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Here are some ryokans that I have stayed at and therefore recommend to you as I have had good experiences with them. Basically If I don’t list one that you know of I haven’t stayed there, not because it wasn’t good. So far, all of the ryokans that I have stayed at I have had a very good experience with.

Also of note, I will not explain how you can reserve a room at any of the below ryokans. However, I will list web pages that you can reserve a room with them through.

Tokyo

Sendai

Morioka

Hakodate (Hokkaido)

A friend of mine who has travelled to Japan (she’s Japanese) recommended two websites that she knows of that offer extremely low prices for airfare to Japan. They were so low in fact that I felt the need to post them up here so that everyone who reads my site would know about them. Seriously though you can get airfare for really low prices on these websites.

In fact I will probably be using one of those websites the next time I decide to travel to Japan. Anyway that was kind of an emergency bulletin message, later today I will resume the three part special on packing, until then!

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 http://www.studentuniverse.com 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 http://www.jtbusa.com 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: http://www.bt-store.com. 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: http://www.orbitz.com , http://www.cheaptickets.com , http://www.kayak.com , http://www.cheapair.com , http://www.bookingbuddy.com , http://www.travelocity.com , http://www.priceline.com , http://www.expedia.com . 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!