Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove and Autumn Hues

                                 One of the reasons I chose to go to Japan last November was the autumn season. I wanted to experience it . I wanted to be in a Japanese garden or park surrounded with trees taking on the autumn hues of yellow,red and orange.Living in the Philippines all my life, I thought it would be a welcome change from the lush green surroundings i'm used to all year round.
                                   When I was planning the trip I made a mistake of booking a ticket a week ahead of the" peak " of the autumn leaves.A website mentioned that the leaves would display the brightest autumn colors during mid November in Japan so I decided to leave on the second week.The site failed to mention though that it could actually vary by location.In higher altitudes leaves actually turn to autumn colors earlier.In Kansai region where I was going the peak unfortunately is in the third week of November. buwiset! I didn't want to rebook because the fee would cost me almost half the price of the round trip tickets I purchased. I kept on searching for places that might peak earlier than Osaka and Kyoto but they were far. I was anxiously reading forecasts everyday leading to my trip(yes,it's like the weather there are forecasts online and I think even on TV)hoping there would be changes as it happened in the past where leaves would turn to bright colors earlier depending on how hot the summer was in Japan that year. I found out later that there is a place in the outskirts of Kyoto that might peak earlier than in the Central area. The place is called Arashiyama. I spent half a day exploring the beautiful rural town.Though I loved the place I just don't have the time now to write  much about it so I posted here pictures taken from Arashiyama.

Another mistake, I visited Arashiyama during a weekend
The tough cart-pulling men of Kyoto

Doing it rain or shine
At the entrance of one of the many temples in Arashiyama.Temples are found in every corner just like the rest of Kyoto
Statues in front of another temple. Take note of their different expressions
I'm afraid to put a caption on these...although I have lots in mind

Tenryuji temple, a world heritage site

Another thing that Arashiyama is famous for is the bamboo grove and as I was searching for it I came across this cemetery
Crouching Tiger hidden....?Finally I found the Bamboo grove

I stopped a monk cleaning in the bamboo grove area to take a picture of his dustpan

I'll be back Arashiyama. See you during spring.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

How to Apply for a Japanese Visa: A Filipino Backpacker's Version

                   When I started working one of the first few things I was saving up for was not a gadget but a trip abroad.I wanted to see the world. At first I didn’t want to go to other Southeast Asian countries because I thought they were just like the Philippines.Of course, I was wrong. I didn’t want to go to Hong kong either because I thought it was just a modern concrete jungle. At the time I actually had my eye on Beijing. The problem I had was the availability of cheap flights to Beijing . Cebupacific,the only airline I could afford for trips abroad didn’t have direct flights to Beijing yet.They had one to Shanghai which is so far from Beijing and I had heard that it’s hard to purchase train tickets from Shanghai to Beijing. With all the daunting facts I kept my options open so I kept researching. One day while browsing the Cebupacific ‘s website I came across an ad about cheap flights to Japan. Suddenly, I got curious, so I called up a travel agency and asked for the requirements for tourist visa application for Japan. One of the important requirements is a bank certificate so I asked the lady on the other line how much money should I have in my account to be granted a tourist visa. Without thinking twice she said “500,000”,stunned, I hang up. Weeks later I ended up booking a flight to Hongkong.Until now I still don't understand why she said that.Cruel!

Osaka Castle
              Fast- forward to 2012, when my plan to go to Myanmar didn’t push thru I was considering Japan again. I felt like I had to do it before my passport expires because I thought the consul needs to see those stamps in my passport as a proof  that I've traveled before and that I just wanna go sightseeing and not job hunting .I was concerned that applying later with a new passport ,with no stamps yet would ruin my chances of getting a visa. I was not sure about this one though, maybe you could  present an old passport along with the new one just to show that you’ve been to other countries already. Please correct me if I’m wrong. By the time Cebupacific had a sale in July of 2012 I was still having second thoughts because I knew Japan's very expensive so I kept on thinking of one thing that would make the whole trip worth it. Japan doesn’t have a Great Wall,they have Mt. Fuji but still it’s not the Great Wall. Spring just ended so Cherry blossom was out of the question and I actually have seen Cherry Blossom in China anyway.Fall would be a great time to go, I thought, since the autumn colors would be so nice but it’s six months away.I just wanted to get away ASAP.Even up to the point that I already took out my credit card from my wallet I still wasn’t sure.I decided to check the available credits in my card first because I thought it wasn't enough to book a two-way ticket. I lost track of it for a while .To my surprise it was actually more than enough to buy a round trip ticket. It was a SIGN!

              Now the next step was the visa application. Let’s not talk about how much I have now in my account but let’s just say I was confident that I had enough that I booked a round trip ticket worth P11,200 without a visa yet. I researched and I couldn't find anything that says how much the consulate of Japan requires that one should have in his account to be granted a visa. One blog says that regardless of how much money you have as long as you’re able to convince the consul that you’re able to fund the duration of your trip then you’ll be OK.I checked the sites of accredited travel agencies for the other requirements (Tourist Visa application for Japan are now being done thru accredited travel agencies). As early as September 2012 I gathered all the following requirements based on the list provided by Friendship Tours travel agency. I recommend Friendship Tours located in Dusit Hotel along EDSA (to get there you could take the MRT and alight at the Ayala station and go inside SM. Dusit Hotel is right next to SM) because the staff are polite and I’d also read great reviews about them  from other applicants. 

I submitted the following requirements in October:


Validity of more than 6 months / Signed Passport

Broken lamination of the Picture Portion will not be accepted / Must have at least 2 blank pages left in the passport
I suggest that you fill this out before going to the travel agency because the line could get so long and some of those in front of you could have with them applications of an entire company. The form can be downloaded from the Japanese Embassy in the Philippines website. Tourist Visa application for Japan are now being done thru accredited travel agencies.

3.PHOTO (1 Copy of 4.5cm x 4.5cm with white background.) This one is easy as the studios know it like the back of their hand.Just tell them that it's for Tourist Visa for Japan.

4.BIRTH CERTIFICATE (NSO issued with receipt and valid within (1)year.)

Applicants holding (old or valid) passports with used Japan Visa will be exempted from submitting of birth certificate.

1. Non-Record in the NSO. Submit certificate of Non-Record from the NSO and BIRTH CERTIFICATE from the LOCAL CIVIL REGISTRAR.
2. Non-Record in the NSO and LOCAL CIVIL REGISTRAR. Submit certificate of Non-Record from the NSO and the LOCAL CIVIL REGISTRAR.




1. Birth Certificate from the LOCAL CIVIL REGISTRAR.
2. Original Baptismal Certificate, School Record (Form 137 or report card) School Year Book.(Need contact # of the church,and contact # of the school)

         The other travel agency I went to doesn't have some of the conditions about the birth certificate.If you have a recent copy of an authenticated birth certificate you can check if yours is "late registration" by checking the bottom portion of the certificate.There's something there that would indicate if your birth certificate is " late registration ". 
        I suggest you get an authenticated copy of your birth certificate way ahead of your scheduled application so there’d be enough time to fix things in case they didn’t meet the requirements.

        I ordered an authenticated copy of my birth certificate thru the National Statistics Office (NSO) Birth Certificate Delivery Service number 737-1111. Birth certificate application is open 24 hours, 7 days a week, even on Sundays and holidays according to the website nso.citizenservices.com.ph.After the representative on the phone asks for all the information they will give you the instructions on how to pay for it. They asked me to pay it at a Metrobank branch. It cost P350 and you will receive it in 2-3 business days.When you call to order for a copy of your birth certificate be ready with a pen and a paper because you have something to write down.

5.MARRIAGE CONTRACT (If Married) NSO issued and valid within (1)year.
Applicants holding (old or valid) passports with used Japan Visa will be exempted from submitting of marriage contract.

· Incase of non-record.You must submit certificate of non-record together with the one from local civil registrar.

6.TOUR ITINERARY: A blogger says he just made it up. I on the other hand took it seriously because what if they will really check if your plan is indeed to go sightseeing. Of course the itinerary I submitted wasn't final but at least I made it look realistic. I mean you shouldn't put something like "Day1 : Tour of the Osaka Castle ,then Fushimi Inari shrine and then Universal studios" because it's obviously not doable in one day since one of them is located in a different city. If they spot something like this they might suspect that you didn't do your research because you actually had other plans aside from sightseeing.

7.BANK BALANCE CERTIFICATE or a copy of bank book pages for the past 2 years. I have two accounts at two different banks, BPI and Metrobank. Each bank asked me to fill out a form (be ready with all the information especially with your account number).At Metrobank you have to wait for a day to get your bank certificate. They charged me P100. At BPI they charged the same but I got it in less than 30minutes. Again, about the amount that one has to have in his account nothing is specified . Some say it could be because it depends on how long you'll be staying in Japan and what city or place you're visiting.For example Tokyo's more expensive than Kyoto so they might require more money if you're going to a very expensive city like Tokyo.

8.INCOME TAX RETURN (Form 2316 or 1701) Original and (1) photocopy. I had a problem with this because my company no longer provides a hard copy.They just gave me a digitally signed copy. I'm not sure if that's how it is now with all other companies and if it is,are the people from the Japanese Consulate aware of it? I was afraid that they might think that my document came from " Re...to"(if you are from Metro Manila you should know the place). To be sure I also asked for a Certificate of Employment. I think one of the things that convinced the Japanese Consul is the number of years I've been with my company because it could mean that I'm happy with my job and that I don't have plans of leaving and to go job hunting once I get to Japan.

           I submitted my application on a Monday around noontime because I'd read somewhere that it will be processed faster if you submit it during the first day of the week. Some bloggers say they got the results after 2 business days.By Wednesday I was expecting a call from the agency but my phone didn't ring the whole day.I thought I was in trouble because I heard from some people who got denied that they had to wait for so long for the results.I still didn't hear anything from the agency the following day.I was almost convinced that I was denied. By Friday I received a text asking me to call the agency and I thought they'd ask me to submit additional documents.To my surprise the phone rang after few minutes and the staff asked me some personal questions for verification and then divulged the results,yes over the phone. I was told that I had been granted a visa.I heaved a sigh of relief.It was so stressful that I promised I'd never put myself through that again but I'm sure I'd be more than willing to go through twice that trouble if the opportunity to go to my other dream destinations knocks on my door one of these days.