ViaHero · October 21, 2018
A trip to Japan is an experience unlike any other! However, because of that, there are a few things all travelers should know before arriving in this wonderful country. Read on for some top tips for traveling to Japan. Once you give the article a read feel free to message us directly for information on all things Japan.
Book your JR Pass in advance
The JR Pass, or "Japanese Rail Pass," is a discounted train pass for tourists in Japan. For travelers using the train a lot, this pass can save you a ton of money. However, the JR pass must be purchased from outside of Japan, so be sure to order it before you get on your plane.
Download the public transit app "Hyperdia"
Hyperdia is a metro, train, and airplane timetable/route search app for Japan. Most people in the country swear by it. After the first month, the app costs money to use, but this shouldn't be a problem for most travelers.
Fly into Haneda Airport in Tokyo, not Narita Airport
Haneda Airport is actually located in Tokyo's city limits, so the ride to the city center is short and cheap. Narita is not. However, most flights going into Haneda are very expensive. Be sure to compare prices for both airports (plus the expense of traveling to your lodging) before booking.
Study the metro map before you arrive
Japanese metro systems are very thorough, but can be very confusing to outsiders. Don’t let the first time you see a Tokyo or Osaka metro map be when you are in the station, rushing to get somewhere. Spend some time on the plane looking at the routes, trains, and popular stops. Always know the nearest metro stop to your accommodation.
Carry a map written in English and Japanese
This is simple. If you ask someone for help on an English map, they may not be able to read it. If you carry around a Japanese map, you won’t be able to read it. Carry a hybrid Japanese and English map so you can ask for directions.
Travel by Overnight Bus
Trains are expensive, but the overnight bus can save you money on lodging and travel. These buses are usually much more comfortable than you would imagine.
Take off your shoes and wear nice socks
If other people are removing their shoes, follow suit. Do not wear shoes into someone's home, and never walk on a Tatami mat with shoes on. Because you will be removing your shoes a lot, wear nice socks (no holes).
Don't be loud, or yell in public spaces.
Never blow your nose in public
If someone bows to you, bow back.
Use two hands when giving and receiving cards and gifts
Gift giving is very customary in Japan. Always give and receive gifts with both hands.
Bring small gifts
It is a nice gesture to give someone a gift if they give you one, or if they are hosting you in their home. Bring some small tokens from home so you have something if needed.
Slurp as much as you want
Slurping soup and noodles is a sign of respect.
Don’t expect your credit cards to work
Foreign credit cards are notoriously unwelcome in Japan. Do not go out for a big meal with only a credit card to pay. Some places you would expect to take card (ie: fast food shops) might not.
Carry enough cash and note where the closest ATMs are
Because of the aforementioned tip, always carry around enough cash to pay for your meals and transit. Also, because ATMs that accept foreign cards can be hard to find, mark on a map (or on your phone) when you find an ATM that accepts your card. You may be grateful later.
You may have to pay to sit down
In some bars there is a cost to sit down at a table. Ask the waitress before claiming a table, or you may have a larger bill than expected.
Tipping is not customary, and you may even offend some people if you try.
Don’t underestimate 7-11s
7/11s in Japan are not your average convenience store. These tiny shops somehow manage to pack in everything you need, including delicious food. Stop in for a fruit cup, sushi, or grilled cheese sandwich if you are feeling peckish, but don’t want to spend a lot of money.
Don't travel during peak season
This is the easiest way to save money on lodging and tours - avoid the spring and fall. These are the busiest tourist seasons in Japan, and prices on everything (and we mean everything) go up.
Checkout our complete budget guide for the best tips on saving money in Japan.
General Japan Travel Tips
Have your food allergies written down in Japanese for restaurants
If you have a food allergy, don’t expect someone else to be able to understand you. Write down your allergies in Japanese. Have the first person you meet who speaks English check it for you.
Download the Google Translate app
There will be a moment when you need this. Trust us.
Be careful when you drive, or just use public transit
Always be wary when driving in a foreign country - especially Japan. You will not be able to understand road signs, and the orientation may differ from your home country.
Write your address and closest metro stop on a piece of paper in Japanese
If you get lost, you can show it to a stranger. Also write, “Where is the nearest metro?” in Japanese. Always have this on you.
Some places are locals only
Some establishments (like bars, restaurants, and tea houses) are for locals only. Try to avoid these spots, and don’t be offended if you’re rejected from entering.
There aren't many trash cans
There are just not a lot of public trash cans in Japan. Carry around a small plastic bag to collect your trash in during the day because littering is not allowed at all.
Getting lost can be fun
The famous temples and palaces are famous for a reason, but some of the best times you will have in Japan will be sneaking down a random alley, and finding an undisturbed pocket of Japanese life (with no tourists around). Get lost when in Japan. Ask a local travel planner if they have a favorite neighborhood to wander.
Get a sim card to save money on international data
Here is a good rule for traveling to Japan - if you think you can just find wifi anywhere, you can’t. Most people in Japan carry around their own wifi dongle, so public wifi is very hard to find. It is a good idea to get a sim card for your phone so you can communicate and navigate.
Locals don't rush, so you shouldn't either
There is so much to see, it is easy to pack your days with sights, after monuments, after temples, after palaces. Don’t do this. Just accept you won’t see it all, and take your time at the places you do visit. There is always the next trip! Our locals will plan a trip that packs in all the good sights, but still gives you time to relax and explore.
Carry a small suitcase, or it'll cost you
Transit in Japan does not have a lot of room for luggage, so do not bring big bags. If you are taking the train, it is important to use carry on sized luggage, or you may be charged additional fees.
Cover up tattoos
Tattoos are a no-go in Japan. Try to cover them up as much as possible, and absolutely do not enter an onsen with one visible.
Be mindful of earthquakes
Earthquakes happen frequently in Japan. The buildings are built to withstand them, and you probably won’t even notice it is happening. However, it is important to know about earthquake safety before arriving in the country.
Ready to plan your trip to Japan? Let ViaHero help! Before your trip, make sure to check out: