Japan is spectacular, dazzling, boisterous and contemplative all in one. Here, tradition and modernity effortlessly share space, centuries-old shrines bump up against skyscrapers, castles and temples whisper of history, and bullet trains whisk you through breathtaking landscapes to cities packed with world-class restaurants, nightlife and shopping.
As amazing Japan is though, planning your travel here can be a bit overwhelming. Different culture, customs and language barrier make it a bit hard to figure certain details out. Here is my list of top 10 things you should know when traveling to Japan:
Best Time to Visit
Each season in Japan is unique and beautiful. My personal advice would be to travel either in spring (March-April) or fall (November) to marvel incredible beauty of cherry blossoms and foliage.
Having said that, summer is either rainy or humid and hot, but is filled with festivals and fireworks, while winter allures with astounding Christmas illuminations.
Getting to Your Hotel
Once you arrive to the airport (Narita AND Haneda) you have an option to take a bus or train to the city. Both cost approximately $25-$35, depending on where you are heading and tickets are typically sold right outside the baggage claim area. Needless to say, you have an option to take a taxi if you don’t mind to splurge.
Despite being such a technologically developed country finding free wifi in Japan can be a challenge. Thus I recommend buying portable wifi from SoftBank or eMobile stands right at the airport (unless you plan on being on a digital detox, of course).
Many places in Japan accept foreign credit cards, and many don’t. You will definitely need cash, but it is not necessary to take all your cash out right as you arrive. ATMs at 7/11 grocery stores (which are conveniently located EVERYWHERE) accept international credit cards, so you can take money out based on your daily needs.
Japanese are generally very shy and avoid talking in English because they are afraid to make a mistake and embarrass themselves. However, everyone speaks at least a tiny bit and I almost never had difficulty finding my way around. The most important thing to know is that Japanese are very hospitable and welcoming. All signs in metros and roads are in Japanese AND English so you will not have difficulty navigating. When we visit a restaurant where there is no English menu we typically use Google Translate which gives us a general idea what we are ordering. If you are not keen to experiment, there are PLENTY of eateries that cater to foreigners and provide menus in English.
Is it expensive? Yes! Is there a way around it? Absolutely! Sure, $300 sushi dinner or $10 cup of coffee do exist, but so do $10 bento box and $2 coffee from 7/11 or Family Mart. For cheaper dining alternatives opt for ramen shops ($8-$10), grocery stores and underground food parlors called depachika. It is filled with gourmet freshly cooked food and desserts. And you know what’s the BEST part? Almost everything (excluding sweets) goes on sale after 7 p.m.! You are welcome.
Oh, and even expensive restaurants offer more affordable options during lunch time.
Japan is blessed with sophisticated train system which is easy to navigate, is clean and reliable.
First and foremost, download Hyperdia app on your phone which will be your best friend in Japan. You indicate which station you are at, where you are heading and it will give you detailed breakdown of which lines to take, what time and how much the route will be.
Now, travel costs. One thing that makes traveling in Japan extremely expensive is bullet train costs. Sadly, as a temporary resident I cannot buy JR Pass and travel everywhere I want by paying one time fee, but you as a tourist have that option. Basically, you have two major options: PASMO card, which is a refillable card granting you access to any metro/bus line in any city in Japan (excluding Shinkansen and rapid trains like Romance Car); JR Pass which allows unlimited access to any JR line in and outside the cities. Japan Guide has wonderful detailed information about purchasing JR Pass. I’d just add one comment: it is worth buying it ONLY if you are traveling to multiple cities and regions (more than three). Otherwise the cost won’t be worth it. Do your homework. Download Hyperdia and calculate how much it would cost you to get to your desired destinations without a JR Pass and based on that estimate you’ll know whether or not it is worth the money.
Another tip: if you are traveling without a JR Pass, opt for unreserved tickets and show up 15 minutes before departure to line up by cars 1-5 which has first-come first serve seats. You’ll save approximately $10-$15 per person that way.
Best Place to Stay
Major cities in Japan (like Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Kyoto) are sprawling and have more than one “downtown” area. As a general rule, make a point to book a lodging near a train station. That way you will be able to easily navigate and access any sight you want to visit.
As for the lodging options, you can stay at a luxurious hotel, a traditional ryokan, or a bit more affordable business hotel, hostel or even a capsule hotel!
Etiquette and Minor Details
Probably the most important thing to remember is that Japanese do not tip anywhere, for any service. It was very hard for Mr. B and I to get used to and I felt guilty every time I left a restaurant. But offering a tip is actually taken as an insult. Service charges are already included in the price.
At certain sights, as well as ryokans and restaurants it is customary to remove your shoes, so you might want to carry extra pair of socks just in case.
There are no trash cans in the streets in Japan. If you need to dispose your trash you will have to find a grocery store which might have a waste bin, or carry it around until you spot one at the train station or public bathroom.
As for bathrooms, some are equipped with state-of-the-art toilets, while others have Turkish toilets where you have to squat to do your business. Also, not many bathrooms have hand dryers or even hand towel napkins (a phenomenon I can’t quite figure out yet). So make a point to carry around a tiny towel or a pack of napkins to dry your hands with.
Last but not least, places get really packed during weekends, so if you plan on visiting places like Tokyo SkyTree, Disney Land, Universal Studios or similar entertainment spots, aim to go on a weekday.
Hope these tips and lessons learned will help those who haven’t been and are just now planning their unforgettable trip to Japan. As always, don’t hesitate to drop me a line if you need help or have questions.
Have you been to Japan? Do you have any travel tips or lessons learned you’d want to share?
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Lessons Learned While TravelingLinking up with Angie, Jessi, Emma or my blogs.
Great post, love it! Greetings from Romania! :D
Thank you for stopping by and reading!! Romania! How interesting, I’d love to read your blog and find out more! :)
Thanks for the very informative blog post
I am glad you found it helpful! :)
Excellent blog post! I’m currently prepping for my big move to Gifu…
Thank you for reading, hope the tips were helpful. Wow, I’d want to hear all about that once you settle in!
well written and informative. beautiful pictures. loved it.
Thank you so much, soo happy you enjoyed it :) Thanks for reading!
I agree! You should only get a JR Rail Pass if you’re hopping from one city to another. Amazing photos!
Posted about my Japan trip too! Hope you can visit my blog: http://mia-ac.com :)
I will definitely take a look Mia. Thanks for reading :)
Japan is very high on my list – I hope to visit for the Rugby World Cup in a few years!
Ooo I’m sure you’ll absolutely love it!! :)
We loved the ease of using the JR passes – and I’m definitely bookmarking (aka Pinning) this list for the next time we visit – hopefully soon!
I agree, they can be REALLY handy, especially when you travel around the country a lot. :)
I’m so keen to go to Japan, and your beautiful pictures really bring it to life! That cherry blossom is unreal. I think I forget that so much of Japan is gorgeous countryside, because the cities are so popular. I hope I can visit one day!
You are right, major cities still all the attention although countryside is equally (if not more) breathtaking. Hope you make it here soon, Rachel! Thank you so much for your nice comments :) xoxo, nano
Great tips and amazing photographs that I just want to sink into :) #TravelLinkup
What amazing photos and well written. Thanks #TravelLinkup
great tips! I love joining this link up! I’ll have my post ready tomorrow!:)
Thank you for the useful travel tips for traveling around Japan. Enjoyed reading your post and your beautiful photos. #TravelLinkUp
What fantastic tips, and the MOST beautiful photos, too! I would just adore seeing all of those cherry blossoms in person, I could happily spend a day just admiring them. Having said that, those Autumn colours are also to die for!! :D
This is such a comprehensive list of tips and i’m excited to plan my trip for next year!
I didn’t realise that travel can get costly in Japan, and I thought the wifi situation would be better! =)
Honey x The Girl Next Shore
Fantastic, useful tips for visiting Japan! I wasn’t aware of most of these – Japan is so very different which is why I’m longing to visit. I’ll definitely be saving your tips for when I do. Loving your #Travellinkup theme!
Amazing photos! Love this post – still planning our trip to Japan but will have to wait for a bit now but great tips for when we do decide to take the plunge and book the tickets :-)
Thank you so much Steph! I’m glad you find these helpful and let me know if you have more questions once you start planning your trip. :)
Stunning photos and wonderful, practical tips, Nano! I can’t wait to return to Japan one day – your blog always gives me wanderlust!
Thank you so much, Jamie!! Hope you come back here soon. :)
Great tips – saving this post for my re-visit again!! The JR passes can be so confusing, so that information is especially helpful!
I’m so glad you found it helpful!! Thanks for reading Jess :)
These are some great tips and many of which were so useful to me before I got there!! Everyone told me the Japan rail pass was vital but actually I wish I’d figured out the cost of the individual journeys as you suggest as we ended up not needing to spent all the money on it!
Thanks, Angie! And yes, definitely necessary to calculate in advance what the travel expenses will be to make the right decision in regards to JR Passes.
Great tips here Nano! I was amazed at the sheer range of prices for eating going from so cheap to so costly and yet it was quite possible to get delicious food regardless of the price bracket! As for the hotels, I really enjoyed the ryokan experience though I definitely don’t think the capsule thing is my cup of tea – my husband did it when he went to Tokyo years ago before we met but I think I’d feel a little too claustrophobic inside!
I agree Shikha, as curious as I am what they look like, I’d more prefer a ryokan over capsule hotel! :)