10 tips to travel to Japan

I usually receive lots of emails from people who is going to travel to Japan asking me tons of different stuff, so here you have a few basic tips:

  • 1.-Do not worry
    Yes, Japan is very weird, very different, but the Japanese aren’t going to eat you raw as if you were sushi! Japan is one of the safest countries in the world, it has an impressive transport network that makes tourism easy, the whole country is full of signs (sometimes only in Japanese) and there is 127 million Japanese willing to help you in case you have any problem. With this, I mean you won’t get lost and you won’t miss anything in Japan. Above all, Japan is a “useful” country (Are you climbing up Mount Fuji and you feel like having a coffee? There you have a vending machine!). Summing up this first tip, even if it sounds a little bit silly: the only thing you should worry about when you come to Japan is the Japanese language.
  • 2.-Buy a Japan Rail Pass
    The best thing to do when travelling is using the trains from the JR network (Japan Railways). The cheapest option is to buy a Japan Rail Pass that will allow you to travel on a “flat rate” basis using any train from JR all around the country. You can ONLY buy this pass outside Japan, so ask your travel agent of choice for information. You can find infomation in this website. The typical question is whether it’s worth the price to buy the JR Pass. The answer is YES. It is really worth it, so do not hesitate to buy it. It’d be a huge mistake to come to Japan as a tourist without a JR Pass.
  • 3.-Plugs
    Electricity in Japan runs at 110V and 50Hz, and plugs have a different shape. I recommend you read the small print on the transformer of the device you want to bring. If it says, for example, INPUT: 100V-240V (from 100V to 240V), there’s a good chance you won’t have problems when using it in Japan. If it only says INPUT: 2**V, you may only use that device in other countries. In that case, you’d have to buy a transformer that’d probable cost you between 20 and 50 Euro depending on amperage, blah, blah, blah… I recommend you only bring devices with the INPUT: 100V-2**V thing. Nowadays, most laptops have those universal transformers, but mobile phones, for example, don’t. As far as the plug is concerned, I recommend you to go to the first electronics shop you find when you arrive here and buy an adapter, which will cost somewhere between 200 and 500 yen depending on the place.
  • 4.-Mobile phone and Internet
    Most European/American phone companies offer roaming with Japanese companies. Before coming to Japan check if your company offers it! You may also rent a mobile phone at Narita Airport when you arrive. Ask at the information desk and they’ll nicely help you find the renting place, etc. You may also rent PHS cards for your laptop which will allow you to surf the Internet anywhere in the country. They say you can even get a connection with a PHS card on top of Mount Fuji.
  • 5.-Japanese language and manners
    Learn how to say a few things in Japanese, like ARIGATOU (Thank you), SUMIMASEN (Excuse me), etc., and the Japanese people will surely appreciate it. Also try to bow as a sign of gratitude when someone helps you during your trip.
  • 6.-Electronic devices shopping in Japan
    There is this myth that says that all electronic devices in Japan are supercheap, the cheapest… and maybe that was true in the 90’s when we still were “globalizing”. Nowadays prices are very similar to any place in Europe/North America, and even some things are more expensive here. For example, laptops are usually cheaper in Spain than in Japan. The only thing I recommend to buy in Japan is digital cameras because, due to the huge competition among Japanese companies in the local market, sometimes they can be between 50 and 100 Euro (depending on the model) cheaper than in Europe/North America.
  • 7.-Accommodation
    You may stay at a traditional Japanese hotel or Ryokan for a few days, or at a regular hotel, or at a youth hostel, etc. Choose where you want to stay and send an email in very simple English to make your reservation. As for the prices, finding a place to stay for less than 10,000 yen in Tokyo is cheap, and outside Tokyo, less than 7,000 yen a night is cheap.
  • 8.-Route
    The basic route would be: Tokyo, Nikko, Kamakura, Yokohama, Kyoto and Nara. You could extend that to Okinawa, Hiroshima, Hokkaido, Osaka, Izu, Nagano, and any other place far from the big cities that you can think of.
  • 9.-DVDs
    If you com from Europe, there is no problem, Japan uses the same zone as Europe. If you don’t know Japanese, make sure it has subtitles in English before buying it.
  • 10.-Misc.
    The weather in Japan changes very quickly. You wear a t-shirt one day and you may need a jacket the next. In summer, the heat is very humid, but they set the AC system to freeze indoors. It normally rains a lot, but don’t worry because this is the country with more umbrellas per square inch in the world. It is easy to find one laying around on the street, so don’t bother wasting space in you bag.

If you are travelling to Japan soon you can find more detailed information in this other post:

7 replies on “10 tips to travel to Japan”

Re #2:
Japan Railpass will NOT be useful if you are in Japan for a short time (say, a week) or don’t travel outside Tokyo. If you plan on making one or more Shinkansen rides, it’s always worth it.

Re #3:
Even with a universal adapter you are still going to need a plug converter because the prongs on outlets in JAP are different from EU / UK / USA.

Re #4:
Most EU / UK / USA cell phones will NOT work in JAP, despite any roaming agreements your provider might have. The only phones that will work are 3G / UMTS equiped phones. GSM, CDMA etc will NOT work.

Re #7:
Staying for two weeks or more? We recommend that you try and find a “weekly mansion”. Staying for a few nights? Look into business hotels, like Toyoko Inn. They’re cheap, yet offer good value for money.

I would also say it is a cash heavy society. Bring cash to exchange at Narita, and you can probably also get cash from ATMs at 7-11 or Citibank.

Don’t rely on using credit cards. Maybe if you are buying something relatively expensive, or at a nice restaurant. But don’t go into a convenience store and expect to pick up a snack and use a credit card like in the US.

It is not unheard of to have about 3man (approx $330 USD) in your wallet at any given time. The country is very safe so there is little fear of being robbed. You’re more likely to lose your wallet then you are being pickpocketed or mugged. So keep some cash on you and if you are worried about losing it, keep it somewhere safe where it wont fall out of your pocket or something.

The JR-thing is something i’ve never understood.
When staying only inside tokyo, it’s easier to buy the cheapest ticket at the metro and adjust the fare after the ride at the designated machines.

At least, that’s what me and my girlfriend found more conveniënt last december, on our trip.

When traveling outside Tokyo, that’s a different story. Our trip was only a ten-day city trip. Booked some tours to kamakura, Niko, a city tour and the gibli museum Tour. It was fantastic!!

JR pas is invaluable if you are travelling throughout Japan.

I travelled for three weeks from Tokyo to Kamakura, then through Kyoto to Shikoku across to Matsuyama, then down to Nagasaki, up to Fukuoka, back to Kyoto, and Finally back to Tokyo.

The return trip from Tokyo to kyoto is approximately the same cost as the 14 day JR pass.

It can also be used on the Yamanote Line while in Tokyo.

All in all it is probably the valuable and cost effective purchase for a tourist in Japan.

I was in Japan in December. Regarding #2 I agree with another comment the Japan Railpass will NOT be useful if you don’t travel far from Tokyo. I used a prepaid Passmo card and spent less than I would have on a Railpass. I traveled within and outside of Tokyo without a problem. Worked on both the public and private lines.

As for money as of 14 December 2009 (10 days before I arrived) ATMs at 7/11 stopped accepting MasterCard, Maestro or Cirrus cards. I used and ATM at a post office without a problem.

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