Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Japan trip Summer 2015 part 10 - Travel notes

I wanted this post to serve as a concluding post for my trip to write about things that I wanted to remember for myself. Just like, small notes or other anecdotes that didn't fit in any of the other posts. Therfore, it likely won't have a lot of flow - more like hamajang style where everything about anything related to the trip is just thrown here lol.

Japan in August
First, let me just start off by saying that it is truly very, very humid in Japan in August. That's partially the reason why I took less photos during the trip - because I looked and felt gross all the time from sweating and also because I couldn't be bothered to get my phone out of my purse because even that action was too much lol. It's hot in Hawaii year round, but it's definitely a different kind of hot. During our trip in early August, when you were leaving a building with AC and going outside, it felt like you were in a car with all the doors closed that was sitting in direct sunlight for 8 hours prior. And we used our hand fans a lot, but that was as effective as using the fan (but not AC) in the car - it really just blows the hot air around. It does help a little, but in order to generate enough "wind", you end of expending more energy than you really want to. Idk if that hot car thing was a good analogy but the other day when I got in my car, it reminded me of Japan, and I feel like that might be the most relatable thing lol. Sorry if that was a terrible example lol.
Despite the heat, most people are still wearing sleeves or are dressed as they would have for the prior few months lol. There were people wearing sweaters, people in knit beanies, people in long sleeves, all kinds of seemingly nonsensical clothing choices for how hot it was lol. I think that's partially a fashion choice and partially that local (Japanese) people might just be a little more used to it. You really don't see a lot of tank tops/tube tops/spaghetti strap/cami tops on girls too much. I could probably have counted the amount of (non tourist) women I saw with those kinds of tops on with one set of fingers. I literally have no idea how people could be wearing long sleeves of any kind and not be sweating lol. I was kind of prepared for the weather since I had been in Japan during the summer twice before, but seriously it's so much hotter in Japan during August than it is in June or July, no joke. [For what I chose to wear on the trip, check out my OOTD post here.] And actually, it's hotter in Osaka/Kyoto than it is in Tokyo - by a lot. We also experienced very little wind when we were in Osaka so that didn't help either. In Sendai, which is bit more north, it wasn't noticeably cooler in any way lol. It was comparable to Tokyo weather though I think. What helps my bf a lot is this cooling/deodorant spray? He buys it when we go up and it supposedly helps keep your body cool. There isn't a particular brand he purchases that I know of.
Anyway, going to Japan in August? Be prepared to sweat. The humidity is not a joke. Arm yourself with as many cooling tips as possible lol.

JTB JR Rail Pass vouchers and customer service
In the past, we've purchased our JR Rail Pass vouchers through this website. [I previously talked about it here (Summer 2014) and here (Spring 2015).] I liked it because the price was on par with what it should be, and it came with free FedEx shipping. When I tried to order our vouchers for this summer trip, the shipping was like $11 and I didn't know why. I ended up emailing the website to ask, and it's because I was only buying two ticket this time instead of 4 like we usually do and didn't meet the minimum purchase requirement. Okay, fair enough. I didn't want to pay for shipping, so I explored my other options and I remembered that for the spring trip, the family that was traveling with us had ordered theirs through JTB.
I went to the JTB website and they were/are doing a free shipping promotion for their Rail Passes, so I decided to order through them. We also have a local JTB office in Honolulu so I didn't really feel all that uncomfortable with it. HOWEVER, it ended up being way, way more complicated than it needed to be.
This all happened before the trip so some of the details are escaping me at this moment, but basically they sent me a pass voucher with my name middle name spelled incorrectly. There's no confirmation email with the information you entered on it, so I have no idea if it was my mistake or theirs, but I kind of don't think I switched an "i" for an "n" on something like my name which I know pretty well. And it's not like those two letters are close to each other on the keyboard that it might have just been a mistype. In any case, regardless of whose fault it was, I decided to call JTB as soon as I realized the mistake. They are not available 24/7 lol. So I had to wait until the next morning to call. When I did, I talked to someone who advised me to just try it since it's only one letter off. The reason that's bad advice is because almost everywhere else will tell you that your name on the voucher and the name on your passport must match exactly since the passes are not for everyone. I paid $240 for the voucher and did not want to get to Japan only to find out that it was invalid and I would then have to pay for every train ride out of pocket. (You must get the voucher outside of Japan before you leave on the trip, so it's not like I can then request a new one while there.) Then, this person suggested I call the California office and get them to write me a letter explaining the situation. She tried to transfer me to them and failed. I hung up and called the number she gave me and the person wanted to transfer me back to the New York office which is where the first lady I called was located. JFC. Meanwhile, I had also emailed about my name problem the night before and received a response just around the same time as I was making the calls. In the email, the employee asked that I call her to clear up the confusion. I call her and she was the first competent person I talked to that morning. She didn't give me any bullshit about why we were in the situation, nor suggest I just "try and see" or pass me off to another office. She just asked me to send her an email with what my name should be, and she would resend my voucher via FedEx and include a return envelope for the incorrect voucher to be sent back to them. See how easy that was? Wtf I have no idea why I was getting the run around before. That was probably too much detail, but I just really can't stand customer service like I first received. I felt like it was just a MESS.
Oh also, for Hawaii customers, it seems like they have some sort of system glitch that cancels your order because of your address? I'm not really sure. But a day or so after I ordered the pass vouchers, I received a phone call from someone at JTB who let me know that I would receive an email saying my order was cancelled but it was not cancelled and they were going to be shipping it out soon. Okay....Like, I really don't know why they have that error or why it cannot be fixed, but they did ship out the vouchers, so I guess it's not that big of a deal. I think this situation is specific for Hawaii addresses, but it's just kind of annoying because I feel like there are things that could easily go wrong there and if you take no action just based off of a phone call but they have the email evidence that says something completely different...well...
Ugh. ANYWAY, I would hesitate to fully recommend JTB after this experience, but knowing they have free shipping and did end up fixing my problem before my trip without really costing me anything except like a wasted hour on the phone, I do still consider it a valid option. The vouchers themselves were fine once the name was fixed. I would avoid dealing with anyone on their main line if possible though. For some reason every time I called, the person couldn't handle the conversation or situation very well. I only got good service from the woman I was able to call directly named Miho.

Catching the Shinkansen using the JR Rail Pass
My bf and I had so much fun catching the shinkansen during this trip. It was always an option while we had the JR Rail Passes (like on the past trips), but were just not as confident with how the system worked, so we never took full advantage of it and basically only used it to go to and from Shin-Osaka and Tokyo.
During just this trip, I think we rode on a shinkansen-type train at least 11 different times. (Usually we do 2 lol.) This is partially because Shinagawa (where our Airbnb apartment was located in Tokyo) is a shinkansen station, so it was really easy for us to just jump on one and go. Although the JR Rail Pass doesn't give you access to Nozomi and Mizuho type shinkansen, we were still able to catch Hikari, Kodama, Hayabusa, Yamabiko and Hakutaka types! (And of course there are still more types as well.)
For some reason, I find it really interesting/cool that the different types of Shinkansen have different interiors and seat design. This, of course, only makes sense, but since I had previously only ridden on Hikari type shinkansen before, I never really thought about it much lol.
Hikari / Kodama
Hayabusa / Yamabiko
I've brought up this point several times in the past when talking about the advantages of getting a JR Rail Pass, but a huge one is definitely being able to reserve seats for "free" (free as in it's included in the price you pay for the pass itself).
It's not necessary to reserve a seat for most shinkansen (Hayabusa is the exception), but when we have major plans like going from Shin-Osaka to Shinagawa/Tokyo, we prefer to know that we'll have each have a seat and preferably together. It also kind of generally gives you an idea of how full the train will be. We haven't had to deal with this in the past, but there were a few trains that we wanted to catch that we learned were completely booked during our stay when we tried to reserve tickets the night before lol. Also, because reserving the tickets don't have any extraneous cost to us, if for some reason we miss the train or change our minds about what time we want to leave, there aren't really many negative consequences for us except that it's kind of rude to others to reserve seats that you don't need because someone else could have had them. If I had to pay out of pocket for a reserve ticket for a specific train at a specific time and missed the train, I'd have to deal with handling fees or forfeit the money which we really don't want to worry about as tourists. We really enjoy having the flexibility and freedom that the JR Rail Pass offers.
Although you can reserve seats and we usually prefer to, we really discovered the joy of casually catching the shinkansen in an unreserved car during this trip. Your rail pass serves as your ticket/access to the shinkansen tracks and then you basically just catch whatever you want in an unreserved car (as long as it's not Nozomi or Mizuho). We always felt like it was a bit of a hassle to do this in the past, but it's really not lol. And sometimes it doesn't save us a TON of time if it's just a short distance like from Shinagawa to Tokyo station, but there's very few stops in between and there's less of a chance that we'd have to stand lol. Even on Day 10 when we were catching the shinkansen with the very real purpose of getting back to Shin-Osaka before leaving, the unreserved car was a great option because all of the reserve cars were booked on the trains we wanted to catch! If we had gone to Tokyo station instead of getting on at Shinagawa, we probably could have gotten seats together too since Tokyo is where the train originates. (If we couldn't get seats on the 10:10am train, we were definitely going to try to go to Tokyo to be in line for the 10:40am one.)
I'm really happy that we finally figured this out and enjoy catching the shinkansen so much more now lol. This was all very convenient for us because of Shinagawa though. I feel like if we stayed anywhere else besides near Tokyo or Ueno station, it wouldn't nearly really be as advantageous because we'd need to catch a regular train to get to a station with shinkansen tracks instead of just being able to jump on one right away which was definitely part of the appeal for us. Getting the JR Rail Pass was definitely suitable for us on this trip since we went round trip from Shin-Osaka to Shinagawa but even more so because we also went up to Sendai (and also used shinkansen and other JR lines a lot as well). It definitely paid for itself.

I mentioned/introduced this website as a resource in a previous trip's post [check it out here if you haven't read it yet since I'm not going to repeat everything again], but it is so helpful, that I feel the need to reiterate it. I personally prefer to use Hyperdia, but my bf is into using Google Maps for the same thing. It's a dealer's choice, I guess. Sometimes, you do get slightly different information, but I think they will essentially serve the same function and give you very similar results and both allow you to define variables. We used this every day, multiple times a day. It helped us figure out when to leave (so we wouldn't be sweating at a hot platform for 10 minutes when we could have been in air conditioning) and also helped to route us in less familiar areas on the go. I used to just use printed maps and just take whatever line seemed most reasonable, but especially with us catching the shinkansen as much as we did, there are so many more alternative routes that are less obvious but might take less time. It also usually tells you if you can take a (special) rapid or not (based on your destination station). Using Hyperdia or Google Maps (or any website/app with similar routing functions) is definitely something I recommend. I took screenshots of the routes occasionally, so I wouldn't always have to wait for the page to load again in areas where the wifi wasn't strong or to allow me to compare different departure times or adjust other variables.

Breakfast from a convenience store
I mentioned what we did for lunch and dinner on most days during my earlier posts, but I left out breakfast! And this is because most of the time, breakfast was pretty uninteresting. Both Airbnb apartments were very near to convenience stores like Lawson or 7-Eleven, and in the morning, we would just walk down and pick up a few things. Sometimes, we would pick up something the night before for the next morning as well.
These are all examples from the first 4 days in Osaka. After that...I'm not sure why I stopped taking them. I think it kind of just got boring and my bf would rather start eating than wait for me to compose a good picture lol. Anyway, the pictures contain items from both my breakfast and my bf's. For me, it was pretty much a croissant or similiar bread item and half a bottle of orange juice every day lol. On the fourth day, I got a beef bowl from Matsuya on the way back from reserving our tickets at the station in addition to the croissant which was purchased and eaten earlier though. I eat breakfast more out of necessity than enjoyment. Pretty much all of the other items in the pictures were ingested by my boyfriend. If not for breakfast, then later in the day as a snack. (Except all the hi chew which just made it into the pictures because I had purchased it at the same time.) He mostly picked various kinds of onigiri/sushi and yogurt and some kind of fruit juice.
There are restaurants at which you can eat breakfast, but I'm really not a breakfast foods person, and the convenience store breakfast is by far a cheaper option. It's also....more convenient lol. Most conbini are open 24 hours a day and have many locations. Breakfast restaurants sometimes don't open until 10:00am or later and aren't necessarily quick to access. We would often get going by 10:00am or earlier, so it was in our best interest to eat by 09:00am or so and could eat at whatever pace while still getting ready for the day.
There are obviously a LOT more options to pick from than just what we personally chose to eat, and I definitely consider conbini breakfast a very valid option, especially if you're on a budget, prefer to eat privately or want to get going earlier in the day.

I don't have any pictures of this because I thought it would be rude, but there were literally scouts everywhere we went lol. Like boy scouts or girls scouts (which are entirely separate in America) except they were from all different countries and all different ages (although most of the ones we saw where in the mid teens at least).  They didn't all look alike or were all in the same place at the same time when we encountered them, but they were always in huge groups of at least 10 but sometimes more like 50 and had huge bags that they carried on their backs.
This confused us a lot. We had no idea where all these people were coming from or what they were doing and why some of them were so smelly. (Okay, that might be unfair to say but literally sometimes for certain groups you could smell them before you could see them. It might not be their fault, but their scent was quite prominent.) It turns out that we were in Japan the same time as the 23rd World Scout Jamboree. The main event had taken place in southern Japan, but groups could go wherever they pleased after (obviously).
It wasn't a huge deal for them to be there, and obviously they are allowed to enjoy their trip as well, but some of them seemed really clueless as to what was going on around them for people who are supposed to be scouts! If I could tell just one story about them and what it was generally like to be around some of the groups, it would be this one:
We were seated on a train from Osaka  and were about two stops away from Kyoto station when a large group of about 10-15 scouts enter our car which was mostly full but there were some seats available. However, none of them could sit down because they all have huge backpacks on. Instead, they sensibly choose to stand in the space near the doors which is the most open and allows them to still talk to one another. This one scout has two flag/long handkerchief like items sprouting out of the top of his bag, trailing out behind him. They reach to about his waist at the lowest point but are free flowing. He is the one who chooses to lean against an occupied row of seats and, with his back to the people seated, he is constantly shifting his weight and moving his bag around so that the flags are DIRECTLY in the face of the boy seated there. Imagine this: you're on your train, headed home, minding your own business, just playing a game on your DS. Then all of a sudden, there's this dirty, unfamiliar piece of fabric that's draped in front of your face blocking your game. The boy is about 10 years old maybe and does of good job of trying to avoid it by leaning to the side, but because the scout moves around and shifts so much, he is constantly interrupted by it again and again and it even touches his face several times. Meanwhile, the scouts are all oblivious. His mom was sitting across from him as well, watching the whole thing happening and I'm surprised the boy had so much patience, but since their stop was coming up, I guess they didn't feel like saying anything. I mean, that's such a small thing, but if you're going to have trailers on your huge ass backpack, can you please pay attention to where you're swinging it?
When we got to Kyoto station, one or two different scouts almost hit a sleeping toddler in the face because they kept something similar to a yoga mat secured to the top of their backpacks which made them extra wide, and they kept turning side to side looking for each other without realizing that there were other people around who they might end up whacking. Thankfully, the father had a watchful eye out and literally blocked it just in time.
Honestly, I have nothing against scouts. I'm sure most of them are nice and cleanly and respectful, but there were multiple instances on this trip where having particular groups of scouts around just made the situation particularly unenjoyable for us based on their presence and caused us to leave an area sooner than we really wanted to just to avoid them. I doubt that they'll have the next jamboree thing in Japan again in the near future, but yeah, definitely a huge hindrance in having a good time on the trip sometimes.

Foot bandages
This is kind of a weird one, but I almost forgot about it, so I'm gonna write about it haha. I don't usually have this problem at home and also didn't really encounter it specifically during my spring trip, but I did have the same issue back in July 2014 during that trip. Apparently it's related to either the climate during summer or the shoes I wear during the summer or both...Regardless, I get all these cuts and blisters on my feet from my shoes that are usually very comfortable. I like to think that I'm not really a shoe weenie, and I can usually just walk through the pain if it's caused by heel height, but when blood starts coming out or I'm having a hard time just standing flat footed, that's when I know I need a bandaid at least lol. After just the first day of walking around, I already needed 1 bandaid on each foot. By the fourth day, I needed 4 on each hahaha wtf. You can get bandaids/whatever the generic name is from Daiso for really cheap but the ones from Don Quixote or drug stores that cost a little more are definitely better quality.
Okay bandaids for cuts or blisters are kind of obvious so that's not the helpful hint that I need to write about lol. The item that really helps me out are these adhesive bandages from Daiso (which I'm sure you can purchase elsewhere as well but the Daiso/100yen store ones actually work quite well and you can't really reuse them so might as well keep it cheap.) It's basically like the stuff you get wrapped around gauze to stop bleeding or when you give blood. Also good for sports since they're not restrictive and still allow movement while still getting the job done. After I put the bandaids on my foot, I then put the adhesive bandage over that. It serves to keep the bandaid in place (which is sometimes a problem because if the cut or blister is due to your shoes, then it will likely continue to rub there) and also works as an additional barrier/slight cushion. I make sure to cover each bandaid at least once. Wearing socks over everything usually helps a lot as well lol.
This is how I wrapped my feet for the day that made wearing any pair of shoes bearable -
I was able to wear any pair of shoes I wanted, including the ones that actually caused the blisters and cuts, without pain this way, and it also allowed them to heal in relative peace lol. It does look a bit weird when exposed, but that's not as important to me as being able to comfortably walk in the shoes that I want to wear lol.
This method might be really obvious to other people but I don't usually injure myself that badly and then am limited to a certain kind of shoe or have to continue to do a lot of walking lol, so I don't find myself in this situation a lot. Like I said before, this kind of thing has only happens to me when I travel to Japan in the summer. I have a feeling that it mostly has to do with my shoe choices, but hey, I was still able to wear whatever shoes I wanted with bandages, so I don't feel like I necessarily have to change that when I have this solution lol.

Kuroneko Yamato and luggage forwarding
I mentioned this in my last trip's posts as well, but it definitely came in handy again, so worth another small mention at least. We used Kuroneko Yamato's transport services to get our huge pieces of luggage from Tokyo back to Osaka. This was what I planned to do because I knew I would have a lot of purchases at that point and didn't want to have to deal with it on the trains. I doubt I would have even been allowed to bring that much on the train with me at all wtf lol. We dropped off the luggage at the Prince Shinagawa's luggage forwarding window because we were familiar with it, but I'm positive there are lots of other places you can use. I think next time, I really want to look into what those other options are. Anyway, we were charged 1420yen for each piece. These are full size check-in size suitcases that weighed around 40-50lbs each and they would arrive in less than two days with tracking, so I'm happy to pay that price lol. We had them shipped to our final hotel which was the Westin Osaka but you can send luggage to your departure airport as well! You hardly see people rolling around huge luggage pieces in stations or on trains even if they're going to the airport, and I'm pretty sure this is why. I would definitely recommend checking out this service if you have heavy or unwieldy pieces that are difficult to handle that you need to transport within Japan.

Also all over the place is this compilation of videos my bf and I took throughout the trip. I think it fits best in this post since the clips are from all different days and all different things we experienced. I did my best to label them, but it's not really a solid vlog with a beginning, middle and end. I wish I felt more comfortable holding out a camera in front of myself and talking to myself and vlogging, but I'm really not that kind of person lol. It's really just tidbits of video that kind of supplement the photos. Sorry, it's not the best quality because it's just from my iPhone 5s, but hopefully you can still enjoy it! 

A bit of an unorganized ending to this series, but that's the conclusion of my posts for my Japan trip Summer 2015! (I may need to add to this later with other tidbits as I remember them before forgetting them again lol.) This was really just a mess of notes for me without very many pictures, sorry, but maybe you might find something helpful as well if you read through the whole thing. Or, if you have a suggestion for me because I could be traveling better but don't know enough, please let me know lol. I thought I would be able to write a bit about budgeting for this trip, but since I was traveling with my boyfriend, he would pay for some stuff for both of us (meals, small convenience store purchases, etc) and wouldn't keep the receipts so I don't have a good grasp on what was spent throughout the entire trip lol. If you have any general questions for me, this might be a good post to ask them on and I'll do my best to answer! I'm definitely not a travel expert by any means, but I do okay/haven't yet died on these trips without much outside help besides google imo, so I wouldn't say I'm a total dud either lol.
Thanks for reading!

  Japan trip Summer 2015 posts:
Part 1 - Osaka & Kobe: Day 1 - 2
Part 2 - Kyoto & Namba: Day 3
Part 3 - Tokyo-based: Day 4 - 6
Part 4 - Sendai: Day 7
Part 5 - Tokyo-based: Day 8 -9
Part 6 - Osaka: Day 10 - 11
Part 7 - Airbnb & accommodations
Part 8 - Liz Lisa purchases
Part 9 - Other shopping
Part 10 - Travel notes

  Japan trip Spring 2015 posts
  Japan trip Summer 2014 posts


  1. Actually an interesting post - good job! I love buying food from the convenience store for breakfast lol. It was fun selecting what you want everyday!

    1. hahaha yeah it was good except I always got the same thing -__- haha

  2. Great post you make me wanna go to Japan again *^*

    Your poor feet :( I hope you are ok again.

    1. Haha yes, thank you! They actually healed really quickly!

  3. I love how thorough your posts are! I was curious about the luggage forwarding service you used. You were staying at an airbnb and took your luggage to a hotel that you weren't staying at to forward luggage? I didn't realize hotels offered that service!

    1. Haha actually we've only ever forwarded luggage through a hotel so I was too nervous to try and do it at a convenience store/other similar place that was probably closer since they don't assist you in filling out the form. We are pretty familiar with the Prince Shinagawa's kuroneko window and the staff actually fill out the form for you (and I believe at no extra cost) since we don't understand Japanese.
      I did end up trying to forward luggage from a 7-Eleven on a later trip and the staff at the store wasn't able to speak any English to help us fill out the form (we weren't even able to PICK the right form because there was such a communication barrier). Since then, I've filled out the form myself a couple more times with guidance from English speaking staff so I might be able to do it in the future...maybe lol.