The Wireside Communications team travelled to Tokyo, Japan last fall to meet one of our largest clients and as the Operations Manager, I wanted to plan a stress free trip for them. Fortunately, I found a great deal of information and advice online during my research to aid me in planning. So, if you happen to stumble across this post, I hope it will make your trip to Tokyo easier to plan and more enjoyable.
Planning: Where do I start? Travel magazines, websites and blogs hold a plethora of information that you can use to plan a successful trip. You can find information ranging from flight tips, airport layouts, hotel reviews, sights to see, and the customs of the country you are visiting. For example, do you want to know if you should tip in Japan and how much? The answer is right there at your fingertips!
Airports: Where should I land? Tokyo is accessible by two airports, The Tokyo International Airport (a.k.a. Haneda), and The Narita International Airport. Both have their advantages. Haneda is closer to Tokyo, which significantly reduces travel time into the city, but offers fewer flight options. Narita is the main hub for international flights, which means you have many more options to choose from and that could save you quite a bit of money, but bear in mind your commute to the city will be longer. Two of my co-workers flew into Haneda and one into Narita; all three of them made it to the hotel easily.
Transportation to hotel: How do I get to the city? Japan is a country crisscrossed by trains, subways and buses. If you’re planning a visit to Japan, we recommend several websites we found useful while planning our own company’s trip to Japan, including The Access Wayfinding for Haneda and The Route Navigator for Narita. One tip that can make getting to your hotel easier is to use the Airport Limousine Bus. This bus runs a route from both airports to the most popular hotels in Tokyo making it an easier option than taking the subway after an overnight flight. The downside is the bus has a limited timetable. Researching your travel options ahead of time will give you the information needed to navigate the Tokyo transit system and get you to your hotel in no time.
General Transportation: How do I navigate Tokyo? Once you are in the city there are several transportation sites and apps to help you get around. One of the easiest sites to use is HyperDia and you can find general information about transportation options at japan-guide.com. Locals are very friendly and everyone my colleagues asked went out of their way to show them to their destination. Depending on your travel plans while in Japan, you might want to consider purchasing the Japanese Rail Pass (JR Pass). This must be purchased ahead of time. You will be mailed a voucher to exchange for the rail pass at the airport. This rail pass is only for “Temporary Visitors” and you must get your passport stamped to indicate your visitor status. The Japan Rail Pass desk attendants speak English and the bigger subway stations have Information desks staffed by English speakers to help you out.
Accommodations: Where should I stay? There are infinite options to choose from. Most business travelers stay at a traditional business hotel recommended by colleagues or friends who have previously traveled to Japan. I found the travel websites such as Expedia, Priceline and Travelocity to be very informative. My colleagues chose to stay at the Dai-Ichi Hotel Tokyo, which was recommended by our clients. This turned out to be a great decision since the hotel caters to the international business traveler and offered the usual amenities. It also had the added benefit of being within walking distance to the office building where the team meetings were being held. If you have a local contact, reach out for their advice; you will find their input invaluable during this phase of planning.
Power: Can I use my electronics? The power grid in Japan is very similar to what we use in the US. The voltage is slightly lower in Japan, which means it might take longer to charge your electronics, but in most cases you will be able to plug in without a problem. However, you will need an adapter for any device that has three prongs, as Japan uses a two-prong outlet system. International adapters are easy to find at any airport; I purchased a small one at Best Buy.
Communication: Will my phone work? Make sure you check with your cell phone provider and add a global plan if it is available. Verizon’s global data and calling plan costs $80.00, but can be prorated based on length of stay. For travelers who do not have this option do not fret! One of my colleagues lives in Spain and her provider, Telefónica, did not offer a global plan option, so she purchased a no-calls, data-only 3G SIM card for about $60. There are several Japanese companies such as Rentaphone or Softbank that offer cell phones, SIM cards and pocket Wi-Fi devices to rent while in country. You have the option to order online prior to your trip and have the devices delivered to your hotel or you can walk up to one the kiosks in the airport and take care of it when you land. Most airports in Japan have vending machines where you can purchase SIM cards, mobile devices and other accessories. The team relied on Wi-Fi when at the hotel and Skype to communicate with friends and family back home.
Finances: Can I use my credit card and the ATMs in Japan? The easy, but not so helpful answer is sometimes. The first step is to inform your bank of your upcoming trip, otherwise your purchases may get flagged as fraudulent. You can usually use your credit card, but you definitely want to have cash on hand! The majority of my colleagues’ purchases were made with cash while out and about in the city. Not all ATMs in Japan will accept debit cards issued outside of the country so make sure you take advantage of the ATMs located in the airport. The ATMs found in the post offices, 7-Eleven stores (of which there are many), the international ATMs at the major department stores and inside the Shinsei Bank branches will usually accept foreign debit cards for cash withdrawals.
Insurance: Should I purchase trip insurance? We chose to purchase trip insurance through World Nomads for a nominal amount. We felt this was a good bet given the overall cost of the trip. There are other companies who sell travel insurance, but I found this plan to be the most reasonable.
Sightseeing: What should I see? There are so many fascinating sites to see in Tokyo that you will want to spend some time looking at travel blogs to see what inspires you. If you are a confident traveler and like to strike out on your own, have at it. For those travelers who like a readymade itinerary check out The Best of Tokyo in 3 or 5 days or see the highlights in 36 hrs by following the steps in the article 36 Hours in Tokyo, or if you’re busy working you could always opt for a fun and quickie bus tour, as my colleagues did.
Apps: Which ones should I download? If you get one and only one, get the iTranslate app, which is very handy for translating quick questions and text from English to Japanese. Japan is a very tech savvy country and my co-workers had quite a few conversations using their iPhones. Do learn how to say at least please – onegaishimasu – and thank you – arigatō. The locals will appreciate it!
Traveling for business can be fun, and with advance planning you can take stress out of the equation. By researching and learning about where you are headed you will be able to relax, sit back and enjoy your adventure!