Tips and Things I've Learned While Travelling in Japan

Back in May, my friend Janice sent me a great Japan flight deal on Next Departure and I immediately jumped on it.

Since so many of my friends have been asking me recommendations, I decided to create this Japan blog series. The first post will contain a few things I learned and some tips for you, and the other posts will share the rough itineraries (see below for links) that Will and I followed while we were in Osaka, Kyoto, Mt. Fuji, and Tokyo.

A lot of my notes may be brief, but if you have any questions, feel free to ask me below.

BEFORE GOING TO JAPAN

Use Google's 'My Maps'

It might be a good idea to plot everything you want to do on a My Map. This will give you a good idea of how much travel you have to do and where you should stay. We used our map to figure out where the outliers were and decided whether those places were worth going to or not.

Where to stay

Airbnb (sign up now to get $40 credit) has a great map function you can zoom in/out of to locate which area you want to stay in. We recommend staying within walking distance of a subway station - preferably on the JR line if you plan on getting a JR Pass (below).

Converting currency

Based on a lot of positive reviews online, we did all of our currency exchange at Kantor in Thornhill. A few of our friends also did their exchanges in Japan at bank machines inside 7/11.

I recommend getting an Amazon Rewards Visa card. They don't charge foreign transaction fees and offer competitive exchange rates. I swiped my Visa wherever I was able to (almost everywhere, actually).

JR Passes

JR passes can only be purchased outside of Japan. Depending on your itinerary, not everyone will need a JR pass so it's important to review that first before making the order. If you're going to be doing cross-city travel like us, it might be a good idea to get one. At $600 each, the passes may seem expensive at first, but taking the train between cities can cost about $200 each time. $600 for unlimited travel is a steal. ; ) Keep in mind your info will be printed on the pass and you are not allowed to share them.

Japan travel necessities

Order your pocket wifi, JR pass (if needed), and Passmo or Suica pass in advance. These items, especially the wifi, will make your stay a lot easier. We ordered the entire package via Japan Experience (thanks for the tip, Ste!). Many of the Airbnbs in Japan offer portable wifi, but we wanted a reliable one. We used the Airbnb ones as backup.

If you don't need a JR pass or already have a Passmo/Suica, you can order the pocket wifi directly from Global Advanced Communications (a trusted and popular provider).

Make sure you order everything at least a couple of weeks before you leave your country. They will ship the passes, JR order form, and the portable wifi instructions to your home. The JR pass and portable wifi will be available for pick-up at the airport.

Passmo / Suica Passes

These reloadable smart cards (like the Octopus card in HK or the Presto in Toronto) allow you to tap in/out of public transit with ease. In Japan, you can also use them at convenience stores and vending machines. You can reload these cards at most subway stations and convenience stores.

WHILE IN JAPAN

Using Google Maps

Navigating the streets of Japan can be challenging, but don't panic! As long as you have your wifi and Google Maps app handy, you should be fine. You might see the little dot on your GPS jump around, which can be frustrating, but if we found our way, so can you! :)

Tip: If you still can't find the store / if the GPS keeps jumping, Google how the store looks. This helped us a lot, especially when some of the store names aren't in English. And don't forget to look up at the buildings or go underground! I remember we had trouble looking for this sushi restaurant in Osaka, but it turned out it was in an underground passage.

Public transit in Japan

The subway lines are a little confusing because they have so many in Japan, but you'll probably take some lines more often than others. Hyperdia (thanks for sharing this, Galen!) is a very useful website that shares timetables and the best routes when taking trains or flights within Japan.

While Will found Hyperdia to be very useful, I went with Google Maps. The results are generally similar, but since Hyperdia was made for travel in Japan, they offer more details and options. Just use the site you're most comfortable with.

If you bought the JR pass, I recommend going for the routes that use JR lines so you don't have to pay to get in. Of course if the timing doesn't work out, just go with the best option for your itinerary.

Breakfast Places / Snacks in Japan

There aren't a lot of breakfast-y places in Japan. If you need breakfast or a snack, just visit the local convenience store (7/11, Lawson, Family Mart, Daily Mart, etc.) to grab something. They have cold and warm foods, as well as microwaves and utensils for you to use.

stylesnapeat jessy japan vending machine drinks

And if you're thirsty, there are vending machines (mainly with drinks, alcohol, and cigarettes) at literally every corner. I made it a mission to try a different drink each day. Absolutely loved the first drink above! It was the first one I bought after landing.

P.S. I had a Häagen-Dazs Crispy Sandwich almost everyday. Please bring this to Canada!!

SHOPPING

Paying in Japanese yen

First off, you should bring a large coin wallet because they give a lot of change in Japan. Some of the coins are hard to read and you don't want to stand at the cashier digging through your wallet, so the following tip from our friend Galen helped tremendously. It's hard for me to explain, but once you get it, you'll pay like a local in no time.

The silver coins are ¥500, ¥100, ¥50, and ¥1. 500 is the biggest coin and 1 is the smallest (and very light) coin. The copper coins are ¥10 and ¥5.

Remember this...
Silver coins: 50 is half of 100 and has a hole in the middle.
Copper coins: 5 is half of 10 and also has a hole in the middle.

Sorry if this sounds confusing, but once you have the coins in your hands, it'll click and you'll think it's the easiest thing ever. : )

Tax-free shopping

Don't forget to keep your passport on you, not only for safety reasons, but foreign visitors can shop tax-free at certain stores if they spend over ¥5000 yen. Some stores have a separate tax-free line you need to pay at, while others require you to pay at a regular cashier first and then bring your receipt(s) to their customer service desk for a reimbursement.

Clothes shopping

When trying on clothes, a lot of stores require you to remove your shoes. If you're wearing makeup, they will give you a mask to put on to prevent stains on their clothing. Instructions on how to use the mask are usually located inside each fitting room.

Stores to check out

  • Takashimaya - Huge designer department store
  • Loft - Home goods and stationery (we probably spent hours here on different days combined. favourite store!)
  • Tokyu Hands - big department store that sells literally everything from clothes to stationery to pet supplies (Thanks for the recommendation, Gina!)
  • Daiso - Japanese dollar store. Everything is 108 yen

OTHER TIPS

  • If you have a lot of time to kill before / after an Airbnb or hotel, lockers are available at many subway stations for luggage storage.
  • How to use a ramen machine: Insert money, select items (there's a timer so decide what you want before inserting money), and grab the tickets (and your change) that will come out of the machine. Don't worry if your tickets/change come out before you're done. Just insert your money again and keep ordering.
  • Many restaurants provide baskets under your chair for your personal belongings.
Check out my travel itineraries for Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo!

2 comments

  1. Japan is next on our travel bucket list. Thanks for sharing these tips. They're extremely helpful. Hope you had a great time there. Happy New Year!

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    Replies
    1. Yay! I'm glad to hear they can help you. Happy new year, Sydney!

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