Are you planning your first trip to Japan? This post might be the perfect place to start your research. When we were planning our summer holiday in Japan we learnt a lot of things from various sources which inspired me to put in some of those tips in one of my blog posts as most of this information is not readily available in a single place.
- WHEN TO VISIT : This is the best thing about Japan. Anytime is a good time to visit this beautiful country. Some places like the iconic temples in Kyoto look mesmerisingly beautiful at different times of the year whether in cherry blossom season or in the lovely colours of autumn or covered in snow during winter. Nevertheless, the most popular time is around the beginning of April which is the peak cherry blossom season or ‘Sakura’ in major parts of central Japan.
2. BUY THE LONELY PLANET TRAVEL BOOK ON JAPAN: Why? Because it gives you a very nice overview of the country and helps you come up with an initial plan of the major places to visit. This often forms the basis of all my research when I am planning a visit a new place. Also some of the city walks outlined in the lonely planet books are really nice. However, I prefer to ignore the commercial suggestions (hotels, restaurants etc ) as there are lots of other options out there for that kind of research.
3. JAPAN RAIL PASS: Rail travel in Japan is not cheap, especially if you plan to take at least one ride on the iconic bullet trains (Shinkansen). However, for international tourists who would like to travel far and wide in Japan it makes a lot of sense to buy the Japan rail pass. It is only available for foreign tourists and must be bought before entering Japan. You can find complete information on the JP Rail website. But it makes a lot of sense economically. Here is an example: a 7 day pass is cheaper than a round trip on the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto.
However, it only comes in validity periods of 7, 14 and 21 days. So a bit of judicious planing is needed to ensure that you time the first use correctly if you are staying for more than 7 days. We flew to Haneda and were departing via Narita airport. Both of them are in Tokyo but Narita is much further away and it is best to use the Narita express. Also we were travelling directly to Narita from Kyoto via bullet train. Both are covered by the Japan rail pass. We needed to ensure that the tickets remain valid till the last day. So our first use was exactly 7 days before that date of departure. Before that we just bought a one way ticket from Haneda Airport to Tokyo on arrival.
4. BOOKINGS VIA LOCAL WEBSITE : Normally we make almost all our holiday bookings exclusively via booking.com. That is exactly what we did for our city stays in Tokyo and Kyoto. There are a wide range of options. However, when it comes to traditional Japanese hotels called Ryokans, some of the international websites are not good enough. We used a local website called japanican.com to book our stay at Ryokans and it was one of the best experiences of our life. I can’t recommend it enough. You must stay in a Japanese Ryokan on your Japan holiday. It’s a wholesome experience from the moment you enter.
A note here on hotel stays: Check-in times are generally 3PM and checkout at 10AM. Plan the days accordingly.
5. MOBILE CONNECTIVITY– CHANGI WIFI- This is probably specific to residents of Singapore only. However, I believe there are similar options in a lot of other countries too. It’s a simple 4G wifi dongle which you can carry around while roaming in certain countries. It’s just 5 SGD per day and you can connect up to 10 devices. The data coverage was excellent even when driving high up in remote areas in the Japanese Alps. We didn’t even bother buying a local sim card after reaching Japan.
6. CAR HIRE- For tourists who mainly intend to visit the main cities, the Japan rail pass in addition to local city bus/metro passes are generally sufficient. However, since we decided to travel around the Alps, renting a car was the best option and in hindsight, it was the best decision of our trip! Do note, tourists need an international drivers permit in addition to their driving license to be able to drive. It’s quite easy to drive around Japan and most places have road signs which include English. However, local Satnavs are usually in Japanese. We did get an english Satnav with our car which was rented from Toyota but it was mostly in Japanese and pretty useless for us. So we relied on the tried and tested Google maps on iPhones and it worked like a charm!
7. LOCAL TRANSPORT IN TOKYO & KYOTO– The Japan rail pass is quite helpful is moving to certain places within big cities like Tokyo and Kyoto. However, to use the metro or local buses it is advisable to use local passes although there are options to buy tickets with cash as you go. Here are some options:
- Tokyo: Click here for comprehensive info on the japan guide website
- Kyoto: Click here for comprehensive info on local city travel including how to travel between Tokyo and Kyoto on the Japan Guide website.
8. JAPANESE FOOD– Here is what I would say about the food. It’s just awesome. Just decide what type of food you want to eat and walk into the nearest joint that serves it. Most restaurants that you will see all around are probably better than anything you have tasted back home. However, that lunch ends at most places by 3 PM so do plan your day accordingly. Also it is advisable to keep cash ready as not all restaurants will accept cards.
( I am itching to write more about food but let’s keep it for our upcoming posts)
9. SHOPPING– If you are in Tokyo, it makes sense to go to one of the massive camera stores in the main shopping districts. I went to the Odobashi Camera in Shinjuku just to see the sheer variety to cameras and accessories on display. However, the cameras are not necessarily cheaper than back home so do compare before making purchases. Nevertheless, duty free options and promotions can lead to significant savings. Don’t worry if they staple the duty free receipt to your passport, no one checks it when leaving the country. The customs desk at our departure point was empty.
10. Plan your spending cash vs credit card– Plan your major costs meticulously and carry cash accordingly. Although all hotels will take cards, two of our stays in Ryokans in the Alps did not, so we had to set aside cash for those stays. Also, only specific ATMs accept foreign cards, so better to save the hassle and carry enough cash for petty expenses. Japan is a very safe country to carry large amounts of cash with you.
I hope this post will help you plan your trip to Japan!
- I would like to mention here that the itinerary was planned by Raj (my husband) so I would like to credit him for co-authoring this post.
Some more posts on Japan travel coming soon on the Blog, so stay tuned! 🙂
Have a lovely weekend everyone!
Be Positive & Spread Happiness Like Confetti