Travel hacks for your next trip to Japan
Over the past few years, Japan has gone from simply being a mecca for anime fans and Japanophiles to one of the most popular destinations in the world.
We’re certainly happy everyone’s discovered what an amazing place the Land of the Rising Sun is, and that’s why we’re sharing a few tips to get the most out of your next trip.
Get a Japan Rail Pass.
No trip to Japan is complete without hopping on a train or booking a ride on the shinkansen—after all, the country is well known for its incredibly convenient, extensive, and safe train system. If you’re planning on visiting several cities, make sure to get a Japan Rail Pass—it gives you free access to almost all the JR trains, buses, and bullet trains.
Since this pass was designed specifically for foreign tourists, it can only be purchased outside Japan. Make sure to place your order well before your trip, so that the Exchange Order can be shipped to your home. Once you’re in Japan, you’ll need to trade your Exchange Order in for the actual pass at a Japan Rail Pass exchange office in a major JR station. You can purchase the JR Pass online or at an accredited travel agency. If there isn’t enough time to get the pass shipped to your home, we recommend having it sent to your hotel in Japan instead.
You can pick up a Japan Rail Pass right here.
There are plenty of cheap yet tasty food options, if you know where to look.
One of the great things about Japan is that the food tastes good no matter where you go. If you’re on a budget, you can’t go wrong with the packed meals at convenience stores like Family Mart, 7/11, and Lawson. In fact, we’re a big fan of convenience store onigiri.
If you’re headed for a particularly touristy area, it’s a good idea to stock up on onigiri so that you’re not stuck wandering the streets in search of a restaurant that fits your budget. Another option is to head for the basement area of any department store, where the food courts serve reasonably priced meals. And whether or not you’re absolutely broke, it’s worth wandering around the basement of luxury department store Mitsukoshi in Ginza. Almost all of their vendors offer free food samples, and their wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets) section is a great place to buy souvenirs for your friends.
Use the Japan Transit Planner.
Japan’s train system can be a bit tricky if you aren’t used to it—the last thing you want to do is board an express train that skips your destination. It’s good thing the nifty Japan Transit Planner exists—all you need to do is input the station you’re coming from, the station you’re heading towards, and what time you’re departing or what time you’re arriving. The website then shows you a variety of routes and helpfully labels them as “fast,” “cheap,” “easy,” or any combination of the three.
Want a truly authentic experience? Book your stay at a ryokan.
Traditional Japanese inns or ryokan are a wonderful way to experience local culture—you get to sleep on a futon in a tatami room and don yukata, the traditional summer kimono. And once you get over the initial culture shock, taking a soak in their communal baths is a truly relaxing experience.
Another big plus is that many ryokan offer packages which include both breakfast and dinner, and their meals are really something else—you’ll find yourself feasting on an impressive spread of traditional Japanese dishes and side dishes, some of which may be unique to the area. The only downside is that their meals are served at fixed times, so you’ll need to wake up early for breakfast and be back in time for dinner.