You want to plan a trip to Japan; we want to help. Since we believe that locals know best, we asked our Japan travel experts to weigh in. They helped to create this guide which covers how to plan your trip, traveling within Japan, and what to do once you're there.
Follow these six easy tips for planning out your Japan trip:
If you’re reading this on mobile, you may already be wondering: will my phone work in Japan? Having a phone in Japan is great—not only for sharing your trip on Instagram and Facebook, but also in case you need to pull up a translation app.
Check with your carrier to find out if your phone will work—most carriers offer international plans! If you don’t have one already, you can buy one; or, if your phone is unlocked, locals tell us that you can also buy a SIM card once you arrive in Japan.
Benefit from local advice: Our trip planners tell us that, despite Japan's reputation as a futuristic country, public wifi can be spotty. One way to stay connected is by renting a wireless router for your trip.
You can buy SIM cards from vending machines at train stations and airports.
This may be the toughest part of planning a trip. What’s the best place to stay in Japan? Honestly, it depends on what you want out of your trip. If your heart beats to the sound of the city, locals suggest finding a cool neighborhood in Tokyo. Maybe you love skiing and good beer—then our locals say to think about Sapporo (and even if you only like beer, go to Sapporo to drink and soak in the Japanese hot springs). Are you a huge foodie? Locals recommend Osaka—literally nicknamed “Japan’s kitchen.”
If you’re hoping to visit all the places in Japan (and you should!), Japanese locals say you should definitely invest in a Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass). At first glance it looks expensive: for 7 days the price is $269; for 14 days it’s $428, and for 21 days it’s $548. All in all, it’s not so bad: if you’re taking the train once a day, that comes to $25–$40/day (depending on which pass you choose).
And if you’re looking to see the whole country, it’s a smart investment. Until recently you could only buy JR Passes outside the country (because the pass was special for travelers). Although this rule has recently changed and Japan is now selling passes inside the country, we’d still recommend buying your pass in advance.
Japanese locals say to remember two things when packing for your trip to Japan: it rains often, and Japan has four distinct seasons. Be sure to check the weather for the season you visit and pack layers. Things can get cold when the sun goes down.
Most people don ‘t need a visa for Japan—as long as you’re staying for under 90 days. Easy!
Although many people in big cities like Tokyo will speak English, this is far from universally true. Locals tell us that knowing a few words in Japanese like “hello” and “thank you” really go a long way. You don’t need to be fluent, but civility and respect are universally appreciated (and important in Japanese culture). So here’s a quick lesson:
*Although slurping food is a perfectly acceptable way of showing satisfaction with your meal in Japan, you are definitely going to want to know this word.
If you have a ViaHero local build your trip, they can translate important info (like addresses) before you go—and give suggestions on good words/phrases to know.
Once you're in Japan, follow these locally sourced tips to navigate the country!
You may want to sit down before we answer your inevitable question about Uber in Japan. Ok, yes, Uber exists in Japan, but people hardly use it and it’s über expensive. But don’t worry: locals tell us you’ll have plenty of other transportation options.
So here’s the bad news: not all ATMs in Japan accept foreign cards.
Here’s the good news: Japan has more than 20,000 7-Eleven stores, and 7-Bank ATMs normally do accept foreign cards. ATMs at post offices are also good places to withdraw cash. Just remember to tell your bank about your trip so you don’t end up yen-less.
Despite Japan’s reputation as a technophile’s paradise, locals tell us that not all stores and restaurants take cards. So carry around enough cash for shopping, transport, and meals.
If you’re a AAA member, it’s possible to put in an order for Japanese yen bills before you leave on your trip. Put the order in a few weeks before you leave.
The food in Japanese 7/11s is really good! And you can find some treats here that are unique to Japan.
If you really want to immerse yourself in the local culture, consider accommodations in Japan that you can only find in Japan.
Of course, Japan also has more traditional accommodations: hotels, hostels, and some excellent Airbnbs.
For traditional Japanese accommodation like ryokans and minshuku, keep in mind that you’ll have to remove your shoes. So make sure you don’t have any holes in your socks!
Price is one of the main barriers to Japanese travel, but not everything in Japan has a hefty price tag. There are plenty of budget options in Japan. For example, nomihodai means “all you can drink.” You’re welcome.
Save money with local advice. Locals suggest you keep an eye out for discounted meals in the evening. It’s important in Japan that food is fresh, so to get rid of uneaten meals at the end of the day, grocery stores discount prepacked dishes in the evening (usually between 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM).
Locals in Japan suggest adding these classic activities to your Japan itinerary:
Talk to someone who actually lives in Japan for advice on things to see while you're visiting their country. Locals are way more helpful than a dust-covered guidebook someone brought home in 1993—or even an article you found on Google from six months ago. Especially now!
Follow these tips from our local trip planners to make the most out of your Japan adventure:
Don’t get us wrong—Tokyo is great. Japan’s capital city has so many incredible neighborhoods and awesome activities. But Japan isn’t just Tokyo. Locals recommend taking advantage of easy day trips from Tokyo, or planning longer voyages to visit other cities in Japan like Kyoto and Osaka. Japan is very safe, and you can feel secure traveling around the country.
Locals suggest using these tips to avoid making any embarrassing cultural faux pas while in Japan:
Japan is an earthquake-prone country. However, Japanese engineering is well-equipped for the small but frequent quakes that rock Japan. You probably won’t even notice they’re happening—in fact, The New York Times recently wrote about how Japanese architecture is more prepared for quakes than most American buildings (gulp).
That being said, it doesn’t hurt to read up on Japanese earthquake safety before traveling to Japan.
For more about Japan travel, check out our articles on: