If you’re visiting me in Japan before I leave, here are things I think you should know about traveling in Japan & Japanese culture. Based on having friends stay with me last year, I think these were the biggest things that came up.
Inspired by my friend Victoria’s blog post with great packing and travel advice HERE. And also by the fact that I’m at school during spring break, and I need a break from all the spring cleaning. If you have additional advice or tips, let me know what I forgot. Hope this helps!
JAPAN TRAVEL TIPS
1. Look into buying a Japan Rail Pass if you plan to travel between cities. If you want to take the bullet train anywhere, it’ll probably be worth it. You have to reserve this well in advance.
2. Rent pocket wifi from the airport when you arrive for around $10-12 per day and maybe some amount for the device. You’ll need to show your passport. You can also reserve it in advance.
- Free wifi is extremely rare and difficult to find. Narita airport does have free wifi!
3. Bring a TON of cash. Don’t rely on credit/debit cards. Japan is a ALL CASH ALL THE TIME society. ATMs are pretty difficult to find.
- Exchange most of your money at the airport (or else be prepared to do a lot of searching). I have no idea where else to exchange your money.
- EDIT: A friend says, “In the past I’ve exchanged money at designated exchange places/big banks in Tokyo so it is possible outside of the airport! I think it was somewhere a lot of tourists go, like Akiba or Shinjuku. There are definitely resources for finding currency exchanges online somewhere!”
4. Get a Suica or Pasmo card (prepaid train fare card) when you arrive. Saves you the trouble of buying tickets every time. You can get the ¥500 ($5) deposit back if you return it to certain stations. You can use the card for train, subway, buses, and many vending machines.
- Best apps for public transportation: Google Maps & Hyperdia (English), Norikae Annai (if you can read kanji). I personally use a combo of Google Maps and Norikae Annai on a daily basis. When using the bullet train to travel between cities, I use Hyperdia.
5. Book a hostel with hostelworld.com or booking.com. I usually stay in a hostel when I travel and find them to be clean, have English-speaking staff, and provide basic toiletries (shampoo, hair dryer, etc. BUT NO TOWELS).
- You can look for a “guesthouse” if you want to try Japanese-style accommodations (tatami room, futon bedding, etc.) I stayed in a really cool Japanese guesthouse in Nara with a great international atmosphere.
JAPANESE CULTURE TIPS
On the train
- No phone calls (phones are supposed to be on silent “manner mode”).
- Talk quietly. Japanese trains can be some of the quietest places — think library. So try not to take up a lot of space or be obnoxious.
- You’re also not supposed to eat in public on the train, while walking, etc. but I break this rule constantly because I’m a slave to my stomach.
- The wet napkin thing is supposed to be used before the meal to clean your hands.
- To call the waiter, you can yell “sumimasen.” Some places might have a call button on the table.
- You pay at the cash register when you’re ready to leave. Just bring the bill up. You can usually pay separately by saying “betsu betsu” (べつべつでお願いします betsu betsu de onegaishimasu).
- Japanese people are mystified by the whole drinking plain hot water thing. But you can get it for free if you ask!
Out and about
- When in doubt, do the guy nod (which passes for a casual bow), or say “sumimasen” (excuse me/sorry/thank you).
- Be prepared to carry your trash around. Usually the only public trash cans are at train stations. Try not to dump food things in random trash cans in bathrooms unless you’re desperate.
- Trash at stations is usually separated into PET bottles, cans, newspaper, combustible/other (most trash),
- People are generally extremely nice so if you get lost/need help, train staff & police people are great, but don’t expect a lot of English speaking ability. Practice your pantomiming and/or learn some basic Japanese words to get by in Japan.
At any Japanese-style accommodations (e.g. my apartment)
- You take a shower OUTSIDE of the bathtub.
- You might have to press a button on the wall for there to be hot water.
- Get used to futon sleeping if you’re staying at a Japanese-style place. A Japanese futon means a mattress pad-like thing on the ground. Think somewhere between a sleeping bag & an air mattress amount of comfort.
- Be very careful not to spill anything on tatami (straw/grass) floors. It’s very high maintenance and can grow mold, tiny bugs, etc.