Phone & Internet
With Japanese rules about prepaid SIM cards and phone numbers meaning that only Japanese residents can get one, the main way to get internet on your phone when out and about seems to be the Mobile Internet Wifi Hotspot type device. This is a small phone sized gadget that has a SIM card inside and you and your travel buddies all connect their phones to. This is the basic default method for tourists and can be organised prior or once you’re there quite easily.
Of course, I couldn’t see this working for us. The main reason – Mrs Mab and I often move about on holidays separately. Usually, it is her off in one part of the shop (or a different shop) and me in another. So using a wifi gadget would never work.
I eventually decided upon two data only SIMs from Roaming Abroad. This would mean we could message each other, but also FaceTime or Messenger video (or Skype etc) each other, even when far apart. Even though these guys were a bit more expensive, they offered two things I liked. Unlimited data (and it seemed pretty much unlimited) and delivery to our home in Australia before we left.
Service was quick. And upon arrival the SIMs were swapped over. And this is where I should have read the instructions before I left. While it tells you quite clearly not to insert the SIM, I do suggest that you at least head to the website listed in the instructions to get the SIM profile required.
And this is probably the other area of caution. I’m not 100% comfortable with this profile as it seems to be a copy, not provided by the Japanese telephone company and there are several warnings that come up when accessing it. You need to install this profile, then reboot the phone. On your return you need to delete the profile so you go back to your normal provider and reboot your phone again.
However it did work fine. And so far there is no evidence of anything dodgy.
Japan Rail Pass
This caused us a fair bit of should we / shouldn’t we. It’s quite expensive and comes in fixed lengths. After about 2 Shinkansen rides, it’s paid for itself and we had 3 planned. But it came in 7 or 14 day lengths. Our trips were 8 days apart and the whole holiday was 16 days. So didn’t quite fit. That is something to keep in mind in your own planning. In the end we decided upon the standard 14 day pass. Yes it expired before we departed, but by that time we had returned to Tokyo and could use other means to get around.
It would have been better if we had planned around those times, as most SIM cards seemed to come in about the same length
Baggage on the Shinkansen
Another area that I did a lot of research to try to understand was baggage on the Shinkansen. I knew that no matter how much I cajoled and argued, my dream of the four of us using small carry on sized bags only was never going to happen. On the last trip we had 4 medium/large suitcases.
The Shinkansen doesn’t have a luggage area. The main place to store bags is in some spare space at the back of each carriage. First come, first served and fits about 6-8 bags with the rest of the passengers having to keep them with them or on the overhead racks.
Other than that these were an AWESOME way to travel and our main regret is that we always expected them to take longer!
Oh and the seats have power too.
There are some other IC cards that can be purchased as well. These are the ones we had after a friend let me borrow theirs. Basically (for Sydney folks, Opal Cards) are swipe cards that can be used on all public transport, as well as many shops and vending machines (this was neat at the airport as I tried to use them up).
They’re also easy to load, at machines around the stations as well as in Convenience Stores. So highly recommended. There is another card Pasco, I think, which is the same, just a different company (Suico I think is JR).
Child is, I think, below 12 years old and you can only get these in the same JR Pass Offices where you get your Japan Rail Pass (I am not 100% sure about the Office at Haneda though). This is worthwhile as child is 50% of the travel of an adult.
Are the most confusing things in Japan. They are spread out, across several hundred metres, with platforms up to 800m apart even. The platforms are not all nicely grouped together that you might see in Sydney or Melbourne, and I think this is related to them all being different companies.
Tip 1 – Google will sometime tell you the platform. This is usually correct, but occasionally there are more than one train route stopping on a particular platform.
Tip 2 – Many stations have large yellow signs on the platforms, this list common destinations from that station and tells you the exit number you need to get out. THIS WILL HELP A LOT!
Tip 3 – Ask the staff, their English is usually okay and they will likely know some of the common tourist destinations anyway.
Take your time in the station and you should be okay. Worst case, hit the nearest exit and let Google GPS you on your way.
I will try to add some more as I think of them.