If you’re new to Rhiannon Travels, I’ve published two previous posts in my ‘Things to know about Japan’ series so far:
- Things You Need to Know about Japan – Part 1: Transport + Navigation
- Things You Need to Know about Japan – Part 2: Food in Japan + Shopping Bargains
Whether you’ve read one (or both! ♥️) of those posts already, you’ll know that I included a LOT of super helpful tips and information on transport, navigation, shopping and food around Japan. Considering everything I want to say about Japan in general couldn’t fit into those two posts, I decided to write my own Ultimate Guide to Japan.
Here are all of the Japan travel tips I think you’ll need for a visit of any length!
Japan Travel Tips: The Ultimate Guide to (almost) everything you need to know about Japan!
1. Avoid everything* on a public holiday
Japan is a busy place. I’m sure you know that already, whether you’re planning a visit or not. There are around 126 million people, crammed into 47 small, dense prefectures (‘states’). With so many people, and so much to see and do, public holidays are go-to days to visit the most popular attractions in Japan. Theme parks, beautiful gardens, shopping streets – basically anything that’s fun, should be avoided on Japanese public holidays. Unless of course, you’re happy to bump shoulders with people all day, and wait in hour long lines just to use the bathroom.
*everything is a bit dramatic. But in particular, I would suggest avoiding theme parks. You don’t wanna experience Disneyland on a public holiday (or weekend), trust me.
2. Japan doesn’t have many bins
This is a weird thing to notice, I know. But coming from Australia, there are public bins everywhere. In shopping areas particularly, there are tons of bins outside stores and on street corners. However, throughout Japan, we struggled to find easily accessible bins. This would explain why Japanese people eat their street food next to the nearest bin! If you’re looking for a bin while exploring Japan, you can usually find them next to vending machines or outside convenience stores.
3. Purchase a pocket wifi
This was a life saver. We rented our pocket wifi for 30 days. Ordered it a week or so before we left for Japan, and it was delivered to our hotel the day we checked in. It’s literally exactly what it sounds like – wifi you can carry around in your pocket. Multiple devices can be connected at the same time, and it even comes with a spare battery incase you’re browsin’ too much during the day. This is the pocket wifi we rented. Ours came with the main wifi device, a spare battery, wall charger, zip bag and a cover for the wifi device to protect it throughout the day! We highly recommend looking into renting a pocket wifi, especially for extended lengths of stay – it definitely makes navigating your way around Japan much easier!
4. Your escalator experience will be very orderly
There are ‘rules’ when using escalators in Japan. Not set-in-stone, you-must-do-this-or-else rules. But you’re still expected to behave in a particular way when riding them. When using either the up or down escalators, it’s customary to stand on the left hand side and leave the right hand side free for people who wish to climb up or down. This is the case in most cities, except Osaka. For some reason, Osaka is the opposite (stand on the right, leave the left free!). It’s a pretty comical concept for the first few days you’re in Japan. Until you’re thrust into peak hour at Tokyo Station, and end up silently thanking the person who started it.
5. Always double check that attractions are open
We made this mistake in Nagoya. The main two reasons we wanted to visit Nagoya, were closed on the only full day we had in the city. Always make sure you check that things are open on the days you will be visiting. Not only does this save disappointment, but it also makes for a much more enjoyable and smooth sailing experience!
Note: a lot of places are closed on Mondays, so keep that in mind when booking accomodation around your ‘must see’ places!
6. Communication can be difficult
The day we arrived in Japan, checking into our Yokohama hotel was quite a struggle. It was the first time we had to communicate with Japanese people, and we found it pretty difficult. However, the longer we stayed in Japan, the more we realised that some locals have a better grasp on the English language than others. Whether or not they can understand or speak English, Japanese people will always do their best to help.
I suggest learning a few key words/phrases (thank you, please, excuse me etc). Not only does this help yourself, it also shows that you’re respectful and polite enough to learn the basics.
7. Hotels are well equipped with convenient amenities
When I was writing my ‘what to pack for Japan’ list a couple of months before our trip, I tried to research what Japanese hotel rooms generally provide. Generally, I like to pack shampoo, conditioner and soap with me while traveling. I was trying to avoid doing this though, to save space in my suitcase for our travels (we caught a lot of trains and changed hotels quite a bit). But I couldn’t find any information as to whether hotels provided shampoo and conditioner, so I packed them just incase.
When we checked into our first hotel in Yokohama, I noticed that there were three full sized tubs of liquids in the bathroom: shampoo, conditioner and soap. Sweet! I still kept my own bottles, though. Eventually, after changing hotels twice more, I realised that every hotel room would be the same, so I ditched my bottles! You’ll also generally find toothpaste, toothbrushes, combs, razors, shower cap, mugs, glasses, kettle, microwave and coat handers in most Japanese hotel rooms.
8. Download the Google Translation app
This super cool app lets you take a photo of any Japanese writing that you don’t understand, and it will translate that text into your desired language! This was a life saver while ordering meals in restaurants, buying snacks at convenience stores and catching trains. It’s a free app too, which is a bonus.
9. Invest in the Japan Rail Pass (mainly used for the Shinkansen Bullet Train)
I talked about the Japan Rail Pass in my transport and navigation post, but I’m going to mention it again. If you’re planning on staying in Japan for more than 7 days, and hope to see more than one city or prefecture, the JR Pass is a really good investment. The Shinkansen Bullet Train travels between most major cities throughout Japan, and will get you from one side of the country to the other, in a few short hours. Click here to read more about the Japan Rail Pass.
10. Hotels have a fairly strict check-in time
If you arrive at your hotel too early, you won’t be able to check in until 2 or 3pm. I’m not entirely sure why this is the case, as almost everywhere else I’ve traveled to allows early check in. But regardless, you’ll need to come back later in the day. You can store your luggage for free, though. So you won’t have to wander the streets with suitcases and heavy backpacks. Just ask at the reception desk when you arrive.
11. If you have the option, fly into Haneda Airport (instead of Narita Airport)
This is purely because Haneda Airport is a lot closer to Tokyo than Narita. For most people, Haneda Airport is the more convenient option, as it’s only a 40 minute train ride to central Tokyo (as opposed to an hour and a half from Narita). Whether or not you’re starting your trip in Tokyo, if you’re visiting cities on the western side of Japan, Haneda is the better choice. It’s also a lot cheaper traveling into the city from Haneda, than from Narita.
When booking your flights, input ‘Haneda Airport’ as your destination. Make sure you’ve selected the right airport before purchasing your tickets!
12. Japan is a very cash orientated country
It may be decked out with bright lights, anime and some of the most current technology in the world, but Japan is still pretty far behind the times when it comes to the money situation. Japan is still very cash oriented, and most places don’t even accept Eftpos. Russell and I both only took cash for our month long visit, but when we had to withdraw extra money, 7-Eleven convenience stores are always the best place to go for a compatible ATM.
Note: International withdrawal fees can be up to 1,000 yen.
13. Speaking of convenience stores, they will be your best friend
Japan’s convenience stores are world class. They literally sell anything and everything. I’ve written all about them in this post, but for a recap: cheap alcohol, delicious snacks, baked goods, soft drinks, personal hygiene products and much more can be found at these wonderful stores. They’re everywhere too, which is even more convenient.
14. Japanese people are some of the most polite and well mannered people you’ll ever meet
Countless times while looking lost and confused in train stations, Russell and I had random Japanese people come up to us and ask if we needed help. We didn’t ask for their help, they simply offered their assistance out of the goodness of their hearts. No matter where you go in Japan, everyone is extremely polite and friendly. Whether or not they speak or understand English, almost anyone you meet is willing to help as best they can. We even had a lady come up to us on the street, while walking to the train station from our hotel in Osaka, asking if we needed help with directions. The three of us ended up chatting for a good five minutes about where we were from, where we were headed, and she even gave us food suggestions for our next stop which was Hiroshima!
So if you’re stuck and need directions, some general advice or even restaurant recommendations, don’t be shy. Customer service assistants are especially helpful and friendly. They’re always willing to help as best they can. This is definitely something you will miss when leaving Japan – we certainly miss it!
I’m sure I’ve forgotten some super important Japan travel tips, but for the most part, these are the main things you should know before visiting Japan. To read all about the transport and navigation throughout Japan, click here. If you’re a foodie who also loves a good shopping bargain, click here.
I try to make my posts as informative and helpful as possible, so if there’s something you are curious about, but I haven’t mentioned, ask me in the comments! There’s a 98% chance I know exactly how to help, I’ve just forgotten to include it!
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