Japan is one of the most popular destinations for travel. There’s no doubt about that one bit. Most dream about going on wild adventures in the land of anime and sushi. It’s on a lot of our travel bucket lists!
After you’ve purchased your flight tickets and blocked out the dates in your calendar, there’s still lots to do even before getting on your flight. In fact, the planning is the most crucial part of it all. Your research can determine how amazing your trip can be.
But even researching can be exhausting because you have to filter out tons of information online. So don’t worry, we’ve got you. We’re going to give you a few tips on how to prepare for your trip and the top places to visit! This is your one-stop guide to the best way to travel Japan!
Preparing Your Trip
So how does one prepare for a trip to Japan? It’s simple really, with our guide especially. Japan is full of spectacular sights and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. You don’t want to miss out on any just because you didn’t do your research, do you? Here are some of the ways to get ahead with preparing for your Japan trip!
1. Plan, Plan, Plan!
I know some of us are good at winging it, but it’s always great to plan. For Japan, it’s good to look into what each city has to offer and schedule your days accordingly.
Transport is a crucial point to take note of. Going to other cities and around generally via public transportation can be a bump in the road if you don’t plan. Timings can be off and you might find yourself stranded in the countryside with no way to get home!
2. Have Extra Cash in Hand
Japan isn’t as credit card-friendly as you might think. Bigger stores might accept them but good ol’ traditional shops by the streets won’t. So because of that, bring extra cash. Whether it’s your home currency or exchanged into yen, just make sure you have them.
If you’re bringing extra cash from your home country, think of the exchange rates. Depending on which country you’re coming from, it might be better to do that in your home country than in Japan. You might be able to save a few bucks.
You can also consider taking money out in ATMs in Japan. Konbini ones accept international credit cards for withdrawal. However, the exchange rates might not be pleasant… But hey, at least you have cash!
3. Get A Pocket WiFi or Travel SIM
Plan to get a pocket WiFi or travel SIM card. WiFi may not be available all throughout the country. If you’re planning to go to various cities, especially countryside ones, you might have a tough time going around without one.
In cities like Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, you probably can get around with just WiFi. Some restaurants and shopping malls also offer them for free but they are super slow.
Cities can get surprisingly massive and you might find yourself constantly lost. Google Maps will be your best friend during your trip. It’s also greatly accurate for planning transport routes!
Must-Visit Stops in Japan
Planning includes where you want to go. Japan is a huge country, so you’ve got to decide which cities you should stop by. There are so many to choose from, but we’ve shortlisted the top three to start you off, especially if it’s your first time in Japan!
Who hasn’t heard of Tokyo? The capital city is one of the most famous cities in the whole world! Movies feature it and the neon lights are strangers to no one. They say that a month’s worth of travel wouldn’t be able to cover a third of what this city has to offer.
But we’ve got to start somewhere. The Shibuya Scramble Square is one of the top stops on the list for sure. It’s super busy but the best place to get everything you ever need! Food, drinks, shopping – you name it!
Don’t miss out on visiting the Tokyo Tower and its area. Not only will you be able to see the city from a high point view but you’ll be able to stroll leisurely on the streets full of cafes and gardens.
This city is just about an hour’s train ride from central Tokyo. Kamakura isn’t as busy as Tokyo even though it’s close. That makes it the perfect day trip to escape the bustles. The peace and serenity will be the first few things that hit you as soon as you arrive here. Locals and foreigners alike travel down to Kamakura for a change of pace.
The big Buddha statue known as the Kamakura Daibutsu is the highlight of the city. This can be found in the Buddhist temple, Kotoku-in.
An area you have to visit is the one near the Hasedera temple. Its streets are extremely vibrant. Tons of cafes and restaurants are brimming with energy. This is also the perfect place for souvenir shopping!
What’s a trip to Japan without a stop by the ancient capital city of Japan? Kyoto strips back down to the roots and tradition of Japanese culture. Every street screams history and culture, and you’ll be able to see geishas casually wandering around!
Arashiyama is a spot you have to see for yourself. The highlight here is the bamboo forest sheltering a few local temples. You might even see some monkeys for yourself!
Walk down the infinite gates of the Shinto shrine, Fushimi Inari Taisha. The gates run for 4 kilometers long! You don’t have to go all the way up, but if you do, set aside about two hours for a leisurely climb up. There are great sunset viewing spots up there!
Get ready for Japan!
Are you ready to explore Japan? There’s so much more to explore in Japan, but if we list them all, we’ll be here the whole day. Use our tips and planning guide to help you plan your next Japan trip!
We can all admit that Japan is like a whole different world. The way things are run around the country might be foreign to most people. Just like any other trip to a different country, getting to know the basic ropes of the culture and customs can do wonders for one’s experience.
Not only will you know a thing or two about Japanese culture from the advanced prep before your travel, but you’ll also be able to make necessary arrangements according to your findings that will ensure a smooth travel experience.
So read on for your sneak peek into Japanese culture through a few travelling tips I put together myself.
1. Japanese First, English Second
Japan’s first language isn’t English. Their native language is — surprise, surprise! — Japanese. Everyone communicates in Japanese in the country. Even though the Japanese have English as one of their subjects in elementary and high school, the lack of usage and exposure to the language has led the community of people to have very limited English speaking ability. They may know basic and some intermediate vocabulary in written form, but it’s rather difficult for them to follow a conversation except when spoken slowly.
Because of that, your best chance at communicating in English with the Japanese staff at stores and restaurants is to use extremely simple and basic language accompanied by hand gestures and miming, if possible. Usually, just out of context, the Japanese will be able to grasp what it is you’re trying to communicate.
Another method of communicating with the Japanese on your trip to Japan that is proven to be more effective as well as making your trip smoother is learning a few simple phrases and words in the Japanese language! A few pointer words like “this” and “that” alongside “please” and “thank you” will definitely add a bit of fun to your Japan travel! The Japanese are extremely encouraging when they encounter a foreigner who’s attempting to speak their native language, so why not impress them with a whole sentence of “this is my first time in Japan!”
Japan has quite a reputation to be one of the most high-tech countries in the world. While that may be true, the country is still a bit behind in some ways. One of them is how cash seems to be the most popular method of payment than anything else. Japan is the highest in the world when it comes to the circulation of banknotes in relation to its economy.
Even to this very day, some shops and restaurants only accept cash as payment — no credit cards or touchless payment methods, only cash. While bigger cities like Tokyo and Osaka are opening up to cashless payment methods like credit cards, don’t expect the rest of the country to function just like them. For some of us, it might feel extremely unusual to carry quite an amount of cash around, but in Japan, it’s extremely normal.
3. Polite but…
They say the Japanese are extremely friendly and polite. Customer service is always top-notch and you’ll never leave a store or restaurant without at least a thousand and one smiles and thank yous from the staff. Even though it may be true, that’s not always the case.
Brace yourself for the “gaijin” treatment. “Gaijin” is a Japanese term to refer to foreigners in Japan, and more often than not, it’s used in a negative sense. Sometimes, you’ll be turned away from a restaurant or store just because you’re a foreigner. Strange, right?
Don’t jump to the quickest conclusion in your mind. There are a couple of reasons why this can happen, even though it’s now becoming less and less frequent. It may be because of the Japanese mindset when it comes to mistakes — they hate making them, and would prefer not to risk a situation where the (foreign) guest is unsatisfied with the restaurant service or setting.
There’s also the possibility of the restaurant not welcoming any stranger in general, regardless of whether or not you’re a Japanese or foreigner. Some restaurants require an introduction or invite from an existing customer. Another reason, which is probably the most common one and not a pleasant one either, is that the Japanese would prefer not to have a table of foreigners that will possibly disrupt the regular crowd due to their actions and behaviour.
Most of the time, you’ll get turned down at the door without a clear explanation of why. Don’t be disheartened. To avoid this, simply bring along a Japanese pal or request your hotel concierge or any online concierge to make bookings in advance.
This is one thing that almost every visitor who has been to Japan has noticed: there aren’t that many bins in Japan! You can walk down a few streets, and even a few more, without encountering one on your whole journey. With Japan being one of the cleanest countries in the world, you’d expect to see a few on every street — how else is the country able to be so spotless?
You’ll often hear stories of the locals carrying their trash all the way back home because they haven’t encountered any bins along the way. This is extremely common, so don’t be surprised. You might even have the same experience on one of your days here!
On every travelling site and blog, everyone is telling you to get a JR Pass — promoting this “all-in” travel card because of the money-saving perks and other benefits. For a first-timer to Japan, you might end up buying into this and believing it all since there are so many different people talking about it, making the statement reliable. However, if you did a bit more digging, you’ll realise that the JR Pass might not be that worth it in the first place.
Japan is full of various train lines by different companies. Some of these lines cover the major areas, and then there are smaller lines like the subway ones. One might think that you can rely on just the main lines to get around Japan — this is true to an extent, but then you’d have to do a ton of walking if you want to get to certain places. That’ll cost you extra time, and you know what they say about time — it is priceless.
Depending on your itinerary for your trip, the JR Pass is actually not money-saving at all. If you do the math right, the JR Pass might be a colossal waste of money if anything. If you’re jumping from city to city in a full crash-course method and only seeing the main highlight of each city within a week, then maybe the JR Pass is for you. However, if you’re planning to see the best every city has to offer, give the JR Pass a pass — a Suica or Pasmo card is just as sufficient.
While there are more than a few other things that should be included but wasn’t, don’t worry — these top five things are more than sufficient to start you off. I mean, I’m not going to spoil the whole Japan experience for you, either! So take down these notes and enjoy the ride after!
Want to learn Japanese on the go?
Download our podcast to get all of our episodes featuring free Japanese lessons, news, and entertainment!