In previous posts I mentioned that Ryan and I bought JR East passes and that they allowed us to ride on the shinkansen and other JR services. Allow me to expound further on that information.

In Japan the public transportation systems, of which the train and subway I have the most experience, is one of the best in the world. The times posted are when things arrive, depart, etc. without, barring for accidents and other mishaps, being late and are dependable and overall the best way to get around, in my opinion. The rail system in Japan is mainly owned by JR ( The Japan Rail Group ) and the bigger cities and other provinces have their own systems as well, most notably the Tokyo Metro and Toei Metro systems. JR runs the shinkansen and has trains running all over Japan. 

Available to the public are discounts for riding the trains, my favorite resource for this is the Japan-guide entry for Rail Passes. It includes discounts by region and has very good descriptions for all of them. 

On our trip Ryan and I acquired JR East Passes which allowed us unlimited travel on all JR lines ( including the shinkansen ) in the Kanto, Koshinetsu and Tohoku Regions. We used it mostly for the shinkansen but it did see some use for local travel as well. If we so wished, we could have used it for any bus systems that JR runs, but we didn’t use any of the local ( or long distance for that matter ) buses. That gives a good background on the JR Pass I think, now before I get to the actual “How to use” part of this I have to preface it just a bit more.

While in Tokyo we bought something called a Tokyo Free Kippu, which actually costs 1,580 yen, which allowed for unlimited travel on all subway lines, JR Trains, streetcars, and buses in Tokyo for one day. It is extremely handy for those who want to travel to many places in one day. You purchase this by going to the station attendant, the guy who sits in the box near the turnstiles for entry to the train and say “Tokyo furii kippu o kudasai” ( there’s your Japanese phrase for the day ^^ ). After it is purchased to use the ticket you show it to the station attendant of the station that you are getting off from, he hits the buzzer and you walk on through. No additional hassle, real easy and quick. Now here’s where the confusion set in.

Initially when we were going to use the JR East Pass we thought it would operate in the same fashion; show it to the station attendant, walk through, get on shinkansen, get off at ending station, show it to that station attendant, and that would be that. This method actually worked, although it is not supposed to and we found out when we went on one of the longer rides, luckily there was not any penalty for not knowing how to use a JR Pass, however, so that you do not have to go through that embarrassment, I will share my knowledge gained from making the mistake first hand.

How to use a JR Pass to purchase a shinkansen ticket ( The Right Way )

1. Have your JR Pass with you at all times, you do not want to lose it because you will not be able to get a replacement without buying a new one. Here is what your Rail Pass will look like:
JR East Pass

2. When arriving at the station look for the area where you would normally purchase a shinkansen ticket, the JR Rail Pass allows you to obtain the shinkansen ticket without having to spend any extra money for it, in other words it serves as your method of payment for the ticket itself.

3. When reaching the attendant tell him or her where you want to go: ” <destination> mahday” 

4. The attendant will tell you the times when the trains are leaving. Because the shinkansen goes long distances there may be only one going out every hour or something like that. If you don’t know Japanese very well here’s your best strategy: look confused, they will bring out a timetable and point to the times. Point to the time you want to leave, and they will ask you if you want a reserved or non-reserved ticket. Get a reserved ticket, this means that you will have your own seat, as opposed to non-reserved where the seats are first come first serve. If you didn’t have the Rail Pass the non-reserved is cheaper, but you’re not spending money so you might as well get the better placement.

5. A ticket will be printed and then handed to you, bow slightly and thank them. Your ticket will designate the time of departure, arrival, what car you will ride on, and what seat you have. Here’s an example:

6. Take your ticket, go to the entrance to the tracks and insert it into the gate. Proceed to the place where your car is and wait for the train to arrive. During the train ride you may need to show your ticket to one of the attendants on the train as you are going towards your destination.

7. When you arrive, insert your ticket to exit the station. You will not get it back, don’t worry that’s normal.

Congratulation you now know the right way to use your JR Pass and you should be able to get around Japan on the shinkansen without too much of a problem.

So here we are on the final segment of my first multi-part series on Corbin in Japan, to be honest I kind of write things with only an idea in mind and then going from there. Doing this website and subsequently describing how I pack has been a good mental and writing exercise for me and I hope it has been at least semi-informative (and perhaps a little entertaining) to those who have been reading it.

I really do appreciate any feedback so please don’t hesitate to email or leave me a comment. I have some plans for the future of the website, including starting a podcast, which would only exist for the five months that I will be in Japan. I’ve already purchased the hardware and downloaded the software to make it a reality. After I land in Japan on August 16th, we’ll see how it works out. I’m hoping it comes out decent. In any case without further ado lets get started on Part III, shall we?

“How long will I be staying?”
I will be staying in Japan for a total of five months so like I mentioned in Part II, I will be packing about two weeks worth of clothes. When I pack clothes for traveling or moving I tend to think of the purposes they will serve so I tend to group them in categories.

  • Dress or formal wear
  • Casual wear
  • Sports wear
  • Shoes

I plan to take one suit with me, and several dress shirts, two blazers, as well as a good pair of khaki pants which can double for casual wear as well. That’s just usually the style of clothes that I wear. As far as strictly casual wear, I plan to take several polo shirts and t-shirts, three pairs of shorts, and two pairs of jeans. To go along with these categories I am taking one track jacket, one pull-over hoodie, one zip-up hoodie, and a leather jacket for when it gets colder. As far as sports wear I will be taking three pairs of basketball shorts, and a few t-shirts that I’m not afraid of getting sweat on ^_^ .

For shoes I will be taking three pairs of casual shoes, one pair of basketball shoes, and one pair of dress shoes. And of course pack enough underwear and socks for two weeks time. I try to pack minimally but I also like to be prepared, this is a little more than I would usually pack but that is mainly because I have never been to a foreign country for more than a week and a half, not to mention taking into account the answer to the next question.

“How available are replacement items?”
I’m 5’11” (180cm) tall, wear a men’s size 11 shoe, and am an overall large dude. Which translates in Japanese to we don’t have clothes for you, at least not easily to find. If it would be easier to find clothes while I’m in Japan I probably wouldn’t pack quite as much just to save on shipping charges (which I will mention in tomorrow’s post).

I plan on taking a few good sized English language books with just so I have something to read if I want to, as well as several American movies. Bringing American movies with you is a good idea on many levels. First, you will have movies that you can watch without subtitles (which I don’t mind); and second, Japanese people like American movies (at least the ones I have talked to) so they will want to watch them with you as well, making it a good way to meet people. Besides a few books and movies I don’t plan on taking too many English language things with me.

“What will I need?”
I’ve already mentioned the clothes end of what I will be packing which is probably the largest part. Now that I have that set aside I can go one to other things that I will need. For me, I need a computer. I am going to be bringing along both my laptop (1.5Ghz Powerbook G4) and my desktop (Intel single core Mac Mini) as well as my 19″ LCD monitor and a slim line set of speakers. Luckily the Mac Mini et al fit in my 29″ stand up rolling luggage quite well.

A note on all electronics, Japan does not have a grounding prong on their sockets, for whatever reason. If you plan to bring any electronics with you I would recommend bringing two power-strips and buy two Three-Prong Grounded Plug Adapters for a Two-Prong Wall Outlet, that way you will be able to plug in just about any electrical item you bring with you.

Here is a tip for packing electronics and other things, do not pack them in the boxes-wrap clothes around them. It saves room because you are not using any extra packing material (styrofoam or packing peanuts), and serves the same purpose: to insulate so that things are not damaged. I am also taking an English-Japanese dictionary with me. You should also pack toiletries: shampoo, deodorant, a towel, electric shaver, etc. Whatever you think you will need.

As far as organization with your luggage goes, remember that you will have three pieces of luggage (if you are using American Airlines, keep in mind the limits for whatever airlines you decide to use), don’t be afraid to distribute your items between the bags, be sure to keep each individual bag below the weight limit as well. You will want to keep the most immediately needed items in your carry-on piece of luggage, as well as an extra set of clothing, just in case your checked luggage gets lost by the airlines.

“What else can I fit that I want?”
Now that the essentials are packed I have extra room for anything else I want to bring with me. I plan on bringing my Wii and my Nintendo DS Lite with me to Japan. I have room for both, the Wii I will pack with the checked luggage that will be sent on ahead to Kansai Gaidai before I arrive there. The DS I will pack in my carry-on so I will have some short term amusement both on the plane and in Japan. I will also be packing the podcasting equipment that I bought so I will have to find room for that as well. With that I am pretty much fully packed.

After you have finished packing, weigh your luggage to make sure that everything is according to the limits set by the airlines. If something is over the weight limit redistribute some into your other luggage to meet the requirements. After you have everything all packed and meeting all conditions made by the airlines you are all set. Next post, which will be the final post outside of Japan (!!!), I will cover money, and other last minute things before you board the plane, so until then!

The Art of Packing, Part I
The Art of Packing, Part II
The Art of Packing, Part III

Last we left off I outlined the four key points of developing your packing plan; “How long will I be staying?”, “How available are replacement items?”, “What will I need?”, “What else can I fit that I want?”. I will expound on them further in the following paragraphs.

We’ll take the first question to begin with, “How long will I be staying?”. This question is the most important one and for good reason, it will determine how much you will need to take with you. There is really only three main answers for this question; less than a week, about a week, and two weeks or more. If you are packing for less than a week more often than not you will only need about three day’s worth of clothes, which can be fit in a piece of luggage quite easily. If it is about a week, just bring a week’s worth of clothing, it will pay off in the long run.

If you are going to be in Japan for two weeks or more, which is what I would expect if you plan on doing study abroad in Japan, then pack at least two week’s worth of clothing. The types of clothing depend on the person of course, but bring enough where you won’t have to do laundry every 4 or 5 days. Also if you are staying for more than two weeks you should also make space for other things besides clothing, such as any electronics you plan on taking with you (I will detail this choice a little more in Part III of this series). A quick note, I am a 21 year old male so I make my recommendations on clothing and shoes from that point of view, I realize that those of the female persuasion may require a larger amount of both. ^_^

The next question, “How available are replacement items?” is an especially important one as it will be the deciding factor on the amount of anything that you plan to bring with you. For instance, if you wear shoes that are size 9 (mens) or larger you should bring several pairs of shoes with you simply because you will have a hard time finding any replacements if you wear yours out. The same goes for clothing, the average Japanese person is not that large so if you are a larger person (horizontally or vertically) you will naturally have a harder time finding replacement clothing, so plan accordingly. The same goes with English language books, dvds, etc. Japan does not have a very large English speaking population so finding entertainment in English may be difficult, take what you think will suffice for the length of time you will be overseas.

The third key question is, “What will I need?”. I know it seems like common sense but seriously it is easier to pack with the bare essentials and then whatever else you want, than the other way around. Having too much to begin with then narrowing it down will be harder on you than starting with what you need then expanding from there. Obviously clothing is a necessity, I would also recommend at least three pairs of shoes. Do not, however, bring an electric alarm clock over to Japan. There are two reasons why I say this; first, you can easily purchase an alarm clock once you get to Japan; and second, it will not keep time correctly because Japan runs on a different electrical frequency (which is what clocks use to keep time) although other two pronged electriacl items should be fine. Other than that, like I said, keep it simple the need stuff first.

After you have covered what you need, you should have space left for what you want, which leads us to the final key question, “What else can I fit that I want?” The key piece of information is how much space do you have left? It is easy to fill that space once you have it, but making the room first is the hard part. Obviously you can only pack what you want into your luggage if it will fit, keep that in mind, although it is okay to overstuff a little bit. ~_^

After you have finished packing it is time to make sure that everything still meets the size and weight limits set by the airlines, just measure you luggage with a yardstick and weigh it on a household scale. It may not be perfectly accurate but close is good enough as long as it is under the limits. If one of your bags is over the limit (most likely weight wise) just re-distribute the contained items until everything is under the limit. It is a lot easier to do this at home rather then at the airport creating a bottleneck for people wanting to get on.

So this time I went through, in detail, my strategy on planning to pack. Next time I will give you direct examples of what I plan on taking with me on my flight to Japan, until then!

The Art of Packing, Part I
The Art of Packing, Part II
The Art of Packing, Part III

I will begin a three part series on packing today and continue until Tuesday August 14, the day before I leave for Japan. The first thing you should do is go to the airline’s website and see what their restrictions on luggage are; how many carry-on or checked baggage you may have, the maximum dimensions and weight allowed, etc. For an example I am going to be flying by ways of American Airlines, here is their page for baggage information. For my flight the maximum requirements are as listed:

  • One (1) carry-on piece of luggage
    • No more than 45 in/114 cm (length + width + height)
    • Maximum weight of 40 lbs/18 kgs
  • Two (2) checked pieces of luggage
    • No more than 62 in/157 cm (length +width + height)
    • Maximum weight of 50 lbs/ 23 kgs

After you have the information on the limits allowed for your baggage find pieces of luggage that best fit those specifications, maybe a few in’s/cm’s smaller just to cover for a little bit of overfilling, if that were to happen. After you have your specifications it’s time to plan the packing. Yes, you read correctly, plan the packing. Let me explain what I mean by this.

When planning your packing, what you are doing is narrowing down what you will need to pack for your trip. I base my packing around a few key specifications:

  • How long will I be staying?
  • How available are replacement items?
  • What will I need?
  • What else can I fit that I want?

Once I know the best items to fit those questions then I start packing. Hold that thought because the next part in our three part series will continue where we are leaving off, until then!

The Art of Packing, Part I
The Art of Packing, Part II
The Art of Packing, Part III

So I leave for Japan in 5 days and I haven’t written in a while, that’s my fault. A lot has been going on and I have been neglecting the site, but no more! In the next 5 days, until I leave on the plane for Japan, I will be posting each day something for you to read. To start off; getting your visa.

As a normal passport will allow you to stay in Japan for 90 days without a visa, if you are going to Japan for vacation or just not staying there for long this post is not for you, but if you plan to stay longer read on. This post is also for obtaining a student visa and nothing else. I have no experience with acquiring a work visa or a visa of any other type so I will not pretend that I know otherwise. With that said let’s go through the process of getting your student visa!

The first step is to find your local Japanese embassy or consulate because that is the only location where your student visa to Japan can be processed and then given to you. There 18 Japanese consulates scattered across the US and this page I found has a list as well as a map showing their positions. For me, because I live in New York, I had to apply at the Consulate-General of Japan in New York which also services Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, The U.S. Virgin Islands, West Virginia, and Fairfield County of Connecticut. After you have visited the regional Japanese consulate’s website look for a link to their “visa” page, which should detail how to obtain a visa through them. I’m not sure if the application process is different in other states but I will describe my activities.

To apply for my visa through the NY consulate I had the option of doing it in person or sending the application in by mail. I chose to do it person because I prefer to handle any problems that might come up as soon as possible, also if I had any questions I could ask them to someone with knowledge on the subject. Before you attempt either methods of submitting your application there are a few things that you must have:

  1. Valid passport with at least one full empty visa page.
  2. A two inch square photograph taken within six months of the application. (you can get them done in almost all photo shops, I did mine in Wal-Mart just because of ease, ask to do a passport photo)
  3. Certificate of Eligibility (which you should have received from your university in Japan)

If you want to know how to do the mail in process you can find the application process here for the New York Consulate, likewise your local consulate should have a similar page. Make sure you include complete documentation and fill out everything, you wouldn’t want to receive back your unprocessed application because you didn’t fill something in. I recommend that even if you are going to do the process in person to download and take a look at the application to know everything that you have to take with you.

After I found the consulate, I was directed to the area to submit visa applications. I told the attendant that I was going to be studying abroad in Japan and was handed a form to fill out. I filled out all areas, including the date I am departing from the US to Japan and returning, and by what airline. I then handed them the two-by-two photo of myself, my certificate of eligibility, and payed any fee that was required of me. Because I didn’t plan on staying in NYC while they processed my application (about four business days) I also gave them a U.S. Express Mail self-addressed stamped envelope with completed express mailing label and the postage that I purchased at my local US Postal Office. The following week I received my visa, now all that is left is to prepare to travel to Japan, which will be covered in the next four posts.

If you are in one of the areas serviced by the New York Consulate of Japan and you decide to travel to NYC to do the same process I described, let me recommend a hotel to stay at: The Pod Hotel New York (formerly the Pickwick Arms). It was cheap ($106 with tax), especially for a hotel in Manhattan, and the staff were very nice. Overall I had a very good experience in the hotel and would suggest that anyone who is planning to go to New York City on a budget take this into consideration. It was also in a very good location being at 230 E 51st St. it was only a few blocks away from the consulate.

After you have your visa, you have done all of the required material for you to leave the US, that’s a big step. Next time I will be talking about getting ready to actually leave on your plane, until then!

So I realize that I haven’t posted for a while, I want to apologize. I’m not going to make excuses just going to post and hope that it is informative to you. Just a notice for those who have been reading, there isn’t really too much more that I can think of that you will need to take care of before you leave for Japan. So just to warn you all, because I don’t want to clog this site with nonsense and frivolous posts, I will only post when I see necessary, until I arrive in Japan when I will be switching to a regular posting schedule. So without any further meta stuff, here goes.

What I’m going to cover today is one of the most important pre-japan issues that you have to deal with: finding your flight. In dealing with this the first thing you have to consider is how much you want to pay for the plane ticket. For me it is worth it to have a cheap (well… relatively) flight so it requires a little work to get the best rate, but I will reveal my ways of finding the best price so it will be easier for you. For departure and return dates, look at the calendar/timeline that should be provided when you have been accepted (for example, I have to arrive in Osaka Japan on Aug. 27th at the latest and depart late Dec. at the earliest for my one semester).

First, a bit of a disclaimer: I know I have some readers who are not from the United States, this post covers how to find the best flight from the US to Japan because that is what I am most familiar with. But! The method for finding the best flight is universal, the steps are the same just input your region specific airlines and websites instead of the US ones. Hope that helps a little. And with that out of the way, on with the post .^_^

Now before I get to the less expensive route, I’ll touch on the “if you have money” option because it will be quick and painless. So if you have the money and don’t mind spending a couple thousand on your flight to Japan (because even some economy seats are over $1900 for a round trip flight) this is easy. Choose whichever flight company you favor (Continental, Northwest Airlines, American Airlines, United, Japan Air, etc.) and select your departure date and return date as well as what class of seat you wish to ride in (Economy, Business, First). Just to warn you, it will be Extremely expensive if you choose anything besides economy, and even choosing economy it will most likely be over $1000. One point of advice that I can offer is to choose an airline that you already have a bunch of “flight miles”, or whatever kind of incentive that the airline uses, built up on so that you can have that much more.

Alright so finding the cheap flight… this can be quite a long topic but I’m going to try to make this quick and to the point and give a couple of tips that I have used in the past and used to get my flight this fall. The best way to get the cheapest ticket is Check your options!! And check them again!! I’m going to assume that if you are going to be doing Study Abroad, so you are a student of some kind. I suggest your first stop be to they offer reduced airfare for students, don’t let this be your only stop though. Make a note of the price, what cities it stops at, and any other information you feel is important. When I travelled to Tokyo, Japan in Spring of 2005 I purchased my flight through for $700, which is the cheapest I have found anywhere (too bad I can’t get a ticket for that cheap now T_T). The Japanese Travel Bureau is probably your best resource they are the nicest people, I highly recommend that you call one of their centers, in fact I suggest you call them to get a quote (because their website doesn’t really work to get a ticket). Just a note I scheduled my flight through JTB for this fall because I couldn’t find a cheaper ticket anywhere ($1100 for round trip). After those first two stops I found this extremely good travel website for your next visit: They have really good prices on flights and you might find that after all your research is done this is where you will end up purchasing your flight. Same deal on this one take your notes and go onward.

After you’ve visited the above three websites and gotten your quotes for your flight, visit the airlines websites and see what they offer. Search the dates you want to depart and return and get their lowest prices, this will be essential if you find your cheapest flights through any of the other websites, except JTB because they don’t publish their prices online for the airlines to verify them. The reason for going to the airlines websites and finding their lowest prices is because all the major ones that I know of have some kind of “Lowest Price Guarantee” on their flights, where if you find a flight for cheaper (usually $50 to $100) than their cheapest flight on their own website you get free stuff, which is always good. Read through these policies so that if you do find a cheaper price, you can take advantage of this offer. Take your notes and travel on, my friends.

Your final stops should be all the cheap flights websites that you see advertised everywhere. I’ll make a quick list of all that I know of so you can have a one stop to get them: , , , , , , , . Take the same notes that you did on the above searching for each site that you visit. That should be enough for you to find whichever is cheapest. Like I said, it takes a little time and effort but it will pay off in the end.

After you have all of your notes in front of you, the next step is to decide which one you will take as your flight plan. After all your searching you should have found one that is around $1000 (and hopefully below). If you have more than one, look at when they depart and return (both dates and times) and choose whichever is most convenient for you. If you choose any of the mass-market travel agents, because they have the cheapest fare, book the exact same flight with the airline company on their website and follow the rules for getting their “lowest fare guarantee” that I had you take note of above. I cannot stress this enough, follow their policy to the letter or you will not get the free stuff and will be stuck with a more expensive ticket if you aren’t able to get out of it.

After you have booked your flight, relax, take a couple of days, the hard part is over and you don’t have to worry about anything too much until you get what you need to get your visa. Speaking of which, next time I will talk about some other things to do before it is time to obtain your visa, until then!