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These top tips before visiting Japan are good to keep in mind, especially weeks in advance as you start planning. There are some places that speak to you and Japan is no exception. It’s a country I’ve fallen in love with multiple times, and when I think about where I want to revisit, it’s always Japan. Top Tips Before Visiting Japan

Naturally, the next question is why? It’s hard to capture the culture of Japan in a single sentence. The combination of design, a strong sense of preserving the arts, and the kindness of the people are really what I find I’m most attracted to. The level of passion and care poured into each daily task, making the ordinary the extraordinary, is really hard to find at home. You’ll find an elderly man who has spent his entire life dedicated to perfecting soba noodles — and it’s honored by his community. It’s special, hard to replicate, and makes Japan what it is today.

So if you’re planning a trip, here are my top tips before visiting Japan.

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Top Tips Before Visiting Japan


Logistics

You’ll find the planning process a bit strenuous then say putting a trip together for Europe. A lot of the “gems” in cities like small ryokans and restaurants are either not online or don’t speak English well, so be patient in putting together the components. I would take your time in the planning process — this is not the kind of destination I would recommend booking a week before unless you’re going to just Tokyo or bigger cities. You’ll find many restaurants and hotels booked months in advance and even with us planning our trip almost 7 months in advance, many of our first choices were sold out.

Trains and Transportation

All life in Japan centers around its incredibly articulated train system. What does this mean for you? A sure and easy way to get around but also expensive. Pending your trip, you’ll want to pre-purchase a rail pass before arrival, I bought mine here. You can do the math beforehand and see if it adds up, in most cases it always does. The benefit of having the pass which needs to be purchased before arrival and sent to your house, so keep this in mind, is that you get to reserve seats on trains that have reservations. Use Hyperdia to plan out your schedule and print out the trains you want beforehand to help the process.

If you’re interested in all forms of transportation and what to know before, I wrote a really extensive post on breaking down transportation in Japan.

Don’t forget to book your Japan Rail pass before you arrive!

Money

For as modern as Japan is, money is one category they are really behind in. It’s still primarily a cash-only destination with only the larger hotels and restaurants excepting credit cards. Be prepared to exchange or withdraw quite a bit when in the country. (don’t forget to call your banks!)

Reservations and Dining

So how do you get into those top restaurants? Have someone locally do it for you. This was the best thing about the trip — both our Airbnb hosts to hotel concierge would call in advance to help set up reservations.

When it comes to dining in Japan, I have a full guide to the different kinds of cuisine. Be sure to read this post to see everything there is to try! There’s also a small section on chopstick etiquette which is well worth a read.

Hotels and Accommodations

There’s a wide variety of accommodations in Japan and we tried a little of each. We stayed in Airbnbs, bigger hotels, small ryokans on a mat, and an onsen spa. It’s great to try everything but definitely understand what it is you are signing up for. The traditional Japanese ryokans don’t have beds normally, usually small mats with a big fluffy cover. So things like that are good to know before committing. I used Japanese Guest House to book the ryokans for our trip.

Language

You’ll find a spectrum of English in Japan. I would lean in and say it’s more common in the big cities to find someone who speaks English but in the countryside, you’ll be hard-pressed. It’s good to know a few words. I studied Japanese with Rosetta Stone before my trip and really happy I did. It was an amazing way to connect with the local people.

Beating the Crowds

You’ll find the major sights to be very crowded and can often feel disappointing, especially when you see those empty Instagram shots. How to beat the crowds? Get there super early, at sunrise, or come back for sunset. At around sunset (unless it’s a view spot), they seemed to be much quieter than say early afternoon.

Internet

You’ll find sim cards to be challenging to use in Japan, so I would recommend getting a pocket wi-fi while there. Most telecom counters in the airport offer these by the week and you can easily rent and drop off before flying out.

Print out all addresses and information ahead of time.

If you hop in a taxi or need to ask a stranger for help, it’s good to have these printed so they can read it. It’s a lifesaver to have all of the important information printed.

7-Elevens

They’ll be your best friend and pretty much the only thing open before 9 am in the city. It’s a good spot to get necessities like cash, phone chargers, tickets, and more.

And finally, always carry hand sanitizer and a plastic bag.

You’ll find there’s rarely a trash can around and yet the city is very clean. It’s because everyone holds on to their own trash — amazing! Hand disinfectant is also good to have as many public bathrooms will not have soap.


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PS — Are You Booking a Trip Soon? Use My Booking Checklist!

These are the sites I use most to book my own trips. Using the links below is a great way to support Bon Traveler’s travel journalism at no extra cost to you. If you need help organizing your itinerary, get my free travel itinerary template here.

1. Book Your Flights

Use Skyscanner to find the best flights. It searches 100s of airlines and websites across the globe to ensure you’re not missing out on any route options or deals.

2. Book Your Accommodations

Use Booking.com for hotels and guest houses. They have the biggest inventory and consistently offer the best rates.

3. Book Your Tours & Experiences

Use Viator or Get Your Guide to find the best tours and experiences. They are my favorite tour search engines. I always check both as their inventory varies depending on the destination.

4. Book Your Car

Use Discover Cars or Rentalcars.com to find the best car rental deals. I recommend comparing rental agency reviews on Google to ensure you are booking with the best company in that destination, as the reviews are often more accurate than the car rental search engines.

5. Don’t Forget Airport Lounge Access

Get a Priority Pass membership to gain access to 1,400+ VIP lounges and airport experiences worldwide. The Priority Pass app is the first thing I check when I have a layover. I’ve been a member for over a decade, and having a comfortable place to relax before and between flights makes air travel so much more enjoyable.

6. Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

I never leave the country without travel insurance. It provides comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong (ie. illness, injury, theft, and cancelations, etc.). I use it frequently for my travels to stay protected.

My favorite companies that offer the best coverage and rates are:


Xx,
Jessica

2 Comments

  1. Mifune Toshiro Reply

    Also when in Japan don’t eat in the streets, try to dress a bit smartly and don’t talk loudly…

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