Friday, March 27, 2015

101 Japan Trip - Our Winter Holiday

A friend requested that I blog a similar 101 post to my Hong Kong trip, but this time covering our recent holiday in Japan. To tell you the truth, travel tips are pretty much similar from one country to another. My basic mantra is "Be ready, prepare yourself for the worst but pray for the best"

We have a basic travel checklist which we will tweak here and there based on the duration/weather/purpose of our stay. When it comes to my children essential (milk,food and medicine), I rather over pack than under pack because you'll never know when you need things and I hate scrambling in a foreign place feeling lost.

Below are some tips and relevant links for your ease of reference. 

1. Winter Clothing and Essentials for Small Children
This is our first time traveling out of the country during winter with the the kids. Preparations started 6 months before our trip in terms of research and shopping. The best trick I learn from most parenting websites was to layer. This works real well because though it may be super cold outdoors, trains and buildings are heated so putting on super heavy clothing on your child which can't be removed may make them very uncomfortable. 

We always start with an inner shirt below their normal clothes/shirts, a vest (depending on the weather forecast of the day), and add on the final layer which is the jacket. Hats is a must because we lose heat mostly from our heads, so insist that your child put it on. Alternatively you can also get an outer jackets with hoods. Get scarfs and mittens which are made from non-scratchy material. Test it out by rubbing the material on your hands, if you don't find it comfortable, your child won't be either.

This time we lugged our double stroller,the buggy and ALL of our stroller accessories. I have to admit  having the stroller helps. Since my children are creatures of habit, the 1 hour time difference totally wrecked their nap schedule, so they took turns napping in the stroller. The rain shield helped during super windy and cold days too. You just need to be extra careful (and fast) when handling your children and the stroller in the subways.

The problem with traveling during winter is that you have to deal with heavy coats and boots, which means a lot of luggage. Since there's a lot of walking from the airport to the station to the hotel, we packed our luggage in such a way that we'll be more mobile, we used two backpacks, one large trolley bag and a large carry-on to cater to 5 people. We even had a test run to ensure that we'll be able to carry all of our luggage + handling the stroller  and the kiddies. 

2. Weather Forecast
We religiously checked the weather forecast 2 months before our travel date to ensure that we packed right. It was raining on and off  and the temperature was around 2' to 12' . We made sure everyone had a rain jacket/poncho, waterproof jackets, foldable umbrellas and extra shoes. Better be safe than sorry I say because if you think having to walk outdoors in the cold sucks, try walking outdoors in the cold while it is raining :p 

My favorite weather forecast website : Click Me

2. Pocket WiFi
Alhamdullilah we managed to find our travel locations easily, thanks to the help of internet. Despite having a very detailed itinerary and travel plan prepared, I still depended a lot on travel apps and internet search to get me from one point to another. I decided to rent a pocket WiFi for our use in Japan, for easy and multiple connectivity. The pocket WiFi is able to connect up to 8 devices at once, so between the 5 smartphone users in the family, we managed to safe quite a lot.

I pre-ordered my WIFI from the company's website,2 days before we left for Japan. When we arrived it was already waiting for me in the airport. To return I just dropped the package at the post box before boarding 

Check out website for more info:  Global Advanced Communication

3. Travel Apps
I downloaded several key apps before leaving just in case there's any problem with the WIFI. I also subscribed to Celcom roaming in case of emergency (you can never be overly cautious when traveling with 3 small children)

Anyway these are the apps that I found most helpful while in Japan:
  • Japan Trains - This is super awesome because not only will it tell you the time and name of the train to take, it will also detailed out the platform/station PLUS the cheapest route to get to your destination PLUS options. Take note the different type of trains while purchasing tickets, there's express (no stops in between of stations), rapid (limited stops), local (stops at every station, cheapest and takes the longest to your destination) tickets.
  • Solat/Qiblat/Halal Food Guide- There's a few options but this is good to help determine qiblat for solat and will alert you of the time. The halal food guide comes with a list and some is even linked to its location + GPS 
  • Currency Converter- Oh well if your Math sucks as mine, any assistance with the numbers and figures are most welcome :p 
  • Waze/Google Maps-In case you need extra help to point you out in the right direction. I did use this a few time because the road signs can be quite confusing and in Japanese
Check out website for more info on train routes : Hyperdia
4. Halal Food
You can't find Halal food easily in Japan. I would say that it is more easily available in tourist spots like Dotunburi Street and Namba. I did manage to find some Halal kebab, tempura and udon while I was there.

We were lucky that our hotel is equipped with a full kitchen, so we  prepared our own breakfast, dinner and pre-packed our lunch. We brought the normal essential like rice, pasta and Brahims (chicken because you can't bring in beef due to the mad cow disease issues) We bought the rest like veges, fruits and eggs at the nearby market.

The cold weather makes my kids constantly hungry, instead of eating and snacking every 4 hours, they need to be fed frequently especially after naps.  We made sure we had snacks like cereal and cheese crackers in hand.

Just a  reminder for people who choose to eat at seafood restaurant and buy seafood/vegetarian based food, the Japanese sometimes uses alcohol during food preparations especially in rice and sauces (most fish sauces used on takoyaki contains traces of alcohol). 

Even pre-packed food which does not contain meat, sometimes use animal fat or lard. One instance was when we were in USJ and asked the popcorn vendor if the popcorn is vegetarian friendly and his answer was no. I'm not sure if it was a mistake on his part but suffice to say we decided againts buying them for the kids. So unless you read or speak Japanese well, I advise you stay clear of things that may fall under the "vague" category. This is also based on the advice from my friend who's in Japan.

Check out website for more info : Halal Kansai Restaurant List

5. USJ Tickets
We pre bought our Universal Studios Japan Tickets from Japan Travel Bureau (JTB) in KLCC. As you know, I AM ALLERGIC TO LONG QUEUES so I made sure that we secured our tickets to USJ a month before we left (Yes I'm super serious when it comes to Harry Potter preparations :p).

Check out website for more info:  Universal Studios Japan and JTB Malaysia

6 . Train Pass
You should take advantage of the train pass packages available for tourist when traveling in Japan. Before choosing a Travel Pass, make sure that it is the one that will work best with you travel route. Based on our itinerary, I choose Kansai Thru Pass because the station is the closest to my hotel. It was also the cheapest option for ticket price for our travel route. Another plus point was they offered discounts vouchers on entrance ticket to several attractions around Kansai. I purchased my tickets at the Kansai Airport itself. There's a 2 or 3 days pass available depending on your needs. You also do not need to use your tickets consecutively.

Check out website for more information: Kansai Thru Pass

You can also purchase the JR Train Pass through JTB. If you're traveling in the Kansai area you can consider the JR Kansai Area Pass available for exclusive use by foreign visitors to Japan. It provided unlimited travel on local JR trains and the Haruka limited express train in the Kansai region around Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and Kobe for one to four days, consecutively. 

One thing I like about the JR line was its loop lines, meaning you do not need to make a lot of train change to get to your destinations.

Check out website for more information: JR Kansai Pass

7.Travel Diary
For our travel diary check out the following links:
Fuh!! super long post, it took me 3 days to finish typing this, so hope that it helps someone :) Happy weekend everyone....

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