Discovering Japan: Insider Tips for Travelers

This video, "Discovering Japan: Insider Tips for Travelers," covers various topics to help you fulfill your journey. From navigating public transportation and understanding cultural differences to saving money and savoring authentic cuisine, this video is packed with valuable insights and practical advice. Watch the video below to kickstart your adventure, and scroll down for a comprehensive narrative and exhibits that delve deeper into the wonders of Japan.

Video's Narrative

Discovering Japan: Insider Tips for Travelers

Welcome to 'A Passage to Japan’s Wonders!' This special video, 'Discovering Japan: Insider Tips for Travelers,' is designed to provide you with a comprehensive overview of essential information and advice to make your trip to Japan both enjoyable and memorable. Unlike other videos in our series that focus on no specific topics or places, this video will offer a broad spectrum of insights to help you navigate and appreciate the unique aspects of Japanese culture, logistics, and etiquette.

Throughout this video, you'll discover a series of sections and points that are essential to know or be aware of before visiting Japan. Proper preparation can significantly enhance your experience. While the amount of detail you choose to delve into is entirely up to you, familiarizing yourself with these topics will be beneficial, helping you learn exactly what you need to know more about.

Let's gear up for the adventure by exploring this curated list of key topics and points you’ll want to review before visiting Japan. Each item on this list represents a vital aspect of your Japanese adventure, covering everything from initial arrangements to trip readiness. So take a moment to familiarize yourself with these essential insights. Later, we'll circle back to delve deeper into some of these topics, so don't worry if some points don't immediately grab your attention. Your curiosity and attention to detail will enrich your journey through this list, enabling you to uncover valuable insights and tips for your upcoming adventure in Japan.

1. Preparation and Planning
• Places to Visit (Off-the-Beaten-Path)
• Best Time to Visit
• Scheduling and Booking
• Brief Overview of Japanese History
2. Getting Around
• Airport Essential Checklist
• Immigration - Visa and Travel Requirements
• Money Matters - Currency and ATMs
• Digital Connectivity (eSIM)
• Trains, Subways, and Buses
• Japan Pass and Suica Card
• Shinkansen
• Other Transportation Modes
3. Accommodation
• Hotels and Ryokan
• Capsule Hotels and Other Options
• Airbnb and Vacation Rentals
• Local Experiences
4. Food and Dining
• Must-Try Foods
• Chopstick Skills and Table Manners
• Traditional Japanese Sweets
5. Language and Communication
• Language - Japanese and English
• Smartphone Translation Apps
• Simple Japanese Phrases to Remember
6. Shopping and Souvenirs
• Convenience Stores and 100 Yen Shops
• Other Notable Stores and Items
• Shopping Tax-Free
7. Conclusion and Final Notes
• Tokyo Weather
• Safety and Health
• Thank You Note

1. Preparation and Planning:

When planning your trip to Japan, start by carefully considering when and where to visit, what to see, and where to stay. Taking your time to contemplate your preferences will allow you to make the most of your journey. Researching seasonal highlights and cultural events during your visit, such as cherry blossom season in spring, traditional festivals and fireworks displays in summer, or vibrant autumn foliage in the fall, can help you plan your itinerary accordingly.

The timing of your visit can significantly enhance your experience; however, be mindful of Japanese vacation times, such as Golden Week (late April to early May), Obon (mid-August), and New Year's (December 29 to January 3), as these periods can lead to crowded attractions and limited accommodation availability. Planning strategically and thoughtfully allows you to take advantage of seasonal highlights while avoiding the busiest travel times.

These websites offer a wide range of information to help you plan your trip, from major tourist attractions to unique, lesser-known experiences across Japan. Check them out to make the most of your visit to Japan.

Useful Websites for Preparing Your Trip to Japan
 1. Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO)
 2. Japan Guide;
 3. Japan Travel
 4. Go Tokyo
 5. Deeo Japan
 7. Tofugu
 8. Matcha
 9. Inside Tokyo
 10. Japan Travel Centre

While iconic destinations like Ginza and Shibuya in downtown Tokyo or Kinkakuji and Kiyomizu-Dera in Kyoto are popular, consider exploring lesser-known cities for accommodation. Staying in charming cities like Uji, Ohtsoo, or Heekonei for your Kyoto tour can offer a quieter, more affordable alternative while still being conveniently located near major attractions.

For example, Uji, known for its breathtaking scenery and tea culture, is just a short train ride from Kyoto. The journey itself offers stunning views of the Japanese countryside. Ohtsoo, nestled in picturesque Shiga Prefecture, provides serene lake views and is only a 20-minute train ride from Kyoto. While Heekonei, with its historic castle and tranquil atmosphere, requires a slightly longer journey, the scenic train ride makes it worthwhile.

Choosing to stay in a ryokan in these areas allows you to fully immerse yourself in traditional Kyoto while experiencing authentic Japanese hospitality at a reasonable price. Traditionally furnished tatami rooms, authentic Japanese meals, and serene hot springs may all be included, providing a cultural richness without straining your budget.

Planning strategically and thoughtfully ensures a memorable and fulfilling trip to Japan while discovering hidden gems and experiencing the warmth of Japanese hospitality in lesser-known cities.

Now that you have a better understanding of places to visit, stay, and the best time to visit, let's consider how to scrutinize the availability and cost of the trip and finalize your schedule.

First, regarding airline tickets, costs can vary for several reasons, so it's important to examine ticket prices carefully. If your schedule allows flexibility, you can take advantage of discounted fares. Additionally, considering Japanese carriers may offer you the opportunity to experience Japanese-style services, especially if the price difference is minimal.

Regarding accommodations, not only ryokan, but several other unique options are available in Japan, which we will explore in more detail later. So stay tuned for more information.

Before diving into the logistics of getting around in Japan, it's beneficial to understand Japan’s rich history and culture to enhance your travel experience. Japan boasts a cultural heritage that spans thousands of years, from the ancient Jomon period to the sophisticated Heian era and the powerful samurai culture of the Edo period.

Throughout its history, Japan has been significantly influenced by China, especially during the Asuka and Nara periods (538-794). Chinese culture, technology, and political systems were introduced to Japan, profoundly shaping its development. Buddhism, Confucianism, and Chinese writing systems were adopted, leading to Japanese art, literature, and governance advancements.

During the Sengoku period, from the mid-16th century to the early 17th century, Japan experienced a significant cultural exchange with Europe, bringing in new things, techniques, and cultural influences. However, during the subsequent Edo period (1603 to 1868), Japan enforced a policy of isolation (sakoku), reducing interactions with foreign countries. This resulted in unique cultural developments and a rich, insular cultural heritage.

Modern Japan seamlessly blends these historical elements with contemporary innovation, offering a unique travel experience. Familiarizing yourself with Japan’s traditions, such as tea ceremonies, festivals, and the practice of bowing, can deepen your appreciation and enhance your interactions. We encourage you to explore Japan's history and culture for a more enriching visit.

2. Getting Around:

As you arrive at the airport, your journey truly begins. There are a few important steps to ensure a seamless transition into Japan:

 1. Immigration
 2. Local Currency (Yen)
 3. Digital Connectivity (eSIM)
 4. Transportation to Your First Destination
 5. Hassle-Free Luggage Delivery Options

First and foremost, you need to pass through immigration. Be sure to have your visa documentation ready if required for your nationality. Expect routine questions about your visit, such as the purpose of your trip and the duration of your stay. Additionally, familiarize yourself with items not allowed to be brought into Japan to ensure a smooth entry process.

Once through immigration, take care of #2 and #3 before moving ahead. Familiarize yourself with the local currency, the yen. While credit cards are widely accepted, having cash on hand is advisable, especially for smaller establishments and transportation options. It's recommended to exchange a small amount of currency at an airport bank to cover immediate needs, but limit it to less than 50,000 yen for safety and to avoid excessive currency exchange fees. Convenience store ATMs offer reasonable rates and fees for withdrawing yen using your international credit or debit card 24/7, providing flexibility during travel.

At the airport, you may need to make arrangements if you are not prepared for digital connectivity in Japan. For instance, you may want to get a SIM card at the airport. However, once popular options for digital connectivity, such as pocket WiFi, rental SIM cards, and smartphones, may not be the best choice anymore. Nowadays, eSIM has become the most popular option because it allows you to activate a cellular plan without a physical SIM card and offers several advantages:

 1. Immediate activation, even before you arrive in Japan.
 2. Competitive pricing with no hidden fees.
 3. Excellent coverage using major Japanese carrier networks.
 4. Easy switching between different plans or providers.

By choosing eSIM, you ensure seamless and hassle-free internet access throughout your journey in Japan. An eSIM plan offering around 3GB to 5GB of data for a trip in Japan would generally suffice for typical usage, including browsing, navigation, social media, and occasional video streaming. Here is the cost overview of some major eSIM service providers:

 1. Airalo: 5GB for 30 days at US$20
 2. Holafly: 3GB for 15 days - US$19
 3. Ubigi: 3GB for 30 days - US$19
 4. Nomad: 5GB for 30 days - US$22
 5. Kkday: 3GB for 8 days - US$15

The prices are indicative and may vary slightly based on promotions or specific conditions and are subject to change. Please scrutinize the actual prices before your decision.

Having completed steps #1 to #3, you are ready to move on to your first destination—most likely by train or bus. For a direct and personalized mode of transportation, taxis offer door-to-door service. However, they come at a steep price, especially for longer distances like between Tokyo Station and Narita Airport. Standard taxi fares may exceed ¥25,000, while pre-booked shared taxis can cost over ¥7,000. Confirming rates with the taxi company beforehand is crucial, weighing the costs against the benefits and exploring alternative options based on preferences and budget.

Japan offers convenient luggage delivery services, such as Yamato Transport's "Ta-Q-Bin" and JAL ABC's baggage delivery, which allow travelers to send their luggage directly from the airport to their accommodations or between hotels. This service ensures your bags are waiting for you at your destination, allowing you to travel light and enjoy your trip without the burden of heavy luggage. For instance, visitors arriving at Narita or Haneda International Airport may use these services to send their luggage to their hotel and spend the day exploring attractions on the way to the hotel, unencumbered by their bags. These services are reliable, reasonably priced, and can significantly enhance your travel experience by eliminating the hassle of carrying heavy luggage.

Now, let me explain the comprehensiveness of Japan’s rail network and the advantages of purchasing the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass).

Japan boasts one of the world's most extensive and efficient rail and subway networks, covering over 27,000 kilometers (16,777 miles) of tracks. This system comprises high-speed Shinkansen trains, regional rail services, and urban commuter lines. Traveling by train provides efficient access to most cities in Japan, offering a superior alternative to air travel. It offers travelers a unique blend of flexibility and precision.

Particularly, JR trains play a significant role as part of Japan's major rail lines, once operated by the national railway company, forming a vast train network throughout Japan. The JR Shinkansen, or bullet train, connects passengers to destinations across Japan with speed, efficiency, and technological marvels. The Shinkansen's unique value lies in its rapid connectivity, offering a comfortable and scenic journey that surpasses other modes of transportation. Unlike air travel, the Shinkansen eliminates time-consuming airport processes, taking you seamlessly from city center to city center. With spacious seating, panoramic windows, and diverse service classes, the Shinkansen transforms your journey into a seamless and enjoyable experience.

The JR Pass offers an unparalleled opportunity for travelers to explore Japan conveniently and affordably. With unlimited access to Japan Rail (JR) lines, including the renowned Shinkansen, this pass is available for 1, 2, or 3 weeks at reasonable prices, as shown, especially for frequent travelers. If you arrive at Narita International Airport and head to downtown Tokyo, JR Narita Express and local JR lines, including the Yamanote Line, are all covered. While the pass offers substantial savings, it must be purchased before arriving in Japan, so make sure to buy it before departure.

For instance, from Tokyo to Kyoto, while a bus tour takes 8 to 10 hours and covers approximately 500 kilometers (310 miles) of driving distance, the Shinkansen Hikari (covered by the JR Pass) takes around 2 hours and 40 minutes. The Shinkansen Nozomi is even faster, taking only about 2 hours and 15 minutes; however, it is an exception and not covered by the JR Pass.

While JR lines cover many routes, non-JR lines, operated by various private railway companies, also provide extensive coverage within specific regions, often complementing the JR network. These non-JR lines may serve urban, suburban, and rural areas, providing transportation options for commuters and tourists. The Suica card offers convenient fare payment to subways, non-JR commuter lines, and local bus routes. If you choose not to purchase JR Pass, you can also use the Suica card for J R lines.

As you journey through Japan, acquiring communication skills or tools and a better understanding of cultural etiquette is important for an enhanced experience. Learning Japanese can be challenging, but fear not! Speaking slowly and clearly in English can help you communicate effectively with locals. Smartphone apps like Google Translate, Microsoft Translator, or iTranslate can also assist in bridging language barriers and improving your interactions. Additionally, observing local laws, regulations, and manners is essential. When in doubt, it's always better to ask or seek clarification rather than assume.

3. Accommodations:

Japan offers diverse accommodations to suit every budget and preference, ensuring a comfortable stay for all travelers. The first and most traditional options are ryokans and minshuku, which offer unique insights into Japanese culture and hospitality. Ryokans provide a quintessential Japanese experience with tatami-matted rooms, futon beds, communal baths, and authentic traditional Japanese meals. However, due to urbanization, finding ryokans in major cities like Tokyo can be challenging.

In contrast, minshuku, Japanese-style guesthouses run by local families, offer a cozy and homely atmosphere with homemade meals, providing travelers with a genuine taste of local life. For those seeking a blend of comfort and hospitality with a touch of Western influence, pensions, akin to bed and breakfasts, present an ideal choice. These accommodations, often located in picturesque areas, offer homemade meals and a warm atmosphere, perfect for immersing oneself in the local culture while enjoying scenic surroundings.

When selecting hotels in Japan, it's important to consider the distinction between ordinary hotels and business hotels, each tailored to different preferences and requirements. Ordinary hotels span a range from budget to luxury, offering amenities such as spacious rooms, diverse dining options, and recreational facilities like gyms and spas. These accommodations are well-suited for leisure travelers and families seeking comfort and a variety of services throughout their stay. Conversely, business hotels are primarily geared towards business travelers, providing compact yet functional rooms with essential amenities like complimentary Wi-Fi, work desks, and a simple breakfast. Like motels and inns in other countries, they offer an economical choice for solo travelers or those on a budget, with convenient locations near train stations and city centers.

Ideal for solo travelers on a budget, capsule hotels provide compact yet comfortable sleeping pods, perfect for short stays or overnight transit. For more privacy and a home-like environment, consider Airbnb or vacation rentals, often situated in residential areas, offering a taste of local life.

Regardless of where you stay, Japanese hospitality, known as 'omotenashi,' guarantees a warm welcome and exceptional service. While tipping is not customary in Japan, showing gratitude and respect for the hospitality provided is always appreciated. Booking accommodations in advance is highly recommended, particularly during peak travel seasons, to ensure a smooth and enjoyable stay without worrying about last-minute logistics.

Whether you choose traditional lodgings or modern comforts, Japan’s diverse accommodation options promise a memorable and comfortable stay enriched by the country’s unparalleled hospitality.

Type Description Features Price Ideal For
Ryokans Traditional Japanese inns offering tatami-matted rooms, futon beds, and communal baths. Authentic Japanese experience, traditional meals included, limited availability in major cities like Tokyo. $$$ - $$$$$ Travelers seeking a quintessential Japanese experience and cultural immersion.
Minshuku Japanese-style guesthouses run by local families, providing a cozy and homely atmosphere with homemade meals. Cozy atmosphere, homemade meals, a glimpse into local life. $$ - $$$ Travelers looking for genuine interactions with locals and a taste of local culture.
Pensions Similar to bed and breakfasts, pensions offer a blend of comfort and hospitality with homemade meals. Warm atmosphere, picturesque locations, touch of Western influence. $$ - $$$ Those seeking comfort, homely atmosphere, and scenic surroundings.
Ordinary Hotels Range from budget to luxury hotels offering spacious rooms, diverse dining options, and recreational facilities. Spacious rooms, multiple dining options, recreational facilities like gyms and spas. $$$ - $$$$$ Leisure travelers and families seeking comfort and a variety of services.
Business Hotels Primarily designed for business travelers, providing compact yet functional rooms with essential amenities. Compact rooms, essential amenities like free Wi-Fi and work desks, convenient locations near train stations and city centers. $$ - $$$ Business travelers or solo travelers seeking economical options with convenient locations.
Hostels Budget-friendly accommodations offering dormitory-style rooms and communal facilities. Dormitory-style rooms, communal kitchens and lounges, social atmosphere. $ - $$ Budget-conscious travelers, backpackers, and solo travelers seeking social interactions.
Capsule Hotels Compact sleeping pods perfect for short stays or overnight transit, offering essential amenities in a minimalistic space. Compact sleeping pods, essential amenities, economical option for solo travelers. $ - $$ Solo travelers on a budget or those needing a convenient overnight stay.
Airbnb or Vacation Rentals Personalized accommodations often situated in residential areas, offering a home-like environment. Personalized experience, residential locations, kitchen facilities. $ - $$$ Travelers seeking privacy, home-like comfort, and a taste of local life.
Resorts Luxury accommodations offering upscale amenities, recreational facilities, and scenic locations. Spacious rooms, gourmet dining options, pools, spas, and recreational activities. $$$ - $$$$$ Travelers seeking a luxurious and indulgent retreat with upscale amenities and services.

4. Food and Dining:

Now, we want to talk about Food and Dining. Japan boasts a wide array of culinary delights, many of which you might already be familiar with. Here are a few key dishes to explore:

Dish Description
Sushi/Sashimi Fresh, raw seafood served with rice (sushi) or on its own (sashimi).
Ramen A flavorful noodle soup with a variety of broths and toppings.
Tempura Lightly battered and deep-fried seafood and vegetables.
Yakitori Grilled chicken skewers seasoned with salt or tare sauce.
Tonkatsu Breaded and deep-fried pork cutlet, usually served with shredded cabbage.
Okonomiyaki A savory pancake filled with a variety of ingredients, often described as "Japanese pizza."

To enjoy Japanese culinary delights, learning how to use chopsticks is essential. Mastering chopsticks can significantly enhance your dining experience. Here’s a quick lesson:

Chopsticks 1. Hold the Bottom Chopstick: Place one chopstick in the crook of your thumb and rest it on your ring finger. This chopstick remains stationary.

2. Position the Top Chopstick: Hold the other chopstick like a pencil, using your thumb, index, and middle fingers to move it.

3. Practice Opening and Closing: Practice opening and closing the top chopstick against the stationary bottom chopstick. Aim to pick up different food items, starting with larger pieces and moving to smaller, more delicate items as you gain confidence.

Unveiling the world of Japanese cuisine is a delightful adventure for the senses. Beyond the delicious food, mastering proper table etiquette and chopstick skills unlocks a deeper appreciation for Japanese culture. This cultural immersion, along with the exploration of culinary traditions, transforms a simple meal into a memorable experience that fosters respect and understanding. To delve even deeper, check out our separate video, 'Discovering Japanese Cuisine: From Tradition to Innovation.' This video explores the rich history and exciting evolution of Japanese food, offering a more comprehensive understanding of this captivating cuisine.

While modern Japanese sweets continue to evolve, let's take a moment to appreciate the time-honored delights of traditional Japanese confections. Crafted with care and reverence, these sweets offer a taste of Japan's rich cultural heritage. Wagashi, the epitome of Japanese confectionery, are often enjoyed alongside a cup of tea. These delicacies, crafted from natural ingredients like beans, rice, and fruits, come in a mesmerizing array of shapes and flavors, each artfully reflecting the changing seasons. Anmitsu, a refreshing dessert, features small cubes of agar jelly, sweet bean paste (anko), fresh fruits, and a drizzle of kuromitsu, a luscious sweet syrup. Dango, another beloved treat, comprises skewered rice dumplings served with a delectable sweet soy sauce glaze, red bean paste, or other enticing coatings. For those seeking warmth and comfort, Oshiruko awaits—a sweet soup made from red beans (adzuki) and served with mochi (rice cake), perfect for winter indulgence. Another traditional Japanese dessert, kuzumochi, is made from fermented wheat starch and is often served chilled with sweet syrup and kinako (roasted soybean flour.) And who can resist the allure of Imagawayaki, lovingly shaped like fish to become Taiyaki? These thick cakes, filled with treasures like red bean paste or custard, provide a satisfying conclusion to any meal while honoring Japan's seasonal traditions and culinary artistry. We invite you to savor these exquisite treats during your visit to Japan, where every bite is a journey through time and tradition.

5. Language and Communication:

Effective communication can greatly enhance your travel experience in Japan. While English is commonly spoken in tourist areas, speaking slowly and clearly can ensure better understanding. Signs often include English subtitles for station names and directions, making navigation easier. Japanese locals are generally kind and willing to help if you ask for directions or other assistance. Although other languages are rarely understood, locals often comprehend simple English if you speak slowly and clearly.

When it comes to communicating for more complicated matters, a smartphone equipped with a reliable translation app is extremely useful. Additionally, learning a few basic Japanese phrases can go a long way in fostering connections with locals and showing appreciation for their culture. Simple greetings like "Konnichiwa" (hello) and "Arigatou gozaimasu" (thank you) can leave a positive impression. By embracing these communication tools and practices, you'll easily navigate Japan and forge meaningful connections along the way.

Top Translation Apps for Travelers

 • Google Translate
 • Microsoft Translator
 • iTranslate
 • Papago
 • SayHi

Although many Japanese locals understand common English phrases, here are some simple Japanese phrases you may want to remember:

Japanese English
Arigatou (gozaimasu) Thank you (very much)
Ohayou (gozaimasu) Good morning (formal)
Konbanwa Good evening
Sumimasen Excuse me / I'm sorry
Onegaishimasu Please (when requesting something)
Hai / Iie Yes / No
Wakarimasen I don't understand
(Kono Hotel wa) Doko desu ka? Where is (this hotel)?

6. Shopping and Souvenirs:

Shopping in Japan is a delightful experience, offering a wide range of options from everyday necessities to unique souvenirs. Here are some tips for a successful shopping trip.

When it comes to buying things you need while traveling, convenience stores, known as "konbini," such as 7-Eleven, Lawson, and FamilyMart, are ubiquitous in Japan. They are perfect for purchasing snacks, drinks, toiletries, and ready-to-eat meals. Many are open 24/7, making them a reliable option for last-minute and everyday needs. Additionally, konbini ATMs are highly convenient for travelers, providing easy access to cash.

Department stores such as Daimaru often have multiple floors dedicated to different categories, including food halls with gourmet items, where you can buy a wide range of high-grade food gifts. While you can purchase high-quality food items beautifully wrapped at department stores, you can also find similar affordable items at supermarkets. This is a savvy way to bring the flavors of Japan to your home without breaking the bank.

For budget-friendly shopping, visit 100-yen shops like Daiso and Seria. These shops sell a wide variety of items, from kitchenware to stationery, all for around 100 yen each.

Yodobashi Camera and Bic Camera are renowned for their electronics and often offer tax-free shopping for tourists. For tech enthusiasts, Akihabara is a must-visit destination, known as the electronics and otaku culture hub of Japan. Here, you can find a vast array of electronics, gadgets, and anime-related merchandise.

Japan is also known for its high-quality and unique stationery, making pens, notebooks, and washi tape popular souvenirs. Japanese pottery, such as tea sets and sake cups, make elegant and meaningful souvenirs.

Traditional crafts such as fans and high-quality chopsticks beautifully reflect Japanese craftsmanship for more memorable keepsakes. Character goods also make excellent mementos, showcasing beloved figures from anime and manga.

When shopping in Japan, remember that many stores offer tax-free shopping for tourists. Keep your passport handy to take advantage of these savings. Whether you’re looking for everyday essentials or memorable keepsakes, Japan's diverse shopping options ensure you’ll find exactly what you need.

7. Conclusion and Final Note:

As you prepare for your journey to Japan, it's essential to consider the weather, safety, and health to ensure a smooth and enjoyable trip. Japan experiences four distinct seasons, so pack accordingly and be aware of seasonal weather patterns, from the cherry blossoms in spring to the hot summers, colorful autumns, and snowy winters. Japan is known for its safety, with low crime rates and a strong sense of community, but it's always wise to stay vigilant and follow local guidelines. Health facilities in Japan are excellent, and pharmacies are well-stocked. Carry any necessary medications and consider travel insurance for added peace of mind. Remember to stay hydrated, especially in summer, and protect yourself from the sun. By being mindful of these aspects, you can fully enjoy your adventure in Japan, soaking in its unique culture and breathtaking sights with confidence and ease.

Thank you for joining us on this immersive journey through "Discovering Japan: Insider Tips for Travelers." We will see you soon in another episode. Until then, stay healthy and have a safe trip.

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