Hi there, planning a trip to Japan? These are some useful information and tips that we picked up on our trip that will be useful.
1. Things to do on Arrival
Japan can be slightly confusing and though being lost in this city that hides many interesting corners can be interesting, it can also be tiring and frustrating. When you arrive at every city/new neighbourhood, the first thing we visit would be the Tourist information centre. Here we also grab the local map specific to the area. Usually the local map is available at every major train station as well and available in English. Grab a map for the commuter lines is a must too.
Learn how to get to your accommodation. There are 4 ways of transport:
1. Subway/ Train – One of the cheapest modes of transport and convenient when you have only hand carry or amount of luggage you think you can lug around. Often you need to go to a main train station and transfer to smaller one to reach your accommodation. It will involve lots of walking and steps.
2.Bus – Very similar to subway but could be harder to lug your luggage inside a packed bus but may save you walking up and down the steps.
3. Airport Limousine bus – Though the word limousine screams exclusive, luxury and expensive, it’s not the case with airport limousine bus. This is the best mode of transport to get you direct to your accommodation if you have a lot of luggage with reasonable price.
Cost from Airport: Haneda – 1230 JPY and Narita – 3100 JPY (Ticket this price can be purchase at the many HIS Tourist Information across Japan).
4. Taxi – Only catch it when you really have to. Taxi rate in Japan is among the most expensive in the world. It is certainly the most expensive taxi ride I’ve ever been in.
Tips: If possible, take a flight that will allow you to arrive at midday or afternoon. Arriving too late with baggage and everything else you need to do in the airport may make you able to leave the airport only pass midnight. At this time there is less transport available and may leave your only option the most expensive one – taxi. You may want to consider this while planning.
Arrange wifi/ internet connection
Another thing that a lot of people do is to rent a pocket wifi from the airport. These pocket wifi is not cheap but the connection is really good and they offer an unlimited option. If you stay at airbnb property you may check that they provide a free wifi docket you’d be able to carry with you. We moved from places to places so we rent our own pocket wifi. These are very flexible that you can return at any other airport from other city, it doesn’t have to be the one you rent it from. Also do ask for a few days discount if you felt it’s too expensive, they can be quite flexible. A day rental cost around 1000 yen a day which is around about $10.
This will be well worth it if you are in a group as it can connect to many devices. We use wifi extensively to find direction and how to get to places so this is very important for us.
Any special rate?
Yes you’ll learn that Tourist information Centre will soon become my favourite stopover, H.I.S, Japan travel specialised Tourist Information Centre has many things on offer. Like the following special price for wifi:
Rent rate for pocket wifi:
1 day – 700 JPY
3 day – 2000 JPY
5 day – 3000 JPY
1 week – 4000 JPY
2weeks – 8000 JPY
Other than pocket wifi, you can get a sim card – perfect for invidual user but it comes with limited amount of data. Double this and you get an unlimited for 2 weeks plus for many devices.
Price for Prepaid Sim Card:
1GB – 2600 JPY
2GB – 4000 JPY
Free internet service and wifi on multiple location is available in Japan for those who do not necessarily need 24/7 internet connection.
2. About Japan Rail Pass
Japan has Japan Rail pass offered to tourist only. This rail pass enable you to use Japan Railways (or JR) commuter system for 7, 14 or 21 days depending on the length you bought. This has to be ordered though the website from outside Japan ONLY and delivered by mail to you in the form of an inactive pass. Keep this in mind that it will take at least a few business days to arrived. It is not something you can print directly after purchase.
You can choose to activate this pass anytime in Japan by presenting your passport with prove of visitor visa.
Is this pass worth it?
It depends on your travel plan. The below will be applicable to travellers vvisiting the area of Tokyo, Kyoto, Fuji and Osaka because that was our route. There are many commuter lines in Japan; JR is just one of it. Some is not reachable by JR, some can only be reached by JR. You will need to use the JR lines at some point for sure and JR station is often the biggest in the city but the cost of individual ticket is not expensive.
There are limitations on the use of JR pass that you can’t use the fastest bullet train to certain cities. It is not valid to be used on Nozomi and Mizuho on the Todaido, Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen Line. So if it’s one of the things you want to use the JR pass for, you may want to reconsider.
Where will you use a lot of JR?
You can use JR to and from the airport. But in Osaka it is not direct and take a longer route. Direct airport rail is privately owned in Osaka. JR reach the main neighborhood of Tokyo like Harajuku, Shinjuku and Shibuya but it doesn’t go to Asakusa and some other places. In the end you’ll need to use both subway and JR to transfer to the places you need to go. In Kyoto, you need JR to go to Nara and Fushimi Inari Temple only with the rest more efficiently reached using a bus. In Osaka, JR will take you to the main tourist spots but so will the subway system.
To get to Fuji Mountain the best route will be by bus from Shinjuku. The only real use of JR and it will be worth it if you use it to go to far city quite often within the days that it is active and you are planning to use it on JR bus which we did not as we did not understand the route.
Considering that USD was so strong when we purchased JR pass and our itinerary, we think that buying day passes and individual tickets would save us more money than using a JR pass. If like us and most short term tourist where you destinations are Tokyo-Fuji-Disneyland-Kyoto-Osaka I don’t see the need to purchase a JR unless you plan to go back and forth between the cities.
To illustrate what cities of Japan and neighborhood of Tokyo that will be applicable for JR I have attached a map below for your reference. I hope that helps you make the decision to purchase it or not.
3. On transport and day passes
Taxi price in japan is shocking. We didn’t know better and decided to take the easy way which is to catch a taxi since it was late and we misunderstood the instruction on how to get to our place. Our host told us it will cost $10 by taxi to the place I miss the part that says it’s from the closest station, not from the airport. Lesson learned.
There are a total of a whopping 37 different lines in Japan, confusing much? Luckily you don’t have to know them by name. You will use the Tokyo Metro Line and Toei Line while in Tokyo. And maybe some JR when you see fit. Day pass for Metro and toei Line is available for 1000 JPY an adult that you can purchase from the ticket machine. Without the day pass, each trip will cost at least 170 yen one way.
Other than the day pass from the ticket machine, in Tokyo you can get a better deal day pass from the tourist information centers.
This special rate is 800 JPY for a day pass, 1200 JPY for 2 days pass and 1500 JPY for three days pass.
In Osaka the subway day pass is 600 JPY for a holiday/Sunday/public holiday and 800 JPY for normal days. And if you are visiting the Osaka Castle, this ticket will get you 100 JPY discount on the entry. Having a day pass may get you a discount on entries isn’t being a Tourist in Japan great.
Rechargeable cards – For those who will not be jumping from one station to another the rechargeable cards could be the most suitable. This is in the form of Suica and Passmo card that you can get from convenient stores and trains station. This card enables you to ride any transport and save you the hassle of always buying individual ticket. It also deduct the fee by the distance you traveled so you don’t have to worry you incorrectly buy a more expensive ticket and waste unnecessary money.
We only took the bus while in Kyoto. Bus is the main transport in Kyoto to get to the city’s attraction. They also have subway and a few JR lines that is suitable to visit some locations. Keep in mind that there may be traffic jam on bus. In Kyoto, each bus will cost 230 JPY or you can get a day pass for just 500 JPY. Bus can be a mode transport for a scenic long distance travel. It is also a recommended transport to go to Fuji from Shinjuku by bus and will cost around 2000 yen.
You will walk so much and goes up and down so many stairs to commute. People who have been to Japan claim that they walk around 9 hours a day so makes sure you wear your most comfortable footwear. Maybe because that they walk so much the shoes they sell is so comfortable – if my purpose to Japan is to shop I’ll be getting some pairs but time and budget constraint only allows me to skim through them with lust.
4. Saving Money Tips
The idea that Japan is an expensive country has already been busted long ago. Though it is not exactly cheap either, these can save you some more moolah and so you can splurge on what really matters to you.
- Withdraw money from ATM machine
- To withdraw at 7 Eleven turns out to be cheaper than money changer because the service fee of money changer was expensive. Withdraw big amount at a time and less often to avoid keep paying the ATM fee.
- Look for tourist information center for discounted pass/voucher.
- I have mention the cheaper day passes above. There are more vouchers you can get from information centers, your host or hotel.The two that we used are a voucher to ride the Fuji Cable Car and to visit the Robot restaurant. We almost didn’t visit the robot restaurant as it cost a whooping 8000 JPY online and decide to proceed when we can get it for 5500 JPY from an Information Center. Our ticket doesn’t include meal but who needs a meal with a wacky show, right?right?
- Never use a taxi
- lesson learned the hard way. But in all honesty you can consider a taxi if you are press for time but consult with the taxi driver beforehand on how much you’ll be expected to pay to avoid our mistake.
- Have elaborate meal for lunch and keep dinner simple.
- It is a given that dinner is the most expensive meal of the day but the price different of lunch and dinner is very significant in Japan. On top of that, the menu and quality of food is exactly the same. No wonder while lunch is usually fully booked, dinner is more walk-in friendly. If you want to try fancy restaurants, booking for lunch can save you a lot while you are getting the same food. The difference between dinner and lunch price for Toisuro is almost half so when we book for lunch, we can to try the more expensive degustation and still pay less than what we’ll have to pay for the cheapest degustation for dinner.
- For coupon and further info on how to get special rates check out H.I.S website on coupon and office location. They’re mostly at the main tourist area.
5. On themeparks
Ticket to the Disneysea, Disneyland and Universal Studio can be bought from all tourist information. They are very conveniently located at most major subway/JR stations. Disney Ticket can also be bought from Disneystore across the city. We purchased our ticket for 6900 JPY at an information centre. It cost more than if you purchase online. Entry to Universal Studio cost 7200 JPY.
For Disneyland and Disneysea, all of the major rides will have a fast pass system, free of charge. Just scan you entry ticket on the fast pass machine somewhere at the entry of the ride to attain this pass and continue to explore and play the less popular rides. There are around about 10 rides that are the most popular that offer this fast pass system. The ticket will tell you the time you should be back and you don’t need to queue for that long.
6. Locker System
Need to check out from your accommodation to go to other city and still want to explore the city you’re at? You don’t have to worry about lugging your luggage around with lockers available at subway station and luggage placement service at big stations. The space inside is pretty huge and it is quite economical. The smallest space is 300 JPY, with medium locker being 500 JPY and largest 700 JPY. We manage to put 3 hand carry bags into one locker space. The place you can put your bag for a charge in Kyoto cost 450 JPY per bag no matter how big or how small and it is open from 8am to 8pm. So this will be a better option for those with massive single luggage who needs somewhere to store it between those times.
7. Useful Apps and websites
We used this handful of apps and website in Japan and they have been extremely useful for us.
-Hyperdia.com – Transport app that allow you to enter you location and your destination and will work out everything out for you in an instance like which subway line to catch, what time and how much.
-Tripadvisor – We use this to find out what is the best eat in the city. There are apparently many in just a short walking distance from our accommodation! Foursquare app is good for this too but may not be as established in some countries/city.
-Google Map – Google map is the best invention ever for our Japan trip. We used it everywhere even to find our accommodation from the nearest train station. This is the single most useful app that allows us to be able to travel without a guide/ with organised tour.
-Google Chrome – This can help translate website with ease, especially while looking for address.
-Google translates – We download this app before our trip. With the camera function we can take a snap shot of Japanese character and it will translate them to English or whatever other language.
Technology has truly revolutionized travel.
8. You can hire a free local guide in Tokyo
If you are still slightly anxious or would like some insights from a local, you can hire a free local guide in Tokyo. These guides are volunteers who are learning English mostly and love to meet people. They will gladly take you around. In term, you need to pay for their entry fee to whatever you wish them to take you to and it is up to you to treat them for lunch as a token of appreciation. For more on free tour guide, visit their official website.
I’ll be glad if there’s a thing or two you can pick up from this article that will help you plan your trip to Japan. Know any other tips? Please do share on the comment section below. Happy planning =)