Tuesday, May 10, 2016

10 Tips for Planning Okinawa (Japan) Self-Drive Trip with Children

Although I have been to Japan a few times, it is my first time visiting Japan with my children! And it is my first time doing self-drive trip!

Oh, why don't we consider using public transport in Okinawa? Well, there is only one monorail system located at the southern part of Okinawa (Naha city). Although there are buses, taxi and local bus tours, I feel that it would be more convenient and flexible for us to drive in Okinawa.

Here are my 10 tips for planning self-drive trip in Okinawa, and some of these tips are also applicable when you travel to other parts of Japan!

Tips #1: Useful websites and smartphone applications
Clueless about where to go in Okinawa? Read these websites for ideas!

In addition, I find these websites useful for travelling in Japan:

Here are some smartphone applications that I find useful (and they are free):

Google Translate (iOS / Android)
You can snap a photo or speak, and the app will translate for you!

Japan Connected-free Wi-Fi (iOS / Android)
Sign up an account or log in on the day before you travel to Japan, then you can connect to free Wi-Fi in Japan for the next 90 days.

Travel Japan Wi-Fi (iOS / Android)
Another free Wi-Fi connection app in Japan. Check out the places to get the premium code in order to enjoy more free Wi-Fi spots!

Gurunavi (iOS / Android)
Search for good food when you are planning your trip, or when you want to locate nearby eateries when you are in Japan.

Tenki.jp (iOS / Android)
This weather forecast app is in Japanese. You can set the areas that you are visiting, and check the weather on the go!

Google Map (iOS / Android)
Build your Google Map before your trip, so that you can use your customised map to locate the places that you want to visit.

Maps.Me (iOS / Android)
It works when it is offline too, not to worry that you get lost when there is no internet!

Mapion (iOS / Android)
Japanese version of map

If you are able to read Chinese, you may consider searching for information in Chinese (e.g. 沖繩親子遊), because there is a lot of information on Okinawa from Taiwan and Hong Kong blogs!

Tips #2: Plan your driving route carefully
After shortlisting the places of interest and eateries from websites in our Tips #1, create Google Map. This helps to determine the time taken to drive from one place to the other, and hence you can work out the itinerary.

Other than using Google Map, we would also use GPS provided by the car rental company. In Singapore, we key in postal code on the GPS to locate the place. In Japan, we can use either telephone number or Mapcode (マップコード).

When you collect your car from the car rental company, you will receive a handbook that comes with a list of Mapcode of places of interest. However, please take note that the Mapcode provided do not include the car park of the attractions, eateries, shops and other not so popular places, we would suggest that you do some homework to compile a list of Mapcode / telephone numbers of places that you wish to visit before your trip, so as to minimise the time wasted to look for places while you are on the road.

If you are not sure how to obtain the Mapcode for self-driving in Japan, you may refer to our sharing on tips for self-driving in Japan and finding the Mapcode. Or you can use our list of Mapcode in Okinawa.

You may also check out Okinawa Travel Info which provides telephone numbers and Mapcode of many places of interest - just choose the place of interest, and look for "Access" and then "Mapcode"! Alternatively, you can find the telephone numbers and Mapcodes from the official websites of some of the places of interest, restaurants and shops.

Tips #3: Booking air tickets
Read our blog post on getting from Singapore to Okinawa in a shorter time and at a lower air fare!

Tips #4: Booking accommodations in Japan
Take a look at our blog post on Okinawa Accommodations for Family for some ideas!

image source: Rizzan Sea-Park Hotel official website

In Japan, to ensure good quality of sleep, many accommodations would require the visitors to book and pay for the exact number of people staying, including children. Usually the accommodations do not charge infants and children under 2 years old. For children above 2 years old and up to elementary school age, they would be charged at a certain percentage of, or even same rate as adults. I have heard of cases when some people tried to book a room without stating the number of children staying with them, and then the hotel requested them to top up the difference for the children during check-in. But I have also heard of cases when the hotel didn't make such request.

So for our family of 2 adults and 2 children, other than booking a room for 2 adults and hoping that we would not get caught the hotel would not charge us extra upon check-in, is there any way to save some money on accommodation? Yes! In Japan, there is a chain of business / budget hotels called Toyoko Inn. It is one of the hotels in Japan that allows two children aged 12 years and below to sleep-share with two adults in a twin room without charge. Oh, this hotel chain offers free simple breakfast too! We stayed in one of its hotels in Tokyo before, the room was really very small, but we were fine with it.

If you can understand basic Japanese, you may consider booking through the official websites of the hotels in Japanese, or through a hotel booking platform called jalan.net. Sometimes, they offer a lower rate than the usual hotel booking websites in English! In addition, these websites offer many accommodation plans which the English version of the official website and the usual hotel booking websites do not offer! It means that you can choose the plan that includes the number of meals, variety of activities, and the use of some facilities (e.g. spa) based on what you need.

Many accommodations do not require deposit or full payment in advance, and you can pay when you check-in. So for any reason that you are not going to stay in an accommodation, it is basic courtesy to inform them and cancel the booking in advance.

If your budget permits, do consider to stay at a seaside resort to enjoy the sun, the sand and the sea! Read our review of Rizzan Sea-Park Hotel Tancha-Bay!

Tips #5: Book your rental car early and apply for international driving permit
When I was reading some Taiwanese blogs, many of them shared about this car rental company called OTS. Its website has English and Chinese version, and it provides multilingual GPS (English, Chinese, Korean). With my limited command of Japanese language, even though there are Japanese local car rental companies that offer much cheaper rate, I decided to go for OTS, as I can speak to them in Chinese in case of emergency (*touch wood*). Do book the car early to enjoy early bird discount! OTS also provides free infant / child / junior (booster) car seats.

Remember to bring along your passport, Singapore driving license and international driving permit (IDP) in order to rent a car in Japan!

To apply for IDP, just bring along your NRIC and Singapore driving license to Automobile Association of Singapore. No need to bring along a photo as the staff will take photo for you. The IDP costs SGD20. Alternatively, you may apply online.

Tips #6: Get the prepaid SIM card or rent a Wi-Fi router
Since we are renting car from OTS, we will be also renting a Wi-Fi router from them. On the first and last day of our trip when we do not have the Wi-Fi router, we would be using free Wi-Fi (See Tips #1 for the smartphone app that detects and connects to free Wi-Fi in Japan). Check out Be Okinawa for free Wi-Fi spots in Okinawa.

If you prefer using prepaid SIM cards, you can consider getting Yokoso SIM card in Singapore, or So-net card in Japan. At Okinawa, you can get So-net SIM card from Naha International Airport. The vending machine is located next to the Visitor Information at the Arrival Hall.

Tips #7: Tax-free shopping
Currently, the consumption tax in Japan is 8%, and the tax-free purchase amount at the same store in a single day is more than 5000 yen. Check Japan Tax-free Shop for the details of tax-free shopping!

Take note that in order to enjoy tax-free for purchases that include consumable items, you cannot consume them before you leave Japan. The purchased items are packed in a transparent sealed bag like this:

Tips #8: Purchase admission tickets at a discount
Purchase the admission tickets of places of interest (e.g.Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium) at a discount from these places:
  • OTS Rental - you can purchase the admission tickets from them when you are renting car from them
  • 道の駅許田 (Michi no eki Kyoda) - it is a service station near the northernmost end of Okinawa Expressway

Tips #9: Discount coupons

Coupons at Airport
Once you reach Naha International Airport, go to Visitor Information at the Arrival Hall to grab these free magazines! They are not just travel information magazines, they consist of discount coupons at the back!

AEON coupon
Some of you may have heard of AEON, formerly known as JUSCO. It is a chain of departmental stores and supermarkets. Get some saving by using this 5% coupon! Simply click on "Get 5% off coupon", capture the screen of the QR code or save the URL, go to Happy Gate machine at AEON, scan the code and receive the coupon!

Hot Pepper
If you can understand Japanese, then you can search eateries from this website and receive discount coupons for your meals!

Tips #10: Seeking Help and Medical Care in Okinawa
Need to seek help but can't speak Japanese? No worries, you can call Multilingual Contact Centre for help!

Phone: 0570-077201
SkypeID: call-center-en01
SkypeID: call-center-en02

Operation hours: 9 a.m. - 9 p.m.

The call will be charged at 8.5 yen for every 3 minutes in Naha City, 20-40 yen every 3 minutes outside Naha City, 90 yen for every 3 minutes using cell phone. In case using overseas phone, roaming fee will be charged.

In the case when you need to see doctor, check out this document Okinawa Medical Information for Foreigners to find the clinics and hospitals with staff who can speak English or Mandarin.

Our Okinawa Travelogue

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  1. Great tips. I guess in Japan the issue for me would be lack of knowledge of Japanese.

    1. Don't worry about language, some Japanese can speak English!

  2. Wow your research is so thorough and would be so handy for anyone wanting to go to Okinawa! Three thumbs up!! :D

  3. Thank you for sharing the information and those apps seems quite useful. Glad some of them are in English for people to understand and enjoy the place.

    1. Those apps are useful for traveling in general.

  4. Will use your references if we do get to visit Okinawa, I also love to plot my itinerary on Google Map.

    cheers, Andy

  5. Enjoy your Okinawa trip! I miss it already!

  6. Wow cool tips with apps, etc! Thanks so much for sharing!

  7. Wow! so many tips. Thanks for sharing and I'll definitely refer to your posts if I'm planning a trip down south Japan.

  8. Very useful and generous tips you have here.

    Is that a manmade beach on the photo? It looks so inviting!

  9. These are excellent tips! We'll like to bring the kids to Okinawa one day. Will reference your blog when the time comes!


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