When my husband suggested Japan as our next vacation destination, I was a bit confused. I wasn’t opposed to the location, I just wasn’t positive it would satisfy all my travel needs. After extensive research (we take our travel seriously), I was sold. Japan has so much to offer! We spent nearly two weeks roaming the country & we could have easily enjoyed at least twice that.
Japan tourism is booming right now & they have a few amenities that make it especially tourist friendly. But there are other aspects to Japan that can be a little tricky. Even with months to prepare & plenty of travel experience we had to make some unexpected adaptations. The lessons we learned along the way proved invaluable to our successful navigation of Japan. Once we had these new tools tucked in to our travel tool belt our trip became so much easier & enjoyable.
If you’re planning to visit Japan sooner or later give this Japan travel tips list a look over & take some notes. It will save time, money, & sanity when you finally make your own Japan journey.
Japan Travel Tips
1. Invest in public transportation passes:
First & foremost, Japan has an incredible public transportation system. There is a bus, train, subway, or bullet train that can get you anywhere you need to go. But those seemingly small individual ticket prices quickly add up when you are hitting multiple destination in a day. Most major cities offer unlimited day or 3 day passes to help ease the investment cost. And if your Japan travel plans involve transitioning to different cities the JR pass is a must.
2. Study the rail maps ahead of time:
Speaking of the public transportation systems, they can be awfully intimidating at first (& second, & third…) glance.Take a moment to familiarize yourself with the different line & identify the stations that are nearest to your hotel accommodations. A lot of it won’t make sense until you are actually there in the cities but a little prepping will go a long way. While you’re at it, download the Japan Transit Planner app. It’s a life saver.
3. Pack your plastic bags:
Ok, maybe you don’t need to bring your own plastic bags from home because you will be given a plastic bag with every purchase you make. But you should hold on to them, & you should carry them with you. Japanese aren’t big on public trash cans so having a little something to help stash your trash is so helpful.
4. Don’t search for a specific restaurant:
Typically, when we travel we research the top restaurants in each area we plan to visit. So, obviously we did this same searching prior to our trip to Japan. We quickly found that all of our restaurant research was an utter waste. We spent so much valuable time wondering blocks looking for tucked away restaurants that often times weren’t at the identified address or weren’t open at the time we showed up only to find an equally popular restaurant with a very similar menu & better hours just two doors down. That said, gold covered green tea ice cream is worth every bit of extra effort.
5. Rent a wifi:
I can’t praise the portable wifi hotspot enough. I wish more countries made these handy devices as readily available as Japan does. If you only follow one tip from this Japan travel guide, let it be this one. We were able to reserve & pick up a hotspot at the airport upon landing. Imagine that, immediate internet access! It made everything from navigation to facetiming home a million times easier than any trip we have ever been on.
The one downside was it made it all too tempting to keep up with our normal internet routine of emails, social media, & such. My husband & I quickly purged our phones of our most tempting apps to limit the distraction so we could stay focused on our surroundings & each other. Then, when we wrapped up our Japan trip we dropped our wifi off at the airport on our way home. It doesn’t get more convenient than that.
6. Don’t limit your Japan travel to the big cities:
Of course, it’s tough to imagine traveling to Japan without seeing the twinkling lights of Tokyo, or sampling the famous delicacies of Osaka, or visiting the ancient temples of Kyoto. But, Japan offers so much more than what the big cities have to offer. We made a point to venture outside the urban limits & explore the slower side of Japan. And after nearly a week of crowds, subways, & sky scrapers it was just the thing we needed. Plus, if you purchased a JR pass it’s essentially free! Take a day trip or 2 & explore some of Japan’s more subtle gems.
7. Plan around the weekends:
We arrived to Japan late on a Sunday so our first full day was a Monday. I was amazed with just how many people there were. It was busy. So imagine my shock when Saturday rolled around & there were easily double the amount of bodies roaming the streets. I highly suggest hitting the more touristy spots (Mt. Fuji, any temples or observatories in Tokyo, the temples around Kyoto, etc) during the week & saving the less specific destinations for the weekends (shopping, wondering the city streets, museums, parks, baseball games, sumo matches, etc).
8. Get an early start:
We were so excited to take full advantage of our jet lag. When we woke up at 4:30am Japan time we made the most of it & saw our top 3 Kyoto sites before the tour buses started rolling in. We had the shrines of Fushimi Inari-Taisha, Kiyomizudera temple, & the neighborhoods of Sannezaka & Ninezaka all to ourselves. It was magical & the best way to kick off our Japan travel.
9. Eat breakfast at your hotel:
When we headed out for our first early morning we planned to just grab some breakfast along the way. I mean, we didn’t expect anywhere to be open when we headed out at 5:00am but certainly a few spots would open up by 6:30, & any self-respecting breakfast restaurant would be serving hungry customers by 8:00. Nope. Not even close. Japanese restaurants (& shops for that matter) get a slow start. Most places didn’t open until 11:00am or later. If you do plan to eat out before mid-morning seek out a 7 Eleven or Lawsons. These mini-marts have a pretty descent selection for rock bottom prices & they are one of the few places guaranteed to rise with the sun.
10. Plan to be out late:
While businesses don’t open their doors early they keep them open late. Especially, in the big cities. Many restaurants & stores stayed open until 10pm on weekdays, & even later on the weekends. And this is the best time to get a real feel for busy Japan life. The streets are bustling, the neon signs are shining bright, the arcades are lined with patrons, & the sound of karaoke fills the streets. Each day we would commit to an early bedtime but each night we were so consumed with the active atmosphere we found ourselves out much later than scheduled.
11. Pick your temples wisely:
There are so many temples & shrines in Japan. They are every where. There’s no way to see them all, & to be honest, you probably won’t want to. The temple fatigue set in by day 4 of our trip. While each temple has it’s own unique setting & designs there are so many other sites you will want to see. Pick out your favorite must-see temples & make sure you visit those but don’t feel like you have to stop at every shrine you pass. At the same time, don’t hesitate to stop & any surprise temples that catch your eye along the way-because they will.
12. Don’t Fear the Language Barrier:
I was so worried about how we would communicate in Japan. I spent months studying Japanese & learning as many basic phrases as I could cram in. But Japan is set up for tourists, especially English speakers. Many signs (especially in transit stations) are written in both Kanji & English. Many people know at least some basic English, & to be honest, they seemed more comfortable attempting communication in English than in my broken Japanese. I regularly used general pleasantries like excuse me, good day, & thank you but the rest of my Japanese wasn’t very useful.
If you haven’t planned your Japan travel yet, now is the time. There are so many unforgettable sites to see, flavors to taste, & experiences to have. The people are kind, respectful, & considerate. Japanese do everything with the absolute precision & this results in the highest caliber of quality in every aspect of Japan. I have never slept in a finer hotel, eaten a tastier meal, used a cleaner public restroom, or traveled on a quieter train then I did in Japan. I hope this list of Japan travel tips helped alleviate any concerns you had about journeying to Japan. Trust me, the hardest thing about going to Japan is getting on the plane to return home. So tell me, which Japanese city are you visiting first?
For more of our favorite international spots to travel, check out these destinations!