After coming to Japan a few times, I am starting to get a feel for how to make arrival fairly pain free. There are a few things you can do before hand that will reduce the number of headaches you will experience upon arrival.
The first general tip is as follows:
1. READ ONLINE REVIEWS OF WHERE YOU ARE STAYING!
Pay particular attention to critical complaints about the premises. A lot of times these complaints arise from people not doing their homework. For example do they allow couples to stay in a room designed for a single occupant. Are their additional charges for having an extra person with you or late checkout. Find this out before placing your reservation to prevent a lot of headache, and save yourself from any bad experiences. Remember that we tend to remember bad experiences more strongly than good or mediocre ones.
After finding a hotel or hostel and reading the reviews. If you find one that appears to be satisfactory to what you are looking for, place your reservation and make note of any special instructions like deposits and amounts to be paid before arriving and at arrival. After this make note of the following points:
2. Have a copy of your hotel/hostel booking both in print and on your mobile device (if you have one).
Having a copy of this will smooth your checkin process. Not only that, your booking will often contain the address so that you can ask for directions if you get lost. It is important to note a lot of hotels do keep records of online bookings, but there are some who don’t. The first time I arrived in Japan, I made the foolish assumption that they would have my booking there. They didn’t and they charged current pricing for the rooms, as opposed to what was listed at the time of our reservation.
3. Do a neighborhood search on google maps.
It is important that you know what the area looks like and have a general idea of the roads. Use Google Street View if it is available to get an idea what your hotel/hostel looks like from the outside, and any other remarkable features around the neighborhood that might help when you arrive. Do keep in mind that especially in Tokyo, neighborhoods can change really quickly, so it might not be exactly as it was at the time the Google car captured the area.
4. Know which train station your hotel/hostel is close to.
Once again use Google maps to get a list of public transit routes from your airport to the place you are staying. Print this out if it is available. DO NOT rely on there being free wi-fi anywhere. If you don’t have a printer, either print to pdf (available in many browsers), or copy it to a word document and save a copy of this document to a mobile device like a phone or ipod touch. If you are really lucky, the hotel will provide the trains, stations, and transfer points for you on their website. Which brings me to point number 4
5. Check online to see if your hotel/hostel has a website.
These places post many great tips about getting to the hotel, and what is in the surrounding area. Bookmark this, and make particular note of their instructions on how to get to their hotel, if they have any.
There are many other tips people have that have made their checkin experience easier. Feel free to leave your tips in the comments below.