How to Travel in Japan- 12 Valuable Tips before your departure to Japan
Updated: Jan 15
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Are you currently starting your travels to Japan? You maybe creating and preparing your Japan itinerary for a wonder trip to Japan. You may be nervous about traveling to Japan for your first time. I can ease your stress by providing you 12 tips before traveling to Japan. This may in fact be your first trip outside the United States. Or it may even be your first Japan trip. When it comes to traveling to a foreign country, especially big cities like Tokyo (central Tokyo) or even Osaka, there are a lot of questions to be asked: What kind of currency does the country use? How do I exchange money? How to use a suica card? What is rush hour like in Tokyo? What is the Japanese etiquette in Japan? These questions are answered in this article. I provide you with some helpful Japan travel tips. This article is a travel guide to making your trip smoother. Many of these tips are found in my book Touring Tokyo. My book can be found below:
1. CARRY YEN
The first travel tip I would recommend for foreigners especially a solo traveler traveling to Japan is to (1) carry yen and extra yen, which is vitally important in Japan. I would recommend carrying a coin pouch . Yen is the currency that the country of Japan utilizes. If you have heard the saying, “Cash is king,” that proves true in Japan.
I have learned this the hard way. In fact, most of the automatic teller machines (ATMs) in Japan do not accept credit, atm, and debit cards that were issued outside the country. I have personally tried using atms in many places of Japan and each time end up receiving an error message.
The places that allow foreign credit cards though are the following: 711, Lawson’s, Family mart, post offices (Japan Post bank), citibanks, E-net, and Mizuho bank. The advantages of the convenient stores are they are literally found on every corner and they are opened 24 hours a day.
There are over 10,000 convenient stores dispersed throughout the country. Additionally, you may be able to find malls such as Aeon malls that have atm machines that accept credit cards outside of Japan. Even though you are in a foreign country, what you may find is that there are English menu options available in the ATM machine. That is a huge blessing for someone who cannot read Kanji (Japanese writing) very well.
On the other hand, if you decide to withdraw money at a post office, make sure you check the hours of operation. There are over 2,700 post office banks in Japan. Unlike the konbini’s, post office atms are not always 24 hours. Typically your smaller post office hours are from 0900 a.m. to 1600, medium post offices are from 0800 to 2000, and your larger post office hours are from 0700 to 2300.
If you plan to use an ATM card in Japan, make sure you notify your bank and credit card providers in your country ahead of time, and give them your travel dates. Verify your credit card will be accepted in Japan. If you own a Maestro card, chances are you may not be able to use it in Japan.
I would recommend bringing several credit cards so that you will not experience a financial bind. Also, when you use an atm in Japan, you will be asked for your 4 digit pin number. Therefore, make sure you memorize it. There are bank apps that allow you set dates of your overseas travels so that your card will not be blocked. Usually a bank will block a credit card if it is used in another country because the bank may deem the transaction as fraudulent.
In order to avoid the possibility of your bank or credit card blocking your card, I would suggest that you obtain some yen prior to leaving your country. Keep in mind though the rate may not be the best; however, it could save you from any potential dilemmas when you arrive in Japan. If, for some reason, your local bank does not exchange for yen, you could find an exchange center at the airport and acquire yen that way.
To help you understand yen, your $1 USD, for instance, is equivalent to 102 yen. You will find bank notes including 1000, 2000, 5000, and 10,000 yen. I found, however, that the 2000 yen banknotes are very rare. I received one during my trip to see the Great Buddha in Kamakura, Japan, where you can find a shinto shrine.
Furthermore, your coins are 1 yen, 5 yen, 10 yen, 50 yen, 100 yen, and 500 yen denominations. It is critical to carry a lot of yen with you all of the time. That being said, you can find a coin pouch at a 100 yen store. These pouches are handy for retaining your yen. Additionally, from my personal experience, I have found many atms dispersed throughout city areas; that is a different story through when it comes to traveling to rural areas.
When I first arrived in Japan, I decided I would take an adventurous and thrilling journey to a very rural area in Japan. (I use “very” in the sense that there were few stores in the area at the time). I had the notion that atms would be ubiquitous. I was definitely wrong. I found myself searching all over the place for an ATM machine. After about an hour of searching, I finally found an ATM machine. However, the problem I faced was the ATM did not offer English options. Thus, this fact made my experience very stressful. I felt like a beginner traveler in a lonely planet where a taxi driver was not available. In fact, public transport was not everywhere unlike a major city like Tokyo or Osaka.
To ease any frustration or at least to alleviate the possibility of having a bad experience using atms, here are some basic and helpful bank and atm phrases you need to know when you travel to Japan.
E-ti-emu- atm エーティーエム
Ohikidashi (withdraw) ひきだし
Oazukeire (deposit) あずけいれ
Ansho bango あんしょうばんごう- input pin number
Enter pin and press kakunin (confirm)
Enter the amount, press en, and then kakunin.
Now that I have talked about the ATMS and the process, how do you look for an ATM machine in Japan? We are richly blessed with the technology of apps on our cellphones. One of the ATM apps I would highly recommend is the JAPAN ATM NAVIGATION.” You can find this app both on Google play and your iPhone. The app searches for only Seven bank atms.
Ginkou ぎんこう – bank
Kouka こうか – coinGenkinげんきん cashYenえん- en
2. GO TO KONBINIS
The second travel tip I would recommend for you is to visit a Konbinis. Konbinis is the use of the katakana, an abbreviation for convenient stores. Personally, I have lived on convenient store food for two years for two reasons: (1) Cheap food and (2) Delicious food. The names of convenient stores include the following: (1) Lawsons, (2) New Days, (3) Family Mart, (4) 711, (5) Mini stop.
The convenient stores in Japan are unlike any of the convenient stores you will find in the United States, for instance. In the US, you may be acquainted with mundane foods at convenient stores, which are typically next to a fueling station. Most of the foods are unfortunately not fresh and customers often experience poor customer satisfaction.
Japan, Thailand, and many other countries, however, have a different view of convenient stores. In fact, the foods in Japan are always fresh and the people are always friendly. The typical Japanese etiquiette involves a bow. Everything I go to a konbini in Japan, I am giving a bow. The customer service is incredible in Japan!
It is definitely a convenient heavenly place where you can find fresh seafood, hot and steaming mouthwatering nikuman buns, boss coffee (literally the best bottled I have ever tried in the world), and we cannot forget the 10-15 varieties of oishii ice cream. If you come to Japan during the cherry blossom seasons, you can find varities of cherry blossomsweets and foods. The cherry blossom foods are very oishi (delicious). Not only that, the convenient stores are usually very clean and tidy.
You can even buy tickets, access free Wifi, look at magazines, pay bills, make copies, and even package delivery at convenient store. You will know what I mean when I classify a Japanese convenient store as “heavenly.
3. DOWNLOAD TRAVEL AND OTHER APPS
The third tip I can offer to you is download travel apps. Society has blessed us with great technology that has constantly facilitate the stressors in life. When you open up google play or the apple store on your smart phone, you can be greatly affectedby the immense number of apps available. In terms of traveling to Japan, I would recommend 20 travel apps for you. You can choose what is best for you. They are the following:
First, the Hyperdia travel app is highly reliable and extensive. The app, which is shown in three languages (English, Japanese, and Chinese) shows detailed train schedules, rail pass fares (japan rail pass), seat fees, exact distance, and times. On this app, you not only have the freedom to search for trains, but airplanes and buses as well in the country of Japan. This app has been very conducive to my travels in Japan, especially when you are tring to navigate from the narita airport to tokyo station or to the famous fushimi inari in Kyoto. Perhaps one of the disadvantages of this app though is that an offline service is not offered.
Once you download the app and set the language option, you can enter your origin and destination. One of the advantages of this app is that after inputting several letters, you are provided with a drop down list of the airports, for instance, that fit the letters.
You will then select a date and time. If you are selecting a train only, you can click the “more options” button on the bottom right side and you can uncheck the plane and bus.
Plantetzye is another great travel app for Japan. You have the ability to select the prefecture in Japan (including Tokyoand Osaka) and the activities you would be interested in doing. You can type the prefecture in the search bar.
Once you find your activity, you can access for the most part the prices, contact information, hours, and websites. The website and app offers private tours from all over Japan including Tokyo, Kyoto, Hakone, Nagano, Okinawa, and so forth.
3. Smart EX
If you are planning to take a Shinkansen (bullet train), I recommend you download the Smart EX app. It will save you lots of time waiting in line to purchase tickets. Through this app, you are able to purchase your Shinkansen tickets, including the Nozumi trains. You can change your reservations if necessary and by using your QR code, you can pick up your Shinkansen tickets. If you have already purchased your jr pass (other names include jr rail pass, jr station rail pass, japan rail, jr train) or even your Shinkansen pass, don't worry. If you can pick it up once you arrive in Japan.
TRAVEL, FOOD, ACTIVITIES APP
4. Trip advisor
Second, trip advisor is a great travel app. It offers detailed plans and guides of what to do, where to go, and what to eat in any country. Specifically for Japan, I have found the Asia forums to be extremely beneficial. There is a wealth of information that you can obtain from this app. Here is the link to the “Japan Travel Forum” on the Trip Advisor website. https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowForum-g294232-i525-Japan.html
Whenever I search for food and activities and exhibits in Japan, I gravitate towards the trip advisor app and commence my searching. One thing I love about the app is the reviews and ratings. Of course, people could easily give false opinions about a place.
However, if a great number of people offer negative views, there is a good chance the place is not great as you think it would be. The negative reviews though is contingent upon a number of factors: (1) Price, (2) customer service, (3) location, and so forth. Your opinion will more likely be based upon these factors as well.
You may end up liking the place and may even deem it your “favorite place” even though there are bad reviews about the place. Therefore, read the reviews with a grain of salt and go and explore the place for yourself. There have been places I have travelled to in Japan that had a large number of negative reviews. I went to the place and absolutely loved it.
5. Japan Official Travel app
Japan travel apps are amazing. The free Japan Official Travel app gives you excellent tips for Japan travels, updates of recent events, popular restaurants and scenic areas. If you want to soak yourself in the history of Japan, this app offers great articles of the experience of Samurai, for instance. I follow the current events on this app on a daily basis.
6. Travel Japan Wi-fi
The Travel Japan Wi-fi is a must when you travel to Japan. This great app connects you to over 20,000 hotspots in Japan. It is free and very convenient for someone who does not have internet access. Having this app is crucial if you are utilizing your phone as a camera for photos and videos. The reason for this argument is that the app allows you to download your photos and videos to google photos or google drive.
7. Tokyo Subway Navigation
Provided by Tokyo Metro, the Tokyo Subway Navigation app displays an awesome map of the Tokyo Metros in Japan. Like Hyperdia, this app permits you to search for particular train stations. What makes this app outstanding is that it gives you the option of downloading a map of Tokyo and the Toei and Metro subway lines.
8. Gurunavi-Japan restaurant guide
The Gurunavi app offers greater than 3,000 food optionsmaking the app the largest restaurant guide in the country.
This comprehensive restaurant app will allow you to search for the following diverse range of restaurants: family restaurants, Japanese style pubs, raw sliced fish, steak, beef tongue, oyster cuisine, deep fried shrimp and vegetables, puffer fish, Okinawan cuisine, banquet dinners, Italian cuisine, Chinese, bar, barbeque, sushi, horumon hot pot, grilled chicken skewers, Chinese dumplins, and the list continues. This app helps you understand the japanese culture.
I will show you how this app and website works. You can find 3 categories at the top of the app or website: (1) Recommendations, (2) All, and (3) Culture. You can select a particular city, prefecture, as well choose your category of food.
These categories include the following: alcohol, bars/beer hall, yakitori/ meat dishes, nabe, noodles, curry Chinese, Western/European, Western/various, izakaya, casual dining/fast food, bread/desserts, karaoke entertainment, Italian French, Okonomiyaki/ Monjayaki, yakiniku, modern Japanese, southeastern food, sushi/seafood, southeastern asia, and other cuisine.
If you are interested in selecting a particular food in Shinjuku, for instance, you will select “Tokyo” and then “Shinjuku” as well as the category of foods. There will be a great list of those restaurants that pop up in the area.
The sushi dictionary is a simple and great app for acquainting yourself with the types of sushi. The app is offered in both Japanese and English versions. Another resource I would recommend is from the Sushi University website: https://sushiuniversity.jp/visual-dictionary/
10. Google translate
You have probably heard of Google translate, which is a free, simple, and a quick way of translation. It is for many people a preferred language app to utilize in your everyday life.
While residing in Japan, I have used this app on a daily basis. I have not only found it helpful with translating phrases from typing but from pictures as well. Google translate has a cool feature that allows you to take a picture of a word or phrase and it translates it.
You even have the option of automatically translating the word in your language by simply hovering your phone over it. The translation takes patience and can be very difficult because the app can be lost in translation thereby leading to grammatical errors.
Imiwa is another free translation app I would recommend. Based upon Jim Breen’s JDIC, this powerful and comprehensive language app contains about an astounding 170,000 entries for both Japanese and English, 7000 entries for Russian, 15,000 entries for French, and 94,000 entries for German. Additionally, the app contains 13,000 kanji entries.
Paid Language Apps and Software
The Yomi-wa Japanese app is real time translator. The app allows you to translate words from Japanese to English by utilizing your camera. The plus to using this app is that it is offline. This app costs $7.99. This price is reasonable considering that it will facilitate your language translation when it pertains to boarding the right train or ordering food at a restaurant.
The disadvantage of course is that the app does not have an audio function in which you can hear the pronunciation. If you have a desire to become proficient in the Japaneselanguage, I would recommend purchasing paid software like Rosetta stone, Transparent Language, and Living Language. I have utilized these language programs for many years and have significantly honed my Japanese writing, listening, and speaking skills.
13. Rosetta Stone
Regarded as a premier and very interactive and effective language software, Rosetta stone has been extremely beneficial to me because it has allowed me to learn the language not only from a visual perspective, but a writing and auditory perspective as well. The popularity of this language program has been seen to be constantly utilized by government agencies to ensure that the employees accurately and proficiently learn the language. What makes this program very effective is the fact that there are native speakers constantly helping you pronounce the words, phrases, and sentences correctly.
You are required to read, write, speak, and listen to the language. This requirement is great for the accomplishing the goal of learning words, phrases, and sentences. Eventually, the program will continue to repeat the words, phrases, and sentences until you seem to have a good grasp of the Japanese language. As a result, you will start to learn the language quicker. From many years of time and energy invested in the Rosetta Program , I founded myself to be constantly engaged with the program. One reason for this engagement is the fact that there a myriad of language games that you can partake in and not experience boredom. Read more...
14. Transparent Language
The Transparent language program is a highly interactive program that presents you with games, flash cards, and quizzes. There is an audio only course (Audio Everywhere) that is included in the language program. I have found the audio portion to be extremely helpful for conversational Japanese. There is great technical support for learning the transparent language. People provided excellent feedback thus creating amazing customer service.
15. Living Language
Like Rosetta Stone, the Living Language program has been taught by government officials including diplomats from the United States Department of State. This reliable language program permits you to learn the language on your own pace and not feel rushed.
There is definitely a gamut of information that you can soak in as you learn the program by playing games,practicing your conversation, engaging in auditory lessons,reviewing flash cards, completing quizzes, and completing writing exercises.
I have found Living language to be great for learning Japanese. The Living Language program gives you the advantage of learning the entire Japanese alphabet including Kanji, katakana, and hiragana.
Another advantage to this program is if you decide to purchase an online course or Platinum, a professional Japanesespeaker will guide you through the language software material and answer any questions you may have regarding the program.
16. Pimsleur method
The Pimsleur method provides awesome conversational lessons that are very effective in learning Japanese. I begin my language learning with this method and found that if you stick with the program, you can become proficient in learning Japanese.
Of all of the paid language software programs, I have covered, the Pimsleur methods remains as the oldest and has been utilized for many years.
I have found that the most effective way to learn this method is by jogging. Jogging allows me to keep my mind focused on absorbing the words, phrases, and sentences in the program.
17. Air bnb
When I started using the Air bnb app two years ago, I stopped booking hotels. For those that do no know Air bnb is a private owned rental company that is based in San Francisco, California. I found that the air bnb homes are super cheap and well worth the price.
How does the AIRBBNB app work? Once you download the app, you can search for a place you are interested in vacationing at. Let say you type “Japan.” You will have the option of selecting “Homes” or “Experiences.” First, you select “homes.” You type “Tokyo, Japan,” and you will receive a great number of homes available.
What I love about this app is that it allows you to set popular filters, trip type, price range, home type, rooms and beds, more options, amenities, facilities, property type, unique homes, and house rules.” After that you can select the date and number of guests.
Furthermore, if you select “experiences,” there is the greatoption to “explore experiences” and “all experiences.” Underneath “explore experiences,” you have a myriad of categories to choose from for Japan: (1) Classes and workshops, (2) Concerts, (3) Food and Drink, (4) Surfing, (5) Arts, (6) Sports, (7) Cooking classes, (8) Nature, (9) Entertainment, (10) Night life, (11) History tours, (12) Health and Wellness, (13) Music, (14) Social impact, and (15) Comedy show. What is truly a great experience is a booking at Ryokan through AIRBBNB. A Ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn.
18. Rakuten Travel
The Rakuten Travel app is outstanding for purchasing products, obtaining discounts, and so forth. Rakuten is a market place that seeks to maintain great customer service.
Like Air bnb, Rakutenis based in California. The marketplace sells over 8 million great quality products and has existed for twenty years. I would highly recommend you down Rakuten Travel apps. One app, in particular, I would recommend for acquiring cash back is the “Ebates Rakuten: Get Cash back” app. Another app I would recommend is the “Rakuten Global marketing shopping” app.
19. XE currency
The XE currency app will allow you to calculate Japanese currencies regardless of where you are in the country. I have found this app extremely useful in my Japan travels. If you are interested in exploring this app further, you can visit the market analysis website. http://community.xe.com/blog/xe-market-analysis . The website helpfully offers currency charts, historical currency rates, travel expenses calculator, and so forth.
4. PURCHASE AN SUICA CARD
The fourth travel tip is to purchase a suica card when you arrive into Japan. The suica card is a prepaid rechargeable travel ic smart card that you can use for public transportation or to purchase goods from a convenient store, vending machine, or coin lockers.
The JR East railways issues this card, which can be used at all Metro, Train, and subway lines in Tokyo. You can purchase a suica card from an automated teller machine. On the screen, you will press “New Suica card.” You will input your DOB, gender, and phone number. Then select the suica card icon in the middle of the screen. Insert the 2000 yen (required for a new suica card).
Once you obtained the card and you want to access the train station, you simply walk up to one of a ticket card reader and scan the card. You will hear a beep and the reader will show your remaining balance.
As a rule of thumb, I would not recommend buying a suica card or traveling during rush hour. It is absolute nightmare when you are traveling to different places in Tokyo, for instance. The rush hour times are from 0800-0900 in the morning and between 1700 (5 PM) and 1800 (6 PM) in the evening.
5. DON’T WALK AND EAT
The fifth travel tip is to refrain from eating and drinking while walking. Eating while walking is viewed as impolite and very rude in Japan. If you were to eat next to a temple, you may beviewed as someone who demonstrates bad manners and lacks common sense. The reason why this is the case is a temple is a sacred place where you meditate, pray to your God, and pay respects to Buddha. There is an exception of course, when there is a festival happening.
6. CARRY YOUR TRASH
The sixth tip is to carry your trash in Japan. While living in Japan, I have trained myself to ask where the garbage bin is. Usually, I will have a Japanese person point in a direction. Another time, a Japanese person will look at me like I have lost my mind. The truth is you usually carry your trash until you reach the train station, vending machine, or park area. You typically can find trash bins around and in the train stations, but they are unfortunately few of them.
If you want to say in Japanese “where the garbage,” you can say, “gomi doko desu ka?” Now you may ask the question: “Why are there not a lot of trash bins?” The answer is found in the gas attack on Tokyo in 1995. On March 20th, 1995, 5,000 people were injured when they were involved in a deadly scentless, and colorless sarin gas attack on the train. The terrorist attack was executed by Aum Shinrikyo belonging to a cult. The sarin was found into a trash bin. As a result, Japan decided to remove the trash bins to avoid any suspicious items found in the trash bins.
7. LEARN BASIC JAPANESE PHRASES
The seventh tip is to learn basic Japanese phrases. Learning basic Japanese phrases prior to leaving Japan is a huge plus and it will make your travels in Japan less stressful.
Good morning– Ohayo gozaimasu おはよう。
Good afternoon– Konnichiwa こんばんは
Good evening Konbanwa こんばんは
Good night Oyasuminasai おやすみなさい
Thank you– Arigatou gozaimasu ありがとうございます.
You’re welcome Dōitashimashite どういたしまして。
Good bye– Sayounara さようなら