8 Things to do before arriving in Japan...
Updated: Apr 16, 2018
I love traveling impromptu! its exciting buying a ticket, packing and flying all in the span of a week! Crazy? guilty! However, when traveling to Japan I found it very useful and money saving to book / buy some things ahead of time. In this post I'll share my list of the 8 things every traveler should do before arriving in Japan.
Not a planner? no worries, I've got you covered! Use this post as a guide of the things you should do before arriving in Japan. This list will help your trip run smoothly while saving you time and a couple hundreds as Japan can be a very expensive Island to visit and explore.
Best time to travel is late spring when skies are clear and sakura start to bloom & early autumn when there's less rain, temperatures are mild and the colors of fall are at their deepest with beautiful shades of reds, yellows and orange.
OK, so you booked your flight to Japan, now what?—
1. Go online and buy your JR Pass-- The Japan rail pass must be bought in your home country before arriving and can take up to 6 weeks for delivery. Although expensive, it will end up saving you hundreds if you plan on venturing out of Tokyo and visiting other places near by. You can buy a 7 day, 14 day or 21 day pass, the days are counted consecutive after the first stamp day on your pass and this date cannot be changed once activated. This pass is a special fare ticket that is available only to travelers visiting Japan from foreign countries for sight seeing. Some of the trains are not included : NOZOMI & MIZUHO so make sure you ride the ones covered by your pass, if not they'll charge you full fare once you exit and the trip could easily cost you hundreds of dollars. Most JR trains have ordinary cars ( coach class ) while long distance ones also offer green cars ( superior class ). With a green type Japan Rail Pass you can use either class, while with an ordinary type you can only use Ordinary cars without paying an additional charge. Some of these long distance trains allow food and drinks so make sure to hit up a 7eleven before your departure, grab some snacks, sake and enjoy the scenic ride. The JR pass is valid for railways - Shinkansen " bullet trains", the Tokyo monorail, local lines of the JR bus (* not express) and the JR- West Miyajima Ferry.
2. Rent a portable wifi router -- you can pick it up / drop off at the airport in Japan. This will change your life! you'll be able to navigate the streets like a pro. We rented one for 2 weeks at $85. You have to pre- order before your arrival. If staying at an Airbnb some hosts will provide this to you at no additional charge, just read their description page to verify wether or not they provide one or when in doubt ask.
3. Map it out-- Where do you want to go? What do you want to see? Map it out and create main hubs where you can easily take day trips from. After selecting all the places you want to visit find main points where those places can become midpoints.
4. Airbnb it -- Hotels in Japan can be expensive, for a more frugal stay try capsule hotels unique to Japan but if you're like me and tight places are not your thing, I would recommend staying at a local Airbnb. By Airbnbing it you get the best of both worlds, you save some cash while staying in an actual Japanese style apartment and for less than half the price of a hotel you get the entire place to yourself. **Note : My first time using Airbnb was while traveling through Japan. We stayed in 4 different Airbnb homes and absolutely loved the experience. I love learning about the culture of a place every time I travel and by getting to stay at an Airbnb local home I felt more connected to my environment. A year later I decided to backpack through Mexico and use Airbnb as my main lodging booking site and this became my worst nightmare!!! After carefully selecting the places I wanted to stay at 3 moths in advanced, I woke up a week before my flight to an email from Airbnb saying that my account was cancelled and all my previous reservations had been cancelled. When I saw the email I started to panic but at the same time I knew that if I called they would fix the problem since I had never cancelled my account to begin with...but I was wrong, they left me hanging and completely ghosted on me. I didn't hear back from them till a week later while actually boarding my flight to Mexico (how ironic). This cost me much more at the end since I had to make last minute bookings. I had already paid for all my stays so I was also $700ish dollars shy from my initial budget-- yikes!!! This got me thinking. I was lucky to know the language of the country I was traveling to and I was traveling with my partner so I was not alone but what if that was not the case? What if I was traveling alone as a female traveler to a foreign country on a budget not speaking the language and placing my trust on Airbnb and then out of nowhere I have no Airbnb account, no place to stay, no money ( since I had already paid in full for my stay ) and no actual Airbnb representative to talk to in person? If you call their main call center no-one is authorized to actually help you so they send your case to a "specialist" which responds to you via text message in the app. That is a very scary, unsafe situation to be in so if you do use Airbnb be careful. I don't recommend going alone, at least in a group you guys can figure something out together if this were to happen lets say THE DAY OF YOUR FLIGHT... do not wish that on anyone.
5. Download the Hyperdia app -- This is an app that helps you navigate through Japan using the rail system showing timetables and routes.
6. Know the Facts -- This depends on where you're coming from. I'm using New York as my departure point and dollars as my main currency.
* Tokyo is 13 hours ahead of New York
*$1 = 107.38 Yen ( as of April 2018 ) to make it easier on myself I round off and make a cheat note on my cel. so my cheat note looks like this:
This helps a lot if you're in a rush and want to figure the cost of something quickly, with more time I simply use my calculator.
*Don't tip in Japan. They find it offensive.
*Don't be late to a reservation / call if you need to cancel. They find lateness and no-shows rude and they might black list your name with no re-entry to that specific place.
*Taxis are extremely expensive so try to avoid them, specially after 8pm
*Slurping while eating ramen or noodles is encouraged, it means you like the food ;)
* Lightly dip the fish part of the Sushi into the soy sauce instead of the rice... America has it all wrong!
*Keep the talking to a minimal while ridding the train.
*During rush hour some train carts become female only and male only. Be aware of this.
*There's no paper towel to try your hands in the bathrooms so brings some with you. I will say this, there are bathrooms everywhere and the trains are always on time :)
*You'll need an electric adapter if coming from the USA
*Get a travel guide, they're full good info. We used "Fodor's Travel Japan"
*Exchange rates can be expensive, even at your local bank so when traveling I always find an ATM outside a bank in the country I'm traveling to will give me the best rate as I only pay a standard fee not mattering the amount I take out. Try to take out enough money so you can limit your time at the ATM to once a week.
*Always carry Yen, Japan operates mainly on cash not CC
*Pharmacies are little tough to find as their store front is not as descriptive as the ones in the states so google maps will come in handy here. The name of a popular local pain killer there is "EVE" so if you goggle it and show the pharmacist a photo they'll be able to help you out in case they don'y speak English. **Note: This pill works great for pain relieve but it contains caffeine so beware if taking at night before going to bed.
*7elevens are awesome in Japan!! For a quick meal or snack its the best place to go! plus they have amazing to go Sake bottles under $8
7. Learn the basic-- I don't expect you to learn Japanese before your next trip, here are 7 words / phrases to aid your survival:
YES = ha-i
Thank You = a-ri-ga-to
Sorry = go-men-na-sai
Train Station = e-ki
Hot Spring / Spa = On-sen
Cherry Blossom = Sakura
8. Get a Suica card --While the JR pass has you covered for long distance and some local travel the Suica card will cover the rest. Its a re-loadable card that can be used through most of Japan for travel and at the 7elevens to pay for regular stuff. This card you can get while in Japan.
That's it! I think we're ready now, let pack up our bags and go! Heading to Japan? read my next post "Japan in 2 weeks" for a full itinerary on exploring this island.... till next time!