Top Japan Travel Tips

Japan Travel Tips

Photo by Stuck in Customs on Flickr

I imagine most of you are here because you have an interest in travelling to Japan. Admittedly, it’s the very reason we started this Japan travel website in the first place.

Travelling to Japan can be an exciting as well as intimidating experience. There are few places where you’ll feel more like a foreigner than when visiting Japan. So here are some of our top Japan travel tips that will make your visit a smashing success!

1. Cash is King

Japan travel tips

Photo by 7D-Kenny on Flickr

Forget about the travelers checks and you can probably leave your credit card in your wallet; in Japan – cash is king.

This means having an adequate amount of cash with you when you travel in Japan. And since Japan is a extremely safe place (see our article on safety tips for travelling in Japan), carrying a lot of cash will seldom be a problem.

We recommend using your debit card at one of the postal offices or any of the abundant 7-11 stores. It seems like there is 7-11 store on every corner, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding one. Be sure to take out enough cash to last you a few days. I’ve found taking out around $500 worth of yen will get you enough spending cash without having to constantly pay banking transaction fees.

Remember, carrying $500 around way seem risky in North American or Europe, but this is Japan – you’ll be fine.

2. Learn the language

Japan travel tips

Photo by colodio on Flickr

We’re not saying that you have to be fluent, but we really recommend either buying a Japanese phrase book (Lonely Planet and Berlitz are my favorites) or learning some basic Japanese phrases. You’ll likely find yourself needing to use Japanese a least a few times when you’re traveling.

Check out our basic Japanese language lessons on how to say things like – sorry, goodbye, how to ask for directions, how to ask how much something costs and how to say thank you.

Trust us, it will make your travel experience much more interesting.

3. Don’t be afraid to try new things

Japanese Izakaya

Photo by JanneM on Flickr

Take a day and leave the guide book in the hotel room. Part of experiencing Japan is trying new and different things.

The first time we visited Japan we were nervous about entering Japanese businesses and restaurants. But then we realized how many great places we were missing out on by just sticking to the safe guidebook recommendations.

Get out there and get brave. Who cares if you make a bit of a fool of yourself. I’ve entered restaurants that were not open for business, places without a scrap of English anywhere and held long conversations with old ladies at the pharmacy (I don’t think any of us really knew what each other was saying) – they were all great experiences that I would have missed if I only stayed in my safety zone.

4. Know where you’re going

Japan map

Photo by sinkdd on Flickr

Face it, you’re going to get lost in Japan. But unless you love the feeling of not having a clue where you are, getting constantly lost is rarely fun.

We highly recommend researching where you want to go and how you want to get there before you head out the door. Take some time to get familiar with the subway or trains you’re going to take, the exit closest to your destination and the direction you want to head in. Doing this will cut down on the need to ask directions or wander the streets of Japan aimlessly.

Japanese maps are notoriously hard to figure out. While some maps will have the world standard design of North pointing up, the next map you encounter may decide that West pointing up is much more fun. I’ve often used Google Street View to map out a location and fix certain landmarks or buildings in my mind so when I hit the streets I have a better idea of what I’m looking for and which direction I want to go in.

5. The JR Pass

JR Pass Japan Travel Tips

Photo by fletcherjcm on Flickr

Almost every travel guide will tell you to get the JR Pass for Japan (it allows unlimited travel on JR trains during a set period). And while we don’t want to outright disagree, sometimes you’re better off without the pass.

If you’re planning on doing a lot of travel in Japan, then by all means pay for the pass. But if you’re staying within a certain area, then a pass may not be worth the money.

For example, when we first went to Japan, other than a trip up north to Takayama, we stayed pretty much in the Kansai area. We were able to visit Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe and Hemiji using local trains at a rate much cheaper than if we paid for the JR Pass. We tested this out on our last trip by purchasing a local rapid train ticket from Kyoto to Osaka and a shinkansen (bullet train) ticket using a JR Pass. The local train cost us around $6.00 while the shinkansen would have cost us around $30. We ended up actually getting to our destination quicker with the the cheaper local ticket.

So think twice about the JR Pass. Train service in areas that are close together are relatively inexpensive.

What are your Japan Travel Tips?

I’ve sure you’re brimming with travel tips, why not share them with us in your comments?

4 Responses to “Top Japan Travel Tips”

  1. I'm with you  on August 3rd, 2011

    Thanks for your site – only found it today.

    Another thing I have found invaluable in Japan is to carry a compass. Sometimes you want to leave from the east exit of a station, but it can be difficult to tell which way is east, especially on overcast days in in covered stations.

  2. Travis  on August 4th, 2011

    That’s a great idea! Sometimes they have direction indicators on the ground when you exit the subway, but I found they we’re not at every subway. A compass would help a lot.

  3. sasksak  on December 28th, 2011

    yeah I’m with you, that is a really good idea!

  4. Jilo_13  on February 25th, 2015

    useful tips!

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