If you’ve never visited Japan before, it can come as quite a shock when you arrive. The Japanese do everything with such ease, it’s pretty awesome to see! There is a system in place for almost everything, and locals go about their daily lives in such a quiet manner. I’ve actually already published an article about Japan’s transport system. Click here to read it!
Here are all of the Japan travel tips I think you’ll need for a visit of any length!
Table of Contents
- Japan Travel Tips: Things You Should Know Before You Visit
- Avoid everything* on a Public Holiday
- Japan doesn’t have many bins
- Purchase a Pocket Wifi
- Your escalator experience will be very orderly
- Always double check that attractions are open
- Communication can be difficult
- Hotels are well equipped with convenient amenities
- Download the Google Translation app
- Invest in the Japan Rail Pass (mainly used for the Shinkansen Bullet Train)
- Hotels have a strict check-in time
- If you have the option, fly into Haneda Airport (instead of Narita Airport)
- Japan is still very cash oriented
- Speaking of convenience stores, they will be your best friend
- Japanese people are some of the most polite and well mannered people you’ll ever meet
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Japan Travel Tips: Things You Should Know Before You Visit
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 (or cities). 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 suggest avoiding theme parks. You don’t wanna experience Disneyland on a public holiday (or weekend), trust me.
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 explains 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.
If you are out and about exploring Japan, and have some rubbish, don’t just leave it on the side of the road. Have some respect for the country you’re visiting, and wait until you find a bin. It’s not difficult to hold on to your rubbish for a little while longer!
Purchase a Pocket Wifi
Planning ahead and purchasing a Pocket Wifi was a life saver. We rented ours for 30 days, ordered it a week or so before we left for Japan, and it was delivered to our hotel the day we arrived.
The Pocket Wifi is 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 browsing 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!
Your escalator experience will be very orderly
Japan is so advanced when it comes to ease of travel, that there are even rules when using escalators throughout the country. They’re not set in stone, you’ll-be-arrested-if-you-don’t-follow-them rules, but it’s expected that people behave in a certain way when using escalators. 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 the crazy trend.
Always double check that attractions are open
We made this mistake in Nagoya. We wanted to visit Nagoya for two attractions, both of which were closed on the only full day we had in the city. This is probably why Nagoya wasn’t my favourite city in Japan. Always make sure you check that attractions and places are open, on the days you will be visiting. Not only does this save disappointment, it also makes for a much more enjoyable experience.
Note: A lot of attractions are closed on Mondays, so keep that in mind when booking accomodation around your Must-See places!
Communication can be difficult
Checking into our hotel in Yokohama, on our very first day in Japan, was quite a struggle. It was the first time we had to communicate with Japanese people, and we found it fairly difficult. This could be due to the fact that we were both running on over 24 hours of zero sleep and extremely hangry.
That being said, the longer we were 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 locals will always do their best to help.
I suggest learning a few key words/phrases (thank you, please, excuse me etc) before you arrive. Not only will this help yourself, it always shows that you’re respectful and polite enough to learn the basics.
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 provide when it comes to toiletries. 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 binned 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.
Note: This information is based on our experience, staying in 6 hotel rooms throughout Japan. If you decide not to bring your own shampoo and conditioner, and find upon arrival that your hotel doesn’t provide these, convenience stores will be your best bet in picking up some cheap bottles!
Download the Google Translation app
This super cool app lets you take a photo of any Japanese writing that you don’t understand, and 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.
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.
Note: You can also use your JR Pass on any JR train lines. Keep an eye out when traveling by train throughout Japan, if you’ve purchased a Japan Rail Pass. You could be saving a lot of money catching JR trains instead of regular ones!
Hotels have a strict check-in time
If you arrive at your hotel too early, you generally 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 in the world that I’ve travelled 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.
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!
Japan is still very cash oriented
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.
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 published a post already, about the awesomeness of Japan’s convenience stores, but for the purpose of quick facts, here’s a recap. Cheap alcohol, delicious snacks, baked goods, soft drinks, water, other hot and cold beverages, personal hygiene products, umbrellas and much more can be found in Japanese convenience stores. They’re everywhere, too, which is even more convenient!
Related: Shopping & Food in Japan
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 and where we were headed. She even gave us some great food recommendations for our next stop, which was Hiroshima!
Related: Spend a Weekend in 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 d0!
Did you find these Japan Travel Tips useful? Have you visited Japan before? What did you love the most? Did you find some of these things difficult to get used to? Tell me in the comments below!