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Things I wish I knew before going to Japan

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Japan is an amazing travel destination. Whether you are travelling alone or with friends, you are guaranteed to have the best time in Japan! The country attracts over 24+ million tourists per year. And the rate is increasing!

It doesn’t matter if you are spending a few days or one month in Japan, you will always find something new and exciting to do in Japan.

But before you pack your suitcase, you must have a lot of questions about Japan. In this post, I am sharing with you all the things I wish I knew before my first trip to Japan.

Related Post – Japan one month itinerary: from Tokyo to Hiroshima

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Why you should visit Japan

Japan is one of the most interesting countries in Asia and in the world. I love everything about Japan and Japanese people especially when it comes to some of the Japanese customs that are so uniquely different from everywhere else in the world.

Plus, there is so much to do in Japan. You can enjoy the big city of Tokyo, the delicious cuisine in Osaka, temple-hop in Kyoto, learn about the atomic bomb in WWII in Hiroshima, and everything else in between.

In the warmer months, explore one of the numerous hiking trails including the Nakasendo Trail where you can hike from Kyoto to Tokyo. Experience cherry blossom in the spring is a must! And not to mention, the fall foliage is exceptionally beautiful during autumn. And if you are into winter sports, look no further and make your way to the snowy alps of Niseko, Aomori or Hakuba.

Tokyo, Japan

My best tips for travelling to Japan

If you are going to Japan for the first time, you might have a lot of questions about Japanese culture, how to get around, money, etc.

I’ve been to Japan 6 times and have spent over 7 months in the beautiful country. There is so much to learn as the culture is quite different from the rest of the world.

So I am sharing everything I know about Japan and all my best Japan travel tips. Hopefully, they will answer all of your important questions before your first trip abroad.

Get cash from ATMs at convenience stores

Japan’s official currency is the Japanese Yen (¥). Make sure you have cash with you as many places will require cash payment. Some places accept credit cards, but a lot of them don’t — especially some of the smaller restaurants that need a ticket purchased from the vending machine.

There are many automated teller machines (ATMs) across the country. I didn’t have a lot of luck with the local bank’s ATMs, but the ATMs in convenience stores like Family Mart, and 7-Eleven are all reliable.

Whenever you are in a bind and need cash, visit one of the convenience stores. There is always one nearby. Even if you are in small towns, most of the time there will be convenience stores but get some cash from the city if you can.

Solo travellers can travel on a budget in Japan

There is a misconception about the cost of travelling in Japan. It is not as expensive as you think. It costs less to visit Japan than in North America and some parts of Europe. However, you won’t get the same bargains you get from other countries in Southeast Asia.

But for what you are paying in Japan, you will always get high-quality accommodation, food and experiences.

The great thing about Japan is that you can travel exactly the way it fits your budget. There are many high-end options for accommodations and food. But there are also just as many budget options as well.

As a solo traveller, I tend to be on a budget-conscious side when it comes to spending money. In my posts, I always include budget accommodations and tips for travelling in Japan on a budget.

Solo travellers should practice regular safety precautions

Japan is one of the safest countries in the world. The crime rate is low. The risk of pickpocketing and mugging is low as well. It is rated the 9th safest place in the world base on the Global Peace Index.

I’ve been to Japan many times, and I haven’t had any issues with safety.

And Japanese people are very honest. A friend of mine dropped his wallet at a restaurant, and they chased after him to give his wallet back to him. I’ve never heard of that anywhere else in the world!

So if you are a solo female traveller, consider going to Japan because you will not have to worry about safety. Japan is one of the best countries to visit as a solo traveller.

My only travel safety tips for Japan is practice your regular safety precautions even if you are travelling in one of the safest countries. As a solo female traveller, always be aware of where you are, don’t walk around any sketchy places or areas, and don’t drink too much.

Related Post – How to stay safe as a solo female traveller

Pocket wifi is a reliable data service in Japan

Electricity: power socket & universal travel adapter

The standard voltage in Japan is 100V. The power socket is type A & B. It is the same as North and Central America plugs.

Check here to determine if you need to bring a travel adapter for all your electronics. 

If your home country is not the same as Japan, bring a universal travel adapter for your travel so you can make sure all your electronic equipment can be charged.

Staying connected: data & wifi

Staying connected is essential especially if you are a solo traveller or digital nomad. And it is especially useful for having a data connection in Japan as you can use data to translate phrases and navigate your way around a city.

There are a few ways to stay connected in Japan.

1. Rent pocket wifi when you arrive in Japan

Pocket wifi is a portable device that provides data services. There is an option for visitors to rent pocket wifi before you leave your home country.

Rent pocket wifi from Global Advanced Communications. They deliver anywhere in Japan (to your hotel, airport or 7-Eleven). They are reasonably priced and reliable. For the rental price, you get fast unlimited data, connect up to 10 devices and including coverage all over Japan. When you leave Japan, drop off in the prepaid envelope in any mailbox in Japan.

2. Stay at an accommodation with pocket wifi

Some hotels and Airbnb accommodations will come with a pocket wifi. Check the description of the hotel or Airbnb listing to find out if the accommodation includes pocket wifi.

3. Purchase a SIM card when you arrive in Japan

Get a Mobal SIM card when you arrive in Japan. The SIM card is excellent for short-term (less than three months) in Japan where you can get unlimited data.

It depends on what you need; you can get a voice, text and data plan for a very reasonable price. It is not the cheapest option, but it has full English technical support and free international delivery. Order the SIM card and pick it up at the airport.

If you didn’t order a SIM card in advance, you could always purchase one at Bic Camera (an electronic store) which can be found in any city in Japan.

4. Other free wifi spots in Japan

Airports, major train stationssome bus terminals, and museums, will have free wifi.

And download Japan Connected-free Wi-Fi. It is a free app and allows you to connect to the free wifi hotspots around the city.

Major department stores will offer free wifi as well. They do not require a password.

Whenever you are in need of free wifi, Starbucks is always the answer. You can log into the network without any password. And there is always a Starbucks nearby.

Major cities have signs in Japanese and English

Official language: Japanese

Japanese is the main language in Japan.

In major cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Fukuoka, most Japanese people will know a few English phrases especially in the tourism sector like hotels, restaurants, and retail stores.

However, if you find yourself in smaller towns, some people are not as well versed in English as you may hope.

Before you leave home, download Google Translate. It is an app on your smartphone that can translate words and phrases between two languages. It is especially useful in Japan. You can simply type in what you want to say, and it will translate it into Japanese.

Another feature of Google Translate is translating a written text. Open your Google Translate app, take a photo of the written text, and it will automatically translate the text into English. This feature is especially useful when you are in a restaurant or a retail store. The app works best when the text is typed and not handwritten.

Learn a few basic Japanese phrases

At a bare minimum, if you know how to say “hello” and “thank you,” it will go a long way. (I only knew these two words when I was there!)

Here are some words and phrases that you might find useful.

“hello” is Kon’nichiwa

“thank you” is Arigatōgozaimashita or Arigatō 

“how much is it” is Ikuradesu ka

“delicious” is Oishī

Related Post – Kyushu 10 day itinerary: best of Fukuoka, Kumamoto and Kagoshima

Visa Requirement for entering Japan

Most nationalities will receive a visa on arrival when you arrive in Japan and are allowed to stay in Japan for up to 90 days.

Click here to determine if you require a visa for a short-term stay.

And if you do require a visa before visiting Japan, make sure to give yourself ample time to get all your documents together and apply for the appropriate visa.

Take public transportation with an IC card

An IC card is a rechargeable smartcard that allows you to take public transportation including major routes for train, subway, bus, streetcars and some ferries.

At the start of your journey, pick up an IC Card at the airport or any JR train station. You can pick up one of the major IC Cards (listed below) and use the same card across the country for most transportation including suburban train, subway, bus, and other transportation as indicated. You can even use an IC card for purchases at convenience stores!

Below is a list of all the major IC cards and its respective region:

  • Pasmo – Greater Tokyo (Tokyo)
  • Suica – JR East (Tokyo)
  • TOICA – JR Central
  • ICOCA – JR West (Osaka)
  • SUGOCA – JR Kyushu (Fukuoka)
  • Kitaca – JR Hokkaido

Purchase a Japan Rail Pass before your trip

If you are planning to travel a lot by trains and within a short period, buying a Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) will save you a lot of money and headache. However, you should order the pass before leaving for your trip. It is cheaper to order before you travel abroad.

For some regions in Japan, it is possible to buy a JR Pass while you are in Japan, but you will be paying a bit more.

Determine which rail pass is best for your travel needs by clicking here.

If you are not sure if it is worth buying a rail pass versus buying individual tickets as you go, you can use the Japan Rail Pass Calculator to determine if it is worth your money to buy a rail pass. The Japan rail pass is super easy to use once you understand how it works.

Check train schedules and fares with Hyperdia

Hyperdia is a website where you can check the exact schedule and price for any trains in the Japan Rail System and other railway systems. There is also an app where you should download before going to Japan. It will save you a ton of time trying to figure out all the stations and routes. You can check for the most updated schedule and cost for all the places you want to visit in Japan.

Take the Shinkansen at least once in Japan

Riding the Shinkansen (Japanese bullet train) is a must while you are in Japan. The high-speed train connects Japan’s major cities between Hakodate to Kagoshima and travels up to 320 km/hr.

While the train is fast, comfortable and punctual, it doesn’t come at a cheap price. However, Japan Rail Pass covers most Shinkansen routes except for Nozomi and Mizuho trains.

I pinned all the things I want to do and use Google Maps to navigate
I pinned all the things I want to do and use Google Maps to navigate

Use Google Maps to navigate in a city

Google Maps is my primary choice for navigating around a new city. Typically, I pin all the attractions, restaurants and other places I want to visit. And whenever I am out in the city, I can follow my saved pins on the map and find all the places I want to visit. By using the pins in Google Maps, I can plan my trip efficiently. Check out more details on how I plan my travels by using Google Maps and saved pins.

Book your accommodations with Agoda

From my experience, Agoda is one of the best sites for booking hotels, guesthouses, and hostels. I’ve never had any issues with my bookings.

And most of all, Agoda has the most competitive prices that I have seen anywhere else. They have the best price guarantee, and they do not charge a booking fee. And if you provide feedback after your stay, Agoda will reward you Agoda dollars for your next booking.

The website has a huge database of accommodations available in Japan. Try one of the unique capsule hotels for a full Japanese experience.

Book Airbnb accommodation for long-term travel

Airbnb is an excellent option especially when you are travelling long-term or if you want to experience staying at a Japanese local accommodation.

Since 2018, Airbnb implemented a new law that requires Airbnb hosts to register their unit and display a license number on their listing.

By adding new regulations, it ensures the comfort and safety of travellers who book Airbnb. Which is a really good thing if you are travelling solo in Japan.

And if you are not part of Airbnb yet, please use this code to claim your $35 Airbnb discount.

Related Post – Everything you need to know before booking Airbnb

Dress modestly in Japan

Even though Japan is a fashion-forward country, the country is pretty conservative when it comes to everyday clothing. Always remember to dress modestly. Ladies, it might be a good idea to cover your shoulders whenever possible. Showing too much skin is frown upon. And if you have any tattoos, you may want to cover them as it might draw too much attention.

Clothing essentials for spring include light layers while summer wardrobe should be very light as the weather can be quite hot. Fall is a great time to visit Japan as the weather cools down a bit. And certain parts of the country experience cold weather so winter jackets and warm layers are a must.

Prepare for Japan Typhoon Season

Typhoon season in Japan is between June to October each year. Depending on the severity of the typhoon, it could be light rain drizzling to windy rainstorms. Typhoon can happen across Japan so please pay attention to weather reports especially if you are travelling between summer to fall.

Japanese restaurant in Tokyo, Japan

How to eat at Japanese Restaurants

The eating culture in Japan is unique! Between restaurants and convenience stores (yes, I said convenience stores!), there are many options for food in Japan. 

Some smaller restaurants will require you to purchase a ticket from the vending machine. First, you purchase your ticket from the vending machine. Then you give your ticket to one of the staff, and they will seat you inside. 

Tipping at Japanese Restaurants

Tipping is not necessary anywhere in Japan. It is considered rude according to Japanese culture.

Buy almost anything at vending machines

You can buy almost anything from vending machines. There are countless vending machines all over Japan selling cold and hot beverages (great for winter), cigarettes, and sake. I’ve seen a vending machine selling one-litre sake (see right photo above)!

Japanese convenience stores are truly convenient

Convenience stores are truly convenient! 7-Eleven, Lawson and Family Mart are the three most popular convenience stores across Japan.

You can find any snacks, drinks and even a full meal. And as I mentioned already, they also have reliable ATMs where you can get cash.

Are you ready to take your first trip to Japan?

It was a really fun post for me to write. I hope I was able to answer most of your questions before your start planning your first trip to Japan. Did I miss anything else? Let me know in the comments!

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About Author

Hi, my name is Queenie, and I've been a solo traveller for 18+ years and currently based in Hong Kong. Follow me on my adventures through Instagram and my blog!

12 Comments

  • Yana from Beard and Curly
    January 12, 2019 at 2:20 pm

    This is a great post. I’ve been so scared to visit because I’m afraid of the cost but maybe it won’t be too bad. Thanks for all the advice!

    Reply
    • queenie mak
      January 14, 2019 at 11:11 am

      The cost is actually not so bad. There are many ways to travel through Japan on a budget. 🙂

      Reply
  • odette
    January 12, 2019 at 3:16 pm

    Love this post. I am hoping to visit Japan either this year or next year so I was so happy to come across this. Definitely did not know at least 70% of these things. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • queenie mak
      January 14, 2019 at 11:12 am

      You will love Japan!! I already want to go back! Hopefully next year 🙂

      Reply
  • Lauren Hay
    January 12, 2019 at 4:41 pm

    SUCH an insightful guide, with so much useful information I would never have thought of – fingers crossed I get to tick Japan off the bucket list very very soon!!

    Reply
    • queenie mak
      January 14, 2019 at 11:12 am

      I hope you get to experience Japan too! I love the country and wish everyone can see it for themselves!

      Reply
  • Chelsea
    January 12, 2019 at 8:37 pm

    Japan is my all-time favorite travel destination! I completely agree that Japan is a country where I feel 100% safe traveling solo (and I’m pretty paranoid about safety). And Maps.me is a great alternative to Google Maps if you don’t have a data plan!

    Reply
    • queenie mak
      January 14, 2019 at 11:13 am

      I’m with you! Japan is my go-to travel place! I spent a lot of time there but I still feel is not enough haha

      Reply
  • Brooke
    January 13, 2019 at 12:24 pm

    Really handy guide for independent travelers visiting Japan for the first time! I’ve only been once on a work trip, so hopefully I’ll get to explore the country more in future.

    Reply
    • queenie mak
      January 14, 2019 at 11:14 am

      Yes I hope you get to go back too! There’s so much to do and see!

      Reply
  • Andy
    March 12, 2019 at 7:39 pm

    Im in Japan for 3 weeks staying in Tokyo and Kyoto but really struggling to find a real traditional ryokan we can stay in for one night (for the experience of sleeping traditionally – my back wouldnt cope with more :). Just can’t find one at all. The idea is to get off on one of the skinkansen stops between Tokyo and Kyoto and stay somewere but cant find anything except modern hotels/buildings made up to look like ryokan. Any suggestions -we go at the end of April

    Reply
    • queenie mak
      March 14, 2019 at 7:08 am

      Hi Andy, did you check out my post on Kyoto? There are a few suggestions for high-end accommodation. If you really want to get a traditional ryokan experience, there are tons of ryokan in Hakone region. You can take Tokaido Shinkansen line from Tokyo to Odawara then change to local train to Hakone. Hope this helps!

      Reply

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