Akihabara, Tokyo, Japan

15 Tips For Travelling Japan…


Travelled in: July 2016

My recent trip to Japan took quite a bit of planning and some serious itinerary consideration, we had a lot of ground to cover, thousands of temples to visit, a whole lot of ramen to eat with only 11 days to fit it all in.

If I’m on a trip where I’m not on a time limit I like to just rock up to my destination and see where the wind (or the people I meet) take me, but for a country as big and with so much to see as Japan, I decided to plan our whole trip. From the trains we would take, to the places we would stay and even what food we should try, all to maximize our time and be cost efficient in our short but sweet stay in this beautifully cultured, friendly and fascinating country.


My Itinerary…

Tokyo = 3 Nights

Hakone = 1 Night

Kyoto = 3 Nights

Akashi (with day trips to Himeji & Hiroshima) = 2 Nights

Nara = 1 Night

Osaka = 1 Night


These are my Top 15 Travel Tips for an 11 day stay in Japan…
1. Check the weather…

My trip to Japan was in July 2016, the most humid month of the year. Generally, the weather was blue skies with a couple of cloudy days in Tokyo. We did have one day of torrential rain which unfortunately fell on the same day we visited Japans famous Mt Fuji, so our view was rather disappointing.

2. Invest in a fan…

I can safely say travelling Japan in July was the sweatiest 11 days of my life… this must be why most of the Japanese carry around a fan. If you travel at this time I highly recommend to invest in one, you can get them cheap from chain stores such as Daiso and it will feel like the best purchase you’ve ever made!
3. Plan the time of your trip before you travel…

Although Japan is a great country to visit at any time of year, if you want to go to see something specific you should check before you plan your trip what it is you want to see and if it’s the right time of year for it… for example if you want to see the cherry blossom you should travel between March & May or maybe you want to watch a Sumo tournament in the famous Tokyo’s Ryogoku Sumo hall, these are typically held in January, May & September.

A great website I used to check out timings and plan my trip was http://www.japan-guide.com/.
4. Take the train everywhere…

Japan has a great public transport system with some of the fastest cross country bullet train lines in the world. Whether it’s the tram, bus, subway or bullet trains you can expect clean, fast and efficient transportation to get you to wherever you want to go. Unlike many other places in the world train travel in Japan is a pleasant experience. The trains are clean, spacious and super-fast so it makes long journeys a lot more bearable. Some of the seats on the train swivel to face both ways, so if you are travelling in a big group you can turn your seats around to all face each other. There is always space to place your luggage above you and on the bullet trains, if you haven’t had chance to grab some food or drink at the station, there is usually a cafe on board.

The most stressful thing about train travel in Japan are the train stations – they are incredibly big, busy and can be confusing because of the amount of different lines. For example, if you switch trains from a local line to a Shinkansen, you might have to walk a good 10/15 minutes to get to your next platform, (depending on what station you are in). There are also a ridiculous amount of different exits at each station, so make sure you check before you exit that you are leaving through the correct one, otherwise you could end up miles away from where you want to actually be. That said the stations generally have a map on the wall you can refer to, or a member of staff to guide you in the right direction.

Even traveling on the train in Japan you will experience a strong sense of culture, the conductors will often walk through the carriage and bow before and throughout your journey. You will also notice how courteous people are in letting travelers on and off trains and even form a single queue to go up the escalators. Japans railways are also very safe to travel and the crime rate in Japan is low.

Of course amazing transport links comes with a bit of a price tag, but there are ways to keep your costs down…
5. Buy a Japan Rail Pass…

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If you are not already in Japan, but plan to cover a lot of ground when you get there, I highly recommend purchasing a Japan Rail Pass. With some exclusions the Japan Rail Pass allows you to travel freely across the whole country using its famous bullet and JR line trains. Only tourists from qualifying countries are able to purchase the pass and you must order the pass before you enter Japan. Unfortunately, you cannot buy the pass if you are already in the country.

Following an online purchase, you will be sent a Japan Rail Pass exchange voucher through the post along with some useful information regarding using the pass. When you get to Japan you take the voucher and your passport to an exchange point (usually located in main train stations) where they give you your Japan Rail Pass. You choose what date you would like your pass to be validated from, then from that date you can start travelling using your pass, all you then have to do is get it stamped on your first journey, then on each journey you just flash the pass as you go through the ticket barriers.

The pass can be bought with time limits of 7, 14 and 21 days. Try to plan your itinerary wisely so you make full use of your train journey’s once the pass has been validated to get your money’s worth. I bought my pass from https://www.japan-rail-pass.com/, but there are other retailers you can check out online. One thing to note is that the price of the pass goes up and down with the current exchange rate. The price is set at 29,110 JPY, when I bought my pass in July 2016 this converted to around £215 excluding postage costs.

There are some exceptions to what trains you are able to use, for example you cannot use the super-fast Nozomi line, but you are able to use the Sakura and Hikari lines which also take you to the same destination. Using Japan Rail Pass you are not automatically assigned seats on the trains, however you are able to reserve a seat if desired. You can do this at the station before your journey. Personally I never reserved, but always got a seat – look out for the unreserved carriage announcement on the platform screen, it usually tells you the number of carriage to get on that is unreserved.

Is Japan Rail Pass worth it? It purely depends on your itinerary and how far you are planning to travel in Japan. If you are just visiting Tokyo and Kyoto then no its probably not worth it you could just buy a single or return ticket on the day of travel. The best thing to do is look on the http://www.hyperdia.com/en/ website or app and search your routes to find out the individual prices then compare the total cost with the price of the pass.
6. Download Maps.Me…

Maps.me is a great app you can download on your smartphone which allows you to download maps of the area you are in (when connected to wifi), when downloaded you are able to use these offline so even if you have no internet connection you should be able to easily navigate your way around any city. Especially useful if you love to walk around cities, rather than use public transport. Incredibly useful in Japan due to the lack of English street names, on the app you can just search for your destination in English and it usually finds it.
7. Book accommodation before you travel…

As I mentioned I planned and booked everything for most of my trip before I traveled, however I did want to leave a bit of flexibility as I was worried we would feel like we didn’t have freedom to spontaneously change our mind at last minute, so I decided to leave 2 nights free to plan when we got there in case we wanted longer in Kyoto or decided there was time for us to head over to Hiroshima. Having just rocked up at many hostels during my travels in South East Asia I thought we would have no problem finding accommodation last minute. This was a big mistake, Japan is not like South East Asia and people do not just book last minute, accommodation sells out apparently. So my advice would be to book in advance, this will secure your accommodation in your desired location and you should also get a better price that booking last minute, as in my case there was only crazy expensive or really terrible hotels left.
8. Book a home stay outside typical tourist hot spots…

As mentioned above we had serious trouble finding accommodation for the 2 nights I hadn’t booked in advance for… 99% of hotels/airbnbs in Hiroshima and Himeji were booked up. Eventually we found a traditional Japanese style room home stay via airbnb in Akashi, a city set on the inland sea, home to the longest suspension bridge in the world (a fun fact we didn’t know until we got there), it has good train links to Himeji in 20 minutes and Hiroshima in 2 hours.

It worked because we had the Japan Rail Pass we were able to just hop on a train and go to our desired tourist destinations, as well as saving ourselves a lot of money staying in a less touristic area and in a home stay rather than a hotel or hostel. We also had great chats with the host and he even provided us with free bikes to explore the area further.

If you are on a budget and have already bought the Japan rail pass and don’t mind a bit of a commute to your tourist destination, a good tip is to stay outside the city you want to visit and make use of journeys you have already paid for. Some of the trains are so quick it doesn’t matter you’re staying a bit further out. Plus staying in a home stay is a great way to experience local life and a traditional Japanese home culture.
9. Hostels are not always the cheapest option…

On past trips I have always wanted to stay in hostels to meet people or to save money. In Japan hostels generally are not that cheap, you can pay anything from £25+ per night just for a bed in a dorm without breakfast. Hostels in Japan also don’t have quite the same vibe as they do in South East Asia as the backpacking scene is not so big, you won’t find your organised group tours and bar crawls, and generally we found people staying in hostels were workers, couples or families rather than solo travelers. This is probably because generally Japan is more expensive and more developed than countries with a big backpacking scene such as Vietnam and Cambodia.

If you are travelling as a couple, we found it generally worked out the same price to book a double room or Airbnb, which obviously has the added privacy. On average we spent £25/£30 a night each and stayed in some lovely home stays, airbnbs and hostels.

For more money saving tips in Japan, click here!
10. Get wifi everywhere…

Whether it’s to connect with people at home, check out your next destination or upload that amazing picture you just took to Instagram all travelers need wifi once in a while, and the great thing about Japan is that everywhere you go you can generally get online.

There are apps you can sign up to such as FREE WIFI PASSPORT which once you are a member you can log in all over the country. Also at most train stations there will be a free station wifi to connect to.

There are also amazing fast portable wifi devices you can rent and connect to – a lot of home stays or airbnbs will provide these for free, so make sure to look out for these on the listing! They come in very useful especially when trying navigate your way around a city with Japanese street names.
11. Know what to do in the event of an earthquake…

Quite an extreme bit of advice, but in a country so prone to natural disasters, knowing what to do in an emergency situation could save your life. We realized after speaking with so many locals that this really is a big concern of everyday life, they live everyday knowing that an earthquake could happen at any time. Mobile phone providers now send out a communication a couple of minutes before an earthquake is predicted to happen so that people can get themselves prepared for what is to come. Check out some advice about what to do in an earthquake here.
12. Try the local cuisine…

Before I visited Japan my experience of Japanese food was confined to a wagamamas chicken katsu curry and the odd prawn gyoza. My eyes and stomach were exposed to sooo many new culinary delights that I never would have tried if I hadn’t visited Japan, the tastes were incredible and all dishes are so beautifully presented, in some cases even the way food was delivered was very creative and an experience in itself. Some of my favourites were:

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Takoyaki (たこ焼き or 蛸焼) – A ball shaped battered snack filled with octopus, coated in a takoyaki sauce and generally covered in spring onions, a dash of mayonnaise or other specialty toppings. DELICIOUS! In Akashi they also have the local version named Akashiyaki (明石焼き). Similar to Takoyaki, but more of an eggy batter and without toppings, instead served with a fish broth to dip the dumplings in to.

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Taiyaki (鯛焼き#) – A fish shaped sweet snack made using pancake or waffle batter, typically filled with red bean paste or custard cream, but other fillings are also available. Mainly found in Tokyo, but I became obsessed with them and managed to hunt these fabulous little fishes down in almost every city I visited!

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Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き) – The name of this dish comes from Okonomi, which actually means “a bit of everything”… Generally these are served as a savory pancake filled with noodles, spring onions, cabbage, seafood and pork. Very popular in the Hiroshima and Kansai regions.

Matcha flavoured everything – Matcha green tea is huge in Japan and they have played on this across all kinds of food, ice cream, cakes, wagashi and is even sometimes used as coloring for soba noodles. Personally I am not a huge matcha tea lover, but even I, being the ice cream fiend that I am appreciated some matcha flavoured gelato!
13. Take full advantage of 7-Eleven…

7-Eleven (which we nicknamed SLEV) was our absolute savior in Japan, we would go every morning to grab my boyfriend a £1 iced coffee to get him ready for the day, and we had a lot of fun trying all of the different Japanese snacks whenever we needed to grab something on the go. If you are on a budget this is a great place to get yourself something to eat for cheap, if you’ve been to Thailand you will be familiar with 7-Elevens famous and delicious toasties, unfortunately the Japanese stores do not sell these, but they have a lot of Japanese alternatives for you to choose from. They are also a very convenient place to withdraw cash as they have ATMs that do not charge local fees + they have free wifi. Let’s all start a petition to bring 7-Eleven back to the UK 🙂
14. Take cash everywhere…

One frustration I did have with Japan was that I had to carry cash everywhere, as not all places took card payments, or at least foreign bank cards! So make sure you have enough cash to last at least until you get to the next 7-Eleven to withdraw more. Even to pay for accommodation we found a lot of guesthouses and hostels wouldn’t take cards.
15. Check out the toilets…

Bit of a random one, but seriously the toilets in Japan are a lot of fun… that’s all I am going to say, but go and check them out and see what I mean for yourself!


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