To make sure you’re all caught up with my Japan blog entries, start here:
- How we booked 12 FREE tickets to Japan
- The perfect starter card to travel for nearly free
- The mad rush to get ready for Japan
- Flying ANA + our first few hours in Tokyo
- How to book a large AirBNB for a big group
- One day in Tokyo
- All Things Osaka
- Kyoto AirBNB for 19? No problem!
- Visiting Fushimi Inari Shrine
- Kyoto Days: Historical Ninenzaka
- All things Kyoto
- How we booked 3 FREE nights in a Tokyo Hostel
- Lost and Found Tales in Japan
- Tokyo MariCar – our GoKarting experience in Japan
Ok it’s time for my favorite part of my blog – the takeaways. If you’re new to reading my blog, I always end my trip documentation with takeaways – things I learned during this trip, things I will never forget.
So here goes. Some of them were hits, others were misses – but in the end, what I value most is the lesson learned from the experience.
Google Project Fi vs. local SIM
I chose to use my SIM card with Google’s Project Fi. If you’re not familiar with the service, you basically use phone service for calls, data, texting. You can use your phone anywhere in the world. I used it before in Hong Kong and it worked well for us.
I heard about getting a pocket wi-fi or buying a local SIM card in Japan, but just never got around to investigating which deal was best for us. I’m one to admit that I just got lazy. The lesson-learned, there’s a penalty for laziness. The good thing about Google Fi?
- Ready to go – once we landed in Tokyo, all I did was turn on my iPhone and my phone was ready to rock and roll. I believe, I was the only one at the time that had phone service, and that was a big plus which allowed us to navigate ourselves towards our AirBNB
- LTE signal throughout most of Japan.
I’m used to buying a local SIM card, but for this Google Fi service, I pay $20 for unlimited calls and texting, and $10 per gig, and once I reach 6 GB of usage, data is free after 6 GB. We surely went over 6 GB so we paid over $60 for the nearly two weeks of usage in Japan. Regrets? Can’t say I regret doing that. I had LTE signal most of the time. I just wished I explored my other options.
Our nieces and nephews bought a SIM card from Klook.com for roughly $21 USD. It came with 4 GB of data that was good for 8 days. When you purchase it from Klook, you pick up the SIM card when you arrive in Narita Airport.
My recommendation – make sure you check what options are available to you. When I do go back to Japan, I think I will opt for getting a local SIM card, or use a pocket Wi-Fi.
Japan Rail Pass
One of the things that amazed me was riding the bullet train in Japan. It was a first-hand experience for many of us. The great thing about bullet train is the efficiency, the timeliness, the speed of the service.
From Tokyo to Osaka, using a car would probably take 6-7 hours. With the bullet train, we were in Osaka within 2.5 hours. The ride was so smooth and comfortable.
With efficiency, that, of course, comes with a price. We paid nearly $250 per person to get a 7-day Japan Rail Pass – which in essence, allowed us to use Japan Rail trains (including the bullet train) as much as we could.
The JR pass is not only for the long-distance type of bullet trains, but there were regular above-ground trains that were also part of the Japan Rail system, and our JR passes worked with those trips, meaning we didn’t have to pay extra. Does it sound pricey? Well, when we wrote down the places that we wanted to visit, if we bought the tickets a la carte, a one way ride from Tokyo to Kyoto alone could cost up to $150 using the bullet train. So a roundtrip ticket is around $300. Knowing that we had other plans to visit Kyoto, Nara, Hakone – it was a no brainer for us to go with JR Pass. – getting a JR Pass was going to pay off for us.
Another transportation option that we used was to get a Suica card. This card allowed us to use the subway and city buses. You have to option to pay as you go by adding value to the card at the train station. The thing to remember, only cash is accepted when loading at the train station.
For a few of us who had an iPhone 8 or newer, we were able to link our Suica card with our Apple Wallet and loaded our Suica using our credit card. The downside for going with this option, there is a refundable 500 yen that we weren’t able to get back, this option was only available if you had the physical Suica card. For the convenience, and points earning potentials, I was okay with not getting the 500 yen back.
Traveling with 19
That’s crazy, right? Not everyone could relate but traveling with our big family, a party of 19, was one of the unique highlights of our vacation. We all met up in Japan.
We came from different places including the Philippines, London, and Los Angeles. Our niece, Jenna, took lead in putting an itinerary together. We created a private Facebook page for all of us so we could review everyone’s input and suggestions.
I’ve heard many horrific stories from others who vowed not to travel in large groups, but I must say that it wast the best thing for all of us to do – travel together. Yes, it was chaotic. Yes, it was at times, frantic. But overall, it was extremely fun.
Staying in one place for all 19 of us
Another crazy far-fetched idea, but we made it work. We were shocked that we found three different properties that worked with our large-sized group. What were the advantages of being in ONE place?
- Easier to rally the whole troop – there was no need to wonder where the other family members were
- Easier to go places together – for most of our excursions, we decided to leave together so we’re all exploring the same places at the same time
The lesson-learned here is to not rule out finding a large space for a big group. It worked for us.
Traveling for nearly free
I believe this takeaway is on every entry. If you talked to me 4 or 5 years ago, I would never have imagined traveling to Japan with my family for free. Remember, of the 19 members in our family, 12 of us flew for FREE by using points earned from our credit cards.
Tickets to Japan around that time could cost $800 or more, yet by using the points we earned by signing up for credit cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve, we were able to use those points towards free tickets to Japan.
Dressing up in Kimono
I mean c’mon!!! How many times will I have this opportunity? Walking around Kyoto in our kimonos was indeed a great experience. So glad that a few of us did it, and took hundreds of pictures while wearing our outfit.
Carryon and Backpack only
We once again traveled with just a carryon and backpack. Of the 19 in our family, there were 16 or 17 carryons, and a couple of them brought regular sized luggage. That was a big accomplishment for our large family.
I’m so proud of all of us. As I’ve told them before, whatever you bring, you will have to carry, push, pull, drag around. We brought just about enough for our needs, anything we forgot back home, guess what? It was not the end of the world. We were able to buy them in Japan.
One more thing to remember in Japan, there were stations with no escalators or elevators. There were times when we found an escalator, but it was going the other direction, therefore we couldn’t use it. Again, by bringing less, we were able to easily maneuver around these obstacles.
Not being able to see it all
We were in Japan just short of two weeks, and it’s obvious that we weren’t able to see it all. It was just impossible. But that’s okay. This was not a trip about checking things off our list. To have travelled with a party of 19, to have gone to all the places we’ve visited was a major accomplishment for us. Some of the things that Nancy and I would’ve liked to do was to stay in a ryokan – a traditional Japanese inn, with communal baths, where they also serve you a meal. This was not going to be our last trip to Japan, and we know that we will experience that during our next visit.
What do we miss most about Japan
I asked some members of the family to share what they miss most about Japan. Here’s what they had to say.
The convenience stores – 7/11, Family Mart, and Lawson! Talk about convenience and their amazing selection!!! – The Family
Temperature controlled toilet seats with bidet – Iggy and Ate Tonie
This Matcha Ice Cream from Kyoto was soooo good – Jenna
The mochi from Nakatanidou Mochi Shop in Nara – Jenna
The ramen at Ichiran which made it truly a wonderful gastronomic experience. – Ate Nenette
The vending machines were all over the place – Ethan
I miss riding the trains – Caitlin
The Osaka Airbnb because of its very homey atmosphere & its proximity to the Mandai Supermarket. Enjoyed so much their fresh fruits, instant food & snacks. – Ate Nenette
Rikuro Ojisan Cheesecake, so jiggly – Nancy
I would go back in a heartbeat for the fluffy pancakes in Kyoto at Fleur – Jason
Our AirBNB in Kyoto allowed us to have the entire building all to ourselves – Jason
I love our AiRBNB in Tokyo – Nancy
So glad we got to drive around Tokyo and did MariCar Go Karting – Jason and Ethan
Seafood galore over at Tsukiji Market in Tokyo – Jason
Okonomiyaki experience at Sometaro – Ethan
Staying in a hostel and sleeping in a pod/capsule – the kids
I’m sure we’re missing more things about Japan, but we vow to return again some day soon. Thanks to all of you for following our journey. Until our next trip. Sayonara!