Sunday, March 29, 2015

Japan trip Spring 2015 part 1 - Pre-trip planning

I know there's a huge amount of people who like to be spontaneous and just travel with zero plans. I am not that kind of person. I really don't like the feeling that I missed something that I could have easily gone to if I had just known the information beforehand and had planned for it. I feel like planning is also good for budgeting. I tend to overbudget anyway (better to come home with money not spent than to have run out of money and be in huge debt after trip imo), but I just like to have a general idea of what a trip will cost for me since I don't have unlimited funds.
This is probably quite a boring post for many of you, but for people who like to plan like me and think they might want to have an itinerary similar to mine (emphasis Liz Lisa), then there may be a few tips or informational bits that you may find very helpful! (Hopefully.) Keep in mind that I'm not going to go into detail about activities since the focus of this post is simply planning for them. Future posts will explore the actual experiences.
Again, this is going to be one of those posts where this is just my opinion/my own way of planning for a trip to Japan. I acknowledge that there are many, many different ways to go about organizing a trip like this, and I don't claim for mine to be better than any other particular method, but this is what has been working for me, so I wanted to share it! 

Planning the flight (airlines, days, times, arrival, departure) -
This is obviously highly dependent on each individual person so I don't think it would be helpful for me to walk you through anything related to this, but I just had a few notes about it. Personally, (from Hawaii) my family likes to use Hawaiian Airlines to fly into Tokyo HND.
We regularly receive great service, and we also have Hawaiian Miles, so this is an obvious choice for us, but I know it's not really a worldwide option, and you will likely know what's best for you. The downside is that there's only one direct flight into Tokyo per day, and it arrives at around 10:30pm which means after we've gathered all our things, we still have to make it to the hotel, and hope that we arrived on time and can still catch the train rather than get a taxi.
Basically the key to taking away from your flight(s) is knowing what time you'll be arriving/leaving at what airport and using those as guides to help you plan for your first and last day in Japan.
If it's your first time in Japan or your first time flying into a particular airport, you may want to look up your access options. As an example, for Haneda, I look here.
My family's plan for transport is to use the train (versus airport limo, taxi, shuttle, walking). They've actually improved the website since my last trip and have now included pictures which makes catching the train even easier!  They even have a video!
All instructions pertaining to catching the train on the website are available in English (you may even want to print this if you're really unfamiliar), and there are also usually a few attendants on site available to help you with the ticket machines as well.

Picking a hotel -
This is also highly variable on individual priorities (convenience, cost, size, etc.), but just to share how my family usually picks...we have a price range we keep in mind, but our most important factor in picking a hotel is usually convenience and location relative to train stations. Our main mode of transportation in Japan are the trains and subways (versus renting a car or catching a taxi everywhere), so it's very important to us to pick a hotel that is near a train station. And not only that, but a train station in a easily accessed location. For example, in Tokyo, we usually like to look for hotels near stations on the JR Yamanote Line which is a loop line that hits a number of major stations in Tokyo that can also easily serve as connections to other lines.
If you know there are certain attractions you want to visit (i.e. Ueno Zoo, Disney Sea, Shibuya 109, etc), think about where they are in relation to the hotel you are researching.
We've stayed at the Prince Shinagawa hotel in the N tower previously and were very happy with its location despite the small size. Shinagawa is a major station, on the loop line, and we can even catch the shinkansen from there directly to Osaka. Not only that, but the Prince Shinagawa is a short 2 minute walk from the station and easy to find, so after a long day, we don't need to trudge through a neighborhood for 10-15 minutes to finally get back and rest. Tbh, anything farther than a 5 minute walk from the station wasn't extremely appealing to us and anything we had to walk 15 minutes for was out lol.
For reviews on the hotels I stayed at during my July 2014 Japan trip, the Prince Shinagawa (N Tower) in Tokyo and the Hotel Monterey Grasmere Osaka in Osaka, see this post.
Planning your daily route/transportation -
I mentioned this in my previous trip's "Getting around" post so I'm not going to go into detail about what it is in this section, but my family likes to purchase the JR Rail Pass for transportation, particularly because it pays for itself with a few longer shinkansen rides. Read more about it here.
It is especially a good deal if you're going from Tokyo to Osaka/Kyoto and back. On this spring's trip, my family is only going one way (from Tokyo to Osaka and not going back) but we still decided it was worth the convenience to get the JR Rail Pass since we will mainly be using the JR lines anyway and the difference between buying it and not buying it would be somewhat miniscule based on the price of it at the time. The reason this needs to be included in planning is because it needs to be purchased before you enter the country as these passes are for tourists/temporary visitors to Japan only. The site I like to buy from is here. [Note that you will be charged in Euro.] It is delivered to my house in the US in about 2 days.
If you're going to be catching the trains/subways and are unfamiliar with Japan's rail systems, it can be a little intimidating or confusing. It is definitely advisable to have a printed map of the train lines with you on hand to help you if you're not familiar with the layout of the stations, especially in relation to each other. maps helps to an extent. I like to use it to give me a general idea of where a physical building is, but not to actually help me figure out the train route. For example, if I heard about this great restaurant in Saitama, I'll google to find the address and then put it in Google maps to see generally how far it is from the hotel, what its nearest station is and where it is in relation to that station. But I likely won't use the directions to route me. Instead, I simply note the station name and then hop over to Hyperdia.
It's not always easy to figure out which trains you should be catching to get to a certain location since many of the maps looks quite complicated to an unfamiliar viewer. Hyperdia makes it very simple. Start to type the name of the station you want to leave from and then which station you would like to go to, and it will search and tell you what your route options are, how long it will take, how much it will cost, etc. can also set the date and time if you know you want to be in Place B by XX:XX on MM/DD. It doesn't work too many months in advance, but it will still give you a very reasonable estimate if you wanted to start planning very early and then you can go back and double check the times, etc. later.
You can also set other search limitations (such as routes only using private railways or only routes using JR lines) and have it sort routes by time, price or transfers. This site has a lot of great options and features, and I highly recommend using it.
I think you can also use it from your phone, but sometimes you don't want to wait for wifi so I like to have this kind of information on hand and ready at a glance. You can obviously just easily write it down on paper, but I usually keep track like this -
with most of the trip just laid out on this spreadsheet with a number of the things we might do. I can't cover everything, but I like to get the "must-do" attractions and places on there. I printed out a few copies of this to distribute to the other people I'm traveling with which is good for people who are unfamiliar with the train system because it takes a lot of guesswork out of "which route is best/fastest/cheapest" because I likely already identified it.

Planning for Liz Lisa -
This sounds like a weird concept, but if you're like me and one of the big highlights of your trip is going to be visiting Liz Lisa store locations, I feel like it helps to be prepared, especially if you've never been to one before! And this is really the reason I'm writing this post. Whereas I'm sure there's a berth of knowledge about planning for hotels, transportation in Japan etc, I don't think many (travel) bloggers touch on specifically planning for shopping at Liz Lisa, so I wanted to share some of my tips.
Liz Lisa Hep Five in Osaka, July 2014
I usually like to include at least two Saturdays (if I can help it) in my trip. Why? Because Saturday is new release day! I will obviously still have the option to buy these items online later if need be, but if I'm already in Japan, I won't have to pay for shipping lol. Saturdays are also usually the days when sales will start or days that store events will occur (if any). If you're planning your trip more than a month or so in advance, you likely won't know for sure what (if any) events will occur during your time there due to their announcement schedule, but if you would like to even have the possibility to attend while you're there, including at least one or two Saturdays is your best bet imo.
During my July 2014 Japan trip, I specifically picked travel dates around Shibuya 109's 7 days bargain/summer sale. They don't announce the dates months and months in advance, but what you can do is research when the sales occurred in the past and find a pattern. This goes for the same for just individual smaller sales/events/releases for Liz Lisa.
For example, I know I want to visit the Shibuya 109 Liz Lisa location so I go to their blog here. [All Liz Lisa stores and their blogs and addresses can be found here.] Then, I scroll down below the entries to find the archive list (by month) and use the drop down bar to navigate to the month when I'm planning on visiting from the previous year such as March 2014 (for my March 2015 trip).
Then, I look through the entries for the length of my stay in Japan + about one or two weeks before and one or two weeks after to see what kind of items they're promoting, if there are any sales, if there is an event that occurred during that period last year or the year before, etc. If it's a yearly/annual event or regular sale, if you go back one more year in the archive to the same month (ex. March 2013), you will likely also see similar posts about the event/sale. For some long-running blogs, you may even be able to go back to 2012. Another great resource for archive checking is the Liz Lisa official blog for general stuff. Its archive by month or day can be found on the left sidebar below the topic tags.
If you want to give yourself the best chance of attending a specific event that happens annually, the topic tags in the sidebar on the official blog (as mentioned just before) are a good place to look. For example, if I want to plan the dates of my trip around the Liz Lisa x My Melody collab spring release, I want to make an educated guess on what dates it will occur based on when it occurred in the past. It is, of course, a risk to plan this way because if you're planning more than a few months out, there likely isn't even an official announcement that they will for sure be having the event, much less when, but if you want to give yourself the best chances, imo this is the best way to do it. Go to the tag in the sidebar to view all entries related to that topic. It'll take some time and some scrolling, but essentially you want to find a post that tells you what dates the items were released in the past and even potentially what the event dates were like (although those are more variable year to year I think).
For spring 2014 and spring 2015, the vol. 1 release of LLxMM collab items was the last Saturday of March (3/29/2014 and 3/28/2015). The Yui Kanno collab in spring 2014 and 2015 also happened to fall on the Saturday prior. I can't guarantee that the spring 2016 LLxMM collab will even necessarily occur, but I feel if you had to make an assumption, I would guess that the spring 2016 LLxMM collab vol. 1 release would also be the last Saturday in March in 2016, and if the Yui Kanno spring collab were to also come to fruition, it would release the Saturday before that.  
Obviously, please don't take what I'm saying here as law and plan your trip around my word alone. Please do make an educated decision based on what makes the most sense to you. I am only providing a few tips based on what I would do for myself, but please note that I not have any official knowledge about event dates or occurrences and should not be held responsible if the events do not happen as I have estimated.
Sometimes I do this research after I pick my travel dates and book my flight (since something else is mandating my travel dates that's more important) and sometimes I will use sales and events to plan my travel dates. So really, this research can be done at any time, but it may just be helpful to know that if you shift your trip a couple days forward or back, you may have access to a few more things if this is going to be a highlight of your trip.
Of course, in the preceding several weeks before your trip, it's advisable to continue to check the blogs of the shops you are visiting to see if they have any special events or store specific promotions going on (anniversaries, renewals, limited items, small sales etc). You won't necessarily see all of that in detail on the official blog which can be more general. 
Another small tip is to add the blogs of the stores you are planning to visit to your bookmarks on your phone. Before you leave the hotel for the day, consider checking out the blog to see if they're running any time specific sales that you might want to plan your day around. This is especially true during the summer sales. For example, they might be having a regular 50% off sale, but if you're in the store and checking out from 14:00-14:30, you can get the items for 60% off!

Sorry if this post was a little dry, but expect actual trip posts in the next few weeks as I get my photos (and life) organized, lol!


  Japan trip Spring 2015 posts
Part 1 - Pre-trip planning
Part 2a - March 21, Day 1: Liz Lisa Shibuya 109 Yui Kanno event
Part 2b - March 21, Day 1: Hawkeye Owl Cafe
Part 3 - March 22, Day 2: Kawatsura Strawberry Farm, Chiba, Shinjuku
Part 4 - March 23, Day 3: Tsukiji Fish Market, Yokohama, Machida
Part 5 - March 24, Day 4: Omiya, Ikebukuro, Takadanobaba, Asakusa & luggage forwarding
Part 6 - March 25, Day 5: Shibuya, Shinkansen & Osaka
Part 7 - March 26, Day 6: Tennoji MIO, Nara Deer Park
Part 8 - March 27, Day 7: Kobe (steak), Namba/Shinsaibashi & Keiko
Part 9 - March 28, Day 8: Kyoto, Berri & home
Part 10 - Hotels and Pupuru pocket wifi review
Part 11 - Liz Lisa shopping items/coordinates
Part 12 - Liz Lisa x My Melody 6th collab OPs and hand towel 

Japan trip Summer 2014 posts
Japan trip Summer 2015 posts
Japan trip Autumn 2015 posts
Japan trip Spring 2016 posts


  1. wow you're going to japan! : ) Have a nice time and i hope you get some nice Liz Lisa things! : )

    1. i hope you had a nice time ! : ) I just read your LL experience on 21st march! you got some nice things! : ) I haven't been to the LL store for a while!! Amazing! I might go in later in the Easter hols!

    2. Back to HK? Maybe this week (Easter)? How exciting!

  2. Very helpful post :D I think it's cool to hear the reasoning behind why you do what you do on a trip rather than.. just the doing.

    1. I always put TOO much thought into it I think lol.

  3. How much would you say to save up for a trip to Japan? I am planning to visit one day but need to sort out my finances xD

    Thank you for all your hard work!

    1. Sorry for the late reply! It depends on a few things such as your flight/airline cost and how much you'd want to personally spend on hotel. Besides that, how much shopping you plan to do (and from kind of brands) + what kind of food you want to eat.
      For the kind of trip I went on, I feel like budgeting $3500-4000 would be reasonable and you'd still have a little money left over. My flights are typically around $800 and we look to try and stay in hotels that are less than $200/night so if your flights are cheaper, that's already a benefit and if you'd rather stay in a cheaper hotel, that puts you ahead as well. I typically don't spend a lot on food personally though. We don't go to a lot of attractions that require large admission fees though (think Disneyland/DisneySea or Universal Studios) and since I travel with my family, they will often pick up the tab. Oh and for travel, if you are staying at least 7 days and are going to Tokyo and then another area like Osaka or Kyoto especially, I would really recommend getting the JR Rail Pass because that takes care of a lot of your travel costs up front!
      Let me know if you have any more questions about specifics. My next trip to Japan will likely be without my family (I'd be traveling with a close friend) and I plan to blog a little more about budgeting for that one since I'll be covering all the costs myself.

  4. Hi! May i know what's the weather like in Japan during that time? I'm planning a to go on Japan next year May and wonder what kind of clothes I should actually bring along.

    1. Hi there! Unfortunately I have not yet had the pleasure of visiting Japan in May. My advice would be to google "Japan weather in May" or something similar, maybe including the region you are visiting specifically! Good luck and have a good trip!

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