Are you thinking of travelling to Japan? Japan is a place full of wonder, culture, amazing food, crazy nightlife and lots of energy. There is always something to do but sometimes it can be a little overwhelming. After two trips and nearly two months in this beautiful country I compiled my best tips to help you relax and enjoy a stress-free holiday.
Transportation and getting around
Get a Suica card
Japan metro systems are fantastic and provide an easy way to get across most major cities. However, buying a ticket can be challenging due to confusing ticket machines with limited English. Instead of wasting time buying tickets each time you need to ride a train (including train transfer tickets!), purchase a Suica card in Tokyo. A Suica card can be purchased from a JR Office or a JR machine in most subway stations and is an easy ‘tap on, tap off’ rechargeable money card. Suica cards cost 500 Yen (around $6) and are refundable in JR Stations in Tokyo after your trip. Best of all, Suica cards are accepted throughout Japan! Suica cards can also be used in convenience stores and vending machines to purchase food and snacks.
Get a sim card and use Google Maps to get around
Now that you have your Suica card, the next challenge is to figure out how to get around. This is where Google Maps came in super handy! Surprisingly, Google Maps works incredibly well in Japan and even tells you which train to catch in the city and even across the country. We relied on Google Maps religiously while travelling around Japan. We’re happy to say it never let us down. Sim cards are available in places like airports for around $80 a month for unlimited data.
Calculate the train fares before purchasing a Japan Rail Pass
Purchasing a Japan Rail Pass is a great option when planning to visit multiple cities in Japan. Buying one is simple! Order your pass at least a month before you leave and receive a voucher in the mail which you can claim at a JR Office in most large train stations. JR passes allow for unlimited travel within a certain period, ranging from 7 days, 14 days to one month.
Sure, trains are expensive in Japan and if you are covering large distances it’s probably worth it. However it’s wise to check your schedule and see when the rail pass will be most advantageous. For our one month trip I calculated that buying a 7 day pass ($380 each) will save us money and buying a two week or one month pass will actually cost more than buying train tickets. Use sites like Hyperdia to calculate fares and see what type of pass (if any!) you require.
Plan your seasonal visit
Japan is a country where locals love to celebrate special events like the cherry blossom season. We chose to visit during spring not just for the beauty of spring bloom but for the incredible street parties and celebrations. In winter, skiing is unmissable as Japan has some of the best snow in the world. In summer, check out the beautiful flower fields and firework celebrations that happen most weekends!
APA Hotels Chain
APA Hotels are an affordable hotel chain that is found throughout Japan. While the rooms are small, the hotels always provide great quality service, excellent amenities and even restaurants. The rooms have always been nothing short of spotless with modern design and flat screen televisions. They are small but like with everything in Japan, are cleverly designed and provide lots of comfort for you dollar. I did all of my hotel bookings through bookings.com and found it easy and reliable.
Toiletries and amenities
Again, the hotels in Japan aim to deliver a convenient and easy stay. So, all of the hotels we experienced provided not only the essentials like hair dryer, towel, robe and slippers but also tooth brushes, hair brushes, creams, shampoos, razors and more! All of the basics are there, packaged and brand new for your use. Pack light and save room for shopping!
Checking in to most hotels was pretty simple and straight forward. All hotels were happy to keep our luggage stored outside of our check in and check out hours. Be mindful that check in is strictly 3pm at most hotels. This means you may need to find something to do if arriving early.
Food and drinks
Eat convenience store food
Eating while travelling in Japan is super affordable thanks to their many convenience store chains like Lawson, 7/11 and Family Mart. For just a few dollars you can get fresh made sushi, a range of deep fried foods, ready-made meals, salads and soups. The store attendants will warm up the food for you and there are often seating areas to enjoy the quality meals! My favourite snack has to be the spicy deep fried chicken from Lawson, only $2 and made fresh every time! Additionally, alcohol is super cheap in Japan and it’s legal to drink on the streets so grab a wine or a beer and enjoy people watching.
Pick the right food queues
When going for local cuisine like ramen, sushi or okonomiyaki look for long lines heading out of the restaurant! We’ve found the best and most affordable food joints when simply following the crowd. However, be careful and avoid long lines full of tourists. The food is usually catered to visitors and lacks authenticity and cultural flare.
Learn some basic Japanese
Knowing a few phrases comes very handy when getting out and about in Japan. Not only does it win you brownie points with the locals, it can help you enjoy a more stress-free holiday. Here’s a couple that we found very useful:
Good Morning: ohayou or ohayou gozaimasu
Thank you: arigatou gozaimasu
Excuse me: sumimasen
I’m sorry: gomen nasai
I don’t understand: wakarimasen
So, if you’re contemplating travelling to Japan or already been, what do you think about the tips? Let me know!