Planning a trip to Japan? Traveling in a new country can be overwhelming. Last year, we spent two weeks there and wanted to share what helped us while we were there.
1) JR Pass
Depending on your situation, the JR Pass can save you a lot of money. Especially if you will be going to multiple places while in Japan. The JR Pass can only be used by non-Japanese tourists and does not include the fastest of the bullet trains.
You have to purchase a JR Pass here before your trip (no earlier than 3 months). Once purchased, you will receive an exchange order in the mail (I received mine very fast). Then you take the exchange order to a JR office at the train station to obtain your official JR Pass. You’ll need your passport to verify your identity.
When entering or departing the train station, there is usually a special lane for passes, and you just show the JR employee your pass, and they check the dates on it. Doesn’t get much easier than that. You can also reserve seats for free using your JR pass in a JR office. I recommend this especially if you are taking a longer train to guarantee you have a seat.
Passes can be bought for different lengths of time: 1, 2, or 3 weeks. Obviously the longer your pass is valid the more expensive it will be. I bought the 2 week version, and it worked great!
If you plan on riding on the trains and subways, HyperDia is the place to plan out your trip. HyperDia shows both JR trains and local trains. It helped us figure out the easiest/shortest route and what time the trains departed via the timetables. HyperDia will also show when the train is supposed to arrive in each station. This is very helpful since some station names are not in English/Latin characters. Since the trains are usually super punctual, you can usually use the time the train is listed as stopping on HyperDia to tell if you are at your station.
3) Japan Guide
During the planning stages of the trip, Japan Guide was very helpful in figuring out what cities to visit and what sightseeing we were going to do. Whenever we arrived in a new city, we would look up the popular sightseeing spots before heading out for the day. We would normally also save the page while we had hotel wifi so we could later get to it in case we didn’t have wifi. Likewise, we would zoom in on Google Maps so it would download the maps and pull up later without Wifi. (Tip: You can also rent a wifi hotspot for $12 a day through Telecom Square at a lot of the airports)
4) Booking.com/Hotels.com/Agoda.com/Trip Adviser
Finding good hotels in Japan can be a challenge. Don’t wait until the last minute!!! The Japanese are crazy good planners so if you wait, you’re either going to pay a ton or sleep in a box since the Japanese tourists and travelers will have booked everything.
When looking for hotels, I would start by figuring out where I wanted to stay based on what we were going to do in that city. Like I said, Japan Guide is good for this. Don’t forget about looking for a hotel near a train station. This will save you a lot of walking or cab fare. Use Booking.com, Hotels.com, and Agoda.com to find a good hotel at a good price. Before I booked, I would go on Trip Adviser just to make sure it had a good rating.
Many of my readers will not be shocked that I have recommend Pinterest as a helpful site for Japan travel. Seriously, what did I do before Pinterest?!? lol! Lots of people pin popular places and things to do in Japan on Pinterest. Before our trip, I searched for “Japan,” “Things to Do in Japan,” “Kyoto,” etc. to see what I could find. On Pinterest, I found the bamboo forest in Kyoto that we ended up visiting. I also found a few items that we just didn’t have time to do.
6) Don’t be afraid to get Lost
Japan is overall very safe and friendly, crime is very low, and people are almost always happy to help. If you get lost, just ask someone for help. English is not as common a language in Japan as it is in Europe but eventually you will find someone who speaks enough to help.
I also wanted to share some of my observations and other things I learned while in Japan (some are very random):
1. EVERYONE backs into parking spots.
2. In Japan, it is considered feminine for guys to eat ice cream in public.
3. There were very few overweight or pregnant people.
4. A lot of the hotels did not have extra pillows, blankets, or places to store clothing.
5. On public transportation, no one talks on their cell phones. You shouldn’t either!!!
6. Most hotels supplied full size bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and bodywash.
7. There is no stealing, and everyone is very respectful of the law.
8. There appeared to be more smoking in Japan than the U.S.
9. A lot of restaurants leave pitchers of water on the table…score! Japan=1, Europe=0
10. In addition to the fancy toilets you hear about in Japan, they also had a good amount of floor toilets which I was not expecting.
11. You do not have to pay to use toilets.
12. You can buy beer in a vending machine.
13. Even the construction is happy.
14. Don’t expect to see a lot of non-Asian tourists. This really surprised me.
15. You also do not see a lot of old cars. This is due to Japan’s very strict vehicle emission requirements and high depreciation rates (via Wikipedia).
16. McDonald’s and KFC taste different (and yes, I had both!)
17. I did not see as many Koi fish as I was hoping.
18. Convenience store sushi in Japan is usually better than nice sushi in the US (according to Brandon)
19. Once you get out of the city (and sometimes in the city), there are rice fields everywhere.
Also, does anyone know what this is? We barely caught this picture of him as he was ducking away!
Hopefully this will help you a little bit in your travels to Japan!
Thanks for stopping by!