Japan; everything you need to know.
I wish somebody had told me all of this before I traveled… I would have saved a lot of time!
It has been exactly one week since I landed from one of the most amazing trips of my life, so I wanted to share what I learned from it!
About my trip.
The first thing you need to know about my trip is that I did this alone, therefore if I recommend something to do it´s because I did it as a backpacker, not as family or with a group of people. I think the best way to understand a place as it is and getting to know the essence of it’s people is by backpacking alone. The problem of going with your partner or a group (As I saw in the places I went to), is that you don’t always get to know people. This is because the things you do together, you share them with your group or partner, and don’t force yourself to meet new people to share the experiences with.
I traveled for about 3 weeks. My trip was going to be 12 days long, yet I extended It for 1 more week.
First things first…
*Remember, the tips I do is for backpackers, they don’t apply to everybody*
- DO NOT PLAN TOO MUCH.
This is a trip you want to do as you go along. Japan is a place that basically you can do anything and there will be little or no risk of absolutely anything, so don’t be fearful of just letting things happen.
The most important thing to do before getting on your plane is GET THE JR PASS. This is really important if you’re going to be moving around a lot and you don’t really want to be paying everyone of your passes and Shinkansens (bullet trains). The pass pays itself off once you start taking many of these and if it doesn’t, at least you’re never too worried of getting a ticket, you just walk by through security by showing your pass and you’re off.
When I got my JR PASS, I saw the website also sent you a Japan by Train Travel Guide free. Get that. It will help you plan your route through Japan. I will tell you about my route later.
2. Sim Card or PocketWifi?
Internet is always something to worry about. Obviously. Who doesn’t want to share everything they’re doing in facebook or instagram as it happens?
I chose PocketWiFi. Why? Well, even though Sim cards are easier to carry and you just change one from another, PocketWifi lets you connect more than one device to the internet. And it’s fast; always. Once you rent it, they send it to you anywhere you ask, it can be hotel or airport delivered they day and hour you ask it to. So, even if you’re back home, you can ask them to send it to the airport when you arrive to Japan and just pick it up at the airport and have WiFi since then.
Cons: It is something else you have to carry, therefore, if you’re backpacking, this might start making your bag heavier, and every gram counts when you’re walking all day. You also have to charge it every now and then, and even though the battery lasts long, you might forget. They generally send you a small personal charger with the PocketWiFi for emergency charging, so you don’t ALWAYS have to charge it from a wall.
3. Do not Book ALL OF YOUR NIGHTS BEFOREHAND.
If you really want to experience Japan from inside, DO NOT BOOK YOUR WHOLE TRIP BEFOREHAND. Even though planning is important, I figured you can get around really well day by day and planning one day before.
It is obviously important to book your first night (and maybe second) that you arrive so you start getting familiar with how Japan works. But, as I understood from my first night is that hotel rooms are VERY LONELY. You’re in your room with one bed, and yeah, probably you feel more secure or anything, but it’s kind of depressing, and expensive. Hostels, on the other hand, are much more welcoming, ‘warm’, and you can meet many different people with amazing stories. If you book beforehand all of the hotels and the one Ryokan you’ve always wanted to sleep in… Well, you’re going to lose a lot of money and not experience Japan with local people, and who knows? Maybe one hostel can be Japanese style.
4. The thing about Hostels.
Maybe you have a friend of a friend’s cousin that traveled anywhere and has a story of a hostel that didn’t go out well… I can asure you that the probability of that happening in Japan is VERY LOW.
Japan is a VERY secure place. you can walk around anywhere at any time that you will feel secure and comfortable. Hostels are no exception. I used Booking.com to check on each place beforehand, obviously, watched the ratings, comments and how far it was the places I wanted to go, and booked it that same morning.
It is 1/3 cheaper than a hotel room, and you get 20x more a better experience than a hotel room. The fee i tried to be between for a night was 2500Yen and 3000Y. More than that is very expensive and less than that might be too cheap. There are exceptions to the rule, but generally that is good deal. Hotel Rooms are about 7000Yen. If you multiply the difference by the days you’re staying, well… You do save A LOT of money with which you could book your Ryokan with and not worry about how much money you’re going to spend on that experience.
Hostels are very clean, they are safe (as all of Japan), staff is generally very warm, most of them speak english because of the amount of people that go in and out (not every hotel room as english speaking-staff), they are generally young so they will recommend places around so you get to know the city you’re staying at totally local oriented.
Some of these can also be Capsule Hotels, and they are one of the must experiences when you’re staying in Japan!
5. Language and People.
“But how do you get around with language? Was it difficult to communicate?!”
It is true that most of them might not speak English, but a lot do. Do get to know some simple words and phrases that will help you move around.
You need to understand that Japanease are THE BEST KIND OF PEOPLE. Even though inside the city they are almost always running around to their jobs, appointments and their next train, they will always help you. If you are lost, go to someone in any counter, or sitting in a train, or basically anyone who’re not running around and say “Sumimasen” (“Excuse me”, or “Sorry”), point to your map and say “Doko?”. This refers to “how do I get there”?
They will do their best to help you even if you don’t understand what they’re saying. They will point gesture and speak in Japanease, and if you’re lucky like me, they will speak in english because… Well, you OBVIOUSLY look foreign with your mustache and beard.
Everyone will be polite. They are very polite. They are THE MOST polite. Their education is probably top best, and even though you are foreign, people will be warm. They will not ignore you just like that because it just doesn’t work like that.
Words and phrases you might need to know to get around:
- Word: Wakarimasen. “I don’t understand.” – Phrase: Watashi Wa Nihongo Wakarimasen “I don’t understand Japanease”
- They like you to tell them that you don’t understand. They appreciate you telling them that you don’t understand so they can get to the point faster.
- Word: Sumimasen.
- This means “Sorry” or “Excuse me”. It helps a lot to call a waiter or waitress or just going to ask something, somewhere.
- It also helps when you bump into someone. They will say “Sumimasen” to you, so be polite and say it back, even if it was not your fault.
- It’s like in their vocabulary always. Just say it every time and you’ll be closer to becoming a local.
- Word: Arigato Gosaimasu
- Means “Thank you very much”. Always say Thank you. Don’t be a douche.
- Phrase: Osusume Kudasai.
- This one gets your around almost everywhere. Means “Your recommendation please”. Osusume means “Recommendation”, Kudasai, “please”.
- Use this when looking at a menu, or trying to ask someone the best places to visit, just ask. They will help you.
- Word: Daijobu
- Means “Don’t worry”. This is more about the politeness I have spoken about. Be polite.
- Words: Hai, and Ie.
- Hai means “Yes.”, Ie, means “No”. Use these Wisely.
- Phrase: Totemo Oishides.
- This one means “the food was very good”. It helped me to make some people happy and get them a smile on their faces. Tell them that the food was good, they really like that!
- Word: -Doko
- Use this as the next for what you need to be guided towards it. As in Beer-Doko, Kudasai?: “where do you get beer please”. Or Sumimasen, Tokyo-Doko?; “Excuse me, how do I get to Tokyo?”
- Phrase: Watashi Wa Totemo Shiwase-desu.
- This one means “I am very Happy”. I always used this one because I always was.
- Words: Ohayo-Gosaimasu, Konichiwa, Konbanwa.
- Ohayo-Gosaimasu. Means “Good Morning”
- Konichiwa. Means “Hello, or Good Afternoon”
- Konbamwa. Means “Good Night”
You can also download an app called TABIMORI that might help you with speech translation, phrases, words, etc. It did help me out a lot.
5.1 Technology and people.
This is a very technological country as you might already know. This might be a good thing, but on the counter part, people are always with their headphones on or looking at their cellphones or whatever. They are always consumed in technology.
Try to not be like them. I recommend you not buy the headphones and zone out. Experience the city and the rural parts without music. There is much more to learn with all of your senses open.
It is also funny to see how Japanese have the perfect knack to sleep in the train. As soon as they are sitting in the train, BAM, asleep. It’s a feat you get used to and maybe master in a couple of days!
6. *VERY IMPORTANT* Pick up on Queues, fast.
As they are polite, they are well mannered. So, try to understand and be mindfull of what people are doing. If they are quiet in a train, try to be quiet. If no one is eating in the train, do not eat in the train. Always keep your cellphone in silent.
There is A LOT of people in Japan, and they are people who wear mouth masks because they feel sick and don’t want OTHERS to get sick, not because they feel people will make them sick. That’s the whole difference between their culture and yours. They worry about others first, not themselves.
So, try to look at what others do and be as they are. Don’t be too loud, they don’t like it. Don’t be obnoxious. Figure out what you have to do beforehand, so you don’t get in a line and get there not knowing what it is you have to do because there are people running around and trying to get to places faster or not loosing a train, they EXPECT you to know.
7. Pasmo or Swica?
Once you get to Japan, get your train card. This well make your life way much simpler. The card lasts forever and it helps you pay for trains, metros, monorails, and buses. Whichever you get will help you likewise. Get your card. Charge it. Use the machines beside every entrance to recharge and do fair adjustment.
If that is not working, just go to the information center or to an officer and try to tell them that it’s not working.and ask them what to do.
8. About the Food.
Food. Is. Amazing. Just eat. Everything you are going to eat will be just amazing. Try to try everything and you will be surprised. Say “Pork ie, kudasai” if you don’t want Pork, or any other type of food. But if the restaurant looks good, just go inside and ask for “Osusume”, and they will point to THE BEST meal. You will be surprised that the one they point out is not the most expensive. This was a little shocking and amazing to me.
Try. Do try as much as you can. I can recommend you some plates that I really liked:
- Okonomiyaki (MUUUUST)
- Takoyaki (DO TRY PPPPLEASE)
- OBVIOUSLY EAT SUSHI.
- Matcha Icecream (HOLLY JESUS)
- ANY BREAD. I loved the things they did with bread. Go to the Vie De France in any station and just get everything. It’s cheap and it’s amazing.
Either way, if you are in a tight budget, eating in a 7eleven will do it just fine. 7 Elevens have AMAZING food, and all of it is proportionally cheaper. Most of them are 24/7, so, don’t worry about going out late.
Another good tip is to try to go to local restaurants. This always helps because touristy places tend to be more expensive. Many local places you can eat a really big and amazing food for as cheap as 700 Yen (about 7 dollars) . If you go to more touristy places, price might go up to 1200Yen or higher. A friend of mine payed 7000Yen for a Sushi dinner… That is WAY too much.
9. What to take on your trip. TRAVEL LIGHT.
Don’t make the mistake most backpackers do. DO NOT carry a huge backpack with all your clothes, this is a mistake in a place like Japan where, 1. you will be moving in crowded trains, and having a big backpack will only make everyone uncomfortable. 2. you just don’t need one. Hostels have washing and drying machines and will lend it to you for 300 Yens, and they will let you keep your bag safely inside the hostel until about 8 pm, so just leave your bigger bag at the hostel and take a backpack out. Why would you compromise your back just to feel like a backpacker?
What did I take? I took a small-medium 4 wheeled hard case luggage (this passes as carry-on at the airport, saves you A LOT of time), with 4 pants, 6 shirts, 6 underwear, 5 pairs of socks, a pair walking shoes and a pair of hiking shoes. I also took my laptop, tripod, chargers, and 2 sweaters.
In my backpack I had my big camera with 3 lenses, a notebook, the Japan by Train Travel Guide, a Map, money and my passport. That was all for 2 weeks. All of the Japanese streets are well treated and you can walk around freely with your wheeler anywhere.
10. THERE ARE NO TRASHCANS
This, I think is a MUST to know. There are no trash cans anywhere. I was told that the reason behind this is that some time ago there was a a bomb placed in one and well, they decided to get them off the streets. Try to carry at least one bag with your trash so you can take your trash with you and throw it away at your hostel or hotel.
11. DO NOT use Taxis, DO NOT Rent a Car. USE A TRAIN OR METRO.
This city does not require you to move around in car. You can do so by moving in train more perfectly than any other means. Obviously walk everywhere. I used Google Maps and it works perfectly because it even tells you which are JR trains (the ones you use with the JR pass and don’t have to pay for). There are other apps for trains, but I think Google Maps will work out perfectly for you.
Taxis are expensive, so are Ubers. Renting a Car is just dumb.
Plan out your day route so that you don’t have to use many trains in one day, point out the places you want to go and try to make it a straight line.
12. Get the most out of your JR Pass.
You’re in Japan for at least 2 weeks. DO NOT only go to Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto… There are SOOO MANY places to visit that the thought of it is just ridiculous. Inform yourself about the things that you can do, and move around. You basically have a free pass to the bullet trains. USE IT!
13. CASH. *Very Important*
All, or most places DO NOT accept credit or Debit Cards. Japan moves in CASH, and only accept Japanease Yen. So, as soon as you get out of the plane, go and get cash out! It got by with 10 000 Yen every 2 days, kind of, for accommodation and food. I recommend you always have at least 5 000 Yen with you. Obviously have your card in case you can pay with card so you don’t have to use your paper. But always have in mind that everywhere you go will not accept cards.
How much money should I take?
Well, calculate the amount of nights vrs about 70 dollars (if you go for hotels) per night in accommodation, some will cost more, some will cost less. Say, at least 30 dolars per day for food if you’re not eating at a restaurant every day. Transport might vary, but say at least 5-20 dollars per day? This varies a lot if you really want to get to know different places.
14. Temples and Shrines.
These are for me one of the most amazing things to go take a look at in every city. Some of the temples charge you for going in, about 200 or 300 Yen. Pay them. Even if you’re only staying for 15 minutes. These places are amazing to be in and looking at the Traditional architecture that makes the garden so peaceful.
Bow at every arch that you go through. It is a sign of respect towards the place, and you should pick up on that queue as soon as possible.
15. ENJOY JAPAN!
Japan has A LOT to offer for every taste. Just enjoy and don’t be fearful of what may come. It is a very safe place to be and you won’t have to be worrying about someone stealing from your bag if you doze off in the train. So, just enjoy!
I hope this does work for your next trip to Japan!
Head over to the SHOP if you would like a print of my images!
I will let you know about the trip I did on the next post!! Wait for it!