Travelling to Japan takes more preparation than your average holiday – at least that’s what I found. Some things I wish I’d looked into earlier than I did, others I was glad I had researched long in advance! Here are the five things I think everyone should do before getting on a plane to Japan:
So this may seem obvious to you, but I made the mistake of booking my flights long in advance then waiting several months before bothering to look into hotels. Hotels are expensive in Japan, especially during cherry blossom season! Don’t leave it to the last minute. For Tokyo, we ended up splurging on the wonderful Grand Hyatt Hotel for a few days, then being very disappointed by an APA Hotel in Shinjuku. Kyoto hotels seemed so busy at the weekends that we went to Osaka for a couple of nights before going there. If you want a more authentic experience, book a ryokan well in advance, preferably one that will serve food. If you’re thinking about trying a capsule hotel have a look at my tips or those of Travel Outlandish before you book!
Buy a Japan Rail Pass
If you are going to be taking a few trains while you’re in Japan, you need to buy a JR Pass before you get there. This will be a lot cheaper than buying tickets in Japan and will save you the hassle of buying a ticket for every journey. We found that our pass was really convenient for travelling between Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Arashiyama and Nara. You can even use it for the JR lines within Tokyo. Have a look at how Justine did the math if you’re not sure whether the pass is worth it.
Order a sim card or portable wifi
You can have a sim card or a portable wifi device sent to your hotel so that it’s there when you arrive. I used Japan Wireless, although there are a few other companies offering the same service. I found having a SIM card with data to be incredibly useful for using Google Maps and looking up where to go next when we were out and about. No worrying about the phone bill when you get back home and no desperately trying to catch some public wifi!
Learn a few words of Japanese
I found that locals actually speak more English than I expected, but knowing a few words of Japanese was still really useful. I loved memorising things from the Lonely Planet Phrasebook, and it was small enough to carry in my pocket. I also used a few apps to practice listening and pronunciation, like Mirai Japanese or Memrise.
Find out if you need to book things in advance
By the time I found out that you needed to make a reservation by mail for the magnificent Kokudera moss temple in Kyoto, it was too late! If you want to do go-karting around Tokyo, you need to apply for an international driving license before you go. To visit an owl cafe, it’s best to email a few days in advance. If you’re into your food, you might want to reserve some of the top restaurants before you fly out to Japan.
Some things you don’t need to book in advance include your Pasmo (which can be used for public transport in different cities), the famous robot restaurant in Shinjuku, and seats on trains which can be reserved on the day you are travelling.
Also useful to know is how much money you’re going to need. Creative Travel Guide have put together a great little guide that tells you how much you can expect to spend on food, transport and different types of accommodation in Tokyo.
Have a look at my other posts for more tips:
- Kyoto’s top attractions
- Osaka: a one day itinerary
- Tokyo’s best cherry blossoms
- Unusual things to see and do in crazy Tokyo
- What to do in Akihabara, Tokyo’s anime and manga neighbourhood
- Staying at a capsule hotel in Tokyo as a couple
If you’re going to Japan, is there anything more you would like to know about?
If you’ve been there before, do you have any other tips?