Because a couple of friends reached out asking about my trip to Japan, and wanted tips and suggestions, I thought I’d put together a list of general things, food recommendations and things to do/see for everyone interested in visiting Japan in the near future. Hope this helps! Feel free to reach out if you’ve got any questions or leave a comment if you’ve got something awesome to share with fellow travellers 🙂
Things you should get or do before you go to Japan:
JR Pass (http://www.jrpass.com/)
What’s great about the JR Pass is that it allows you to travel unlimited on most of the lines and Shinkansen (bullet train) within Japan. Awesome for doing trips outside of Tokyo through the Kansai region (Osaka,Kyoto,Nara,etc) and beyond.
Because the subway/trains in Japan are owned by private companies, some of them require you to pay for the trip that doesn’t allow JR Pass. This is where you will use a Suica Card. More on this below under [Transit and Getting Around].
I strongly recommend getting the JR Pass because it saves you mad amount of monies. You should get it shipped to you before your trip. You will have to bring those with you and get to the JR tourist kiosk at the airport or major train station where they will exchange it for actual JR passes for you to use. The JR passes work in the order of duration for how long you want to use it. We got the 7 day one for our 2nd week outside of Tokyo to the Kansai area. Note that as soon as you activate it, you have to use it for the consecutive days. You also need your passport whenever you show it to go through/exit.
Although most of the people we encountered spoke enough English, there were times we couldn’t quite get our message across and the Japanese strongly appreciates the fact that you tried to speak Japanese to them. Some good things to learn are simple phrases like
Thank you very much / Thank you
Arigatou-shimasu / Arigatou
Excuse Me or Pardon Me
Do you speak English?
Eigo o hanashi-masu ka?
Where is the bathroom?
Ofuro wa doko desu ka?
*you don’t pronounce the “u” at the end of the word, so for words like “desu”, it’d be pronounced as “des”. Obviously it’s different for some words, look it up and listen to audio versions for the right pronounciations.
I downloaded the app “Memrise” to learn basic Japanese, it’s a great app and quite fun to use because of the gamification and tips contained within it.
You could also use Google Translate for simple words and phrases but I find that it’s not always the most accurate, depending on the complexity of the phrase/sentence
You can try to get money exchanged at your bank before your trip but it’s real convenient to get your money in the 7-Elevens there as they allow oversea money transaction.
100 yen = $1.28 CAD (it changes depending on the rate, but that’s what it is at the moment).
Note that Japan is still a strong cash Country and you’re better off getting cash than using your credit card unless you’re going to places like malls and restaurants. If you want to use your credit card there, make sure that your credit card is not a 6-digit pin as Japan only has 4-digit pins. Same for your debit card. I had to get mine changed to 4-digits before my trip.
There are two major international airports that get you to Tokyo. Haneda and Narita. Narita is the biggest and is located about 60km east of central Tokyo. Our flight took us to Haneda, which is to the south of Tokyo and has the most domestic flights to the cities around (incase you’re too lazy to sit on the shinkasen).
We stayed at the APA hotels in Shinjuku, Akiharaba, and Osaka. APA hotels can be found all over Japan, the rooms are quite small as most places in Japan are (especially the washroom) but it wasn’t too bad as long as you’re not messy. One of the perks of staying at the APA Hotel chain is that they are generally close to things and do luggage forwarding to your next hotel. This saves you the hassle of trying to bring your suitcase with you while you navigate the confusing and crowded train stations. Most of the staff at the Front Desk speaks English (or enough English) for your questions. It was harder in Osaka as we stayed at the APA hotel that was a little further away from the tourist-y area and the staff didn’t speak much English for our conversation about our missing luggage (which was delayed due to the typhoon).
Suica Cards (Think Ez-Link or Octopus Card in Asia) can be easily purchased at the Tourist kiosk at the airport or the train stations. You can easily top it up with cash at the machines in the train stations. There’s a $5 deposit fee for the card which you can get back if you choose to return your card before leaving Japan (we kept ours as souvenirs).
Suica Cards can also be used to pay for things at some convenience stores.
People have the misconception that Japan is expensive. In terms of comparing it to other Asian Countries, it is but it’s almost on-par to Canada, if not a little cheaper depending on what you’re paying for.
Food’s relatively decently priced for the things we consumed, and you don’t tip in Japan as it’s considered rude to, so that saves you some money there.
As far as eating at good places go, you want to check out places that have line-ups. Locals know what’s good and they believe good things are worth waiting for.
A lot of restaurants have English menus, so ask for that.
You’ll notice some restaurants are standing restaurants + people eat quick. Contrary to popular beliefs, they eat A LOT, and very quickly due to their demanding work life, so getting to those popular restaurants shouldn’t cause you to wait too long (unless it’s dinner at some places).
*Ramen restaurants usually have vending machines to handle the cash transaction and it spits out a meal ticket which you hand to the staff. Some of the machines don’t have English on it so..Be adventurous and choose something random. Chances are, it’ll be mad delicious.
Refer to my blog(http://omnomnomies.com/blog/) and scroll through or type “travel” for all my restaurant posts and look for the ones you want to check out for restaurants but if you’re lazy, some of the absolute must’s are:
If you plan to visit Mt.Fuji, you’re going to be in the Kawaguchiko area and you should definitely check out High Spirits Izakaya. We had a blast here and the owner (Chef Go and his assistant, Miki) are absolutely,frigging amazing. One of my favourite places I’ve ever been to.
Visit a dive bar or Absinthe Bar. We’ve been to this awesome one called Alternative bar (Absinthe) in Shinjuku. It’s this mad tiny place that walking down the stairs take you to the bartender and maybe 6 chairs in the bar but they have awesome rock/metal music and all kinds of absinthe. Chances are, you’re going to meet awesome travellers and locals, like we did!
Go to a themed bar/cafe. There’s Gundam, One Piece, Luda’s Bar..etc. Find something that appeals to you and check it out
Spend your coins on those coin slots that shoot out little things in balls. Ball Capsule slots are awesome there and the quality of the products that come out are amazing. They’re totally great souvenir for friends back home too
Visit the Samurai Museum (I quite enjoyed this place. We had a great Japanese tour guide who spoke amazing English and he was great at explaining things)
Visit shrines, there are so many hidden ones/neighbourhood shrines and it’s just a great experience overall
Find my hambeargwrr sticker on the wall of Troll Hello Kitty stickers in Shinjuku
Visit a cat cafe and be one with the cat-pack
Check out the Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho (Alley-way with these amazing skewer and food establishments)
Go to Harajuku Street and shop or feast on their famous crepes.
Go to the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower to view all of Tokyo at night
Eat at sushi conveyor belt restaurants if you’re feeling poor. Good sushi for the price.
Go to Purikura Booths and take fabulous photos
Explore random stretches of shops under the highways
Find random vending machines like this “King’s Treasure Box” that takes 1000 yen and spits out absolutely random but awesome things. We got a blue-tooth speaker and an arm-band for smartphones.
Go to Dotonbori, Osaka. You can walk forever there, or be hit on by hosts
Check out awesome restaurant displays of fake food to work on your appetite
Eat Takoyaki from where it originated from, Osaka.
Go to the karaoke places there. They’re awesome. We had a room with a ballpit and slide and even the songs are translated and subbed better than the ones we’ve been to in Toronto
Go to Nara and feed some bowing deers
Eat Kobe in Kobe if you’re feeling rich. Or get Matsusaka beef (Another type of great grade beef)
Go to an onsen or stay overnight at a ryokan (japanese traditional inn)
Go to Fushimi Inari-Taisha
Go to the Kyoto Imperial Palace
Honestly, Japan has been one amazing trip and I haven’t even begun to cover a speck of the awesomeness that is Japan. Check these places mentioned, or not any at all, whatever it is, you’re going to have a helluva good time and nothing will ever come even close to your experience there. Your life is determined by your time before visiting Japan, and after Japan.