Hello LTA Club!
We’re Jess and Andrew and we run a lifestyle and travel blog and vlog
called It’s That Time For. Earlier this year, we decided that it was our time
to take some time out of our busy lives and travel the world. For the past
few months we have been travelling and vlogging our adventures through
Japan, the USA and NZ before we head off to the UK and Europe for the
second half of the year.
Today’s post is all about Japan, a country that we have just returned from
for the 4th time. We have had some great adventures in Japan and in this
post we will share our top 10 tips that will hopefully help you on your next
adventure to the ‘Land of The Rising Sun’. Enjoy!
1) There’s no need to tip!
If you’ve ever travelled through the USA, you would have been
confronted with the dreaded question – “how much do I tip?” Well, we
have good news for you! There is generally no tipping culture in Japan.
Most service industry workers in places such as restaurants, bars, taxis,
hotels and hostels do not accept tips at all and in fact, some take offence
to it. If you do try to leave a tip it’s likely that it will be refused and
returned to you.
2) Don’t get lost during Train Travel
Train services in Japan are some of the world’s most efficient but the
complexity of the subway systems in large cities such as Tokyo can be
confusing. The best option to plan your route is to use Hyperdia
(www.hyperdia.com) which is a free tool that is constantly updated and
covers a range of transport options. All you need to do is put in your start
and end stations and the tool will tell you which train to catch, how much
it will cost and how long it will take. There is also a free Hyperdia app that
you can download so you can check train times on the go.
3) Get a Pasmo Card
Don’t waste your time trying to figure out which train or bus ticket to get
and instead, purchase a Pasmo or Suica card from any train station ticket
machine. From our knowledge, both cards work the same so it doesn’t
really matter which one you get. The card itself costs ¥500 (fully
refundable upon return) and can be topped up at any train station.
The card allows travel on trains and buses but can also be used to buy
goods from vending machines and convenience stores. Best of all, when
you “tap in” at one station and “tap out” at another, the correct fare will
automatically be deducted.
4) Buy a Japan Rail (JR) Pass
Japan has an extensive shinkansen network (which is their version of the
bullet train) that connects the four major islands. The JR pass allows
unlimited travel on most shinkansens and all JR subway lines. In order to
use the pass you’ll need to be a tourist visiting from abroad and will have
to purchase it prior to entering Japan. The JR pass is not exactly cheap
but can save you some money if you’re planning on travelling to multiple
cities in Japan. For example, a 7-day JR pass costs around the same as
a single return trip from Tokyo to Kyoto via shinkansen. We recommend
putting your itinerary together and using a tool like Hyperdia to figure out
if it will be cheaper to purchase the JR pass or just buy individual train
tickets when you’re in Japan.
5) Great accomodation doesn’t need to cost a lot!
Japan can be one of the most expensive cities in the world however, it is
possible to find accomodation on a budget. Hostels range in price but we
found most 1 bedroom Japanese style hostels with ensuite cost around
¥3000 per person per night. In line with Japanese domestic culture,
most of the hostels have a “shoes off” policy so the hostels are generally
very clean and well staffed. We actually had better experiences in the
hostels in comparison to the hotels that we stayed in. On all of our Japan
trips, we chose to stay at the JHoppers hostel chain and had a great
experience every time however, there are plenty of well known hostel
chains in Japan so check out the usual review sites and see what fits
your budget and location.
6) Take your rubbish with you
When we speak to anyone who has visited Japan, the most common
comment that we hear is how clean everything is.
That being said, you will inevitably find yourself in a public place looking
for a rubbish bin. In Japan, everyone takes their rubbish with them. For
example, we once saw a businessman step on his cigarette butt, pick it
up and put it in his pocket. The best way around this is to carry a small
rubbish bag with you. If you are in desperate need of a bin, most
convenience stores (eg. Lawsons, Ministop, Family Mart and 7-Eleven)
have rubbish bins and there are also disposal bins for bottles and cans
next to vending machines.
7) Rent a WiFi device
Despite Japan being perceived as one of the leaders in technology and
innovation, public WiFi hotspots are surprisingly rare. Whether you are
looking for the restaurant on google maps, trying to post that instagram
shot of cherry blossoms in the park or searching for a train timetable, you
will inevitably find yourself looking for a internet connection.
A common and effective method to get online is to rent a mobile WiFi
device from one of the many rental companies in Japan. We chose to use
Rentalwifi (www.rentalwifi.com) on our last two trips as the website is in
English, it’s extremely easy to make a booking and the prices are
competitive. The rental process is also hassle free – they deliver it to the
airport post office for pickup upon your arrival, and on your way out of
the country all you have to do is put the device back into the prepaid
envelope and drop it in the post box.
While it’s not exactly cheap (a 14 day trip will set you back around
¥7630) you will get the perks of up to 10GB of 4G data use + unlimited
access and great battery life that will last you all day which becomes very
handy if you are wanting to check Facebook on the 3 hour bullet train
ride from Tokyo to Kyoto.
If you are using Airbnb on your trip, check with your host to see if they
have a mobile WiFi device as you may be able to use theirs rather than
renting. Starbucks does have a free WiFi network however, you will need
to register via email on their website before heading into store as you
won’t be able to register in store.
8) Bring Cash
Surprisingly, Japan is a heavily cash based society so don’t get caught
out and make sure you have enough cash with you at all times. Most
cafes, restaurants, vending machines and public transport only accept
cash. Credit cards are only really seen in large scale retail outlets and
department stores. If you do happen to shop it up in Shinjuku and run out
of cash, one of the best options is to go to a 7-Eleven convenience store
or a Japan Post Office to withdraw cash from the ATM. These locations
accept the majority of bank cards and the machines have an English
menu so you can ensure that you’re withdrawing the correct amount of
9) Have your addresses written down in Japanese
Even though we’ve been to Japan 4 times, the street and address system
is one of the most confusing for those coming from the Western world.
Here’s a great short video that explains it very clearly because the system
can be complicated to explain: https://youtu.be/q1zh49J5rsg. A safe
option is to make sure that you have the addresses of any places that
you need to get to written in Japanese, otherwise you may end up
roaming the streets of Osaka at 9:30pm at night trying to find your hostel
(like we did!)
10) Learn some Japanese (even if it’s just a little)
Learning the local language when travelling anywhere can be very
helpful, and Japan is no exception. Most tourists are immediately taken
aback by the lack of English that is used in Japan. If you are only going
to Tokyo you may be able to get away with a combination of English and
gestures, but on our adventures we found that the further we were from
the big cities and tourist areas, the less likely we were able to find anyone
that could speak English.
We hope you enjoyed reading our post and that these tips come in handy
on your next adventure to Japan. If you have any questions or
comments, or tips of your own please leave a comment below – we
would love to hear from you!
Jess and Andrew