Accommodations - Airbnb and Hotel
This is the 4th time I've chosen Airbnb for trip accommodations! Check out my posts from Summer 2015, Autumn 2015 and Winter 2017 if you're interested.
Tokyo Airbnb - Arrival to Day 3
For our arrival and first 3 nights in Tokyo, we decided to go with what was familiar - the very first Airbnb apartment we ever tried back in August 2015. Luckily it was available and approximately the same price as before. I made sure we started booking accommodations as soon as we solidified the plane tickets because I know late March is a popular travel period!
We already knew exactly how to get there, so we didn't have any issues navigating to the apartment late at night from the station, finding the key or getting into the apartment.
It had all the basic hotel amenities - shampoo, conditioner, body wash, soap, towels, hair dryer, hangers, plus a small kitchen and kitchen supplies and appliances like a microwave. The unit also comes with a pocket wifi unit which is a great perk for us.
Although there's only one key to access the apartment, the mailboxes for the units aren't in a locked area so when we left for the day, we'd leave the key in the mailbox. That way, we didn't have to worry about splitting up and having one or the other of us come back first and not be able to access the apartment. It was also good because we didn't have to worry about losing the key while we were out and about.
The location is one of the big reasons we decided to go with this particular apartment again. We did look at other options, but considering price and distance from the station, this one just made the most sense. We arrive from Haneda late at night and prefer not to transfer with our luggage so the Shinagawa area is an obvious choice. The apartment is close to station to give us easy access to the Shinkansen tracks and it was also close to the Prince where we dropped off our bags on Day 3, so we didn't have to lug around our suitcases much at all.
Osaka Airbnb - Day 3 to Day 6
We've stayed in an Airbnb while in Osaka before, but the same unit didn't seem to be available anymore. There's actually quite a few options and it took us a while to narrow down the selection. After solidifying our trip schedule a bit more, I thought that it would be easiest for us to stay in Shin-Osaka this time instead of Umeda since we'd be catching the shinkansen every day we were there. We picked an apartment with a reasonably cheap rate on a familiar side of the station but a bit of a longer walk.
Aside from the usual shampoo, conditioner, body wash, towels, etc, my favorite amenity of this Airbnb was the full size mirror which is such an essential for me but really not a staple in a lot of the apartments we book lol. The second best part (okay actually this should actually be the best part) is that there's an electronic number lock for the apartment instead of a singular key which means we don't have to worry about losing anything and we can each easily access the apartment without having to coordinate anything.
We wanted to get an early start in Osaka if possible and I messaged the host ahead of time when I noticed that the couple days previous to us checking in weren't booked. She wasn't able to confirm early check-in until the day before (which was fine with us, and more than acceptable because people can last minute book), but she allowed us to drop off our luggage about 3 hours early. The room wasn't yet cleaned from the previous guests, but we really only needed to drop our stuff off anyway and I was happy that we were accommodated at all because it allowed us to get going at around 13:00 instead of around 15:30.
The location leaves a little bit to be desired, but I think most Japanese people wouldn't consider the distance such a hardship and it is really easy to navigate to. Basically just a straight walk from the exit of the station. It's just not great when you're a tourist who spent the entire day walking around and it's raining and you just want to get back and fall asleep. I would consider staying here again, but not during the hot/summer months because the 10-15 minute walk would be absolute hell in the humidity.
Prince Shinagawa N Tower - Day 6 to Day 7
We first stayed at this Prince Hotel back in Summer 2014 and continuously come back to it when we're in Tokyo. This is my 5th time staying at this hotel and it's become really nice because things feel so familiar at this point. We know exactly how to get there and what to expect.
We often book at a hotel for the last night of the trip (versus an Airbnb) because we need some of the hotel services like baggage holding, lobby area and shuttle service. Since the flight is close to midnight, we'd have to book an Airbnb for an additional night that we wouldn't even stay for in order to leave our things there after check-out time and have a place to just sit and relax before leaving. In some cases, that can be cheaper and less troublesome to do (re: Japan trip Winter 2017), but since my mom had a "free night" from Hotels.com, it just made sense to make a reservation at a hotel.
We had no issue with the second wifi unit being delivered because there is always hotel staff present to receive the package and have it waiting for us upon check-in. It was also great help to have the hotel hold our extra bags 3 days before check-in when we didn't want to take everything to Osaka and back.
One of our favorite perks about the N Tower specifically is the free "buffet-style" breakfast on the top floor. Although the selection is not as generous as a typical $27 hotel breakfast, it more than fits the bill for us, you can eat as much as you want of what they have and comes at no additional cost. You can also get unlimited soft drinks from the lounge and take them back to your room!
The location is very close to Shinagawa station which is where we like to stay when we catch the shinaksen like we did during this trip. My recent favorite feature of the general location is the Wing Takanawa East which has a grocery in the basement with tons of great selection at a price cheaper than convenience stores but has a really upscale feel since it's recently built. It's easy to get off the train, exit the station, pop down to buy a drink and snack and then just cross the street to get to the hotel.
In the last hours of the trip, my bf and I were done shopping and needed to collect ourselves and rearrange our stuff before the shuttle came to take us to the airport. The lobby in the Main Tower worked out well for us. My bf was actually done probably more than an hour before me, so he really made use of the lobby. (Although we stayed in the N Tower, since we had to drop off our lugagge to be held in the Main Tower and that's where the airport shuttle picks you up, it makes the most sense to wait in the Main Tower lobby.) There is also a mail slot that we use to drop off the wifi units so we don't have to worry about mailing them at the airport.
One of the most important things for me is to be able to get to the airport easily when we leave. We have more bags than we can really handle (and more than you should handle) on the train, so we need to be able to get on a shuttle and go directly to the airport without issue. The Prince has a shuttle that goes directly to Haneda Airport just around the time we need for our flight. It would probably be better if it left maybe 1/2 hour earlier, but on a scale of things, it's really not that bad and it doesn't take very long to get to the terminal from Shinagawa.
Getting around with the JR Pass
We've been consistently getting a Japan Rail Pass for every recent Japan trip, and this one was no different. I've mentioned it in previous travel series, but at the risk of being repetitive, I'm going to go over the basics again in case you've never heard of it. Essentially, the JR Pass allows you to catch unlimited JR-type transportation within a set period. There are 7, 14 and 28-day variations at varying costs.
The cost for a 7-day pass is usually around $250-260USD but it depends on the JPY exchange rate. It seems like a giant expense, but if you plan to catch the shinkansen for the equivalent of Tokyo to Osaka and back, then it's basically already paying for itself. One way from Shinagawa to Shin-Osaka on a Hikari-type shinkansen is 14,140yen for a reserved seat. If you do a round trip, at a 110JPY to 1USD exchange rate, that would be $257USD total, basically the price of the pass on its own.
If you plan to catch a lot of JR trains besides that, it definitely can save you out on overall transportation cost. You also have the convenience of not having to purchase tickets per ride/reload a card and keep track of the balance or really think about how much it will cost to go any particular distance.
We knew that at the very least we'd be going to Osaka because there's a few stores my bf likes to go to in Kansai and we were flying out of Tokyo so we had to be sure to return. Our trip was 7 days long so it was a no-brainer for us to get the 7-day pass. And once we committed to getting it, I was able to plan a few other things into our trip with the freedom of not having to worry about the transportation cost through JR.
We purchased our vouchers from JTB before the trip and exchanged them for the actual pass on the morning of Day 1 at Shinagawa station so we could use it right away. (There's also a place to exchange the vouchers at the airport, but we do not arrive within its business hours.)
One big perk of having the JR Pass is unlimited non-Nozomi/Mizuho shinkansen rides, and there's no additional cost to reserve seats. We loosely know our agenda ahead of time for every trip, so we usually try to pick out our ideal times to catch the bullet train and make all necessary reservations at once. In some stations, you can reserve tickets in the same place you exchange your voucher. In Shinagawa station, you have to cross a busy flow of people to get to the other side and stand in a separate line, but the offices are still fairly close. You just show your pass to the staff member and let them know what train you want to reserve seats for.
Of course you can also catch the shinkansen with the JR Pass even without a reservation! You just show your pass at the shinkansen gates and get in an unreserved car. I caught a shinkansen 8 different times during this trip - 2 in an unreserved car and 6 with reserved seats. Here's the routes and what they would have cost individually -
from Ueno to Omiya on Day 1 via Asama-type shinkansen, unreserved car - 1,330yen
from Shin-Yokohama to Shinagawa on Day 2 via Hikari-type shinkansen, unreserved car - 1,270yen
from Shinagawa to Shin-Osaka on Day 3 via Hikari-type shinkansen, reserved car - 14,140yen
from Shin-Osaka to Hiroshima and Hiroshima to Shin-Osaka on Day 4 via Sakura-type shinkansen, reserved car - 10,230yen and 10,230yen
from Shin-Osaka to Nagoya and Nagoya to Shin-Osaka on Day 5 via Hikari-type shinkansen, reserved car - 6,350yen and 6,350yen
from Shin-Osaka back to Tokyo on Day 6 via Hikari-type shinkansen, reserved car - 14,140yen
I caught a shinkansen 6/7 days during my trip, just because I could lol. It would have cost 64,040yen or approx $570 (exchanging at 112JPY to 1USD) for all the shinkansen rides if I had to pay out of pocket for each. That's way over 2x what I paid for the pass. If I didn't get the JR Pass, I wouldn't have done that much moving around and wouldn't have gone to Hiroshima or Nagoya which were amazing day trips, specifically made possible by us not having to worry about the train fare.
There are times when it's just more convenient and ofc faster to catch the shinkansen, and I don't have to worry about getting a seat on a regular local or even express train. And then there were the times when it was absolutely necessary like going longer distances to Osaka, Hiroshima and Nagoya (and back)! Plus you can easily eat a small meal like I did almost every time I caught it lol. The chairs recline, there's a pull down tray, the window seats have an outlet if you need one. It's not as hard to have a space for your bags/luggage and worry about people constantly getting up and moving around you.
On Day 7, I didn't catch the shinkansen but I did go all the way out to Naruto which would have cost 1,490yen on the regular JR trains. I also caught partial JR on the way back with a stop at Chiba station which would have been 1,310yen. When I got back to Shibuya, I then caught the train up to Komagome (200yen), and on my way back down the loop, got off at Shinjuku (170yen), then got back on and got off at Harajuku (140yen), then got back on and stopped at Shibuya again (140yen) before finally making my way back to Shinagawa (170yen). My total cost for JR trains for just Day 7 would have been 3620yen.
Even without me breaking down the costs for JR (but non-shinkansen) train rides on all the other days, I think it's pretty obvious that getting the 7-day Japan Rail Pass was worth it for us. Although we do catch the subway or other private lines when we need to, the JR Pass covers so much and can easily get us where we want to be for the most part.
Bonus: During this trip, I also used my JR Pass to catch the JR Ferry to Miyajima Island when we were in Hiroshima! It's just 180yen each way (360yen total), but we didn't have to hassle with buying the tickets.
How I dealt with My Luggage
Black Travelpro 25" spinner wheel suitcaseAlthough there's been some slight variation on the exact bag I used for previous trips, I basically always have 1 large check-in suitcase, 1 carry-on size suitcase, 1 large tote and 1 purse for daily use.
Liz Lisa My Melody 2017 fukubukuro small suitcase
Liz Lisa 2013 royal rose fukubukuro large tote
Liz Lisa rose quilted purse (daily use)
Even though I'm allowed 2 free check-in bags from Hawaiian Airlines for the international flight, I've realized that it's just too hard to get around Japan in the trains with two huge check bags - no matter how much I want to buy. I pack carefully and intentionally, only bringing with me to Japan what I need and making sure I don't make purchases during the trip that can't be accommodated in my suitcase(s).
I've figured out that I can handle about three bags at a time at maximum while still functioning like a semi-regular person in the stations and on the train. So whenever we have to go somewhere on the trains with our bags, I make sure that I don't have too much to take care of. It's best that way for me and for other people - so they don't have to deal with me being an obtuse tourist who can't handle her shit lol. Since I have 4 bags total but only want to handle 3 at any given time, this is how I did arranged things for this trip -
On the way over to Japan/for arrival in Japan, I checked-in the large, black suitcase with My Melody fuku suitcase inside and then had my my large fuku tote and my daily purse with me on the plane. This way, I only had to deal with one large rolling bag when we boarded a train full of other travelers at nearly 23:00 after arriving. I also tried to stuff my purse into the large tote after deplaning as well, so I really only had two bags leaving the airport.
When we went from Tokyo to Osaka, I brought my large tote (with my daily purse inside) and My Melody fuku suitcase with me. I packed all the things I would need for the 3 nights in Osaka into those bags and put everything else in my large suitcase. On the morning we were leaving Tokyo, I dropped off my black check-in suitcase at the reception desk of the Prince Shinagawa N Tower in Tokyo where we already had our reservation set.
On the way back from Osaka to Tokyo, I still had my large tote and the My Melody fuku suitcase, but my bags were much fuller thanks to three days of purchases, and I had my daily purse on its own.
By the time we checked out of the Prince on our last day, I dropped off my black check-in suitcase, My Melody suitcase and large tote at the baggage hold area and took my daily purse with me for the day. I had packed my check-in luggage at the max so I wouldn't have to bother reopening and shuffling anything in there and instead reserved space for possible purchases in my two easier to open bags - the My Melody suitcase and the large tote, both mostly empty.
Before boarding the shuttle to get to the airport, I shuffled a few things around after making my last minute purchases and ended up with what I needed for the plane - 1x large check-in suitcase, 1x carry on bag (My Melody fuku suitcase), 1x personal item (fuku tote). My purchases and daily purse got packed away.
I hope with the diagrams, it's a little easier to understand! I think many people pack in a similar way now, so it's not exactly innovative, but I do think there's some merit to really thinking about what bags you choose to bring and their practicality, especially when you plan to move around with them on the trains! I've definitely figured out what system works best for me after a few trips and I don't worry so much about space as much anymore. I do occasional weight checks throughout the trip to make sure I'm not too close to the 50lb limit, but otherwise, I'm usually able to buy most of what I want within reason!
Pupuru pocket wifi
When we were picking Airbnb apartments, we made sure that a wifi unit was included in the amenities.
But because my bf and I have been very independent travelers while in Japan, we thought it would be best to get a second unit so that we could be separate but still connected.
recent winter trip, we decided to give them another chance since all of our previous times using it went without issue. We were already familiar with it, so we didn't want to bother with a different service if possible. Thankfully, everything was timely and nothing went awry this trip!
I actually ended up ordering one unit starting on the first real day of the trip and an additional second unit starting on the 6th/second-to-last day of the trip. Since we were staying at a hotel for our last night, we wouldn't have a second unit provided and still planned to be separate for portions of those days. It is so much easier for us to be connected than not that I knew it would be worth it to pay for the second unit even for such a short period.
We didn't have any issues with the first unit being delivered to the Airbnb apartment. I had already cleared it with the host ahead of time and had been instructed about how to let the delivery person into the building. I was sitting in the apartment from 09:45, hoping and praying it would arrive on time and the guaranteed delivery time this time was actually accurate, thank goodness. The units arrive fully charged, so I just had to bust open the package and I could be ready to go and on my way.
The second unit arrived without issue as well to the Prince Shinagawa. I made sure to add "N Tower" to the address (as well as my name and check-in date) because last time the package had been sent to the Main Tower and we didn't immediately get it when we needed it because they had to sort it out. This time, it was waiting for us at the N Tower reception desk when we arrived just after noon. Again, I was able to just open the package and start using it immediately.
We didn't have any issues with connectivity while using the Pupuru wifi units. In comparison, they perform better, faster and more consistently than the ones provided by the Airbnb apartments. The battery life would typically last all or most of a day, but we would charge them for a bit occasionally just to make sure they wouldn't die.
Despite the hiccup during our last trip, I do think I would trust Pupuru again on a future one since there weren't any issues during this one. If there is a second screw up, I would definitely cross them off the list, but so far, it seems satisfactory and I'm happy with what occurred for Spring 2017.
I was able to do so many fun things on this trip - some I was really familiar with and others were completely new experiences! Buying my newest favorite items from Liz Lisa, browsing through the physical store and being able to touch and see the items/fabrics in person isn't easily matched with online shopping. And waking up at 3:30am to get to a Shibuya 109 My Melody collab release by 05:00am to be the first person in line isn't something that can be rivaled easily either. I was able to spend time with Ebony who's really become such a good friend and also meet Danielle for the first time! Hiroshima and Nagoya were both amazing in their own way and now I can say I drove on the streets in Tokyo dressed as Mario! We missed the full bloom sakura by about a week, but since that wasn't the primary goal of our trip, I'm not too upset and was still able to see a handful of beautiful trees full of pink flowers.
Overall, I'm pretty satisfied with what transpired on this trip although I did come back feeling a little exhausted in terms of travel. It probably doesn't help that I just went on a long distance trip in November and then in January. I'm really not a travel-oriented person so 3 trips in 5 months is more than I really like to do. I'm not saying it's not worth it, but I was just starting to feel a bit run down for some reason. I suppose that'll fade with time, but I wouldn't count on me going back to Japan again any time soon. Thankfully I've had enough great experiences recently to last me a while!
I try to include one "unique" information-type post per trip series but I haven't had any good ideas for this one. I guess I'm running dry. In the past I've done "Getting around" (how we navigated around Japan), "Pre-trip Planning" (all the things I think about before leaving for Japan), "Airbnb & accommodations" (I tried to thoroughly break down the pros and cons between staying in an Airbnb and a hotel), "Budgeting for a week in Japan" (a specific cost breakdown for what I spent for a 7 day trip), "Packing (Liz Lisa) outfits" (how I chose what to bring and how I pack) and "Whats in my bag?" (#wimb tag for my daily purse, carry on tote and luggage). Meanwhile, most of those are also accompanied by a Travel Notes post similar to this one which holds a bunch of general travel information specific to that trip.
Currently slotted for Part 10 is an OOTD breakdown post, but please let me know if you have any other suggestions or think I should revamp a previous information-type post! I can always add another part or keep that in mind for a future trip. I think a few people may have mentioned being interested in reading about how I got around but what's not in the previous info post is often covered in Travel Notes and I'd have to seriously think about how I'd make it different enough to warrant a 2.0 post.
🌸 Japan trip Spring 2017 🌸
Part 1: Arrival and Day 1 - Liz Lisa shopping and Ueno Park
Part 2: Day 2 - Liz Lisa x My Melody Shibuya 109 release and Yokohama Ramen Museum
Part 3: Day 3 - Tokaido Shinkansen to Osaka and meeting Mintkismet/Rilakkuma cafe
Part 4: Day 4 - Hiroshima Peace Museum, Hiroshima Castle and Miyajima/Itsukushima Shrine
Part 5: Day 5 - Nagoya Aquarium, Nagoya Castle, Science Museum and Oasis 21
Part 6: Day 6 - Tokaido Shinkansen back to Tokyo and MariCAR Street Go-Kart Tour
Part 7: Day 7 - Kawatsura Strawberry Farm, National Art Center, Rikugien Park Illumination
Part 8: Liz Lisa & Other shopping purchases/coordinates
Part 9: Travel Notes - Airbnb, JR Pass, luggage & Pupuru pocket wifi
Part 10: OOTD breakdown
✦ Japan trip Winter 2017 posts
✦ Japan trip Spring 2016 posts
✦ Japan trip Autumn 2015 posts
✦ Japan trip Summer 2015 posts
✦ Japan trip Spring 2015 posts
✦ Japan trip Summer 2014 posts