Excited to go to Japan? This country is known for its beautiful temples, its cherry blossoms and spectacular autumn foliage. Japan is a great destination to travel, especially with the upcoming Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Whether you already booked your trip or getting to Japan is on your top to do list, check out these tips. I put together this list for first-time visitors to Japan, as I have been through this experience myself.
I honestly wish I knew all this information before visiting Japan for the first time! Here are some useful tips before you board your dream trip to Japan and while you are here:
Before you Leave:
1. Make sure you don’t need a visa
The majority of citizens from European countries, the United States and Australia do not require a tourist visa to come to Japan. They can enjoy Japan for a maximum of 90 days, visa-free. However, there are several countries where you need to obtain a tourist visa PRIOR to entering the country. Before your trip, I advise you to check whether you are required to obtain a tourist visa before coming to Japan. You can check here. In case you need to prepare your tourist visa, make sure to allow yourself at least one or two months for the paperwork.
2. Order a Japan Railway Pass
If you are coming to Japan as a tourist and you want to visit a lot of different regions, I advise you to order a Japan Railway Pass. For instance, if you are planning to visit Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto in on trip, you should definitely get one. It is a true money saver, as you can get unlimited train rides at a cheaper rate than locals! You can buy the Japan Railway Pass for a seven day, 14 day or 21 day period. I advise you to buy your Japan Railway Pass BEFORE you come to Japan, as it can be a bit troublesome to buy it in Japan. You can only find it at certain train stations and airports and only for a limited amount of time. You can book online your Japan Railway Pass here.
Trust me, this tip will save you a lot of time and cash!
3. Pre-order your tourist sim-card online
Wifi is pretty common in Japan, but some may say, not as common like other countries. You can enjoy free public wifi in most hotels, train stations and tourist centers, but NOT all restaurants and cafes have wifi! Before you leave, my advise is to order your tourist sim-card online. You can buy your sim-card here and collect it once you reach a Japanese airport. You can also buy a tourist sim-card once you reach Japan, however, the process can be tiring if you go to a local shop where the staff do not speak English.
In case you are travelling with your family or in a big group, another option is to rent a pocket wifi. You can find out more about it here.
While in Japan:
1. Always carry your passport
I can not stress out this tip enough, as in Japan you are LEGALLY required to carry an official ID with you at all times. As a tourist, you should always carry around your passport. It is common in Japan for the local police to request you to show your passport, just for verification. It is totally safe to carry your passport around at all times while in Japan. That’s because there are no pickpocketers and Japan has a low crime rate country.
The perks of carrying around your passport is that you can do tax free shopping as a tourist. You can find all the tax free shops here.
2. Look for Tourist Information Centers
If you don’t know how to get to your destination, where to buy souvenirs or just need some free wifi, tourist information centers are your place to go! There you can ask for any information in English, Chinese and other languages. My advice is to always stop when you see tourist information centers and ask what you need to know. Sometimes, it is difficult to ask Japanese people for directions and other things, as they tend to not speak in English.
3. Know the Japanese etiquette
When I was a first time traveller to Japan, I did not know much about the Japanese etiquette. However, there are important rules and norms of the Japanese society. Even as a short term traveler, you need to be aware of them and respect them. Here are some of the most important etiquette tips in Japan:
- No smoking on the street. As a rule you can not some on the street. If you are a smoker, you can smoke in the outdoor designed smoking spaces only. Another alternative, is smoking indoors, in izakayas and restaurants that allow smoking.
- No tipping. In Japan, tipping is not common. So, while you are here, no need to worry about extra charges.
- No eating on the street. Eating on the street is perceived as ‘rude’ in Japan. While visiting, my advice is to make sure to avoid eating on the street or in public transportation,
- No talking on the phone in public transportation. When you are riding public transportation, make sure your phone is on silent. Furthermore, you can not pick up calls or make phone calls while riding the bus, subway or train. If there is an emergency, however, you can pick up quickly and ask the person to call you back once you get off public transportation.
4. Always carry around cash
It may be hard to believe, but some places in Japan do not accept credit cards. My tip is to always carry cash around with you. That is if you would like to visit pop up restaurants and shops, small retailers or ride taxis.
5. Buy a Pasmo or Suica card
If you don’t like carrying cash with you, an alternative is to buy a Pasmo or Suica card. These cards can be bought at most train and subway stations in Japan. They are cheap to buy and you can charge your money on them and use them to pay for things in Japan.
6. Avoid rush hour
Rush hour can be a nightmare in Japan, especially if you are riding the bus or the train. If you are travelling in Japan and you are not restricted by time, my advice is to avoid rush hour. During weekdays, the rush hours are between 8 a.m.to 9:30 a.m. and between 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Another thing to avoid is catching the last train as it is always packed…with drunk people! While riding the trains and subways, the first car is usually a “Women Only” car, which means men cannot ride the car during weekday mornings until 9 or 9:30 a.m.
7. Go to Koban if you need help
Koban are small Japanese police stations which can be found in all the neighborhoods. If you lose something, need help with directions or you encounter an emergency, go to the koban and ask for help. It is a common thing to do in Japan.
7. Learn a few Japanese words
Finally, my last tip is to learn a few Japanese words before travelling to Japan. In this way, you can show your respect to the people and to the culture and even make some Japanese friends! I recommend you to use free apps, like Learn Japanese or Obenkyo to study useful Japanese phrases before coming.