There are many reasons why travellers love Japan. The country is beautiful. Its culture is unique. The people are gracious. But most travellers do find Japan a little intimidating. Their transportation systems are complex. Expenses are not cheap. (But fear not, we have you covered with 5 budget hacks for your Japan trip.) Do the Japanese even speak English?
Still, I have never heard of anyone who came back from Japan not wanting to go back to Japan. I love how one can get immerse in the hypnotic brightly-lit billboards in bustling Tokyo and then experience a fulfilling cultural experience in the charming city of Kyoto. All you got to do is to get some insider tips on how to make informed decisions for your trip! Equip yourselves with our tips and you'll definitely be all set for your trip to Japan!
1. Check the weather
If you are a seasoned traveller, this may be a no-brainer. But I remembered the first time I went to Hanoi, I made a rookie traveller mistake. While most people prefer to plan a detailed itinerary, I love to just wing it. I skipped research and expected summer all year around everywhere in Asia. Well, my wing-it plan didn’t work out very well. I spent a portion of my budget getting myself enough clothing to keep me warm...and alive.
In case you hadn’t already known this, Japan has four distinct seasons. Thankfully, the Internet is readily available to inform you of the weather during your travel period. So, there is no good reason to make rookie traveller mistakes like I did.
Not only does checking out the weather help you to make the right choices about your clothing, but it is also important to check if the places you are going are open during the period. Some places, like Kyoto’s Imperial Palace, may not be open during December. No matter what the weather is, just keep in mind that the weather is beyond your control. If it rains, don’t fret. It’s part of your travelling experience. Just go with it!
2. Do I travel light?
When you are in Japan? Yes! Travel light! One of my best decisions I had made for the trip was to travel light. Not only would you be constantly transferring from one railway line to another, there are few stations with escalators. Trust me, you would not want to struggle with your heavy luggage up long flight of stairs in a busy train station.
When my travel buddy and I were in Japan, we discovered huge lockers to put our backpacks on days when we moved from one accommodation to another. While waiting for the time to check-in to our next accommodation, we locked up our backpacks to move around the city freely.
There is a variety of choices when it comes to picking out your accommodation in Japan. You are definitely spoilt for choices. But if you are travelling during the peak-seasons, you would need to book early. Most hostels are usually fully-booked especially the ones centrally located to places of interest.
If you are not claustrophobic like me, you might consider staying in capsule hotels. One that is unique to Japan, capsule hotels are not found in any other countries. If you are unsure of it, there are Youtube videos of travellers providing reviews on it.
Another unique accommodation that one can find in Japan is Ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn for travellers. You get to experience sleeping on a tatami mat, enjoying the onsen and a scenic surrounding view. However, it is not for the budget traveller. While you may find peace and zen in a Ryokan, it is usually expensive not centrally-located to the city-area.
As I was city-hopping in Japan, I spent seven days moving from one accommodation to another. Although I may have missed out on a truly authentic experience, I know that I need a resting place that suits my needs to recharge at night. Make a list of your needs and take time to check if the Airbnb host provides them. Also, read other travellers review to find out more about your hosts and get to know them. You may even keep in touch with them through Facebook and Instagram just in case you plan to return to Japan.
It helps to look for hosts who are new to the platform as they usually are more willing to go the extra mile for you. I found living spaces with kitchen for the days we travel to the outskirts of the cities. Also, our hosts even lent us (good and new) bicycles for us to ride around Kyoto and pocket wifi! So source out for the best deals you can find!
4. Getting around Japan
Japan is known for their complex subway network. Looking at the subway map can be intimidating. But do not worry! There are many apps out in the Play Store or App Store that can help you navigate through the numerous lines. All you need to do is to type “Japan Subway”. You may want to download them prior to your trip to see which app you are comfortable using.
There is only one challenge; to find the correct entrance and exit! In stations (like Shibuya) where many different railway lines converge, you are bound to spend a little more time figuring out where to go. When this happens, just calm down and ask for directions from the officers in the nearest control station. There is absolutely nothing to worry about getting lost in Japan. Most Japanese are able to converse in the English language. Best of all, they are always willing to help tourists out.
If you have the opportunity to borrow a pocket wifi, turn on your Google Maps. It is almost insane how accurate it is. Not only will it tell you which stations to alight at, it will also inform you of the timing of the next train and the exact fare for your trip.
We wanted to explore into the unknown and seek a little adventure. It was so worth it! We discovered gorgeous landscape and even took some Instagram-worthy pictures!
5. Do I get that JR rail pass or not?
This is the biggest dilemma that most travellers faced prior to their trip. To spend 29,100 Yen (approximately USD237) on a week’s train card is a painful thought to entertain. On hindsight, I wished I had gotten it. But you need to consider if it is worth purchasing it for your trip.
- You cannot purchase the pass in Japan. This means that you would need to purchase it before you leave your country.
- Not only are you able to use it from one city to another, you may also use it when you travel on the travel within the city. However, the JR rail pass does not cover all railway lines.
If you are only travelling within Tokyo, there is absolutely no need to purchase it. Each train ride usually cost about 220 Yen. You may consider getting the Suica card - a rechargeable card used as a fare card on train lines in Japan (think EZ-link card in Singapore or Oyster card in London). It saves the hassle of purchasing tickets each time you take the train.
However, if you plan to take the Shinkansen or the Japanese bullet train (YES YOU SHOULD! It is the fastest in the world!) to another city in Japan, it is best you consider purchasing it. A single trip from Tokyo to Kyoto is about 14, 500 Yen (about SGD$170) and the trip back to Narita Airport is about 16,500 Yen (about SGD $190). Simple math would tell you that it covers the cost of the JR rail pass. You would not be able to take the fastest Shinkansen with the JR rail pass. But, you would definitely save a good sum of your money. Just make sure you read the terms and condition of the pass carefully before you make your decision.
If time is not a factor, you may consider taking the bus. A trip from Tokyo to Kyoto would take about 2 hours on a Shinkansen whereas a bus ride would take about 10 to 12 hours. However, the fare is a lot cheaper. Just make sure you have things to keep you occupied during the journey.
6. Prepare for emergency
Believe it or not, during my trip to Japan, I missed my flight and my bus to Kawaguchiko Station from Shinjuku. I even lost my wallet while transferring from one train to another. Luckily, I had separated my Yen from my cards and home currency. Always remember to separate your money and put them in different compartments! Should this misfortune befalls upon you, BREATHE! You cannot think of a game plan if you panic. Fortunately, my bank activated my ATM card. You may find ATM machines to withdraw your money from the various 7/11 stores or post offices.
7. Research on Halal Japanese Restaurants
This would be one of the best parts of your trip! Japan is one of the few countries in the world that provides halal menu for their authentic local cuisine. There is nothing more gratifying than tasting Japanese food in Japan, right? ABSOLUTELY!
And you don't even have to do much research, cos we've done the work for you! Be sure to check out our halal food guides and travel guides for Japan and include them in your itinerary. While you are there, make friends with your fellow Muslims around the world!
Everything about Japan is fascinating, right down to their train ticketing machine. In fact, I would say that it is one of my favourite places in the world. Go! Fall in love with Japan.