A practical tips post…now there’s a domain I never would have imagined myself entering when I first started blogging. I’m forever grateful to those of you who follow along regularly, especially since I know my own particular flavour of writing is a bit of an acquired taste – long, essay-like sheets of prose, an ad hoc posting schedule that sees my articles emerging at best once a week and at worst, once a month. The truth is that those who know this blog best will know that brief, punchy articles, which get straight to the point, just ain’t my cup of tea. I’m no good at them and even when I try (case in point right here), I fail.
Once a rambler, always a rambler.
Why then am I taking a change of direction this week to give you a post stuffed full of the kind of practicalities and logistics that have no place in the heart of a fairytale-loving dreamer?
It’s because, in reality, to make these travel pipe dreams come true, you do need some planning, all the more so when travelling somewhere as alien to your own culture, language and way of life as Japan was to Pumpkin and I.
My man did more than 98% of the planning for our trip so I’ll get the marital disclaimers out the way nice and early in this post by thanking him for that so I can get on with sharing some of the handiest tips
we he found 😀
I don’t have any sponsored link thingies or affiliate what nots in this post so all the sources and organisations I’ve mentioned here are ones we found and used ourselves when planning our trip and were really helpful to us.
Of course you could always grab yourself a copy of Lonely Planet Japan for similar advice but that won’t be filled with nearly as much waffle or friendly chit-chat and where’s the fun in that?
Helpful Tips for Travelling to Japan
Takuhaibin Ta-Q-Bin Luggage Delivery
You know those parcels that you send by courier that never turn up (or turn up at the wrong place and wrong time?) Turns out, it doesn’t happen in Japan, so much so that if you are travelling between two major cities and either can’t or don’t want to carry all your bulky international luggage in between, the Takuhaibin (a.k.a Ta-Q-Bin) luggage service will save the day.
Just tell your hotel concierge where you want the baggage to arrive e.g. the hotel at the other end and they will see to the rest by asking you about breakables, phoning the hotel to confirm your booking and by the time you reach, your luggage will be there waiting for you as if by magic – all this for a very reasonable charge.
Even small hotels use the service and you don’t need to give any advance notice to use it. We arranged it upon checking out but be aware that it may take around 24 hours for your baggage to reach the next destination depending on location. We used the Ta-Q-Bin service twice and were very impressed by how efficient, trustworthy and easy it was. For example, when travelling from Kyoto to Osaka, we were spending one night in Nara en route. Our luggage was picked up at our Kyoto hotel and safely reached our Osaka hotel by the time we got there, leaving us to pack a light overnight bag for our night in Nara.
Portable Pocket WiFi
Pocket WiFi in Japan allows you to be connected wherever you are in Japan and with just one pocket WiFi, you can have up to 10 gadgets connected, which should be more than adequate even for the serious technophiles of the world.
There are several websites and organisations from where you can purchase Pocket WiFi. We ordered ours from the Japan Rail Pass website in advance of our Japan trip. Select the number of days for which you need it and it is charged on a day by day basis i.e. 9 days usage costs more than 8 days, which costs more than 7 days etc.
The Pocket WiFi gadget can either be delivered to your hotel in Japan or collected from one of several key airports across the country. We requested ours to arrive at our Tokyo Hotel the morning after we were due to arrive (which ended up being the morning we did arrive after our airport sleep fiasco!)
The kit comes with a charger, instructions, an envelope and case in which it will need to be returned before you leave japan. Just pack up everything and drop it into any post box but make sure you keep your user receipt. The WiFi worked a dream for us and was so speedy with excellent coverage. I’d love it if my WiFi at home was even half the speed!
We typically only turned on the Pocket WiFi when we were out and actually needed it; if you keep it on all day, you risk draining the battery (and spending your whole trip absorbed in social media which is an absolute crime in a country as magical as Japan!) Alternatively of course, if you are staying in accommodation with limited WiFi, then Pocket WiFi comes in handy for that too.
It was especially useful for online maps, restaurant ideas, local attractions and sights etc and if ever there was a contraption just made for the digital-era travel blogger, Pocket WiFi perhaps would be it!
After all, we all know that the scene below is a bog-standard gadget set up for any self-respecting travel blogger!!
Japan Rail Pass
The one tip we got above all others from our friends, who had been to Japan before us, was to invest in a Japan Rail Pass and having taken their word for it, I can now confirm they were spot on. The Japan Rail Pass allows you unlimited access year round to almost all JR train services (more details in the link above.)
The passes need to be bought in advance and can be ordered online. Once paid for, a confirmation voucher can either be sent to your home address or if you are London-based, you can do what we did and collect it in person from the Japan Travel Centre. Remember though that this is not the pass itself and to retrieve your actual pass, the voucher needs to be taken, together with your passport, to a JR office at an airport or large JR station. Ours were collected at Shinjuku train station.
Having the rail pass entitles you to travel on most JR services without any additional charge but the rail pass does not, in itself, equate to bookings on any specific train service. Therefore, if you already have a rough itinerary in mind for your Japan trip, be sure to make your reservations in person as soon as you can after you arrive in Japan, particularly for busier routes or at popular times of year to ensure you get assigned seating e.g. we booked ahead for our Tokyo – Hiroshima journey.
We chose the one week duration option for the rail pass but you will f ind variations on this depending on your plans and aside from just rail services, our ferry ride from Miyajima island to Hiroshima was also included within the JR pass.
Once you have your pass, go the manned barrier and show the pass to them when entering and exiting a JR station. Lose it at your own peril however as they cannot be reissued (I am the queen of losing things so am pretty smug about my safe-keeping skills during this trip – or did Pumpkin just look after them for me?!)
Pack for a range of climates
I ended up with a sun-burnt nose (despite stringently sun cream) on a scorcher of a day in Kyoto but just five days earlier, I had throbbing, numb finger tips from the frosty climate in the ice caves near Mt Fuji.
I over-packed by a ridiculous margin and could have clothed a small village with all the unnecessary items I brought (blame it on my pre-Japan flu-brain). I was, however, on the right tracks with packing a little bit of everything – coats, tights, shorts, short sleeves, long sleeves and a bikini. I had the right idea – I just had too much of it!!
If you plan to travel around several of Japan’s cities, particularly if you only have a couple of weeks like we did, station lockers will quite literally take the weight off your shoulders. Most major train stations have them and we used them in Hiroshima and Osaka. If you are using the Ta-Q-Bin service and keeping an overnight bag with you, station lockers are an ideal place to dump your things and get on with exploring without needing to make an additional side trip to your hotel or apartment just to leave baggage.
You need to keep the key on you and pay the money with change but once you shut your locker, you can’t open it again until the time comes for collection otherwise you will end up needing to pay again to re-lock it so make sure you’ve sorted out what you need before you close the door and lock it.
Furthermore, Japanese train stations can be huge and there’s nothing more frustrating after a long day of sightseeing than wandering around the train station for an hour struggling to remember where your locker is so keep an eye out for landmarks. This bore alarming similarities to the many times I have found myself, laden with shopping bags, aimlessly pacing around the supermarket car park in London, wondering where on earth I have left my car!
Allow more time than you think
Some Japanese cities such as Tokyo and Osaka are gigantic. Two areas that look close by on a map can take ages to travel in between, it makes London look tiny and queues generate like I’ve never seen before (they queue for lunches, for tube stations, for airports, for ice creams). The sheer size of the city combined with the queuing (and the getting lost and trying to find entrances and exits in the enormous stations) will certainly prolong your anticipated journey time so factor in more time than you were planning to get between different parts of a city.
Location of Tokyo Hotels / Apartments
Don’t sweat it. I know people often say this about big city hotels but seriously, it really makes little difference in Tokyo because the city is so huge that you simply cannot cover it all on foot, unless you’re planning to spend all year there. Whilst each distinct area may be within walking distance of specific sites or attractions, the reality is that you will need to use transport wherever you are (unlike many smaller cities around the world).
For Tokyo therefore, my advice would be that it is far more important to consider proximity to the metro station and to look at the map to see where most of the sites you have your eye on are concentrated and work it out accordingly from there.
We stayed in the enormous skyscraper hotel, Keio Plaza in Shinjuku because many people had suggested that Shinjuku , Shibuya and Ginza were great locations for first time visitors to Tokyo. We loved the location primarily because the hotel was virtually directly above the well-connected (but ridiculously busy) Shinjuku train station (once we finally figured out the exit we needed) but I honestly don’t think you need to spend too much time worrying about the exact area to stay in – just ensure easy access to a metro station.
Ryokan or Western Hotel?
The other hotel conundrum that travellers face when heading to Japan is whether to stay in a Western Hotel, a Japanese Ryokan or a fusion hotel that meshes the two styles. Given that I am renowned for dithering over anything and everything, we made life easier by staying at all of the above.
During our short time in Japan, we hopped in and out of 6 different hotels, two of which were Japanese Ryokans, three western style hotels and one was a cross between the two, essentially a Western Hotel that blended in many of the most appealing aspects of a Ryokan stay. We were fortunate to have had lovely experiences at all of them but for me, it was the Ryokans and the fusion hotel that were the most memorable and charming.
I won’t dwell too much on the experience here, as I plan to share more about my Ryokan stay in time but these are essentially more traditional types of Japanese abode where the floor is covered in tatami mats and a low-lying table with chairs is usually found on the ground. In the evenings, the staff typically move the furniture to the side and lay out futons on the floor for guests to sleep on. Most Ryokans will have a public onsen (bathing facility) but many modern Ryokans have en suite rooms for the more shy traveller. However, even an ensuite bathroom in a Ryokan is likely to be traditional in style with a small stool to sit on whilst bathing rather than western conventional shower cubicles.
We LOVED our Ryokan stays and until I share more details here on the blog, trust me when I say that you don’t want to leave Japan without experiencing this authentic style of hotel at least once.
Yes, we’re talking toilets this week on the blog and I must add, this will not be the last time it comes up in one of my Japan posts either.
Women’s toilets in Japan often don’t come with soap or anything to dry your hands with. One gets the distinct impression that nothing like this happens in Japan because of sloppiness or oversight. I suspect the reason for this is because of the rationale that the bidet facility and numerous buttons you can press for cleaning your nether regions should mean that one’s hands ought not to be dirty.
Still, if this is all a bit off-putting for you, carry some hand sanitiser or soap and also a small flannel or tissues of your own to dry your hands with. I saw many local women drying their hands with their own personal flannels that they had brought with them.
Similarly, at several sites, particularly at temples, to use public toilets or to enter the grounds of shrines, you aren’t allowed to keep shoes on. Slippers are often left at the entrance of the bathroom but to avoid needing to keep tying and un-tying shoes up, you may find it easier to wear sandals or shoes that are easy to slip on and off.
Of course, there are hundreds if not thousands more tips and pointers that could come in useful for planning a trip to Japan but I just wanted to summarise some of the ones that may have been less obvious or less familiar to those who have never visited Japan – but then again, when have I ever been good at summarising anything?!
Have you been to Japan? What else would you add to this list?
67 thoughts on “Travel Tips for Japan”
Thanks so much!
No problem 🙂 check out my blog when you get the chance
Shikha, my saviour! This post, while you say it wasn’t your usual style, will prove very useful for our time in Japan. Some of these are the exact tips you WON’T find in a guide book – and that’s why this list is so amazing!
I’m a little scared of the shower-and-stool combo, but I’ll let you know how it goes 😛
Hehehe, don’t worry at all Kasha, I’ve probably made it sound a little more basic than it is! It’s absolutely fine because (at least at the ryokans we stayed at), it’s still a shower head and handle as normal and they always have a lovely range of toiletries even in more basic places so it just means that instead of having to stand for your shower, you can sit on the stool instead!! Perfect for a lazy so and so like myself 😀 I’m so glad that you’ve found some of this helpful Kasha and for your lovely comment 🙂 I’m so excited for your whole trip and for Japan – you will absolutely love it out there & I’m looking forward to following along!
Lots of useful Japan travel tips here but with snippets of your beautiful prose which is something I really love about your blog. Always look forward to reading your posts. 🙂
You probably have no idea how much your lovely comment means to me Suzanne! I sometimes have an up down relationship with how I feel about my blog and honestly, hearing things like that reassures me that perhaps it’s ok to just keep doing it the way I love to 🙂 Thank you!
Thanks for sharing. I almost forgot I never been in Japan and I want to visit this place too. I want to experience riding their train and everything in Japan. It’s a small place yet it was a rich country.
Japan is so magical and full of diversity and beauty 🙂
I love your so-called rambling style, which is why settling down with you blog is like having a cup of tea with an old friend! These are really great tips, the pocket Wifi was useful, I was lucky that my phone contract allowed me data in the country but Mr S found invaluable for everything important such as checking the football scores…as for the rail pass, I might write a blog post on it. Before we went soooo many people told me it was highly necessary and super useful but in the end we didn’t actually travel enough to justify the cost hmmmm…great post as always and I’m sure giving travel tips will give you lots of lovely SEO points 😉
Aww Angie, thank you! You made my day by saying that, as I always wonder if everyone must end up totally switching off after the first paragraph or so of my posts!! Really appreciate that lovely comment 🙂 I guess you’re absolutely right about the rail pass – unless you actually plan to do lots of JR train travel, it potentially could end up being a bit of a waste – for anyone with a set plan in mind, guess it’s probably worth doing the maths of anticipated train fare costs vs rail pass cost but that wifi, I had to physically stop myself getting over-excited on the social media front so that I’d actually remember to enjoy the beauty of Japan in person!
Aww, you are making me miss Japan very much, I used to travel around Japan frequently. Is this your first time? First impressions to Japan are always fun to read about because I still remember mine…:)
If I’m to add anything to it, it would be to make sure you get on the right train! And don’t hesitate to ask anyone if unsure. The multiple trains arriving at the same platforms always throws me off and because they share the same platform but different routes. I have made this mistake a few times before..haha..hope it wasn’t confusing for you. 🙂
Oh, and take the airport bus if it stops close to the hotel because there is usually more stairs than escalators or lifts in their subways. They usually have a map of where the escalators/ lifts are but some platforms are really really long so trying to find them are quite time consuming.
Thanks for sharing these tips Sha. If I ever return (which I’d love to!) then these will be really helpful and I’m sure anyone planning to go who reads this will find your advice helpful too. Yes, it was my first time and I fell in love with it. Such a weird and wonderful destination. The trains were efficient and so speedy but I must admit, Pumpkin did most of arranging and checking of which train and what as he is an expert at such things and I am a bit hopeless to be honest so left to me, we would have both definitely gone wrong somewhere!! We were planning to take the bus straight from the airport to our hotel the night we arrived though our first night ended up being a bit of an unexpected turn of events….the whole story is here but let’s just say it ended up with us in sleeping bags! https://whywasteannualleave.com/2016/05/18/sleeping-narita-airport-tokyo/
Oh wow! It does sound like you had an adventure…isn’t it great that you will always remember your first trip to Japan.
I missed my flight home (my 1st ever in my whole entire life) on my 1st trip to Japan due to misadventures and until today, it makes me think back on my 1st trip to Japan fondly. Lots of memorable adventures definitely that I could laugh about now where it was not before….haha..can’t wait to read about more. 🙂
Don’t ever stop the rambling… that’s my favourite part! But I also really enjoyed the more practical tips… cannot wait to finally get to Japan someday!
Thank you Connie! It really feels so reassuring to know that there are people (even if only a few) who enjoy the rambling, as I just don’t think it would ever be “me” to write a super-short, brief post! You will LOVE Japan if and when you go – and LOTS of fabulous consuming to be done out there I can promise you 😀
Shikha, loved your post so much. You truly managed to capture very important points and the tips will be helpful for many! xoxo, nano
That is a very generous compliment coming from a Japan resident Nano!! Thank you 🙂 And thank you, of course, for all the invaluable information and advice you gave to me when we were planning our trip. I do hope that anyone reading this post and planning a trip to Japan heads over to your blog – it’s honestly like a bright, colourful Japan encyclopedia of fun things to see and do!!
Shikha, you are so sweet, thanks! 🙂
great list shikka. toilets are brilliant and youve just got to get the rail pass because you save so much and the trains are so good you just CANT travel Japan by bus!
yes we did soooo much train travel in our fortnight there Andy so for us, the rail pass more than paid for itself and I’ve never seen or used trains quite so efficient, timely and clean anywhere in the world! The toilets are so high tech – and sometimes quite confusing 😀
Great tips there Shikha, especially about choosing where to stay in Tokyo – I’d also recommend checking out the size of the hotel rooms, they can be pretty small there, as I discovered :s
Aaah yes, I forgot that completely Keri so thanks for sharing that tip, as it’s a really good one! I think we got lucky in not having tiny rooms (and randomly getting an upgrade on arrival to our Tokyo hotel) but I do recall reading review after review when we were planning hotels of people commenting on how tiny the rooms were. It made me think of what I’ve read about a lot of NYC hotels too.
Wow, what a useful and interesting post. Definitely filing this one away for when I get to Japan!
Thank you Natasha! I hope it does end up coming in useful some day 🙂
A very useful and well thought out post. Haven’t visited Japan before however these tips will come in handy if I ever do visit.
Thanks for sharing!
Than you so much Laura! Really appreciate that 🙂 Highly recommend a visit there if and when a chance arises – one of the most diverse and beautiful countries I’ve ever visited.
Me and Cez visited Japan last September and we bought railway passes! Great experience and we could easily move from one city to another!
I remember seeing your updates back then Agness! The rail passes worked out a great investment for us as well, as we did so much train travel during our time there and I know exactly what you mean about how easy it is to get from one city to another – we felt exactly the same way!
Great tips! I’m planning a trip to Japan next year, so I’ll def keep this list in mind 🙂
Thank you so much and I’m so excited for you Michelle! You are going to absolutely love it out there. I already had high hopes about Japan but it still managed to exceed all my expectations. If you need any other tips, feel free to ask 🙂
I love your waffle and friendly chit chat and it’s what keeps all your readers coming back so don’t ever change! But this is a great post though with loads of handy tips. Hopefully we’ll visit some time in the near future so I can use these tips!
Thank you so much lovely. Really means a lot to me to hear you say that! Ok – I’ll keep waffling on in that case!
I’d be ecstatic if I could get my man to organise this sort of thing, kudos to you! Maybe I’ll make it to Japan some day too…
Hehe, thanks Katie! He’s actually miles ahead of me when it comes to holiday organising skills & is great at getting the best for our pennies so I’m definitely grateful for that ☺
I don’t have a trip booked to Japan, but I found myself sucked into this super useful post just because I’m so intrigued and curious about this place (oh and because of your lovely writing of course!). I can’t wait to read about your stays and will definitely bookmark this one for when I do make it there. 😀
Aww thank you so much Char – even for those who aren’t travelling to Japan, there really is something so intriguing about the place isn’t there? I have so many stories that I want to turn into blog posts from my time there – possibly more stories even than days we spent there – now to actually get working on bringing them to fruition! ☺
Thank you! Looking at going dec this year. Could you provide more information with your hotels? Thank you
That’s so exciting! I’d be more than happy to give you more info on hotels – if you drop me an email through the ‘contact me’ page on this site, I’ll happily send you a list of the hotels we stayed in – there were quite a few so I’ll need to sift back through my emails to remind myself of all the names 😀
Thank you so much! I am looking at the maps and getting so confused and everyone’s information is such an overload!! haha
It’s great to be able to ship big luggage between two cities if you want to spend just a night or two somewhere in between (especially if the cost is reasonable). We’ve never done that – but it would make traveling much easier! Sounds like Japan has got this down to an art. Your other points/tips are really useful too. We’ve not been to Japan, but it’s on our wishlist! And we’ll bring little handwipes for using the ladies’ toilets when we come :-).
Hehe, yes I definitely would pack hand wipes or a flannel if I go back! The luggage courier service was brand new to me too but really handy for the cities where we were stopping overnight – things are so organised & efficient in Japan!
Really nice post!
Thank you so much! I’m so pleased you liked it ☺
First thing’s first: you look absolutely wonderful in these photos, Shikha! Well, you always do, but these are especially lovely 🙂
Secondly – I have no concrete plans to visit Japan, but it’s always been a country that I’ve been so intrigued about. There’s just something about it – it’s kooky and has a range of terrains and sights (and animals)! When I DO eventually get that Japan trip booked in, I know exactly where I’ll be coming for all my Japan tips 😉 xx
Aww you’re so sweet to say that Emily – what a lovely comment to see ☺ You’ve pretty accurately summarised many of the reasons I totally fell in love with Japan especially the mix of weird, bizarre things combined with such natural zen beauty & wildlife. It actually took me many years to grow to be intrigued about visiting Japan but now I’ve been, all I keep thinking is how much I want to go back and see more of the areas I missed!
Im going to Japan at the end of this year and found this so interesting! thank you 🙂
Thank you so much for reading & I’m delighted to hear you enjoyed the post! Very excited for you for your upcoming visit ☺ I just fell in love with Japan & it was so different to anywhere else I had seen so I hope that you have the best time there too!
Hi. I’m living in Tokyo, Japanese guy and operate a website “REAL JAPAN GUIDE”. It’s easy to understand article! Selection of pocket Wi-Fi I think the correct answer. In Japan trip, Wi-Fi is very important.
“TOP 10 INFORMATION NEEDED IN JAPAN”
I definitely found Pocket Wifi really useful out there!
I have just returned from a trip in Japan and I also loved it! It was so great that I’ve just started my blog where I’ve written about Nara and the deer… I would love you to check it out! We also found the toilets amazing- especially the heated seats!!
So pleased to hear you had such a wonderful time in Japan & that it inspired you to start your blog – that happened to me after I visited Iceland! I absolutely loved the way the deer roamed freely in Nara! I’ll definitely be checking out your blog ☺
Thanks Shikha for post a nice post.
Thank you for reading!
Thank you for your awesome blog, it was very interesting and good advice. We are going in April so I would think this would all come in handy.
Oh I’m so pleased you have found it helpful and I’m so excited for you that you are visiting there too! We went in April as well and we had the BEST time! I would absolutely love to return to Japan one day, perhaps in the autumn season next time to see how the fall colours look 🙂
Great tips! I can’t wait to go to Japan too!
Thank you! I’m glad they seem useful and I definitely recommend a visit if and when you get the chance – one of the most special countries I’ve visited 🙂