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10 Things You Should Know Before Traveling to Japan (with photos)

I must admit that I have not done a travel intensive trip in the longest time until Japan. We headed to Japan to catch the cherry blossoms in April 2016 and boy was it worth it. We travelled to Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto and Osaka, our trip was in total 14 days and it was more than enough time to travel those 4 cities. I decided to compile a list of 10 things that you should know before traveling to Japan.

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  1. Know your routes beforehand

Since we will be heading to 4 different cities in Japan, the first thing we researched on was how to travel to the different cities. There are numerous options but the easiest is by train and trust me when I say that Japan the king of convenient rail transport country-wide. The easiest option is the JR Pass, which is only available for use by foreigners, it allows you unlimited travel across Japan on rail, buses and ferries. You can purchase 7, 14 or 21 days pass but it’s not cheap. We didn’t opt for the JR Pass because our first stop after we arrived in Tokyo was Hakone and JR trains don’t go all the way to Hakone (this is why I always research in advance) so we decided to buy our tickets along the way. With that said, it doesn’t matter what form of transport you use to get to places, just make sure you plan your routes in advance because it saves you a lot of time and money if you already know the best option to get to your destination.

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2. Cash is king

Like any other Asian country, Japan is very cash orientated and it makes your traveling so much easier if you carry cash on you (or at least know where to get cash from). Sure there are shops and restaurants that have card machines but there are also lots of local restaurants and food stands that don’t so rather be safe than stranded somewhere hungry without cash.

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3. Learn how to say “thank you” in Japanese

I must admit that I was fairly surprised that people didn’t speak much English at all for the first few days we were in Japan. I eventually got over it and adjusted. I mean the amount of effort and hand signing it took me to explain to the lady at the counter that I required a sim card was ridiculous! The Japanese are very polite people, they certainly won’t be rude to you if you don’t speak their language but learning how to say “thank you” can make all the difference so make an effort. If you’re wondering what “thank you” is – Arigatō gozaimas – you’re welcome!

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4. Convenience stores are your best friends

Apart from Hakone, all the other cities we travelled to had convenience stores everywhere, which were mainly 7-11s. They sell everything, band-aids, cool drinks, magazines, makeup, sweets and food but not just any food, you can get wholesome and delicious meals from 7-11s in Japan and for cheap just incase you get stranded somewhere hungry AF.

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5. Check the cherry blossom forecasts before you book your flights

If your sole purpose is to go see cherry blossoms then make sure you check out the forecasts before you go because the last thing you want is to rock up and not even get a glimpse! The cherry blossoms bloom at different times every year but it generally falls between April and May and they only last for about 2 weeks (May is pushing it so April would be a safer bet). We traveled to Japan during the second week of April and it was in full bloom so basically by the end of our travels, the cherry blossoms have already fallen but they were a spectacular sight none-the-less.

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6. Japan is not a morning place

If you’re an early bird and hope to get things started in the morning, just know that majority of the shops and restaurants will not be opened. I remember one of the days we wanted to catch a bus somewhere quite early, like around 8am and we walked around and couldn’t find a place that served breakfast. Even Starbucks wasn’t open that early, we ended at a little cafe that was also a bakery and we had breakfast there.

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7. TIPPING in Japan

If you’re from South Africa or the United States, you’re probably very used to tipping by now that it is almost second nature to you, regardless of whether you actually like it. Just know that tipping is not customary in Japan (and most Asian countries) because all shops, restaurants and hotels who offer a service include service charge in the price. Everyone gets a salary for the work they put into it, so why add more as tip?

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8. Vending machines are everywhere

The one thing that caught our attention traveling around Japan was that there are vending machines everywhere! Those vending machines mostly sell drinks, all sorts of drinks, beers, coffees, teas, soft drinks, juices etc. You don’t only find these vending machines in malls or the lobby of the hotel but they are also everywhere on the streets, so if you are thirsty and wandering around somewhere, you should definitely make use of these vending machines when you see one, also the prices of these drinks are cheaper than the shops.

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9. It’s not easy buying a sim card

We really struggled finding a sim card or should I say a pre-paid sim card with just data in Japan. We wandered around the streets of Kyoto for aaaages before we finally found a cellular shop that sold pre-paid sim cards. Some of the other cellular shops we found didn’t sell pre-paid sims at all. Although most places had wifi, I always prefer buying a local simcard with data so I can at least search for destinations on Google Maps and do some quick research before heading somewhere.

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10. Know that Japan is not cheap

If you’re used to traveling around other parts of Asia, you probably know that food and transport are super cheap and you can probably score some bargains no matter where you go. Before you go to Japan, throw that thought out the window because Japan is NOT cheap! I would say it’s comparable to cities like New York and London, ok maybe a bit cheaper but not all that different (especially for South Africans). Our first stop after Tokyo was Hakone, and since Hakone is a small, touristy town, it was by far the most expensive city all the way from hotels to food. How do I judge this? I compared the prices of a Japanese staple across all 4 cities – ramen. The cheapest ramen was none other than Tokyo, which isn’t surprising because it’s the capital and competition is high, there are hundreds if not thousands of ramen shops spread across the city. A bowl of ramen at a basic lunch spot can cost anything between US$8-US$12 in Tokyo.

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I hope you find this post informative and share this with someone you would like to go to Japan with! Happy Traveling! 🙂

All photos belong to me and my friend Drew (IG: @toastedswimmer), please don’t use without permission. If you would like to check out more traveling photos, check out Drew’s Instagram.

With love…xxx


							
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10 Things You Should Know Before Planning a Destination Wedding (Plus some wedding photos)

Hi everyone! I cannot believe I’m sitting down to write this because I have not written a blog post in forever! If you follow me on social media, you probably know that I got married this year April in Bali, Indonesia… the most magical place on earth (well now it is since I got married there)! I wished that I could have taken everyone on this planning journey when it first started but trust me you wouldn’t have actually wanted to be part of it because I was all over the place half the time. The other times when I did have my shit together, it was purely forced, forced by my best friend, who also happened to be my maid of honor (hi Sandy). Now that I do have the experience, I decided to pen down 10 things that you should definitely know before planning a destination wedding, it was no easy task!

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  1. Is a destination wedding ideal for you?

Yes a destination wedding may sound all romantic and magical because you’ll be away with all your beloved family and friends and you’ll all have the most magnificent time exploring the place and just spending time with each other. However, before you send out the “save the date” or tell people you’ll be having a destination wedding, speak to those who really matter to you to find out whether they will definitely be able to make it first especially if you won’t be paying for everyone to be there. Personally, a destination wedding was the most ideal for us because more than half our guests reside overseas (not South Africa) so it worked out that way. Of course we also made sure our family and our closest friends could make it first before we sent the invitation.

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2. Plan ahead

It may sound easy and straight forward because surely you wouldn’t be planning for your wedding 3 months before would you? My wedding was on 13th April 2017 and I started planning in March 2016 which is when I sent my very first email to the resort that my wedding took place at. After that, the conversation carried on for an entire YEAR right up till the wedding week! If you’re wondering, yes it did require an entire year because of all the logistics that came with the wedding and depending on what time of year you’re getting married, I can guarantee you that you probably won’t be able to get the venue on the date you want, or the makeup artist, or the photographer etc so just plan ahead.

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2. Know your style and ideal venue

I obviously made it sound a lot easier than it actually is, that’s because I knew exactly what I wanted for my wedding. All I knew was that I wanted to get married on an island, at a luxury resort that has a beautiful chapel and it must serve exquisite food. One thing I know for a fact is that I didn’t want was a beach wedding, not because they’re not great (I’ve attended one that was amazing!) but because I wanted to wear a traditional wedding gown and high heels. So if you’re sitting there contemplating what kind of wedding you want, ask yourself, what holidays do you enjoy going on? Do you like the beach? Do you like the mountain? Do you want it in the middle of a bustling city or maybe an enchanting garden somewhere?

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3. Research research research

Once you’ve figured out your style and ideal venue, the next step was to make sure that you do enough research. So I had it fairly easy in this regard because I had this venue in mind and I refused to get married anywhere else. Basically I’ve been following the Mulia for the longest time on Instagram because they won resort of the year numerous times since they opened for business so I literally said, “If I’m going to get married overseas, it must be there” *pointing to the picture on my Instagram to Emic* and so that’s how the journey started. Of course I could not have only relied on Instagram pictures, after all, I only get married once in my life so I dug deep and looked through their website, I read reviews on places like TripAdvisor and Expedia etc to make sure their photos aren’t just fooling anyone. Part of the research is also directly speaking to the venue, luckily I was assigned a great wedding co-ordinator to deal with me the whole year (not sure if the feeling is mutual though). Don’t be shy to ask questions and keep asking until you’re happy with the explanation, after all you are parting with a lot of money so make sure you’re satisfied with what you’re paying for before agreeing to it.

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4. Know that you may not end up wearing the dress you’ve always imagined but you need to accept it

One thing I know for a fact is that girls get the most excited about their wedding dress more than anything in the process of planning for a wedding. Just know that what you always imagined yourself wearing won’t necessarily be the dress you end up wearing and you need to accept the fact! Let me tell you that I pictured myself wearing a tight fitting mermaid styled long sleeve dress for the longest time but if you’ve seen my wedding photos, you’ll know that is exactly the OPPOSITE of what I planned on wearing. So the tight-fitting mermaid styled dress didn’t actually look good on my body type, it made me look short and I disliked that, plus I didn’t have enough curves to rock it out. I ended up choosing a princess dress (it was recommended to me by the boutique owner), with beautiful lace and bead corset on the top and SO MUCH TULLE! Why did I not plan on wearing that style of dress? Because I didn’t want to be cliché but I guess it’s in my fate – they say you can take the princess out of the palace but you can’t take the palace out of  her 🙂

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5. Know that your dress needs to suit the venue

Now imagine if I wanted a beach wedding and I wore my long ass ball gown with all that tulle! That would not have gone down well at all because my ball gown deserved to be glided on polished marble floors, not a beach full of sand. I’m not saying that it’s a hard and fast rule but you also need to look at the practicality of things, it would have been a nightmare to try move around and be graceful while doing it if I were to get married in the sand – it simply would not have been practical.

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6. Know your food

I personally think the food you serve at the wedding is probably the most memorable. After some time, people won’t remember your decor, or what dress the bride wore but you can always count on people to remember whether they enjoyed the food. I made it very clear that I didn’t to eat buffet style dinner during my reception and since it’s MY wedding, people will eat what I liked, and I love fine dining with a tasting menu and that’s exactly what I got. The venue even flew the French chef from Jakarta to cook at my wedding (I didn’t even know until after so big ups to them). If that’s what you want too, don’t go looking at a venue that don’t have the capabilities of serving a served dinner for however many people you want there. Make sure and be adamant about the quality of the food you’re expecting and if possible, go for a tasting beforehand so you know exactly what you (and your guests) will be getting on your big day.

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7. Know the prices of drinks

So if you’re not planning on having alcohol at your wedding, then good for you, you can skip to the next one. But if you are planning on having an open bar with alcohol then read this one carefully. We only realized after I had started speaking to the resort that their alcohol was outrageously expensive! Although it didn’t change my mind but the drinks were definitely a hefty cost because Indonesia is a Islamic country which means they tax alcohol very heavily, we’re talking about paying R2000 for a standard bottle of vodka. Corkage – you’re looking at R500-R2000 a bottle depending on what you bring. Since I chose the venue and the country, I couldn’t possibly make my guests pay for their own drinks so we bought a lot of alcohol in SA and asked all the guests to take some for us to Bali. Even though it didn’t solve the whole problem, it did make things a little better.

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8. Know that you can’t invite everyone and not everyone can come

You only have 50 friends and family so you invite them and they all come and everyone had a good time – perfect scenario! Most of the time, it’s not a perfect scenario because you may plan to have 50 people and only 20-30 come or in our case, we expected 50 people to come but we ended up with 80. We only expected 50 people because Bali isn’t exactly a close destination, but we are not complaining because the more the merrier. Since it is a destination, you really have to be a bit cruel when it comes to the guest list. My rule is, if I haven’t met up or at least spoken to someone in a year, that person is not on my list. Some people you just end up inviting out of courtesy and you pray they actually won’t come (just kidding!). I think my rule is fair because at the end of the day, you want those who will be genuinely happy for you at your wedding so if you’re not close enough to speak at least once in the whole year, what makes you think you’re involved in your life at all?

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9. Know the rate of taxes and VAT

I cannot emphasize this enough because you’ll either be pleasantly surprised when you’re paying the bill or you may be left homeless (LOL a bit extreme but you know what I mean). Make sure you know the Vat and taxes at the destination because after everything is added on, it could make a huge difference. In our case, everything quoted to us and on the price list excluded government taxes of 18% and also 10% service charge, which makes a really big difference. Thankfully I found out about it before we paid our first deposit and it didn’t really change our minds.

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10. It’s your wedding so you do you boo

So normally weddings start off with the ceremony, then the guests head off for some cocktails and snacks, then it’s the reception with speeches, first dance, throwing of the bouquet then the afterparty at the same place bla bla bla… Before you just assume that this is what you will have, ask the venue first whether that is the normal schedule for them. Depending on which country, some may have something different with a different kind of ceremony, or maybe it’s more popular to wed in the morning. Do some research first because you may not want the conventional wedding if other options are available to you.

We started wedding celebrations the night before with dinner and some partying on the beach. The morning of the wedding, we had a couples shoot on the beach (7am), then we had a Chinese Tea Ceremony after breakfast (11am) then I went to get ready and the ceremony was at (5pm). After the ceremony the guests were escorted to the Skybar for cake cutting and cocktails, I had such an amazing cake made and I know that people barely touch the cake at weddings and there was no way that was happening at my wedding! While the guests enjoyed cake and cocktails, we had more photos taken, after that was dinner with some speeches and then the afterparty. We didn’t do a first dance, we didn’t throw the flowers or the garter (I didn’t even have one) but that’s ok because you should have the wedding however you want it. Btw, it didn’t make sense for me to throw flowers since most girls were either married or already in couples and I really really loved my bouquet. 🙂

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I hope this compiled list gives you some tips into planning a destination wedding! Even if it’s not a destination wedding, I think my tips may just apply to all weddings! Let me know if you enjoy these wedding posts because I may just have some more up my sleeve. 🙂

With love…xxx