As we prepared to go to Japan, I had some questions I spent a while researching so I thought I’d compile them into a blog to help others going to Japan for the first time. Here’s my 17 things you need to know before you visit Japan.
Table of Contents
1. How long does it take to get from the airport into Tokyo?
When we arrived at Narita Airport in Tokyo, it took us over 3 hours from when we landed to get to our hostel called Space Hostel in Iriya (you can get 10% off when you use this promo code:897950 when booking Space Hostel too!) which is a great location as it’s just next to Ueno station which is on the airport line.
It’s also next to Electric Town as well which is the gaming centre of Japan. We picked this hostel because getting an airbnb was too expensive and it was a good quiet hostel, rather than a party one full of 20 year olds.
2. Getting around Tokyo with a train pass
Talking about transport, we bought a 3 day train pass when we arrived at the airport for 3,500 Yen each (approx AU$50). This would get us on most of the trains on the underground which I recommend you buying before you get on the train line at the airport.
3. Do I need to get the bullet train pass?
We debated about whether we needed the bullet train pass and I’m glad we got it because it actually paid for the majority of our transport when we left Tokyo. It comes in 7 or 14 day packages so we bought the 7 day pass for AU$350 each (approx.£202). It’s a lot of money but it actually works out to be cheaper than buying separate tickets, especially if you go as far as Hiroshima.
We actually got on the wrong train back from Hiroshima as you’re only allowed to go on JR Trains and the ticket guy just told us not to worry, wrote down what we needed to do and where to get the correct train from and we got off at the next stop. If that happened in England or Australia, I’m sure we would have been fined on the spot.
Important info: You’ll need to book the bullet train before you arrive in Japan which is mandatory if you want to travel that way. Book it here.
4. What’s the bullet train actually like in Japan?
First class on the bullet train!
For us, seeing the bullet train for the first time was like seeing a tourist site we’d wanted to visit for ages. It was one of those I can’t believe this is it moments as it pulled up to the station looking very futuristic. When we walked onto the train, we could see it was very spacious, almost like walking onto a spacious airplane with the circular windows, only with loads of legroom.
Although I read that the train speed wasn’t much faster than the other trains in Japan, it did feel fast and it was an experience just to take the train. We really enjoyed it!
5. Where to stay in Japan – use airbnb
Our airbnb in Kyoto was absolutely perfect!
We stayed in one hostel in Tokyo called Space Hostel as I mentioned above which was a lovely, quiet hostel and much cheaper than other accommodation in the area. We then stayed in airbnb’s everywhere else where we would have our own studio.
The housing wasn’t as small as I thought it was going to be but you definitely don’t want to be bringing a lot with you, that’s for sure.
The bathrooms are very compact but we loved the experience of staying in apartments during our time in Japan. It definitely made us feel like we were living there as a local which was brilliant.
The airbnb’s in Japan are all set up fantastically! We were sent a guide with directions and photos on how to find the apartment, it was a self checkin with the key in a postal code box to collect in everyone we stayed in. They made it so easy to check in and out of each place we stayed in.
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6. How busy is Tokyo?
Surprisingly Tokyo wasn’t nearly as busy as I thought it was going to be. As the world’s biggest city with 35 million people, I thought it would be incredibly overwhelming, but it’s not. I have heard however, there are walking tours in Shinjinku station because it’s so big! Otherwise, it wasn’t nearly as hectic as London can be at times.
7. How to use the train network – navigating the train system
Now, the trains and transport in general might be amazing but finding out where you need to go is totally confusing at first. All train stations have a cost to them like they are in zones but it can definitely be confusing. Just ask the people at information desk and they will be able to help you if you’re unsure. We got the hang of Tokyo network, it was Kyoto we struggled to understand. Good job we had Google Maps to help us! You’ll definitely need to get wifi as Google Maps will become your saviour!
Top tip: The good news is, if you’re unsure about how much to pay as in if you’ve paid too less, it will tell you when you try to get out of the station and you’ll need to pay the excess at a ticket machine which is pretty good.
8. Rent a wifi portal in Japan
The easiest thing to do is to rent a wifi portal you can take anywhere with you when you travel to Japan. I read that someone bought a sim card for their phone and had to pay something like $50 for 2GB. We paid $160 for unlimited wifi which we ordered before we arrived in Japan and picked it up at the airport. I just carried it in my bag the entire time (we paid for an extra battery which you’ll need) and both used it for our phones and laptops. We then had to post it back in the box it came in (free postage) at a post office just before we left. I know that sounds like a pain but it’s definitely worth it.
The portable wifi was a great buy and you’ll definitely need wifi to get around Japan with Google Maps! Unsurprisingly, the wifi in Japan is super fast.
9. Getting money out of the ATM
The ATM’s were an eye opener at first!
When we arrived into Narita Airport, as always one of the first things we did was get money out of the atm. Might sound like a simple process right? It honestly looks very confusing as it’s not the normal ATM’s you see around the world, but it actually wasn’t as bad as you think.
10. Do people speak English in Japan?
Surprisingly people speak more English in Japan than you think. Even more surprising is the amount of expats who can speak Japanese. We were blown away by this. So, yes, don’t worry, you’ll be able to get by in Japan without speaking Japanese, even if you do get lost, someone will be able to help you out!
11. Do they serve Western food in Japan?
They do serve Western food in Japan but I’d stick to the local food personally. Steve attempted to eat the sandwiches from 711 a lot but they didn’t look too appealing. We had burgers one night which were pretty good but because we were on a budget, we ate most of our food at 711 as sushi in a restaurant can start from $35 a plate.
We did however find the awesome Midori Sushi in Tokyo which has the best sushi we’ve ever had, and it’s budget friendly too. Just expect to line up to get into this awesome restaurant. They do some half decent sushi rolls and rice dishes in 711 though. We would eat chicken and rice for basically for breakfast, lunch and dinner most days!
12. How expensive is Japan?
Leading onto how expensive is Japan? We spent roughly Au$1600 each during our 12 day visit to Japan (excluding flights).
We tried to keep costs down and the only expensive things we paid for was the Ninja Restaurant which came to AU$250 for a five course meal for two (totally worth it too!) and the art islands, which mounted up due to the fees to get into each gallery. Again, that was 100% worth it.
Going to temples didn’t cost a huge amount and our airbnb’s were around AU$80 a night which were brilliant.
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13. How long should I stay in Tokyo for?
We stayed in Tokyo for 3 days at the beginning and 3 days at the end of the trip. This was a good enough time to really get a good feel for the city as there’s loads to do. It’s also good to break it up because it does get really tiring trying to see everything.
Japan is super touristy, I’m not going to lie. We went in May so that’s after the cherry blossom season had finished and it was packed, especially at the tourist sites.
If there’s anything you really want to see then I advise going there as early as possible. We went to Fushimi-Inari at 6am and there were already people there. When we left at 7:30am, there were quite a few people there already.
I’m glad we went to visit it early in the morning because it would have been too much seeing the hoards of tourists everywhere like we saw at The Golden Temple in Kyoto.
At the Bamboo Forest in Kyoto.
We went to the Bamboo Forest in Kyoto as well but around lunchtime as we were both exhausted. We knew that it wouldn’t be like what you see on those Instagram shots, it was packed full of people just trying to take photos rather than actually enjoying the place.
15. Can I leave my luggage at train stations for the day in Japan?
One of our biggest things we learnt in Japan is because we were travelling all over the place in such a short time, there were times we needed to leave our luggage at the train station so we could go out for the day before collecting it and going onto the next city. We found the luggage lockers especially useful in Hiroshima and at Uno station for the art islands.
16. Hygiene In Japan
When we arrived in Japan, Steve was still sick after doing the Everest Base Camp trek by picking up the infamous Khumbu cough. We made sure we bought a load of face masks ready for when we landed in Japan. But when we arrived and we went on a bike tour with a bunch of expats, they asked why Steve was wearing the mask. It turns out apparently Japanese only wear the masks in summer due to hayfever. Whether that’s right, I’m not sure but these guys have been living in Japan for like 20 years.
Eating on public transport in Japan
Other things we were concerned about included eating on public transport. Now, it’s not something I noticed all that often but people (and I’m not talking tourists here) did eat food on public transport. I think they key is to make sure you take your rubbish with you. We only ate sushi rolls on public transport if we were starving.
Can you smoke in public in Japan?
Everywhere in Japan is super clean but not in a it looks like a movie set way. It’s refreshing to see people using a bin and more surprisingly seeing people not smoke on the street. We didn’t even notice it until someone mentioned it to us but if you want to smoke, you’ll need to go to a designated area on the street to smoke.
17. Is it safe to travel in Japan?
If you’re wondering if Japan is a safe country to travel on your own or with your family, it absolutely is. We didn’t feel threatened at all. The Japanese people are so friendly, if anything they will want to help you.
There’s my Japan travel guide and 17 things I wish I knew before I went there. I hope my Japan travel advice has helped you too for planning your trip. Japan is such a brilliant country, it would be hard not to fall in love with it like we did!