Howie visits Japan – Arriving in Japan.

I hope you all had a good Christmas and a Happy New Year. I had intended to post this sooner, but unfortunately I was taken unwell over Christmas and so did not get a chance to finish this post.

So, you’re on your way and about to arrive in Japan (or at any destination). Make sure you have your passport, and any landing cards and / or customs declaration which you may require to hand. Or in my case, make sure not to leave it on the plane before disembarking. I advise filling in any landing cards and / or customs declaration as required whilst still on the plane so you’re not fumbling around in the arrivals hall.

Speaking of customs declaration, as a side note: I just thought it might be funny to highlight that prohibited item number 5 on the list of examples of prohibited items is “Obscene or immoral materials, and child pornography“. I get the whole child pornography is bad thing, but to ban “obscene or immoral materials” when Japan exports some of the most extreme pornography and hentai featuring school girls and tentacles? Just thought it was a rather ironic thing to ban on a customs list.

So the plane has made its steady descent, the flaps have all been extended, landing gears down, and it had touched down on the runway, with the engines firing up in reverse and the armed spoilers engaged. The plane slows down quite rapidly before turning off the runway. You’ll probably notice that the seat belt light is still turned on, but you’ll also hear a lot of people taking off their seat belts. I would advise you keep your seat belt on.

Yes, you may think I’m being too much of a goody two-shoes, but let me put it into aviation context. The plane will taxi to the gate / parking spot at maybe around 20 to 30 knots (around 23 to 34 mph). Bear in mind that the airport is full of various moving vehicles, your plane may have to brake to allow other vehicles to pass, or brake suddenly in the unlikely event that all traffic has to stop to allow emergency vehicles to race to the runway because of a mayday landing. It can hurt being thrown into the seat in front of you due to inertia.

When the plane comes to a complete stop, I would recommend you simply sit back and relax, whilst everyone is rushing about getting their luggage. It’s easier to wait until everyone is gone so you have more space and time to pick up your belongings, and to check that you haven’t left anything (*ahem* like a stray passport). Follow the signs to immigration and present your passport to the immigration officer. You may be asked a few basic questions like where you are staying and when you are leaving, so try and have those pieces of information in mind.

After you pass through immigration, check for signs as to from which carousel to collect your luggage. Hopefully you’ll have put something bright and loud on your luggage so it gets your attention. Just make sure you check that it is your luggage you’re collecting before you leave the carousel and head for customs, where you’ll be asked to confirm that you have not brought any of the prohibited items listed. And then asked again just in case you didn’t understand the customs officer the first time.

You can start absorbing Japanese culture right here at the airport. In Japan, it is polite to hand things to other people with two hands, facing the right way up for them.  Start getting used to this, and you could even hand the immigration officer and customs officer the relevant documents like that, with a slight bow of the head.

Once you pass through both customs and immigration, it’s time to negotiate the airport terminal to work out where you need to go to get to your accommodation. Before you do that though, I would advise checking out the various vending machines you will find at the airport terminal which look like this:

SIM card vending machine. Don’t forget to look around for different offers and prices though, as prices can vary… a lot.

These vending machines will sell you SIM cards to allow you to use data whilst in Japan rather than using your own native SIM card and being charged an arm and a leg for roaming data. You will need to have a phone which is unlocked in order to use a Japanese SIM card in it.

The provider which I used was U-Mobile, buying the SIM card from a vending machine Terminal 2 of Narita Airport. The SIM cost me ¥2,500 (approximately £16 / US$23) for seven days’ use, with 220MB per day, which I found was enough to pick up some emails, check phrases, and look up where next to go. As always, I want to stress that there are other providers out there other than U-Mobile, so please do check out the different vending machines to find out which SIM card offer is best for you, and for the best price. One word of warning though: make sure you know what size SIM card your phone takes, because you won’t be able to get a refund if you buy the wrong size.

Alternatively, there are various SIM selling counters where you can talk to an actual person if you want to, although since you’re in Japan, why not go all out an have fun experiencing the vending machine culture. You should get used to using them, as the Japanese love them. You can find vending machines everywhere selling toys (gachapon / ガチャポン, or gacha / ガチャ for short), drinks, food… panties.

A wall lined with gachapon machines in Akihabara.

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