Japan – The Land of the Rising Sun is rich in culture and known for its technical innovation. The Japanese are very polite and well-mannered and contrary to what you may have heard, they are very patient with tourists and will do their best to help you if you’re stuck!
Japan has a great public transport network to get you around both locally and between cities. The four islands are covered by an extensive network of railways, the majority owned by JR (Japan Railways).
Japan Rail Pass – Which is only available to foreign tourists, offers probably the most economical means of travelling throughout Japan by rail. Passes can also be used on the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) with the exception of the NOZOMI and MIZUHO lines. You have the option of purchasing regular or green passes, the green means you can ride first class on the shinkansen and other long distance trains. The pass is not sold in Japan and you must purchase it before travelling to Japan, you’ll be given a voucher to exchange for the pass when you get there.
We purchased the green passes when we went in October 2015, we travelled throughout Japan for almost three weeks using them. As we did a reasonable amount of long distance travel, we decided the green pass was the best option for us – less queues and guaranteed seats in a spacious comfortable rail car. See the Japan Rail Pass site for more info.
You can’t use your JR Rail Pass on the local subway lines, instead purchase a day pass or an IC card (rechargeable card used to pay for fares on public transport). We purchased IC cards in cities where we stayed more than a couple of days, we purchased the Icoca Card. The initial deposit for your card is refundable, if you take it back to a ticket counter of the issuing operator in the same city.
Shinkansen/Bullet Train – The shinkansen network links Tokyo with the rest of Japan’s major cities. They’re renowned for their punctuality and speeds of up to 320 km/h. The bullet trains are said to be incredibly safe with no fatal accidents recorded in its history. The cars are extremely quiet and look pretty cool too! Taxis are also frequently available in most areas, they’re metered and rates are reasonable.
Currency & Tipping:
Local currently is Japanese Yen. Cash is the preferred method of payment in Japan. Some tourist attractions will only allow you to pay the entrance fees with cash. Most hotels, restaurants and large retails stores accept credit card as a form of payment. Be wary though, not all stores will accept your credit card if it has an electronic chip in it, which we found out after spending a reasonable amount on goods at a department store!
Many ATM’s in Japan don’t accept foreign credit cards however the ATMs at the 7/11 stores and post offices will. There are a lot of 7/11 stores around, so you shouldn’t have much trouble withdrawing cash.
Tipping – Nobody tips in Japan and can be considered rude. If you try handing people money they’ll most likely just give it back to you.
Good manners are very important to the Japanese as is hygiene. Here are a few things that you should keep in mind while in Japan –
- Don’t wear shoes inside your house/hotel room /temple
- Wear the dedicated toilet slipper when going to the toilet
- Don’t bathe dirty – Sounds strange but you’re expected to wash yourself squeaky clean before getting into the bath, this is the case when you’re at someone’s house, a public bath or at an Onsen (hot spring)
- Wear a mask if you’re sick, to prevent germs from spreading to others.
- Be silent on public transport, use a quiet voice if you do need to talk and turn the sound off on your phone. It’s inconsiderate to speak loudly in public.
Japan is immaculate and you won’t see any rubbish on the streets, the locals take pride in keeping their country clean. Unfortunately there are hardly any rubbish bins around, apparently they’re dangerous in crowded areas! So you’ll have to hold onto your rubbish until you find a bin – We usually didn’t find any and had to hold onto it until we got back to our apartment!
Toilets in Japan are not only clean (even in public places) they can also be very fascinating – Some play music and have heated seats while others will wash and dry your area down there! You might want to refrain from trying them all out until your back in your hotel room though!
Make sure you have access to a pocket wifi while in Japan or rent one if you don’t. Free Wifi isn’t always available while you’re travelling, so one of these devices is great to have! You can use it to find directions, a place to eat, or to translate something.
We had one included with our accommodation while in Tokyo but we hired one for the rest of our journey – Some people say you need to reserve one in advance, we didn’t and had no problems hiring one from the airport (stores close at 9pm), it only took us about 1o minutes to get it sorted.
Japan is such an interesting place to visit, there are things there that you won’t see anywhere else in the world. The culture is calming and beautiful and sometimes a little odd, it leaves you intrigued and wanting to know more.
Happy travels, Priti x