Social media makes travelling seems like a piece of cake. You choose a destination, book the flight tickets and hotels, and boom! You’re set to go! Well, if only travelling was that easy to begin with. To have a smooth trip is possible when you do this part: planning. It was something that my parents always did for their travels, and that included our trip to Japan. It is a vibrant country with a mix of technologies and traditional preservations. And it has so many destinations for us to choose from. So, before I could go into the trip itself, let’s begin right at this entrance: the planning!
Japan: The New Fantasy In A Bucket List
Let us rewind back in time to when I was thirteen. At that time, I didn’t know much about Japan or care much about it. That is until I started to explore manga and anime art styles. And it was through this that I was properly introduced to the side of Japan that I never knew. For many hours, I found myself scrolling through the various pictures of Japan’s beauty, varying from kimonos to sakura trees. The more I looked through it, the more obsessed I became, and immediately, I added Japan to my bucket list. That was, of course, easier said than done.
In all honesty, Japan wasn’t a very convenient country to travel to at that time. Because we were living in Saudi Arabia, it was more convenient for us to travel to European countries as it was nearer geographically. With Japan located in East Asia, my parents found that it was better to travel there from Malaysia instead. But with many unfinished businesses in Malaysia that required my parents’ attention, they didn’t have the time to plan the trip out. As I grew older, the idea of visiting Japan seemed less likely to happen and remained as a fantasy in my mind.
Dropping The Bomb
I was in the middle of my final exams for the International Baccalaureate (IB) when my mother dropped the bomb. My mother told me of the plan to visit Japan that summer, and to say I was excited was an understatement; I was ecstatic. Though my obsession with Japan had toned down over the years, the desire to go there was still deep in me. I asked one of my friends, who had been to Japan recently, for recommendations and my mother shared the Excel sheet that outlined the trip. Little did I know, the planning was only just the beginning.
Planning Is Easy… On Paper
Planning honestly seemed easy on paper, but it was much more challenging than I anticipated. As my parents did most of the planning, I rarely got involved in it. In this scenario though, I tried my best to help out since I was the one who was insistent on this trip. In the end, my parents still did most of the work whilst I only did a small portion of it. Nevertheless, I did gain more insight into how my parents planned out family travels.
1. Planning The Accommodation
Knowing where to stay for the night is something that many prioritise in their travel planning. Though the hotel is the most common choice for accommodation, some opt for other alternatives such as a hostel or a guesthouse to make the most of their experience. My parents booked two rooms at a modest Sakura Hotel Hatagaya for our stay in Tokyo, which was a good deal. The greatest bonus was that this hotel has a café with Muslim-friendly or Halal food, which was easier for us to have breakfast. Though the limited space might be a problem since we needed it for praying, but then again, I’d never know until I got there.
Our accommodation in Osaka was a bit different, since we were staying at a homestay known as The Apartment Bay House. It’s a personal home used to cater to guests. It is a narrow, double-storey house made of wood (but shiny!). Inside, you can find a small kitchen, a bathroom, a toilet, two bedrooms upstairs and a bedroom downstairs. The greatest advantage to the homestay was that you could cook your own food. But the disadvantage of this was that if you damage any property…yeah, you have to pay. And homestays have rules you have to abide by, lest you’ll get fined. As if it wasn’t expensive enough.
2. Planning The Places To Eat… And Praying Area
Food planning was crucial for us. As Muslims are a minority group in Japan, finding Halal food will definitely be a challenge. By planning out where to eat beforehand, our trip would be easier as we would know where to find Halal restaurants. Though most associate Halal with Middle Eastern cuisine, that didn’t mean we shouldn’t try out Japanese cuisine. Especially in Tokyo, which has a vast selection of Halal Japanese food, including sushi, ramen, and even Japanese curry! If you crave authentic yet Halal Japanese food, then don’t worry, because Tokyo has it all.
Enough about food, now let’s talk about prayers. Yes, we included the praying area in our planning. Trust me, I don’t think anyone would want to spend half a day in circles trying to find one. Planning helped us from facing this struggle, even though it did happen eventually. If you’re planning on travelling to Japan anytime soon and are a Muslim, I’d recommend doing this. Just to spare yourself some trouble.
3. Planning Out Transportation
Planning out the way you travel beforehand can be a great advantage. Mainly because it could help you travel easier and faster. The train lines in Japan are incredibly vast. As in, the train lines are everywhere, just in Tokyo alone. This was where my mother gave me the simple task of routing our journey to Miraikan Science Museum from our hotel. Alright, that sounded easy, I thought. And off I went to open Apple Maps on my iPad before it presented me with a recommended path.
Now, that in itself wasn’t the overwhelming part. It was the alternative routes that the map offered aside from the main one. In other words, the train lines were so vast that it became confusing. Despite this, there were certain train lines that offered special tickets for foreign tourists, such as the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass). This convenient pass made it easy for foreign tourists to travel, as they have access to all trains that were operated on the JR network. Though I tried my best to help out, my parents did most of the work, but it was the kind of experience that I appreciated.
Planning Bonus: Get A Tour Guide?
Now, this part deserved its own category because it was actually optional. It took my parents weeks to decide whether getting a tour guide would be worth it. Having a tour guide has its advantages, such as effective communication between locals and tourists and providing information that tourists may not know when travelling on their own. However, having a tour guide means the trip won’t be as flexible and has limited time for each destination.
After some time, my parents decided to hire a personal male tour guide. Meaning we would be the only tourists he has. Our tour guide would be the translator for the duration of the trip, along with guiding us in the best direction to reach our destination. Aside from that, he wouldn’t decide the time we get to spend there and that he booked his own hotel. Whilst my family would go according to plan, our tour guide could plan out his own accommodation and travels as we explore the sight. It was a perfect win-win for both parties.
The Moment Of Reality: Taking Off!
Whilst planning the trip itself was quite stressful, flying off to the planned destination was a whole different feeling altogether. It was a surreal feeling to say the least, knowing that Japan was no longer as far away as I thought. Adding more to the nerves, my sister got sick prior to boarding and fortunately, on hindsight, it wasn’t during the pandemic. At least the seat in Malaysia Airlines was comfortable and not to mention also that the food was good! So there was something to calm me down for a bit before we arrived.
In all honesty, I don’t think the trip would be possible without planning it out. Microsoft Excel had been a huge help for my parents to organise everything properly for the trip. Not to mention also that should there be any changes we had to make, my parents could easily edit that section only. It was really convenient for them because sometimes, change could occur at any time.
Japan: Fuelling Questions Whilst Taking Off
But here’s the big question: is Japan really that great? Or were those just my expectations from seeing those beautiful pictures on the Internet? Only one way to find out and I’ll share my thoughts in the next episode!
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