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!
Narita was our first stop on our month long Japan trip. Many people skip Narita because they think there isn’t much there, just the airport, that’s all. However, the competition was based out at an airport hotel, and we didn’t think it would be worth it traveling in to Tokyo.
I found it really hard to find anything to do in Narita when Googlíng, and there is a reason for that – it’s not a main tourist destination, there isn’t the WOW locations like Fushimi Inari or the Golden Temple in Kyoto, or the busy streets of Osaka and Tokyo. No, most people think it’s a location to fly in and fly out. However what is present is an amazing Park site and a pretty cool shopping strip!
We stayed at Hotel Welco, we requested a smoke free room however the room we got was a previous smokers room. We didn’t have any view, however it was cheap, close to Lawsons (a 7-11 alternative) and close to transport so we could get around for the day we were in Narita town.
Like I said, there isn’t too much to do in Narita, but like all Japanese towns, they had a temple site and park, and a small shopping strip which I found amazing!
Naritasan Park is a large location which has gardens, Naritasan Shinshoji Temple, a Great Peace Pagoda, a calligraphy museum, ponds and waterfalls, and well kept gardens.
We skipped the calligraphy museum due to the price, however we walked all around the gardens and took some cool photos. This was our first taste of temples in Japan and I loved it!
The Great Peace Pagoda was truly an amazing site, it was built in 1984 to celebrate the temples 1,150th anniversary. The water feature you in the gallery below is the site you can see from the steps leading away from the pagoda. While this is a young building in comparison to all the other buildings on site, it’s really a site to behold!
The great hall (Daihondo) is a large building on site which was built in 1712. I am unsure what the colored flags surrounding the building are – in photos online of the building, the flags are not present. The tower next to the building was built to pay respect to Prince Shotoku (572 – 622 AD).
There was also a Buddhist temple and what I recall (I think!) used to be a storage of grain? I can’t remember! I Wish I took photos of the description boards. We went inside the temple, but we couldn’t take photos (common place in all temples)
We got a lot of photos from around the park, too. I’ll add those at the end as part of a larger gallery.
On the way to the Park, you have to go down Omotesando Road (not be confused with the same road in Tokyo!). The road is very narrow and has 100s of small shops selling freshly made goods or souvenirs. I’m really gutted I only have a few photos from here. Walking down the street kind of sends you back it time, doing a bit of digging, apparently this is the road which was the last leg of the trip from Edo (Tokyo) to the Temple. Travelers would stop here to rest and eat. We stopped at a cafe where I got to try some amazing fluffy pancakes, which I didn’t get a photo of, either. So just check out the restaurants Trip Advisor here for photos. It was the only restaurant in the whole of our trip where we sat on the floor. I expected we’d be doing that a lot more then we actually ended up doing!.
We also visited a mall, and went to Watami Narita. Which had good food and drinks.
So overall, no, there isn’t a million things to do here like in Koyto or Tokyo, there’s no “IG influencer” worthy shots here, but the gardens are beautiful, same with the temple. The shopping street is fascinating and there are quite a few nice restaurants around! I would recommend staying in Narita if you had, say a half day spare before you fly out and you want be close to the airport. Maybe don’t stay at the hotel we did though if you are sensitive to smoke.
Carrying on from last weeks post, it’s hard to put every place we went into a numerical order of what was bestest to… not bestest? Today I’m feeling Tokyo, so let me share some highlights (and I’m happy to answer any questions!)
Tokyo was the second part of our journey after Narita. We met up with some friends here, and did various activities together. Tokyo is huge and every time I went to plan out our time in Tokyo, I normally ended up closing the browser entirely, because compared to “large” New Zealand towns, Tokyo is huge, on top of that, the population is almost double the size of New Zealand, in a single city! crazy!
Accommodation: I won’t dwell on this too much. It was a tiny room in a Super Hotel in Shinjuku, about a 1.2km walk from the main Shinjuku train line. To get from the train line to our accom, we walked right through the busy town, which for someone whose grown up in small town NZ – was a little scary! Anyway. The accomidation – nothing much here. Really small. Not greatly priced, but close to stuff.
Activities and stuff:
You can tell I’m not normally a travel blogger – “activities and stuff?” IE: Shit we did in Tokyo. As I said, we met up with two groups of friends when here. We did a lot eating and a lot of walking!
Takeshita Street: One thing on my must do list was defo Takeshita Street. Now, there’s no way I’d fit into any of the clothes or even have luggage to cart it around if did buy stuff – nope, what I wanted was the food. And I only have two pictures of what I ate there, which is upsetting, yet its colorful so it makes me happy anyway!
The sights of Harajuku were pretty cool, we saw a lot of school kids (or YA?) walking around in Harajuku type clothes – not as much as I’d seen on all of the travel guides though. I little underwhelming, if I’m honest. The food was neat (the candy floss was flavored!)
teamLab Borderless: This is an interactive walk through… group of rooms (A lot of rooms?) where you can squish light bugs (they die if you step on them :() move water around you, get some cool pictures in some awesome light and ah… well, my friends said it was cool but it’d be better if they were tripping.. honestly, I’d have no clue. it was cool. Got some nice photos – The cellphone was better than the expensive camera. That’s the way life goes, isn’t it?
Robot Restaurant: Can you go to Tokyo without at least trying this place out? The answer is no. Lights, sound, people pretending to be robots, what more do you want? The only disappointment? It’s not a damn restaurant! They had intermission snacks, but not actual restaurant food. 🙁 I’d recommend taking ear plugs if you have sensitive ears, and a camera which is good at taking photos in low light.
Tokyo Tower: Next and last activity we did (I know, we probably missed out on so much, but we only had a few days!) was Tokyo Tower. It’s a tall tower where you can go right up the top and see the city. It’s expensive, but worth it! I’ll let the pictures speak.
Monster Cafe: We didn’t pick a proper show time. We also chose the cheapest seats. It was such a disappointment and not worth the money we spent. It was cool to see all the bright, weird and fun stuff they have there, but… eh, I think it was overrated.
Two stand out locations in Tokyo (well, out of the food I remember). Niether I got pictures of, so you’ll have to take my word for it.
Butagumi Shokudō (Roppongi) I’m not going to lie – I had to go back on my Google Timeline to find this because it was our friend that found it, and all I know is that they do damn good pork tonkatsu but I had no idea what the place was called. Look, I didn’t even know what pork tonkatsu was before I went here. And now I am disappointed that nothing in New Zealand will ever live up to it. Ever. Ever ever. There have cheap cuts and expensive cuts (I think we had one of each and both are certainly amazing! 10/10). You sit around a long tables while chefs prepare the pork in the middle of the room, it gets deep fried out back, then bought back out, cut and served. I really wish I could go back, please someone take me back!
Cafe Aaliya (Shinjuku): A very small resturant which cooks the best french toast, hands down, I’ve ever had, and it appears the reviews all around the web agree, too. Mate, if you like french toast. Go here. I nothing but good memories and regret that we only went there once while we were in Tokyo.
- No one online ever said that Tokyo smelled like sewerage, and no one else seemed to be mentioning it around us except for our group. Maybe it was us? Maybe it was the unprecedented heat at that time of year – but the odour was present in all the areas we visited in Tokyo. Not overpowering, just unpleasant.
- The trains are as busy as all the Youtube travel guides make them out to be, yet somehow I never got inappropriately touched, no one stood on my shoe, no one smelled unpleasant and even if they did, I don’t remember having to stand nose to armpit, anyway.
- The area that the Robot Restaurant is in – is a little dodgy, especially at night. There were people trying to peddle something (unsure what, we didn’t stick around too long). The same type of people were also in Takeshita Street, but during the day – trying to sell fake goods. In both instances these people were not Japanese. Please be careful!
- Tokyo was almost too much to take in – I didn’t get to hit up all the restaurants or sweet (baked and candy) places I wanted to. We could easily go back for a whole week to explore more
- The subway stations are damn confusing but SO SO conveniant. You can get anywhere by train
- I’m unsure if we went to the wrong crossing or what, but Shabuya crossing was kinda “meh” and that was the only reason we went to that area, too! (actually looking
- I checked with Jared. And with Google Maps. We went to the right place. It was just.. underwhelming. A quiet day in Shabuya I guess.
- We visited some nice parks and shrines, and took some other interesting photos so I’ll include those below as “misc” things (otherwise known as “things I don’t remember until i saw the photos”)
If you want any tips, feel free to comment below! I might be able to help or at least point you in