Honestly, it was the usual news about the terrible traffic and hot weather in Manila that makes most returning OFWs consider an out-of-town or out-of-the-country trip during their summer vacation.
For us, it was supposed to be a local tour (a special inter-island destination that i think not most travelers have done before). But as we consider our budget and other plans, which took us some time… the airfare kept on changing and getting more expensive. We even tried a popular group buying site but was initially disappointed that the quoted price isn’t accurate and ended up higher than the published rate. They said on their mail that:
“…as per checking, your preferred date of travel is still available but there is already an existing airfare difference since a lot of clients already availed the promo on your same date.”
We actually tried two destinations and received the same kind of email which validated our conclusion. As time goes on, prices are already becoming unacceptable so we tried to consider other international flights. And since we’ve been to Hongkong, South Korea and Singapore… we thought, maybe its about time to try JAPAN this 2016.
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For OFWs in Qatar, tourist visa may be applied at Japan Embassy in Qatar with office located at the embassy area near Hilton/Four Seasons Hotel in Westbay area (office hours starts at 8am to 12:00noon). Visa is free of charge for Filipinos.
Please make sure to prepare the following requirements in order to secure approval. Here are some of my tips:
- PASSPORT. Ideally, passport should have not less than 6 months expiration before application. The Japanese Embassy only requires 3 months validity and during that time, my passport has 5 and a half months left to expire. It made me a bit worried since many are saying i won’t get approved. I even applied for EXTENSION at the Philippine Embassy in Doha but was not granted since an extension is only given for medical or legal emergencies only. Therefore, i applied for NEW passport which will take 3-4 weeks to process. Surprisingly, a staff at the Japan Embassy in Qatar told me there’s no problem even if i have less than six months passport validity since their requirement is only 3 months. In our actual travel, though i have a new passport at hand, the old one where my Japan Visa was stamped was accepted in both Philippine and Japan immigration. Upon checking, they said that so long as one have an existing wok permit, the 6-month passport validity is waived.
- AIRFARE and HOTEL RESERVATION may be done via travel agencies or online booking sites (i usually refer to http://www.booking.com). Some may present dummy tickets which are also acceptable so long as it will show your travel dates.
- APPLICATION FORMS may be filled out by hand or online and must be printed in A4 size paper. All information must be consistent – passport number, dates of travels, etc. Put N/A (not applicable) to other blank spaces.
- SCHEDULE OF STAY IN JAPAN is a detailed daily itinerary of your stay. Form is available at the embassy or at your travel agency.
- LETTER OF GUARANTEE for underaged travelers are required. Standard forms are available at the embassy and must be stamped by the Philippine Embassy.
- BANK STATEMENT with stamp from your bank is also required.
While inquiring from the Embassy of Japan in Doha, i learned that our LEVEL OF SAVINGS and our FINANCIAL CAPACITY play an important factor in the approval of our visa application. To some, records of loans and zero balances may also have effect in the visa approval. However, in our case, since some members of our party don’t have Qatar residence IDs, we were advised that the best option is to apply at the Japan Embassy in Manila.
True enough, applying in Manila proved to be the BEST OPTION for us. Through the help of Ms. Beverly Mendoza Bobis (a.k.a. Ms. Babes) of Reli Tours Southmall, our visas were processed in just 2 days! Aside from the above requirements, latest NSO Birth Certificate is required and a processing fee of P950 only per application. For those who may need this information, if you have a member of your party whose Birth Certificate was registered late, you have to provide additional documents like: Form 137 and Baptismal Certificate.
Since my personal goal is to travel light (especially on budget, without compromising quality), we have to consider some budget airlines who are flying direct to TOKYO like Cebu Pacific and Jetstar. Cebu Pacific was always my airline of choice when traveling either local or international before. But this year, i chose Jetstar not only for price but also for the “experience”. I learned Jetstar in one of the blogs i read which suggested a Japanese welcoming feeling even while boarding. It was proven true as shown on my instagram video. The crew were Japanese and there are available reading materials which suggests popular tourist destinations. But being a budget airline, food and extra baggage allowance are extra costs.
Here are some of my tips:
- Check the lowest daily fare. Airline sites usually present separate fares for departure and arrival. Please don’t forget to click CONTINUE to see the total fare which will include other charges.
- For Cebu Pacific, the trick is to automatically choose FLY+BAG+MEAL option since even if you chose FLY only, the total fares will be the same but without the baggage and meal options. You can also try this to double check if my observation is right.
- For Jetstar, the option for additional baggage and meal is also presented. You decide if you need extra baggage allowance since an excess baggage will be costly than booking it together with the airfare. While its a 5-hour flight, you may opt to have a heavy meal before the flight. Luckily for us, small bottles of water are allowed because we are traveling with a young child. Otherwise, you can just purchase food using your credit card on board.
- Remember, the length of stay in Tokyo depends on your plan and budget. Ideally, a good short trip is about 5-7 days. And while airfare may be the same regardless if you stay long or short, consider also that your accommodation is paid on a daily basis. But if budget isn’t much of a concern, then why not maximize the chance especially if a next travel to Japan is not possible in the near future.
- Usually, since most hotels allows check-in at 2pm, an arrival to your destinations in the morning will make you maximize the day. However, advise your company to rest well before the trip so that even an early arrival will not make them drowsy.
Narita Airport in Tokyo (for more of modern itineraries) isn’t the only gateway to JAPAN. You may also consider Osaka or Kyoto (for Japan’s culture and rich traditions) depending on the type of travel/destinations you want to take. For us, since all of them are first timers except for me (i already visited Japan last 2003 on business purpose), most of itineraries are for kids so we decided to consider TOKYO as our entry and exit point.
Travel time from Manila is 5 hours and Jetstar travels once a day at 12:55am.
I usually book via booking.com in most of my travels and staycations. Hotels are usually the safest, most convenient way to stay because of their accessibility and available facilities (including breakfast). However, i came to know that most hotels in Japan are very strict with the number of occupants. And since we are a group of 5, our option is to get a hotel with family room or get 2 adjacent rooms which will cost us more.
Another blog introduced me to other accommodation options via Airbnb. Airbnb is a website for people to list, find, and rent lodging all over the world. And it proved to be less expensive, bigger in size and provided wide array of options which gave us value for money alternative.
Here are some of my tips when using Airbnb:
- Your itinerary will dictate the location of your accommodation. In our case where two whole days will be spent in Disney Land and Disney Sea in Maihama, another day in Tokyo Sky Tree and Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa – we considered an accommodation close to Tokyo Station. For a change, we chose the one that will also allow us to experience living like a local and also stay in a silent community. You can check out this website to get familiar with Tokyo Metro. Being familiar with Tokyo helped us in exploring the area via the metro.
- Consider the size of the apartment. Is it enough to accommodate your group? We chanced at a one bedroom apartment in Azabujuban – only few minutes from Tokyo Tower near the stylish Roponggi area. I suggest that you browse all available photos for every property options and see if it will fit your preference and requirement. I suggest for you to choose 3-5 apartments.
- Communicate with the owners by sending them email inquiries. While they will not give exact details of their apartment prior to reservation conformation, make sure that it is within proximity to your destinations. Ideally, it should be within 5 minutes only to any nearest metro station to be considered accessible. And the owner who gives you more details and respond well to your inquiries will give you a good impression.
- Make a good list of options, compare their prices, check their accessibility, know their features (do they provide towels, shampoo, a pocket wifi – which is very helpful). Once you’re decided, pay via credit card and note that all transactions with Airbnb is not refundable.
Our succeeding blogs will feature more about our recent trip to TOKYO. As a final tip, the earlier the preparation, the better. The more you read and browse on references, the better for you to get to know more about the place you are visiting. Traveling by package is OUT, do-it-yourslef travel is IN. Also, make your trip more meaningful by allowing you some time to observe people, pay the train tickets, buy a bottle of Pocari Sweat on a vending machine, choose food from restaurant menus, and even talk to the locals while in the taxi or train – in this way, you will get an actual experience of TOKYO and not the typical travel for photo op only.