We are about to head to Japan, but before we land in the Land of the Rising Sun we prepared a few things to make sure our trip goes smoothly.
1| Book Ahead
Japan might seem like a small country, but it has so much to offer, so many absolutely fascinating places to see, so much unique experiences; which is why once you decide to go on such a long trip, you have to make the most of it! My advice is to allow yourself at least 2 weeks for researching in advance, from hotels, restaurants, internet, trains and traditions.
Hotels and hostels get packed! I normally wait until the last minute to get reservations, but I was told that it would backfire on me! And when I actually decided to start booking, some of the places were already full!
Plan early to ensure you have a hostel!
2 | Trains Reins Supreme
Train travel reins supreme. The best way to see japan is certainly by train, after all, Japan has the famous bullet train which travels at speeds of up to 320 kilometres per hour!
However make sure you organise your train pass before you are in Japan, otherwise you will not be able to get it.
When you look at the prices you might freak out, but trust me (I did all the maths) the pass offers you unlimited access to the national railways, which ended up being way cheaper than buying single tickets and also allows you more time to enjoy each place as you you can literally go from one city to another every single morning, strolling Japan from South to North and West to East.
Basically, as a tourist, you can choose one of the 3 types of tickets: 7 days; 14 days or 21 days.
There are plenty of companies which you can buy your pass from. I got mine from Voyagin, and they have been brilliant so far. Easy to book, keep me constantly updated with my tickets and provided all info I needed.
3 | Wifi
When travelling overseas, usually i grab myself a prepaid SIM card from one of the local mobile phone companies and I’m all set for data for the duration of my trip. In Japan, there is one company, B-mobile, who offer prepaid SIM cards for foreigners, with only 1 GB for 14 days and once it is expired (the data or duration). is useless.
Instead, I decided to rent a portable pocket wifi router with unlimited data – Wiwander– you need to organise it before you head to Japan.
4 | Money
Before heading to Japan it is important to know that not all stores accept credit cards like in Western countries and not all Japanese ATMs will accept foreign cards to withdraw cash.
Banks are hard to find, and if you do, be prepared to wait for about 40mins-1hour, since they have to check you, ring your hotel, etc, etc, so it takes for ages. I decide to have little cash to get by or remember to make a withdrawal when you land at the airport, to exchange there as it has the best conversion rate. Be sure to plan your spending money carefully so you don’t end up dead broke in the middle of your stay.
5 | Grab a Map
Because location names are often only in Japanese (and when I say Japanese don’t mean rōmaji, which is Japanese words using Roman characters as used in the English language, but Japanese characters – kanji, hiragana and katakana) and addresses are often chaotic, be sure to have a good map with you.
6 | Download Some Apps
Released by Narita International Airport Corporation, this handy app is like an all-in-one service to help you navigate Japan.
Once signed in to the app, it will help you automatically log in to WiFi spots around the country, will provide you with a daily weather forecast and also help you to convert your currency, so that your holiday will be brain-pain free! It also has speech and text translation functions, and a ‘life and culture’ section which will provide you with tips on hot spring etiquette, purchasing train tickets and other handy hints you might not have thought about before stepping on the plane.
The Tokyo Handy Guide App encapsulates everything you need for exploring the capital. From maps of the city and transportation guides which are available offline, to the ‘spot nearby’ function, which allows you to find any sight-seeing locations worthy of visiting in the vicinity, the app is like a guiding hand through this dizzyingly fast-paced city.
This is the absolute must have app for train travel in Japan. Whether you’re hopping on the subway for a quick jaunt between Shibuya and Tokyo station, or going long haul with a journey up to Aomori or down to Fukuoka, Hyperdia will tell you when to leave, which trains to take and what time you’ll arrive.
Having Hyperdia handy means you will not only know the time of your train, you’ll know the name of it and where it’s heading. You can even see which stops it’s going to make if you want a quick leg-stretch en route. For JR Pass holders, you can untick the ‘Nozomi/Mizuho’ option and see only trains which are valid with your pass.
This translator can be a useful tool to support your own, more serious language learning, but realistically, it’s most useful on a practical level quickly translating day-to-day words you come across on your travels. For example, you can hold your camera up to text – such as a sign, or a menu – and Google will translate it for you instantly. It’s an essential app for any traveller.