As you can tell by the latest few posts, in 2019 we traveled to Japan. First and foremost, to compete, secondly – to have an amazing holiday. Here are some tips that might help you on your trip to Japan.
You don’t need to speak fluent Japanese, or.. any at all for that matter
This sounds incredibly rude, of course you should learn all of the language you possibly can! And I really did try, at least to pick up some catch phrases that might be handy, but I have a learning disability which makes it really difficult for me to learn, so while I practiced, I really struggled to even say hello & thank you (don’t worry, I have it downpat now and used the two phrases throughout our journey).
Here’s the reality: Most food places have images on their menus, if you really have to, you can point to the food item you want (I usually follow up with “Arigatōgozaimas”). However all restaurants we went too had someone who spoke broken English, enough to take your order. I don’t think we once had a problem – and we went to a few really small – off the beaten path type restaurants. If you have allergies, I’d probably learn a few phrases!
Tourist signs are in English, and if not, Google Maps is incredibly helpful! You can also use Google Translate but we didn’t have too much luck with that (although a few laughs were had when we tried to translate a Japanese menu).
Overall, we had no issues in Japan language wise! (although if you are not like me and do not have a learning disability, I’d recommend trying to pick up a few phrases!)
There is a difference between a Shinkansen and the city-transport (+bonus tips..)
The Shinkansen is the train that gets you from say… Narita to Tokyo, or Tokyo to Osaka etc. IE: Region to Region (prefecture to prefecture? I’m still not 100% on the structure of Japan’s regions). The trains / metro etc are the trains / buses / boats etc that get you from your Shinjuku to Shibya (IE; within the same city).
For the Shinkansen you can buy each trip as required, or you can get a JR Pass – which is a pass you buy that lets you get around for X amount of days. You really need to check if its worth the price though – we only got one on our trip because it saved a whole $2 as we wanted to go on a boat trip over to Itsukushima. There is a calculator here on the Japan Guide website (An amazing resource, FYI!). If you do decide a ticket will be worth it – order it in the correct time frame as your confirmation ticket gets sent to your home address! And don’t lose it!
Right, then the trains that get you around the city. It’s best if you purchase a Suica (or alternative!) and use this. This card can also be used to buy food/drinks/items from major outlets like 7/11, Lawsons, I think even McDonalds might have Suica!
You can order your Sim and Suica (travel card) and get it sent to your home address
Jared is a smart lad. He ordered the Sim and Suica to be sent to our home (IE: In New Zealand) so we didn’t have to worry about it when we got to the airport. It means as soon as we got out of customs, we could input the simcard and find out information quick snap. Given how large the airports are (at least to me they are huge!) the last thing I wanted to do was walk around looking for the Sim Card shop + Pickup for our transit card.
Do you have money remaining on your Suica? You can get a refund!
Be ready to getup early if you want those amazing photo opportunities
We woke up pretty early to do Fushimi Inari. Partly because reviews said so, but also because our friend went there the day prior, around 11am and said it was hell.
We then went to the Golden Temple (Kinkaku-ji) and the Bamboo forest and it was horrible. Everyone was standing around taking photos and didn’t care about the people around them. Have you ever seen the bamboo forest photos? It’s honestly nothing like people somehow manage it to look like. It’s overcrowded, people stop in the middle of the path to take photos of their significant others and take so long to do it you just have to walk around them (Oh gosh, if I’m going to go into the travel blog world – am I going to have to do this? :O ).
No no, my friends. Plan ahead. Find out when the earliest train leaves. Get some breakfast from 7/11 that can be eaten quickly or eaten at the location (NOT on the train!). See the earliest time you can arrive at these locations and just do it. It’ll be worth the grumpy groggy feeling when you wake up at 6am.
Most of the hotel rooms are small. Just live with it!
Out of all the hotels we stayed at, only one was a reasonable size (and it was massive!). I’m not entirely sure why, it wasn’t an expensive hotel compared to some other places (bonus, the staff where amazingly helpful!). But yeah, expect tiny, “i have to put my suitcase in front of the door so I hope there is not a fire” type rooms.
And be honest, are you really having a good holiday if you’re spending all your time in your room, anyway? Go out! See the sights! The only time we were in our hotel room during the day was the one day it had rained and we were both recovering from a cold and had been full all tourist mode for like, 5 solid days, we needed a nap!
So don’t worry about size. Worry about what its close to. Public transport is a must if its not located in the area you want to be in. Close proximity to a combini (convenience store) is also ideal! Those 7/11 / Lawsons have AMAZING food for such low prices. How do they do it? Why are they not in NZ? Please, come to New Zealand, Japanese 7/11! I beg of you!.
Bonus: If you hotel has an Onsen, just do it. Honestly. Who cares. You’re never going to see those people again anyway. Mate I am an 84kg+ powerlifter (um so you know. Plus plus size!) and when I finally tried one.. i was so gutted I’d left it to the last hotel.
Japanese etiquette and being a good tourist
If you’ve watched the videos and read all the blogs you probably already know the following, but I want to confirm that while no one will say anything it’s just rude to disrespect peoples customs. You’re a visitor there!
- Don’t talk loudly on public transport
- Don’t eat on the metro systems (Shinkansen is OK I think)
- Do not rush onto trains / metro systems etc. Let people off before you go on
- Fun fact: if you go to Singapore after you’ve been to Japan, you’ll notice the stark difference!
- Sit down and eat. Don’t walk and eat
- Be respectful of those around you. Trains in Tokyo are PACKED yet no one managed to stand on my food or touch me weirdly. Be aware of your surroundings!
Misc tips that don’t need a whole paragraph
- Carry cash – Japan is a (mostly) cash based society
- No one really bated an eye at my tattoos however I wore leggings (one small leg tattoo). I even got into 3 gyms after showing them the tattoos on my wrists
- You’re going to do a lot of walking. Take out those high heels + dress and replace with comfy walking shoes + shorts
- Don’t stress! Are you lost? Bring up the location you want and ask for help – Japanese people are very friendly
- Avoid the Starbucks and McDees – honestly they have like 1 or 2 items that are different, if that. Try something different!
- If you see a long line for food – its probably amazing and worth the wait. I stayed in line for Ramen for 2 hours. I didn’t like Ramen on the whole of our trip (too salty!) but this Ramen… This Ramen I would wait 2 hours for again
- Trip advisor gave some solid restaurant advice!