of differences for your purposes between the two. A Suica can be bought at any large JR Station. It's an IC card that you put money on (like 1000 yen) and then you just tap it to go through the gates to take a train or subway. IC cards can also be used on many buses. I have a Suica Card as does my daughter. A Pasmo is the same sort of IC card, it was just bought at a subway station vs. a JR Station. It will still work for JR trains as long as there is money on it. You can read about them here: https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2359_003.html There are pictures showing the car readers. You need to put down a refundable 500 yen deposit to have an IC card. an IC card would be valid for the subways in Osaka, and you will need to take the subway to get to most tourist places in Osaka from your hotel.

So in the case you decide to buy the discounted JR NEX ticket I linked to above you would do the following: After going through Customs head to ground transport which is one or two levels lower. There will be a JR East office with signs in English lettering. Go there and buy your special discounted JR Nex ticket. If you have a pass, you can also turn it in there so you have your official actual pass vs. the pass order which is what you received in the mail. They will help you book a NEX to Shinjuku. You will take your tickets and either go through the gates or if you are feeling unsure there is a manned entrance and you can go through there. You will then take another escalator to the actual track. You will then look at your ticket which will tell you an exact time for your train, a track number, a car number and a seat number. There will be signs for car numbers and go to the one on your ticket. If you are confused ask someone for help. There will be a chime a few moments before your train arrives. Enter the train and find your assigned seat. Make sure the train is the train you have a ticket for and not a train going elsewhere. Your NEX will not stop again (since I believe JAL is in terminal 1 if your flight for some reason came into terminal 2, the train will start at your station and you can watch the people clean it before they allow boarding. In that case, the 1st stop will be Terminal 1.) until you reach Tokyo Station. A chime will play a few minutes before and a voice will let you know in English that you are arriving at Tokyo Station. Do not exit. You will stay at Tokyo Station a bit longer because the trains tend to split there and one part goes down to Yokohama and the other half goes to Shinjuku, which is why it's important you told the staff at the JR Office you wanted Okubo or Shin-Okubo. They will know you want a ticket to Shinjuku then. I believe the train will then often stop in Shibuya and then in Shinjuku. Once on the platform you will have some walking to do to transfer to another line to get closer to your hotel. If you were to exit Shinjuku Station here, you would have a little more than 2 kms to walk to get to your hotel. It can be walked, but depending on how much luggage you have and the time of day the streets could be crowded. So assuming you stay in Shinjuku Station, you will walk along the platform towards the signs that say transfer to either the Sobu line (pale yellow) or Yamanote line (lime green) Once you find the tracks for the Sobu or Yamanote, you need to get on in the right direction. In the case of the Sobu, you are heading towards Nakano or Mitaka. In the case of the Yamanote, it's Ikebukuro. Either line you would take one station. On the Sobu, it's one station to Okubo Station and on the Yamanote line it is one station to Shin-Okubo. At Okubo you will look for signs in English for the South exit. You can go through a manned gate, since it is easier if you've never done this before. The Shin-Okubo exit on the Yamanote line will be a slightly longer walk since there only is one exit. Based on the pictures I am seeing on Google Maps Shin-Okubo only has stairs, while the North exit of Okubo exit has an elevator. Depending on the amount of luggage you have you might prefer the elevator to taking the closer but stairs only South exit. From there you would walk to your hotel, it should be no more than 5 minutes. I've never stayed in that area and I've not been to that area in about decade. There use to be a lovely vegan lunch place in that area and I went there a few times.

I hope this helps!
by rkold rate this post as useful

Re: First time visiting 2019/5/20 12:16
Thank you so much!! I appreciate you taking all the time to give me so much helpful information!! It helps me out so much, and I'm feeling more ready for this now.
by Esnc95 rate this post as useful

Re: First time visiting 2019/5/20 15:13
Congratulations on booking your trip. I will admit I havent read all of the reply from @rkold so he may have covered this.
I am in the UK and certainly from here the food is included in long haul flights so you probably wont have to buy food on the plane. I always print two copies of the eticket (and other booking details) & put one in my luggage.
This site has a great video about riding the train hosted on youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aW_sw77sqvE One note of caution. I have seldom been as lost as in Japanese train stations so take note of what they say about signs.
When you reach your hotel take a business card from the reception so that if you get lost you can use it to ask for directions. There are local police stations called a Koban and I have had to pop in & ask for help more than once.
Japan is still a very cash heavy society so I always change my money before I travel. You will hear different opinions regarding the best place to do so so look around.
Google translate is a huge helpso if you have an android phone I would make sure it is installed & that you have downloaded the Japanese language files.

by Stan Norrell rate this post as useful

Re: First time visiting 2019/5/20 22:33
For details on how airlines and airports work, talk to someone you know who has flown internationally before. It's basically the same all over the world.

For how trains work, how to buy tickets, etc, look it up on the train section of this website. You'll also find a section on how to check train fares - so that you can compare the price of a pass with just buying a regular return from Tokyo to Osaka (which may well be cheaper for you than a pass). In fact, if you had just googled "Tokyo to Osaka by train" you would have found a rough idea of how long it takes and how much it costs.

If you can find a friend who has done some travelling before, especially one who has been to Japan, then I suspect that half an hour talking to them about your more general queries will probably get you further, quicker, than a web question forum.
by Winter Visitor rate this post as useful

Re: First time visiting 2019/5/20 22:46
Speaking as a US person (and I'm a she, not a he) don't change money before arriving in Japan, The exchange rate is terrible at any of the banks or airport kiosks in the USA and generally a good 10+ yen lower than the official rate. 10 yen lower will add up, it's like paying 10% more on all items. When you arrive in Japan before heading to ground transport there are banks where you can exchange money or you can find an ATM. USA ATM cards work at some ATMs. Usually post office ones, sometimes others. ATM hours in Japan tend to be much shorter than in the USA, as some actually close at night, please be aware. Do not bring traveler's cheques or any sort of personal checks. No one will take them.

I've never been to Seattle. I have flown JAL and ANA from NY, Chicago, San Francisco, and LAX. On all of those routes, you are given free food and free non-alcoholic beverages. There might even be some free alcoholic beverages, I don't drink on long flights. You can request non-alcoholic drinks as much as you would like within reason. I'm not particularly enamoured of the food, as I'm vegetarian, but it's enough to keep you from being hungry. Unlike flights within the USA you are allowed a free check-in and a free carry-on item as well as a personal item. You'd have to dreadfully overpack or buy a lot in Japan for this to become a problem. In general, flying to Japan is much more enjoyable than flying within the USA.

In terms of entertainment, JAL and ANA tend to have individual monitors for seats in Economy and Premium Economy. I've not flown Business Class in a quite a long while but they along with First of course have entertainment options as well. There is generally a plethora of entertainment that you have complete control over. I usually partake of the selection of Japanese movies subtitled into English because many of them will never come to the USA. The selection for children is generally lacking.

Like @Stan Norrell said, it is very easy to get lost in some stations (like Shinjuku, I personally tend to have a hard time in Namba remembering what exit I want) but if you pause and take a deep breath and don't panic there is almost always signs in English as well. The bigger the station the more signs in English. The signs will tell you in English what exit you are near and what is near said exit, they will tell you with color coding trains and or subways you can transfer to at that station. Every line has a specific color coded to it. When a station is not a terminus station there will be listings of Station names to let you know which track is the correct one for your train. Tokyo Station is the terminus for several lines, including many shinkansen. It's a big station, but there is also currently an information desk with foreigners working there who seem to speak English. I happen to love Tokyo Station, many others do not. From your current hotel you will likely be taking the subway ( I believe it's on the Midousuji line. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mid%C5%8Dsuji_Line) quite frequently. Individual subway tickets, like local train tickets, won't have assigned seats or cars or track numbers. (which is not a problem since hopefully you are using an IC card.) Sometimes there is a listing of all stations in either direction above the stairs to the subway, (I think Kyoto does this) sometimes it is just a listing of larger station names. Spend some time with Google figuring out your general direction. Some lines it doesn't matter on. The Yamanote line in Tokyo is a huge loop. If you get on at Shin Okubo and you want to go to Ueno, it might take longer if you go towards Shinjuku, Harajuku and Shibuya vs. Ikebukuro, but either route will eventually take you where you want to go. Within Tokyo and Osaka missing a train is generally not a big a deal. Yamanote line trains run once every 2-7 minutes depending on time of day. There are places trains are less frequent, But those places tend to be in the countryside.

Finally, there is your stuff. If you have a lot of bags and you are worried about transporting them, there are various ways to transport bags from hotel to hotel or airport to hotel for a fee. The service is safe, easy and not that expensive. Narita and Haneda Airports have some same day services to hotels while from hotel to hotel usually takes 1 day. So if you send a bag on the Sunday you leave Tokyo, it will arrive in Osaka on Monday. Local transport (like subways) are not really meant for large bags and can be very crowded. I tend to avail myself of takyuubin services every trip. You can read more about it here: https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2278.html or do a Google search on hands free luggage Japan. Some include a discounted ticket on the private Keisi line. Keisi is another company (not JR) which has transport to and from Narita. If you use them instead of JR and the NEX, you would take the Keisi to Nippori Station and transfer there for a JR Yamanote line train (lime green) headed towards Ikebukuro. Shin-Okubo is I believe the 3rd station after Ikebukuro. (First is Meijiro, then Takadanobaba, and finally Shin-Okubo.)

I hope this helps!
by rkold rate this post as useful

Re: First time visiting 2019/5/21 05:56
@Rkold. Sorry. As soon as I hit post I realised my mistake. My most humble apologies.
by Stan Norrell rate this post as useful

Re: First time visiting 2019/5/21 22:15
Here some additional advise from a seasoned traveler who started solo traveling only about 2 yrs ago in Japan.:

- You habe about 6 months before your trip. Try to do a few short trips on your own in your own country by train just to understand how trains in general work and how traveling alone is
- get portable WiFi whole you are in Japan (or if you have a good roaming plan that can work too. Rkold knows more about that). In Japan you can either get a SIM card for data only for your phone or rent a device for portable WiFi. Hotels will have WiFi but there arenft that many other WiFi spots around. (One is 7/11 shops)
- research your train connections. I normally just use google maps , but there is also hyperdia. If you buy the Japanese rail pass , know that you cannot take all Shinkansen between Tokyo and Shin Osaka. Hyperdia can tell you more (Google maps isnft good for that)
- while train/bus information on google maps is accurate walking times are seriously underestimated. It doesnft take into account staircases you need to go up/ down, traffic lights or a second for orientation. So add ample time to that. And worst case youfll be earlier at your destination than thought.
- keep some extra money in your travel plan, should something unexpected happen
- the Shinkansen to gOsakah brings you to a station named Shin Osaka. This is not in the center of Osaka. From there youfll need to take an other train or subway to your final destination.
- if possible pack light.
- know that there are lockers (and sometimes other luggage storage) at nearly all stations.
- be at the airport with ample time. I normally just calculate 2 h for international departure, but I think got your safety if mind you should consider more
- check if your passport is valid for x months after your trip (I donft know how many. Maybe 6 months??)
- have your passport with you at ALL times. Itfs the law.
- know that English isnft spoken widely in Japan (although there was a huge improvement in the last 20 yrs). But must Japanese will be helping you happily if you need help.
- I would not sleep at a capsule hotel or manga cafe the night before departure. You need a good night sleep before a long trip. Maybe you can work that experience into your plan somewhere else?
- know that many capsule hotels are male only
- depending on your departure time from Narita you could consider spending the last night close to Narita. I personally like the Narita View Hotel because if the onsen. But a hotel in Narita city could also be great so you can have a visit to the temple there before departure (itfs not a must see, so really only if it makes sense in your plan)
- if you take NEX to Narita youfll need a reservation
- calculate well if the 7 Day JR pass pays off. Itfs 7 consecutive days and only JR LINES , ie not on subway or other company trains (eg not on Hankyu)
- on the flight youfll get food and drinks free. But I normally buy a bottle of water at the airport (after security) to have something to drink on me. Some cookies can also be handy.
- regarding money exchange I would change a bit (maybe 200 USD) back in the us. So you arrive and have some money. Then you can exchange more at the airport or in Shinjuku. (Although by all means your bank card should work at an ATM at 7/11). (I donft know about exchange rates as I have a yen account from the time I was living here
- I think you will visit a few other places than Shinjuku and Akihabara in Tokyo. Have a look at this webpage to get other ideas.

- have you already planned what you want to do in Osaka? I am one of the (many) people on this forum who think that Osaka isnft very interesting (and I am there quite often for business). Isnft maybe Kyoto the better choice?

And last but not least ENJOY!
by LikeBike (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: First time visiting 2019/5/23 03:05
I just wanted to say @Stan Norrell, it's OK, to be fair I picked this username a long time ago on other forums because it's gender ambiguous. :) On this forum, most users tend to be polite and if they're snarking at you, it's not because of your gender but because that is how they are.

I think @Like Bike makes a great point about trying to navigate trains in the US first. Before my first trip to Japan, I went to Montreal, to get an idea of what it was like traveling alone. I've been taking trains and subways for years, but I was nervous about traveling alone since it was the pre-cell phone days.

If you're in the US it is worthwhile to look into what your roaming charges are. On average (after 3 trips) I pay about $15-20 more a month on trips I use my cell phone in Japan. I tend to call home at least once and use Google Maps. At worst, that means I am spending $1 to $1.50 more per day and I've yet to see a pocket WiFi or other rental get down that low.

Many business or higher level hotels now offer free use "handy" cell phones. I'm not sure what data and message rates are but I expect they are competitive. I tend to not use the ones on offer because I do not want to carry two cell phones and I like using mine for pictures. You also would switch #s and handy phones each time you change hotels, which for me is problematic since I tend to chat with friends in Japan. I also admit, I worry about damaging them. Last trip, my daughter misplaced the keycard for opening our hotel room and the hotel came close to charging us 3200 yen. (I think someone found it and returned it to the hotel since we were not charged in the end.) In the USA, when you're done staying in a hotel with a keycard they frequently let you take them home with you and just issues new ones to arriving guests.
by rkold rate this post as useful

Re: First time visiting 2019/5/23 14:08
Since you have never been to Japan before, you can use the street view function of Google map to get familiar with the places you plan to go as your preparation work. For example, the Hotel Empire in Shinjuku you booked is located at a back street that some reviewers has described as not easy to find, so you may want to use street view to do a trial walk now from the nearest Shin-Okubo subway Station to save you time and headache figuring it out on your first day of arriving Japan. Bring a spare charger for your smart phone because enabling the GPS function and taking lot of pictures drains can the battery quickly, the Google translate app supports camera capture which is very handy to translate Japanese signs and restaurant menus (but it requires wifi or data connection). Make sure your phone is carrier unlocked if you plan to get a Japanese data sim, there are some free concierge apps available (such as Tabiko) to provide almost real time travel help in English.

Good luck!
by guest (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: First time visiting 2019/5/23 15:51
Hi, just wanted to thank all of you for your helpful information. I really appreciate you spending the time giving me so much information.
It helps out so much in understanding this and I feel more prepared and less anxious. This is the most excited I've ever been for anything, and it honestly feels shocking it's finally happening!

Thank you again guys for contributing with your help for my lifelong dream to work out.

by Esnc95 rate this post as useful

Re: First time visiting 2019/5/23 23:51
Wow! I'm jealous of your upcoming first timers trip to Japan. I went for the first time as a solo traveller 4 years ago and absolutely fell in love with Tokyo and Japan. I have been to 37 countries and many cities, but Tokyo stands out by far as my favorite. My first memories of arriving to Tokyo are some of my best. I have since returned 7 times because I can't get enough of Tokyo.

Some tips from my perspective;
Firstly, you aren't going to be able to do or see everything. If you lived in Tokyo for 100 years I don't think you could accomplish it all. Just pick some things you absolutely want to do and save some for your next trip.

Secondly, learn about the Yamanote line and use it. The subways are great fun and an awesome way to get around, but the JR trains (Yamanote and Chuo) are elevated and you can see so much from them. It's easy to use and has stops at most of the big tourists spots. There is a one day pass for the trains called the Tokunai Pass for only about $7 which gives you unlimited rides on the Tokyo area JR lines.

Third, your timing is great as the leaves will be turning for fall. For me it's more beautiful than the sakura (cherry blossom) season. Especially some of the shrines in Kyoto.

Lastly, it's going to be crowded everywhere. It's overwhelming but part of the fun.

Have fun!
by Brandon Townsend (guest) rate this post as useful

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