ASIA, TRAVEL TIPS

Travel Tips: Japan Edition

Japan is an amazing country with tons to see and do. Planning the perfect trip is quite a task and requires a lot of research (especially if you’re a perfectionist like me). Here’s a list of tips I wish someone had shared with me before my trip…

bullet trains

  • If you’re a foreigner, buy the Japan Rail Pass! It provides unlimited access to a lot of the trains, buses and ferries throughout Japan for the amount of days you select, all at a discounted rate. The Japan Rail Pass connects just about all of the main cities. Make sure you buy it at least a week in advance, since it gets mailed directly to your home from the UK. I made the mistake of waiting until the last minute, thinking that you pick it up there… I was so wrong! For more information and to buy your Japan Rail Pass, visit  http://www.japanrailpass.net/en/
  • Plan side trips. There’s so much to see and do in Japan and most places are easily accessible by train. Take advantage of your Japan Rail Pass and visit other cities without incurring any extra costs. In my opinion, it warrants a side trip if you can see that place in 1 day and if you can get there in less than 3 hours (it’ll take you that long to get back, so anything longer is just too much).

dining

  • Don’t leave dinner reservations for last minute. Most restaurants are tiny- like 8 seats total. Some restaurants fill up months in advance (especially in Tokyo), so plan ahead. Choosing a restaurant in Tokyo takes a while anyway, so start researching it with time…. there are over 50,000 restaurants to choose from.
  • Nice restaurants can be EXTREMELY EXPENSIVE. Several restaurants I considered offered a pre-fixe menu for lunch costing approximately $250 per person and up… That’s $500 and up for us to have sushi for lunch! Make sure you incur about pricing before making reservations.
  • Contact your hotel concierge and ask them to make your reservations for you. Most restaurants require reservations and some fill up months in advance, much before you’re even in Japan. I found that a lot of restaurants don’t have any way of making reservations other than calling in. Since I don’t speak any Japanese (and often times the person answering doesn’t speak much English), it would be almost impossible for me to make the reservations myself… not to mention expensive having to call Japan. I looked up my hotel’s concierge online and found their contact email.  I reached out to them and simply provided the timeframe and restaurants I would like to dine at and they were able to send me availability via email. Take advantage of your hotel’s concierge; they’re a great resource.

when to visit

  • Pick the perfect time to visit. The perfect time to visit depends on what you hope to see and do. If you want to see the cherry blossoms then there’s a very short timeframe in the spring (it changes every year). The fall is a great time to see beautiful gardens full of colors. If you want to ski, then definitely the winter is when you should visit. And if you want to sweat your butt off, like I did, then go in the summer. Every season has its pros and cons. Summer was extremely hot, but it’s low season, so it was cheaper and places weren’t as full. I decided on summer, simple because it was when I could go and I really wanted to visit Japan.

tun

  • If you really want to attend the famous tuna auction at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, make sure you get there super early. Although the auction starts at 5am, they only allow the first 120 people to enter. We were told that people arrive as early as 2am to line up outside, so arriving at 4am does not guarantee entrance. If this is a priority of yours, make sure you plan to be there super early.

kyoto

  • Choosing an itinerary really comes down to your personal preference and your interests. The first thing you must do is decide on your focus: it can be architecture, religion, historically significant places, beautiful sites to photograph, etc. Especially in a city like Kyoto, which has over 10,000 shrines and over 1,600 Buddhist temples, you can’t see everything. Do your research and select the places you want to visit based on your interests. You can easily spend a month in Japan and not see a fraction of the sites. I love seeing beautiful places and photographing them, so Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Daigo-ji and Fushimi Inari Shrine were at the top of my list for our visit to Kyoto.  You must prioritize!
  • When making your itinerary, check the hours of operations. Most temples in Kyoto close really early (like 3 or 4pm). Check their hours before making your final itinerary.
  • Try to walk as much as you can in Kyoto. There are beautiful things to see in every corner. The more you walk, the more you get to see and experience.
  • Beat the crowd! If you want to visit the more popular places in Kyoto, like Arashiyama Bamboo Grove and the Golden Pavilion, go as early as possible.

misc

  • No need to exchange money ahead of time. At the airport they offer great exchange rates. There’s also ATM machines around the city and in the train stations that’ll exchange your money.
  • Japan has an extremely strict no tattoos policy. Apparently the Japanese associate tattoos with the mafia, so they are strictly prohibited. If you have any visible tattoos, then you cannot use the spa, fitness center or any of the public pools. There are even some restaurants and shows that won’t let you in if a tiny piece of a tattoo is visible. If you plan on visiting Japan and have tattoos, take clothes that can cover them up, so that you don’t have to go shopping like my husband. Not all places are that strict, but it’s better to be safe, than sorry.
  • Most hotels have different electrical outlet options, so there’s no need to pack adapters. Verify with your hotel first, but both of my hotels had the standard North American outlet and the European one.
  • Research! Research! Research! A trip to Japan requires a lot of planning ahead. Read as much as you can, so that you’re prepared. If you read enough, you’ll be able to create an itinerary for your trip, but don’t pack it too tight. Sometimes it rains, sometimes you really just want to sleep in, and sometimes you had a huge lunch and you really aren’t hungry for dinner. Basically… shit happens! Leave some extra time so that you can really enjoy your trip. Don’t forget to be spontaneous and have fun.

Happy planning!

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19 Comments

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      Thank you for the compliment Kavin!

  • Reply Helen January 13, 2016 at 3:51 pm

    Very helpful (you replied to my tripadvisor post) yesterday. I have lots of planning to do! I might drop you a message if I get stuck – trying to get to grips with the train lines and schedules.

    • Reply The Traveling Red January 13, 2016 at 4:30 pm

      Hi Helen,

      I’m glad you found it helpful. You can comment here with any questions, I’m happy to help.

      Happy Travels,
      The Traveling Red

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