After several visits to Japan, I still have only seen a fraction of this beautiful country, but as I am being asked again and again about my tips and experiences. So, I decided to start a series of blog posts with some travel tips. Let me start with these five things to consider before you travel to Japan.
1. Plan & Book in Advance
Japan is not a very spontaneous place, and it makes sense to have everything planned out before you go. When we went to Japan for the first time, we only knew of a few places we wanted to visit and things we wanted to do.
So, for planning our round trip through Japan, I felt it was best to get a physical map. This helped us get an overview of the whole country and we were able to connect the places we wanted to visit into a round trip.
If you are still not sure about where to go, japan-guide.com is a great resource to plan a trip to Japan. You enter the airport of your arrival and the duration of your stay, and the website will provide you with an itinerary for the whole trip. It’s a perfect starting point!
Also, make sure to book most of your accommodations in advance. Especially, places that are nice and unique can be fully booked pretty quickly. Also, the Japanese are not used to visitors who just walk-in. We booked many of our hotels and even a beautiful temple we stayed through Booking.com. Another great website is Japanese Guesthouses – especially if you are planning to visit smaller guest houses or Ryokans.
Also, if you know of a restaurant you want to go to, check if you can already book a table!
2. Be Willing to Prioritise
Check your travel times and be willing to prioritize. It’s quite reasonable that you’ll want to see as many places as possible during your trip. For our first trip there were a few places that I desperately wanted to visit, but when we arrived in Japan, we realized that travel times to somewhat remote sites can mess with your initial plan.
Learning from our own experience, I suggest you focus and don’t plan on visiting more than 4 – 5 places within two weeks. Also, check the approximate travel times between these places using HyperDia.
The more you plan these things the more relaxed you can travel around the country – you are on vacation after all!
3. Get a Japan Rail Pass to Travel Japan
It’s probably no news to you, but you can travel around Japan by rail quite easily. The infamous Shinkansen takes you all the 460 kilometers from Tokyo to Kyoto within just 2 hours. They are always on time and super convenient. You can not purchase the Rail Pass in Japan, however. But, you will have to order it well in advance before your trip.
Once you arrive in Japan, you can exchange it for your ticket at the first station from which you want to travel. The Rail Pass includes rides and reservations on most Shinkansen Trains. You can reserve seats on certain trains at the station. Find more information on the Japan Rail Pass over here.
4. Pack Light
Take as little luggage as possible and do leave some space for souvenirs in your bag. You will not need much traveling through Japan, and it’s helpful not to have to haul a big suitcase or backpack on the Shinkansen. Also, as hotel rooms tend to be rather small, the smaller your luggage, the more space you have left in your accommodation.
Should you run out of clean clothes, most hotels and hostels offer washers and dryers that you can use for a small fee.
Check the weather for the places you plan to visit. The climate in Tokyo might be a little different from the one in Kyoto, so pack accordingly. Japanese people are pretty well dressed, so you might not want to ride the Shinkansen wearing a tracksuit. And, you do have to wear something modest when you visit a shrine or temple.
5. Familiarise Yourself with Japanese Etiquette
Japan is the land of good manners and politeness. In order to avoid the biggest faux-pas, learn about Japanese etiquette before you travel to Japan. The Lonely Planet has collected the essential Do’s and Don’ts on their website.
Additionally, it is helpful to learn a few Japanese phrases beforehand. The most important is “Arigatou
If you want to learn more, this downloadable phrasebook by Boutique Japan will give you a head start.