First trip to a new destination is always nerve-wracking. However, if there is enough pre-planning, it will reduce a lot of unnecessary stress and headaches. In my case, before I travelled to Japan this past summer, I did a lot of planning and here’s the top 10 travel tips for Japan that were very helpful in making my trip smoother than expected
Top 10 travel tips for Japan
1. Decide where to go in Japan
To start planning the trip, the first step is to decide where to go. We knew we wanted to go to Japan but where? Japan is pretty big and we knew we only had 7 days, so we to had to zoom in to a couple of places. After some research, we decided that Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka (Fukuoka was added later) would be a great starting point to our Japan travels. Some of my favourite websites that were very helpful in providing information about Japan are:
Our final itinerary can be found here.
2. Book accommodations
Once we decided our destinations, it was time to check out accommodations. Accommodations ended up being the biggest expense of our trip. Hotels are expensive in Japan and it is also very difficult to find rooms big enough for 3. In fact, it is probably easier to find a room for one than to find a room for 3! The need to fit 3 in a room narrowed down our accommodation choices a lot. Due to our limited time, we also decided to stay as close to the train stations as possible to save on time and unnecessary travel. On our next trip back to Japan, hopefully it will be less rushed and I would love to stay in a Ryokan which are traditional Japanese Inns.
Useful websites for hotel bookings:
These are the hotels that we ended up staying during our trip
- Tokyo – Hyatt Regency Tokyo
- Kyoto – Hotel Granvia Kyoto
- Osaka – Hotel Swissotel Nankai
- Fukuoka – Hotel Nikko Fukuoka
3. Buy Japan Rail Pass or PASMO or SUICA card
One of the best way to travel around Japan is with their train system. I was very impressed at the efficiency of the train system. In spite of the massive number of people that rides the train (For exampe, Shinjuku Station averages a jaw-dropping 3.6 million passengers daily!!), the trains are very punctual and very clean.
For visitors, one good option is to buy the Japan Rail Pass. They have the 7-day, 14-day or 28-day pass. With the Japan Rail Pass, you will get unlimited rides on all JR trains which includes the Shinkansen (bullet train). The price tag on the Japan Rail Pass is pretty hefty but if you are planning to at least ride twice on the bullet train, then you will probably want to consider buying the Japan Rail Pass since 2 tickets alone will be the same or more than the cost of the Japan Rail Pass.
We got our pass from Japan Experience and the pass arrived on time as promised. Japan Rail Pass is only available for purchase outside Japan. Do you have to buy the Japan Rail Pass ? Not necessary! It all depends on your itinerary. Check out my detailed post HERE on whether to buy a Japan Rail Pass or not for your trip.
If you are planning to do a lot more local travel, then it is advisable to get the PASMO card. The PASMO card is a prepaid card that can be used in almost all transportation in Tokyo. If you have the PASMO card, it will automatically deduct the necessary amount. If you don’t, then you will have to figure out how much the tickets will be everytime you travel by train or bus. This can become quite complicated as the ticket vending machine can be quite confusing at times. With the card, you don’t have to worry about underpaying or overpaying the fare since it will be automatically calculated. You can top up the PASMO card anytime.
Then SUICA card is just like the PASMO card except that it works on some JR trains too. So, it is better to finalize your itinerary before buying any transportation cards so that you will know exactly which card will be the most suitable for your travels.
4. Rent a wireless router
Surprisingly wifi is not easily available in Japan. We decided to rent a portable wifi since we needed to use some of the apps especially the map. It was very easy to rent one. We ordered one online from Pupuru.com and had it delivered to the hotel and true enough, it was waiting at the hotel when we got there. You can also pick up at the airport too.
This was what we received. Including tax, insurance (optional) and one-time fee, it costs us ¥7990 (approx. USD 65) for 10GB of data for 7 days. At the end of our trip, we just packed everything into a prepaid pre-addressed envelope that was included & drop it off into the mailbox to be sent back to Pupuru. We actually just left it at the front desk & had them drop it off for us.
5. Forward your luggage
Japan has a very good luggage forwarding service also known as Ta-Q-Bin Service. Since we were on the way to visit family in Malaysia, we had to bring along 2 big luggages (mostly filled with gifts) and a small luggage on this trip. It would be a pain to drag all those luggages on the train ride. So we decided to use the luggage forwarding service to send our luggage ahead (or later) of us. All we had to do was take our luggage to the front desk of the hotel, filled in some forms like the ones shown below.
The hotel concierge filled out the forms for us. We pay them and they will take care of the rest. It costs us about $25 USD to send 2 big luggages each time and we used the service from Yamato Transport twice. Once was from Tokyo to Kyoto and the other from Kyoto to Osaka. But do not that the forwarding service might take one or two days depending on destination. So make sure that you have all your necessary stuff in your overnight bag. I think that the money spent on this was very worth it. It was so much easier to travel especially in crowded train stations with just one small bag. If you are staying in a smaller hotel, you might need to drop the luggages off at one of their sales center. If you are traveling with little kids, this is one service that you seriously need to consider.
6. Bring cash and know where to get cash
Surprisingly in Japan, cash is still very important. Many restaurants especially the street vendors and hole-in-the-wall places only accept cash and not credit cards. So make sure you bring enough cash or know where to withdraw cash in Japan. For ATM cash withdrawal, the best places to withdraw cash are the ATMs at 7-Eleven, Post Office and Citibanks. Don’t forget to inform your bank of your travel plans prior to traveling so that you will not have any problem withdrawing from a foreign ATM.
7. Download necessary apps to your gadgets
- HYPERDIA – app for transportation schedule. We used a lot of public transportation in Japan, so this app was absolutely necessary for helping us get to our destinations on time. Download: ( iPhone / Android )
8. Do not travel with public transportation during peak hours if possible
We learned this the hard way when we tried to travel from Shinjuku Station to Tokyo Station to catch the Shinkansen to Kyoto. Even though Tokyo Station is only 15 minutes away from Shinjuku Station, we could not get on the local train at peak hours! We totally underestimated the craziness of peak hour human traffic at Shinjuku Station. If you really do need to travel during peak hours, make reservations for express trains with reserved seats. If you have Japan Rail Pass, they are usually included in the price. If you have little kids, then definitely do not try this. Spend a little more if you can to avoid this craziness.
9. The local Conbini (convenience store) is your best friend.
In Japan, conbini like 7-eleven and family mart has almost everything you need. You can find food, daily necessities, ATM and all sort of knick-knacks. They are also open 24/7 and can be found in almost every corner. During our one week in Japan, we visited 7-Eleven everyday to pick up snacks and water.
10. Don’t tip!
We are so used to tipping everywhere in the United States. Do not tip in Japan. Some even consider it to be rude when you tip them.
Phew, that was a long list and I am sure there are more travel tips that are very helpful. I will update this list if I remember any new ones. Do you have any travel tips for Japan?