November 27, 2014

Stay connected while in Japan

How do you stay connected while travelling? Previously, I could live with only WiFi at the hostel/hotel. But these days, I feel like having a #firstworldproblem if my phone does not have any Internet connection on the go.

I need to stay connected. To google something, to check the map or information of the place I'm visiting, to check-in in Swarm. hahaha..

Usually I will buy the country's local SIM card cos the data plan is cheaper, compared to using our telcos' data roaming. But in Japan, it is very difficult for a foreigner to buy local SIM cards. So what choice do I have? For a short trip, say a day or two, I can close my eyes and just turn on the data roaming. But for a week's trip? Hmmm... maybe I should just hide my phone in the bag and get disconnected from the world.

But I knew I couldn't. Thus, I went to SoftBank Global Rental counter to check their plans and services once I landed at the airport.

So here's what you can do to stay connected in Japan:

a) Rent a mobile WiFi Router



b) Rent a SIM card (don't know why but it is ONLY for iPhone)..



c) Rent a smartphone



I already have a smartphone, I brought my tablet, and this time around, I have travel mates! #notsoforeveralone

So the best choice was to rent the mobile WiFi router cos it can connect to multiple devices (up to 10 devices). Meaning you can share it with your travel mates, and share the cost!

The WiFi router's battery lasts for 8 hours. But that's not a big issue to me cos power bank is always to the rescue.

The rental process was easy. You only need to fill in a form and use a credit card. They'll charge a deposit of 20,000 yen but don't worry, it will be credited back once you return the device.

How to use it? Also very easy! Just power on the mobile WiFi router, go to your phone's WiFi setting, find the router's name, key in the password and you're all set!


Here's how much I paid to get connected during my trip recently. 

Rental fee = [1200 yen* x 8 days] = 9600 yen 
* We got discount instead of 1590 yen /day. The longer you rent the device, the cheaper the rental
Administration fee = 315 yen
Total paid = 9915 yen ~ RM307
No. of user : 4

So each of us only paid about RM76 per person for the whole trip (8 days in total). That's about a quarter of the data roaming rate for the same number of days (RM38 x 8 = RM304).  

Very affordable kan? You're welcome. 

November 9, 2014

Skiing in Japan

Winter is coming! Exciting times eh? Christmas.. New Year.. snow..

I don't know about you, but I find there's something special about snow. Nothing can match the magical, romantic allure of an escape to the winter wonderland. Don't mind me.. perhaps I was so engrossed with Winter Sonata. hahaha...

I had my first real snow encounter in Japan. I was charmed and captivated the moment I saw it. The mountain and its surrounding was covered in white. It was breathtaking.

I also had my first ski trip in Japan. At first, I was rather hesitant to plan for the trip cos I had the idea that skiing is an expensive sports. What's more, skiing in Japan. But me being me, I had to try it. It's one of the things in my bucket list! So I thought, screw it. I'm gonna splurge this one time to cross skiing off the list.

The trip

My Japanese friend told me to check out GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort as it is the most convenient for me to go. It's true! Buy the JR Kanto Area Pass, and add on the GALA Option Ticket, and you'll reach the snowy wonderland in no time.





You can read about the GALA Option Ticket here. At the time of my writing, sales of this ticket have ended but I guess it'll be available again soon when the snow resort re-opens in December.

The GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort is ultra convenient as it has its own Shinkansen train station right at the base of the resort.


 Joetsu Shinkansen



The ride only took about 77 minutes from Tokyo Station.


snow-covered shinkansen track







Once you arrive at the train station, just take the escalator to the upper level and there, you've reached the snow resort! So convenient I tell ya.





The JR Kanto Area Pass entitled me to get special offers at the resort.


I took Special offer 2 so my gondola lift and locker to store my belongings were sorted.

Renting the equipment

With Special offer 2, I was also eligible for a 10% discount on equipment rental. Renting the equipment at the resort was easy.

While I was about to queue for the equipment rental, the friendly staff asked whether I have filled in the rental application form. Looking around, I just realized that everybody was holding a form. Haha.. silly me. Sheepishly, I said no. The staff then directed me to the nearby table and assisted me to fill in the form - what do I need, sizing etc.









I joined the queue later and submitted my rental application form. The staff at the counter double confirmed it, and subsequently prepared my required items - wear, gloves, goggles, skis and ski boots.





Do try out your boots and ensure it is comfortable. This is important as the boot is what connects you to your skis.

 Enrolling in school

I was alone, and I have never skied before. So I did what a noob had to do. Enrol in a school and sign up for a lesson yo! I contacted the snowsports school at the resort to book a spot about a week prior to my departure to Japan. Just to be safe cos it can be full on certain days.

Check out GALA Snowsports School here.



Since I only have a day at the resort, I enrolled in the half day lesson. You can choose whether to have a private instructor or to join a group lesson. Group lesson is cheaper so of course it was my choice.

But I was so lucky that day cos the other person who registered for the group lesson didn't turn up. Since I was the only student, it was like having a private lesson. I got a private instructor at a group lesson's price. Win!

Met my instructor (I actually forgot his name, let's just call him John) at about 9.30 am, and off we went to ride the gondola to the mountain.



















Once we reached up there, lesson numero uno was how to choose the ski poles. As what John told me, having the correct ski pole length can take a skier from good to great. Basically, you need to stand in your ski boots, grab the pole holder and your elbow should then be at a 90 degree angle.



We walked out from the gondola station and this was my first view of the snowy slopes.


taken with Canon S100


taken with iphone4

Oh myyyy... I almost cried with happiness. My dream came true.





I could feel the excitement building up in me. Can't wait!!! Hehe..

John explained to me the very basic things like how to use the equipment, step into the skis and how to take it off. Easy peasy.

Then he showed me the basic movements - how to walk in the skis, moving around and we started to practise how to stop in a wedge position as well as how to turn. I passed with flying colors.

Satisfied with my progress, he pointed to the chairlift station and said 'OK let's go up, it's showtime!'.

.
Grinning from ear to ear, I pushed myself forward with the poles.

Riding the chairlift also needed some lesson as it can be tricky. But timing is everything. As we manoeuvred our way to the front of the queue, the staff gave us the green light into the loading zone after the previous chair passed us by. The resort indicates the stopping points just before and during loading to help us position ourselves for the chair in plenty of time so it was kinda easy.

Just sit down as the chair nudges you in the back of the legs. Lower the retention bar for safety and enjoy the view.





Skiing for beginners

The pistes in GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort are divided into Central Area, Northern Area and Southern Area. The Central Area is dedicated to beginners and families so that would be my playground.


John led me to Melody, the 350m beginner slope that is perfect for a warm up or to practise the basics.

We slowly slided down the slope. I did well in balancing myself. Didn't fall, didn't hit a tree, didn't hit other person. John was impressed with my performance so we moved one step higher.

This time around, he upgraded me to Edelweiss, a 1.6km long beginner/intermediate slope.






the narrow trail

The trail was rather scary at first cos it was narrow, and with lots of turns. There's also a winding course past a series of markers so he made me practised going down the hill in a curved kind of zigzag.

Amazingly, I did well ! So proud of myself I think I have a secret talent. hahaha...





Two hours later, my session ended. John told me that I was already good enough to ski on my own. We bid goodbye to each other and I continued practising my skills and playing with the snow. 

Only after John left did I suffer my first fall. Tadi control macho. hahaha.. But it wasn't that bad cos the freshly fallen snow was soft and powdery. 

After a few times on Edelweiss, I also tried the Entertainment, another beginner/intermediate slope. 

ready to go!











Grenoble slope

Sadly, the Central Area closed at 5pm. I would've stayed until night time if I could. But all good things must come to an end so yeah.. went down to the base resort, returned all the equipments and hopped on the Shinkansen back to Tokyo.



Learn to ski. Checked. 

Overall cost

Skiing in Japan is quite affordable. Here's the breakdown:

JR Kanto Area Pass - 8000 yen
GALA Option Ticket - 1000 yen
Locker + Ski lift - 3000 yen
Gear rental (Ski set, wear, glove, goggle) - 7560 yen
Half-day Ski lesson - 6000 yen
Total = 25560 yen

* Note: The rate is during my trip in February 2014 *

About RM750. Ok la kan? Would be cheaper if you already know how to ski.