Today I’m bringing you the ultimate guide to Japan! If you’re ever lucky enough to visit Japan, it will be one of the most wonderful experiences of your life. I promise you that. It’s almost impossible to think back on anything I didn’t like about Japan. It’s one of those places that you need to experience for yourself, because words and photographs really don’t do it justice. That being said, my goal for this article is to paint you a picture about just how incredible Japan really is!
Compared to western countries, Japan is very different. Apart from the obvious language barrier, traveling to such a unique country will bring quite a few difficulties. Nothing that’s unbearable, and not even difficulties that will hinder your visit. But there are a few things to remember when visiting Japan, to make your experience more enjoyable and stress-free!The Ultimate Guide to Japan - what to know before you go! #japan #japantravel Click To Tweet
Table of Contents
The Ultimate Guide to Japan!
My partner Russell and I spent the entire month of March this year, exploring Japan. We managed to visit 6 different cities (or prefectures) in 4 weeks, and loved every single minute of it. Like I mentioned, there are a few things to keep in mind before visiting Japan, so I’ve created this comprehensive guide to one of the most wonderful countries in the world!
Currency & Money
The currency used in Japan is Japanese Yen. In comparison to Australian and US dollars, Japan’s currency is quite similar. By that, I mean if you were to purchase something for 100 yen, converting that back into AUD or USD, works out to be almost equal.
In most aspects, Japan is a very advanced country. When it comes to the use of credit or debit card, however, you’ll be surprised to know they’re still pretty far behind. Most restaurants and shops don’t accept the use of card payment.
Here are some tips regarding money in Japan:
- Be sure to have some Japanese yen in cash – This will get you through your first day in the country, and will definitely come in handy for transportation from the airport to your hotel and meals/snacks.
- Convenience stores are the best place to withdraw cash – In particular, 7/11 convenience stores. They’re everywhere, so you won’t struggle to find one!
- Tipping is not required in Japan – In fact, it’s almost considered rude. So there’s no need to tip anyone in restaurants, hotels or transport staff (cab drivers, shuttle drivers etc).
One of the first things we noticed when arriving in Japan, was that very few people speak English. This is obviously something we were prepared for, as one shouldn’t expect every person in the world to speak English, when it isn’t their first language. It’s best to come prepared and have a few key phrases or words memorised, to make your visit much easier for everyone involved!
Here are some phrases you should know before arriving in Japan:
- Arigatou Gozaimas – Thank You
- Konnichiwa – Hello
- sumimasen – Excuse Me
- Ohayou Gozaimasu – Good Morning
- Konbanwa – Good Evening
- Hai – Yes
These are just a few of the main phrases you will use on a daily basis. In our experience, Japanese people are very patient and will do everything that they can to assist you, no matter how much or how little you can speak Japanese. However, it’s good manners to practice some simple, every-day phrases to make certain situations easier!
Tip: There are quite a few apps which help translate words or sentences from English (and other languages) into Japanese. If all else fails, Google Translate will come in handy!Here are some key phrases to learn before heading to Japan! #japan #japantravel Click To Tweet
One of the best things about Japan is their public transport system. Russell and I are from Adelaide in Australia, and our public transport system is less than average. So it was pleasantly surprising to see how smoothly their train system runs.
Although it may seem extremely confusing and overwhelming upon arriving in Japan for the first time, the trains and subways are actually super easy to navigate. All train stations have directions and signage in both Japanese and the English translation. No matter where you need to go, or which city/prefecture you’re heading to, it won’t be too difficult to find your way.
Here are some tips for using Japan’s train system:
- Use Google Maps – The ‘directions’ function in Google Maps will be your best friend. Type in the location you’re heading (from your current location) and Google Maps will list all of the different train lines that will take you there. Find the corresponding platform in the station, and hop on the correct train! It’s that simple.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help – It’s no myth that Japanese people are some of the most friendly and helpful people in the world. If you’re ever stuck with directions, don’t be afraid to speak up. Whether it’s a conductor on the train platform or someone simply walking by, almost everyone will do their best to help. We even had people voluntarily come up to us and help when they saw we were struggling with directions on our first couple of days in Japan!
- Purchase a Suica or Pasmo card – for ultimate ease and convenience when exploring Japan, purchase a Suica or Pasmo card the day you arrive. Load some money onto the card, and all you’ll need to do when train hopping, is swipe your card at the gate and walk on through! We bought a Suica card on our first day, which got us almost everywhere throughout the country. You can also use your Suica card for purchases in some convenience stores!
- The JR Pass (Japan Rail Pass) – this is only available for visitors to Japan, who are staying in the country for less than 90 days. If you plan on traveling between cities (prefectures), I highly recommend purchasing one. They may seem quite pricey, but if you’re doing a fair bit of city-hopping, they’re well worth it. You can read more about the JR Pass here, or purchase your own here!
Russell and I visited Japan in March, which was the tail end of their winter, early spring. We arrived just in time to see the start of cherry blossom season, which was a pretty incredible experience! Given that we were there at the end of winter, it was still fairly cold. There were some days (our visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in particular) where the brisk, freezing cold air was almost unbearable. But most of the time, it didn’t hinder our days exploring.
Here are some basic tips and information about Japan’s weather and seasons:
- Spring: March to May; Summer: June to August; Autumn: September to November; Winter: December to February.
- Cherry blossom season (spring) is very, very busy in Japan. It’s the most popular time for tourists and travelers, meaning everything is going to be more densely packed than normal. That being said, I highly recommend planning your trip around this time of year, as it truly is an incredible experience. Make sure to book early and prepare for large crowds almost everywhere you go (theme parks in particular).
- Japan is a very mountainous country, which means there are seemingly endless places to go to experience snow. You can read about our first time seeing snow while in Nagano, here!
- You may have heard that vending machines are everywhere in Japan. Which is very true! They really are on absolutely every corner. But what you may not know, is that they change with the seasons! During the warmer months in the year, all vending machines have cold beverages. During the colder months, they add in some hot beverages like coffee, tea and soup!
Wifi & Sim Cards
When Russell and I visited Japan, we had purchased a pocket wifi device a few months before arriving in the country. This turned out to be an absolute life saver, as we were able to have wifi wherever we went. We took it everywhere, had a spare battery and protective case and a pouch to keep it all in. I highly recommend purchasing a pocket wifi if you’re spending a significant amount of time in Japan. Even more so if you plan on traveling around the country and catching a lot of trains.
You can also pick up cheap local SIM cards from the airport. However, most of these are data only.
As I mentioned earlier in this post, Japan is the safest country I have ever visited. Including my home country of Australia. The whole month we spent traveling around Japan, we had no issues with crime and felt safe the whole duration of our trip.
As a general rule for travel, you should always remain vigilant and be aware of your surroundings. But if you are planning a solo trip to Japan (in particular, solo female travelers), you don’t need to worry too much about being alone. Japan is one of the safest countries in the world to visit. So as long as you keep your wits about you, you shouldn’t run into any problems!
Although I traveled with my partner, even if I had traveled alone, I would feel perfectly comfortable walking the streets of Japan at night time by myself. It’s an incredibly safe place (from our experience, and from what I’ve heard from other travelers to Japan) which is awesome!
Personally, Russell and I opt for hotel accomodation as opposed to hostels or Airbnb’s. We like our privacy, and are happy to set aside extra in our budget for a comfortable place to sleep.
Just like anywhere else in the world, Japan has a wide range of options when it comes to accomodation:
- Hotels – Check out HotelsCombined for some awesome deals!
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great option for families and groups of friends
- Hostels – For budget travelers, hostels are the perfect option!
- Capsule Hotels – For a totally unique and budget friendly option, capsule hotels are perfect! Read more about this awesome style of accomodation here!
The type of accomodation you choose, depends on your style, who you’re traveling with and your budget. There are a ton of options to suit anybody, whether you want a 5 star resort or cheap budget friendly hostel. Do some research before booking, and always shop around! Click here to read more about the main types of accomodation, to help decide what’s right for you!What's your favourite type of accomodation? Here are some of my suggestions for a visit to… Click To Tweet
What to Wear
Japan is a weird and wonderful place to visit. If you’re into fashion, you’ll be in heaven winding your way through the streets of Tokyo, shopping up a storm. When it comes to the style in Japan, it seems nothing is off limits. Harajuku for example, is one of the best places to visit to get a taste of Japanese fashion. There are an endless amount of unique stores, filled with everything from cat clothing to second hand bargains.
Tip for females: From what I could tell, girls tend to show off their legs, while covering up the top half of their body. During our time in Japan, we visited Disneyland, DisneySea and Universal Studios. A lot of girls were wearing shorts or skirts, despite the cold weather! I never once saw any cleavage. So that’s something to keep in mind for you ladies traveling to Japan!Can't decide what clothes to take to Japan? Here are some tips! Click To Tweet
Do’s & Don’ts
Like anywhere in the world, there are some things you should and should not do when visiting Japan. Some of these are super quirky and some are pretty strange – in the best way, of course! There’s a system in place for almost everything in Japan, which helps to make the country run as smoothly as possible!
Here are some things you should NOT do when visiting Japan:
- Don’t stand in the middle of an escalator – In all cities across Japan (except Osaka), it’s customary for people to stand on the left hand side, leaving the right side free for anyone who wishes to walk up. Trust me, this one is important, because escalators are everywhere in Japan.
- Don’t tip – I mentioned this earlier, but it’s important to note again. Tipping is considered rude in Japan. It’s a well-known fact that Japanese people put their heart and soul into everything, meaning that if somebody tips them for a job well done, it’s assumed the service was better than expected. I promise, you’ll be surprised just how polite and friendly the Japanese are.
- Don’t litter – One thing you’ll notice when you arrive in Japan, is the lack of rubbish bins in public. This is especially inconvenient in busy shopping districts. Despite the lack of bins, the streets are immaculately clean (in most areas), so don’t be that person and leave your rubbish on the side of the road. Generally you’ll find bins outside of convenience stores and vending machines, so hold onto your rubbish until you can dispose of it correctly.
- Don’t eat and walk – I’ll be honest, I’m guilty of this one. I don’t think I realised until the very end of our trip, that eating while walking in Japan is frowned upon. If you grab a quick snack while shopping, either sit down or stand out of the way and eat it. I still feel embarrassed for the number of times I scoffed down McDonalds fries while running for a train or window shopping.
- Don’t blow your nose in public – I’m also guilty of this one. I’m from Australia, where it isn’t frowned upon to blow your nose in public. But for some reason, in Japan, it is! This is why you’ll hear anyone who is sick on trains, sniffing instead of blowing their nose. Just wait until you’ve got some privacy!
- Don’t talk loudly on your phone in public – This mainly applies to trains. The first thing you’ll notice about Japan’s trains, is that everyone is on their phones. Either texting, playing games or listening to music. But you’ll never hear somebody (unless they’re aren’t a Japanese person), speaking on their phone.
Here are some things you should do while visiting Japan:
- Buy alcohol and snacks at convenience stores – As soon as you walk into your very first Japanese convenience store, you’ll be hooked. They literally have everything you could ever need. Okay, maybe not everything, but pretty close to it! If you’re an alcohol drinker, you can pick up a bottle of wine for $40, a bottle of scotch for under $15 and premixed drinks for $2 a pop. They also have a ton of awesome snacks. Trust me, give it a shot!
- Slurp your noodles – If you visit a ramen restaurant or basically anywhere that serves noodles, always slurp your noodles! Anywhere else in the world, you’ll be given more dirty looks than ever before if you do this. But of course, in Japan, it’s totally normal!
- Always be on time – The Japanese are very punctual people. As a whole, Japan runs so smoothly, it’s quite fascinating. The trains always arrive precisely on time, and if you have a meeting planned with somebody, I’m willing to bet money on the fact they’ll be there on the dot. We all have phones that have alarms and a clock – use them and don’t be late!
- Take your shoes off when necessary – In some shops (change rooms/fitting rooms) and temples or shrines, it’s expected that all visitors remove their shoes before entering. Generally there will be a sign asking people to take their shoes off. If not, just look around and see what everyone else is doing.
- Appreciate Japan for it’s unique and contagious atmosphere – Whether you’re spending the day at one of Japan’s theme parks, hiking up one of the incredible mountains, or strolling through the winding road’s of Osaka’s Dotonbori. Japan will fascinate you in the best way possible.
Things To Do
I’m sure you’ve already figured this out, but there is a LOT to see and do in Japan. Whether you spend one week or one month in the country, you’ll never be able to see it all. The only way to get around this, is to pick and choose what you absolutely cannot leave Japan without seeing.
Here are some of the major attractions and cannot miss places throughout Japan:
*Note: These are all places and attractions that we saw and visited personally.
- Cup Noodle Museum (Yokohama) – 300 yen
- Ramen Museum (Yokohama) – 310 yen entrance, bowls of ramen between 500 and 800 yen
- Cosmo Clock Ferris Wheel (Yokohama) – 700 yen
- Osaka Castle (Osaka) – 600 yen
- Dontonbori (Osaka) – free
- Amerikamura (Osaka) – free
- Tempozan Ferris Wheel (Osaka) – 800 yen
- Bamboo Forest (Kyoto) – free
- Arashiyama (Kyoto) – free
- Universal Studios (Osaka) – 7,600 yen – 20,700 yen
- Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine (Kyoto) – free
- Hiroshima Peace Memorial – free
- Hiroshima Peace Museum – 200 yen
- Harajuku (Tokyo) – free
- Shibuya Crossing (Tokyo) – free
- Akihabara (Tokyo) – free
- Shinjuku Batting Centre (Tokyo) – 300 yen
- Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (Tokyo) – free
- Disneyland & DisneySea (Tokyo) – 7,400 yen – 22,400 yen
- Odaiba (Tokyo) – free
There are obviously a million more things to see and do in Japan. Unfortunately we didn’t make it further north than Nagano, but next time Russell and I visit this beautiful country, we’re definitely going to try and broaden our Japanese horizons!
If you’re a fan of seafood, or meat in general, you’ll feel right at home in Japan. Almost every city is filled with dozens upon dozens of Japanese and Western restaurants. There are a wide range of food options available, no matter your budget. If you’re like me (a picky eater, who doesn’t really eat meat), don’t worry, you’ll still find plenty of delicious foods.
Along with the plethora of Japanese restaurants (ramen, sushi, yakitori etc), there are also a large amount of western food chains. I ate at McDonalds, Subway and KFC quite a bit, as I am not really one for experimenting with food. But if you would like to sample Japan’s delicacies, you’ll be in for a treat!
That brings us to the end of this extremely long and in-depth guide to Japan! Have you visited Japan before? What surprised you the most? What was your fondest memory of the wonderful country? Tell me in the comments below! Don’t forget to share this with your friends!Looking for the ultimate guide to Japan? Here it is! #japan #japantravel Click To Tweet
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