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Tony - Japan 2024 Planning


Tony Galiani

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Tony Galiani

And how is this for irony?  My technophile wife does not have an iPhone that can accept an eSim.  So while not quite Luddite Tony is going with an eSim, she will need get an actual sim card for her phone.  I know from @mojo's posts that we could get one at Yodobashi but wondering if there are any other places closer to Tokyo Station where we can pick one up?  We arrive on the 8th and head north on the 9th so not a lot of time to go running around to get her a card.

 

CIao,

Tony

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For reservation on the Tokaido, Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen, I use the Shinkansen smartEX app, which is in English. Tickets can be purchased using a credit card and linked to a Suica card (just by inputting its number). No need to print or retrieve tickets in advance.

 

The Suica app is very difficult to use if you don’t understand Japanese, but it is not really needed, unless you want to purchase green car tickets. 
 

Marc

 

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MeTheSwede
5 hours ago, Tony Galiani said:

I know from @mojo's posts that we could get one at Yodobashi but wondering if there are any other places closer to Tokyo Station where we can pick one up?

 

I've been buying a sim card at the first conbini I see after picking up my luggage at Narita Airport.

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Are you on iPhone or Android?

 

On iPhone you can top up from the wallet using Apple Pay. Visa cards don’t seem to work for some time now but my Mastercard and Amex work ok. I haven’t used the app since I transferred my physical card to virtual. 
 

You can take screenshots and open them in Google Translate, choose camera, then saved photos. 
 

Don’t understand why with all the effort they put in a lot of places to look after us English speakers why these apps are not also localised into English, it seems a strange omission. 
 

Not sure how much other train travelling you’re looking to do but at Y23560 to Hakodate you are in striking distance of the 6 day JR East and South Hokkaido pass at Y35000. 
 

There’s also the Kyun pass which could get you Tokyo to Shin Aomori for Y10000 (only on weekdays) then another Y7960 on a normal ticket to Hakodate. 

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During our last family trip, my wife booked a pocket WiFi box. Delivered to our hotel the day of arrival, we mailed it back at the end of our last day. It worked very well, we could use the internet / wifi  with our phones (3) and tablets. 
Google “Japan pocket WiFi box”
 

Marc

 

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Tony Galiani

I appreciate all the info.  Certainly did not realize that we could get a sim card at a combini.  Nor was I aware of the WiFi box option.

 

I have an iPhone and figured it out last night after I posted.  I really don't like to have too much on my phone and rarely use the Wallet feature but it seems to make sense here.  I loaded my Amex card in there and then added a Suica card as well so no need to worry about translations.  I can just tap the phone to pay.  Or at least that is what has been working for my wife.

And I do not have to worry about using the app which seems to require a lot of info to activate.  We found a youtube video which went through the process which requires name, address, gender, phone number and more info - more work than I want to do and not needed now that I understand the Wallet option.

 

With regard to the pass, I was surprised that it would still be worthwhile but it may turn out to be useful after all.  We will need the Shinkansen ride and then plan, at the very least, to also go to Enoshima so that may work out.  We will look at that in more detail.

 

Thanks,

Tony

 

 

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There are lots of SIM places at the airports, but I don't know how good they are. You could probably get a SIM delivered to your hotel. I've managed to get Yodobashi to deliver before, but it was years ago. Alternatively, Yodobashi Akihabara is only a couple of stops from Tokyo Station. Not ideal but it's there.

 

About Shinkansen tickets. Is there any advantage to booking in advance, other than managing to get a seat when it's busy? I've always just bought them at the station. Is it cheaper?

 

To be honest I find buying Shinkansen tickets confusing. You usually need two tickets, and if you got to the station via an IC card you need to get that paid off as well. On arrival I always just go out of the station and come back in with my IC card, because I have no idea how to continue my journey without doing that and always end up asking the staff for assistance.

 

Why do you need two tickets? I understand how the express trains work, you have a special ticket to use them on top of the normal IC card in/out tap, so effectively two tickets. But why for Shinkansen? You have to book the whole trip when buying the tickets.

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Tony Galiani

@mojo - Thanks for the info.  Glad to see I am not the only one who thinks the ticket purchase thing is overly complicated!

Tony

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MeTheSwede

When I have ridden Shinkansen I have just walked up to the ticket machine, pressed English, followed the instructions on the screen, then taken the ticket the machine spit out and walked to the plattform and boarded.

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Bob Martin

^^ yes, very simple process.  If I’m honest, I think the OP overthinks, overplans and over complicats things.  (1) (e)SIM super simple, pick one up at airport, or have Amazon JP deliver to your hotel ahead of time.  Far better to get Japan sim than those global sims that require roaming.  (2) iOS Wallet hit (+) add Suica or Pasmo (no app, no translation required). (3) buy train tickets on the spot, no need to pre-book unless it’s a big holiday or special train. Only once in 13 trips to Japan was I not able to get a green seat with JR Pass on day off, and had to settle for plain reserved seat (and that was final day of golden week traveling from Hakata to Tokyo).  And anytime I’ve wanted a special train, I’ve had the hotel concierge arrange them for me in advance (ie. Sunrise Izumo)

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I think a lot of it is information overload and time pressure because there is a queue of people behind you. You walk up to the machine and see this:

 

image.thumb.png.4c5cd5e273634e3c73e22cc55300d8a2.png

 

So many slots, little notices that you can't read... So you press English and proceed. At which point you already screwed up, because you need to insert your IC card so that it can get marked as "exited station".

 

Then you see this:

 

image.thumb.png.474565cf4cdc2318ac422c8b6bb6154c.png

 

Wait... There is a button for "Shinkansen (Fare Ticket)", but also for "Reserved Seat", and "Non-Reserved Seat", and "Route Search". Which one do I press???

 

And what is the difference in price between a reserved and non-reserved seat? Of course, it doesn't tell you, and you also need to know about the Green Car and the Peasant Car, and the fact that they often only have a small number of non-reserved seats and the train may be quite packed.

 

image.thumb.png.2b6ddff79886b01283150da574a3e9ac.png

 

Now it's asking you which Shinkansen you want. Hope you know the name of it because it doesn't tell you where they go! Except, no matter which one you select, it then tells you where they go and you can change your mind...

 

image.thumb.png.3b6c0d00ff53111ee94930d6cc5c809c.png

 

Why not just show this screen at the start?!

 

Some of them are red for some reason, but it doesn't explain why. Is it because the train doesn't stop there, or because only some trains stop there? I honestly don't know.

 

image.png.bdc91c779d2e71339eba73d48950fb7c.png

 

Okay... What is this "basic fare ticket"? Do I need one?? If I came from Shinjuku with my IC card, do I select that one or the other one???

 

 

Honestly, your best option if you are not some kind of Shinkansen genius is to go to the counter. Most of the staff know enough English to help you.

 

My understanding, and this may well be wrong, is that you shove your IC card in, select reserved or non-reserved seat, choose the right train, choose where you want to get off, and purchase a basic fare ticket based on where you entered the JR station. You get two tickets, and put them both in the machine at the gate. When you get to your destination, you put both in again and it swallows one of them. The other one lets you leave the station. I suggest going out and then re-entering with your IC card, because I have no idea how you continue your journey with just an IC card.

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Tony Galiani

Getting excited - we will be heading out a week from today.  But things are also getting a bit crazier.  I opted to go to Hakodate as opposed to Sapporo as it is relatively easy to get to and there are some interesting things to see as well as a small ice and snow festival.  I thought we would extend the stay one day - thinking I would like to ride the South Hokkaido Railway.  However, to my surprise our hotel was almost full and we would have had to move rooms if we wanted to stay so we passed on that.  My wife had been going on about seeing Aomori - something I had been resisting.  After all - who wants to go to the snowiest city in the world in February?  Apparently, Canadians (as can be seen in the three part youtube series on Aomori in Life Where I'm From).  Once again, while regretting that I had not married someone from a warm Caribbean island, I went with my wife's wishes and we are stopping in Aomori for one day before we go back to Tokyo.  Should be interesting, I hope!

Cheers,

Tony

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Tony Galiani

Okay - in theory - and hopefully in reality, I have completed the on-line entry registration process.  I could not successfully take a picture of our passports - the site rejected every attempt - so I entered our info manually and got a QR code.  I printed out a copy of the QR code and what I hope are the correct arrival instructions for logging in and obtaining the code when we arrive.  I did not do this for our trip last year and the arrival procedure was not difficult but thinking by doing this it will be a bit faster.

Ciao,

Tony

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3 minutes ago, Tony Galiani said:

Okay - in theory - and hopefully in reality, I have completed the on-line entry registration process.  I could not successfully take a picture of our passports - the site rejected every attempt - so I entered our info manually and got a QR code.  I printed out a copy of the QR code and what I hope are the correct arrival instructions for logging in and obtaining the code when we arrive.  I did not do this for our trip last year and the arrival procedure was not difficult but thinking by doing this it will be a bit faster.

Ciao,

Tony

 

Hopefully it is okay. When I entered in December they had the usual passport check and fingerprint/photo, with a QR code scanner you could hold your phone/print out up to.

 

Then when you get to baggage reclaim there is another machine that accepts the customs QR code. From memory it wants to see your passport again, and the QR code, and then it produces a ticket that lets you go straight through the customs area.

 

It's a shame it took COVID to get them to introduce this, but now it's there it's actually really good. I don't know if it was the time of day or what, but the queues were shorter than before the pandemic and this system. FWIW I had the QR code on my phone screen and it scanned okay, but it might not work on some devices.

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Yeah,  you don't need the Suica or Pasmo apps to use the virtual Suica or Pasmo cards in your Wallet. Just a mastercard (or Amex) to use to add funds to them.  I've been adding funds each month to mine as the rate ahs been good.  Especially when it was over 150.

 

I'm hoping we can go to Japan this summer but with the house build I am not sure we'll make it.  We'll be done with the house but may not have sufficient funds saved up.  I have enough points to get us there and for a few hotel nights and we stay at family but still costs a lot...

 

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I've only been to Aomori for 1/2 a day and it was in August (we were there for the Obon festival parade in the evening) so I cannot relate to the snowiest place bit.  But the Apple Juice was very good.  I'd like to go back.

 

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Tony Galiani

I have a feeling I am going to want to go back to both Hakodate and Aomori when the weather is warmer!.  Solo Travel Japan does one of his food visits to Aomori where he eats various apple specialties.  IIRC, the local tourist office does an apple map in season with various places in the area to sample the different apple varieties.

Tony

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6 hours ago, Tony Galiani said:

I have a feeling I am going to want to go back to both Hakodate and Aomori when the weather is warmer!. 

 

One amazing spectacle that I have attended is the annual Aomori Nebuta Festival (Matsuri) held in early August.  Massive floats, bearing illuminated wash paper figures on wire frames, parade through the streets accompanied by thousands of dancers and musicians.  Not for the crowd averse, as it attracts people from all over Japan and means that accommodation can sometimes be hard to find (book early).  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aomori_Nebuta_Matsuri

 

In our many trips to Japan we have tried to see festivals (check on JNTO webpages) as they illustrate a side of Japanese culture not always seen by visitors.  These festivals can be mammoth affairs or small local ones...but always interesting (to me at least)!

 

Enjoy,

Graeme

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Tony Galiani

@SL-san I have seen references to the Nebuta museum and that is on my list of places to visit if time permits on this trip.  We will be there for a short time and my wife wants to go to Hirosaki Castle so that will be our first stop.

 

But this leads to a Shinkansen question for those of you have more train experience than I do.  When we rode the Tobu Railway, our tickets were for a specific train and if we missed it, we would have had to purchase new tickets.

I have late check out at the hotel in Aomori so thinking I would like as much flexibility as possible around taking the Shinkansen from Hakodate to Aomori and then, the next day, taking the Shinkansen back to Tokyo.

I am thinking if we buy unreserved seats, we can just opt for whichever train fits our schedule - or am I missing something?  Obviously, there is the possibility of having to stand if the train is packed but hopefully we could avoid that.  Any input/suggestions would be welcome.

 

Tony

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That's right Tony, if you have unreserved seats you can travel on any Shinkansen that day. Of course, if it's busy you might not be able to get a seat. I did end up standing by the toilets once, with about a dozen other people. As well as the discomfort, it means you don't have a power outlet either, which for means means lugging my mobile battery instead of my much lighter charger.

 

Oh, which reminds me. I don't know which Shinkansen this applies too, certainly the Nozomi I travelled on, but only the window seat has power. If you have an isle seat you get nothing.

 

That's one of the reasons why I prefer to just book tickets at the station for the next train. The price is exactly the same. Same with the green cars on other express trains. Sometimes they are pretty cheap so make a nice little upgrade for an hour or two journey.

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6 hours ago, Tony Galiani said:

I am thinking if we buy unreserved seats, we can just opt for whichever train fits our schedule - or am I missing something? 


In this case yes you are, the Tohoku Shinkansen Hayabusa does not have unreserved seats. 
 

And Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto and Shin-Aomori only have Hayabusa service. I think the Yamabiko only goes as far as Sendai. 
 

Edited by Gunzel
add Hayabusa specifics
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Thinking more about it for the trip from Aomori to Tokyo if you're doing it in one day as long as it is a weekday then the JR East Kyun Pass makes a lot of sense. You'll save about Y8,000 each (you could try out Gran Class from Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto to Shin-Aomori with the savings) and because it's a pass if you miss your reserved train then you can rebook on a later one with the pass without any penalties.

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16 hours ago, Gunzel said:

Thinking more about it for the trip from Aomori to Tokyo if you're doing it in one day as long as it is a weekday then the JR East Kyun Pass makes a lot of sense. You'll save about Y8,000 each (you could try out Gran Class from Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto to Shin-Aomori with the savings) and because it's a pass if you miss your reserved train then you can rebook on a later one with the pass without any penalties.

 

Thanks, those are interesting! The JR East Pass might be worth it if taking a trip up to Niigata on the Shinkansen. It kind of depends how much you intend to use it, but if you don't mind early starts and late nights then you could base yourself in Tokyo and take the Shinkansen every day to a different area.

 

The Seishun 18 seems like it might be worth it too. I need to sit down and work it out, but I think I definitely spent more than 12,050 yen over 5 days on JR trains. But! You can't use the automatic ticket gates with it, or the special express trains, or the Shinkansen. For families it makes even more sense if there are specific trips you want to do on ordinary JR trains.

 

Overall though, I feel like JR passes are only worth it if you carefully plan how to extract maximum value from them.

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Tony Galiani

Current thinking is that we will go to the Nebuta museum before we head on to Tokyo.  And then over to A-Factory for something to eat.  Weather looks mild as of now - fine by me but my wife is a bit disappointed at the likely lack of snow!

Tony

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