When one nerdy, quirky individual is questioned as to where their ideal nerd destination is, one country should be at the very top of the list: Japan.
As Quirktastic’s Comics and Cosplay Content Director, I would have never gotten this title (and super cool job) if I hadn’t had the influence of this spectacular country. Having had a deep appreciation for Eastern culture since a young age, my love was cemented after laying eyes on Hayao Miyazaki’s film, Spirited Away at the tender age of 11.
Now at 26, I’m beyond thrilled to announce that I’m finally going to Japan (with the company of my best friend!) in a little over a month and as an uber-organized Virgo, I’ve mapped out pretty much everything to do.
Welcome to The Quirky Black Girl’s Guide to Japan, where I’ll be detailing just how I’m getting ready to set off, what things I learned were helpful once in Japan, and my overall experiences while I spent 10 days in the one country I’ve always wanted to visit.
1. Visas And Purchasing A Flight
Before even looking at flights it’s important to know if you are required to have a visa for whatever country you may be visiting. For Japan, you’re allowed in the country for 90 days without a visa and you must present proof that you are not staying past that time. Wanting longer than a week but shorter than two weeks, we decided the ideal number of days for our trip is 10.
We’ve all heard the magic numbers and days for when to buy a flight and unsurprisingly, they’re pretty spot on. We logged onto Skyscanner on a Tuesday night in March, almost 3 months out (hint, hint, wink, wink) from when we wanted to depart for Japan. Behold! Round-trip tickets for $760 a piece. I can’t stress how much prior planning is important (to your wallet, especially) when booking a trip on the other side of the world. Start checking at the 6-month mark but for international flights, be sure to buy no less than 3 months out.
QBG Tip #1: With long flights like this one make sure to sign up for some kind of air miles program. Whether it be with the airline you’re flying with or a credit card with your bank, you’ll thank me later. My trip to Japan is going to really help my September trip to New Orleans.
2. Where To Bunk Up
Traveling with anyone means that sacrifices must be made. My best friend prefers hotels while I prefer hostels. The happy medium? Air BnB! Within 3 days of purchasing our flight we began looking at where to stay. We would be flying into Narita Airport in Tokyo and unfortunately that airport is about an hour and some away from the main parts of the city we wanted to see. Luckily, we found a host whose home is a block away from where the airport bus/train drops us off and less than a 10-minute walk to the subway station that will take us all around Tokyo.
QBG Tip #2: When visiting Tokyo specifically, fly into Haneda Airport if possible! Downside? Usually the tickets are more expensive, but it may be worth it to avoid a train trip into Central Tokyo. Also, start looking at maps NOW.
3. Apps, Apps, Apps!
One way I’ve been prepping for our trip is reviewing and downloading any useful apps, especially ones tailored to Japan. My favorite thus far is TripLingo. I highly recommend this app for any country as I’ve already been putting it to the test in the States. The feature that I’m most fond of is it’s Image Translator. Now, I may be coming late to the table but this is COOL! You simply snap a picture of whatever sign/menu/screen that you want translated from Japanese to English and voila! I’ve been testing it out in local restaurants and on some of my Japanese action figure boxes and it’s legit. Along with this it also has a Phrase Dictionary, Voice Translator and Wi-Fi Dialer. Honestly, I have complete confidence that as long as I have data, I will be staying on this app while in Japan.
Another app I’ve been practicing Japanese with is Memrise. This app is somewhat similar to Duolingo (which unfortunately doesn’t offer Japanese yet) in that it feeds the language to you by breaking the language up into sections of topics like grammar, hiragana, basic phrases and beyond.
QBG Tip #3: While these apps have been wonderful, I’m still pretty old fashioned and will be carrying a pocket-size phrase book with me while there. Having back-ups is always smart.
4. Purchases To Make Before Your Arrival
Japan will be the first non-English speaking (as a first language, at least) country I’ve been to so any purchases that can be made before arriving are a Godsend. So far I’ve discovered we will be needing a Japan Rail Pass to get from Tokyo to Kyoto, Pocket Wi-Fi (available for pick-up at the airport) and our Studio Ghibli Museum tickets can be purchased beforehand too.
Places like the Studio Ghibli Museum often require you purchase your tickets at least one month in advance so be sure to to have your days numbered so you don’t miss purchase dates.
QBG Tip #4: Pay close attention and do your research on exactly where you want to go. A useful tool to map out your days in Japan is a website called Odigo. On here you can literally plan out your whole day, including times spent in the locations and how much time it takes to get to the next.
5. How To Not Look Like A Foreigner
Okay…I know how that title sounds considering I’m going to Japan but one of my travel pet peeves is looking like I don’t belong or like I’m generally clueless about my surroundings. So while I’ll never look as if I hail from Nippon, I can come off as if I’m an expat. Part of why I love to travel is because I love to get to know myself more by living in someone else’s shoes. This means adapting to my surroundings and trying things that I wouldn’t usually do. From my general research I know that when it comes to clothes it will be perfectly acceptable to show my legs however, any risque, low-cut shirts are a no-go in Japan.
Along with this I checked up on the weather for when we’ll be going and what to expect. Apparently Summer-time in Japan means layers as it’ll be hot outside but freezing indoors (similar to America). I learned carrying an umbrella is a must as Japan will usually get rain sometime during the week and that flip-flops usually aren’t the go-to shoe for the city regardless of the heat. To top it off, there is a reason Tokyo gets a rep as an Eastern version of New York: the fashion is impeccable. Shopping for super kawaii outfits is needed beforehand!
QBG Tip #5: Don’t go into it blind! Do your research for an authentic experience.
So now that everything is booked and we make our final purchases this week, we officially have one month before we head to Japan!
Stay tuned for part 2 where I’ll get to see if all my research and planning paid off or if you’ll be learning from my mistakes!