6 useful things to know when visiting Japan

I’m not usually a big researcher when it comes to going on holiday (apart from hotels and restaurants) as I don’t like to have everything planned within an inch of its life but for some reason I did loads for our trip to Japan. We always buy a guide book for wherever we are travelling to that we look at when we get there for tips on what not to miss but I just had a feeling Japan might require a bit more planning so I did a lot of research online. Some of these tips I picked up from fellow bloggers who’ve been to Japan, such as the Pocket WIFI tip from Angie from SilverSpoon London, and some while we were there. I hope you find them useful if you’re planning a trip to Japan!

Harajuku girl (well, boy) in Tokyo

Japan Rail Pass

This gave me the biggest headache of all. To buy or not to buy? 7 days or 14 days? The answer depends on how much you intend to use it. We were visiting Tokyo then Kyoto and also wanted to do a couple of day trips so I worked out that it was cheaper to buy the 7 day pass and do all our trips within those 7 days (we spent 4 nights in Kyoto). The rail pass can be used to get from the airport to Tokyo Station but we found it cheaper to pay for those separately (because the rail pass is damn expensive!). Also, you avoid the queues at the airport to get it validated. TOP TIP – depending on the time you arrive (or depart), don’t bother spending the extra money on the reserved seats for the Narita Express. Oddly in Japan you buy one ticket for travel and then another to actually reserve a seat so save some money by just standing or taking a seat in the unreserved carriages or any free seats that are available in the reserved carriages.

Tipping etiquette

There’s no need to tip in Japan and that applies to taxis, hotel porters, waiters etc. It’s actually considered faux pas so don’t feel guilty (unlike New York where you’re made to feel guilty by tipping less than 18%….). Note though that if you go to a high end restaurant they may add a 15% service charge to your bill.

Pocket WIFI

Do yourself a favour and rent a pocket WIFI device! Believe me you will need it when you’re exploring and can’t work out where that restaurant you booked is because, let’s face it, hotel maps are never accurate. It’s pretty cheap too – we paid around £70 for 2 weeks and we ordered it with our Japan Rail Pass. They will deliver it to your hotel so that it’s there when you arrive and you specify the dates you want to rent it for. When you’re leaving, just pop it into the pre-paid postage envelope and ask your hotel to mail it for you. Honestly, it will end up saving you a fortune in data roaming bills. Plus it means you can Instagram on the go!

Taxis

Taxis are pretty expensive so avoid them if you can for long distances. Tokyo and Kyoto both have metro systems that are fairly easy to navigate and are reasonably priced. Get yourself a PASMO card, which is a card that you can keep topping up (like an Oyster card). You do need to pay a small deposit but you get it back when you hand it in – if you’re travelling on the Narita Express, you can get a refund at Tokyo Station.

Beware the added tax and service charge

If you’re staying at a luxury hotel, tax and a service charge will be added to your bill – ours worked out to be 23% of our total bill, which was an expensive surprise. So factor that in when booking a hotel directly on their website or through an agent. Booking websites such as British Airways, Booking.com etc may include the taxes in their quote (this was the case with our hotel in Kyoto) but just double-check, particularly if you’re on a budget.

Always carry socks

Sometimes you don’t know where you’ll end up for lunch or dinner and if it happens to be a restaurant where they require you to remove your shoes before entering, then you’ll want socks so always keep a pair handy in your bag. I got caught short at one place and although they didn’t say anything, I felt highly uncomfortable in my bare feet and made sure I put a pair of socks in my bag the next day.

Have you been to Japan? Feel free to share your tips below!

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Six useful tips for visting Japan

27 Comments

  1. January 11, 2017 / 8:12 am

    Great tips! I’m going to Japan next month, and I didn’t even think of taking socks with me every day! I’ll definitely be doing that when I go 🙂
    Thanks for the awesome post!

    • Kirsty Marrins
      January 11, 2017 / 8:14 am

      Glad that they were useful, Rhiannon! Enjoy your trip!

  2. January 11, 2017 / 9:57 am

    This is super useful for anyone going to Japan. It’s one of those places where some of the rules and customs are just totally different to the UK so best to be prepared. As I told you, I regretted buying the rail pass so I’d definitely advise someone to really work out if they need it.

    • Kirsty Marrins
      January 11, 2017 / 10:05 am

      Thanks Angie and totally agree! Yes, the rail pass worked out for us in the end as I worked out all the rail tickets individually and it was more cost effective but obviously if you don’t really use it, it’s a waste of money!

  3. January 11, 2017 / 5:32 pm

    I would love to visit Japan one day, so this is a great guide! Thanks so much.

    • Kirsty Marrins
      January 11, 2017 / 5:48 pm

      Glad you found it useful, Ashleigh!

  4. January 11, 2017 / 7:33 pm

    Japan is on my list to visit in the next year. These are really useful tips, especially always carrying socks, I would never have thought of that or the pocket wi-fi. Bookmarked this for when we go. 🙂

    • Kirsty Marrins
      January 12, 2017 / 8:00 am

      Thanks Mellissa! The pocket wifi really was so useful to have!

      • Mary James
        April 6, 2017 / 11:52 am

        Hi Kirsty, just read your useful tips, thanks. Re mifi if I have one already can I just buy a sim card over there for It? I looked at hiring one and it was £80 for 3 weeks. Am going in May.
        Mary

        • Kirsty Marrins
          April 7, 2017 / 11:01 am

          Hi Mary, I believe you can just get a sim card if you already have mifi. I found a website called econnect Japan that you might want to take a look at. They have a 3GB one for 30 days for around 5,000 Yen – there are cheaper options depending on how much data you may need.

  5. January 13, 2017 / 5:25 pm

    Though Japan doesn’t figure in my recent travel plans, its always good to read handy tips about a place. I am sure I would remember some of this when I actually plan one.

    Specifically, that pocket device for wifi is quite useful coz data charges touch the sky in foreign countries. Would definitely keep that in my mind.

    Though I knew about tipping etiquettes in Japan, it was good to read that New York would make you feel guilty below 18%. I was in Boston once and the waitress came to fight with me over the tip, you can’t beat that!

    • Kirsty Marrins
      January 14, 2017 / 10:59 am

      Yes, I wonder if other countries have pocket wifi for hire? So useful! Goodness, you’re the second person this week who has mentioned to me that a waiter/waitress fought with them over the tip in the U.S.!

  6. January 13, 2017 / 7:32 pm

    Great tips. I actually didn’t realize that you are not supposed to tip in Japan. I am a bartender, so I always feel compelled to tip tip tip.

    • Kirsty Marrins
      January 14, 2017 / 11:01 am

      Hi Amanda, it’s so unusual isn’t it? Not many countries that have a ‘no tips please’ policy!

  7. January 13, 2017 / 11:47 pm

    Great tips! I have never heard of pocket wifi before. Thank you for sharing, I can’t wait to visit Japan one day. 🙂

    • Kirsty Marrins
      January 14, 2017 / 11:01 am

      Thanks Jaynie and hope you get to see Japan soon – it’s such a beautiful country.

  8. January 14, 2017 / 2:35 pm

    I would have totally done the same as you and rocked up to a restaurant in bare feet and then been embarrassed. It’s just not something I would have ever thought about. Definitely good to know that having a pair of socks handy will pay off.

    • Kirsty Marrins
      January 15, 2017 / 11:57 am

      Glad you found it useful!

  9. January 14, 2017 / 7:16 pm

    I try to always make sure to research tipping culture before I head to a new country so I don’t look like an idiot when I get there! It can be such a sensitive subject, so good to know that it’s mostly consider faux pas in Japan.

    • Kirsty Marrins
      January 15, 2017 / 11:58 am

      Yes, I always read up on the etiquette of a country before I travel – would hate to offend someone, even unintentionally!

  10. January 15, 2017 / 10:17 am

    Socks is a good idea! I puzzled over the JR as well, but was ultimately very happy with when I bought it and how I chose to use it – saved soooo much cash!

    • Kirsty Marrins
      January 15, 2017 / 11:59 am

      The JR pass is so worth it, if it’s used properly! Although if you get even just the 7 day pass and travel to Kyoto from Tokyo, it pretty much pays for itself.

  11. January 15, 2017 / 9:42 pm

    Great advice especially about the socks! We leave for Japan next week – can’t wait! We aren’t getting the JR pass though, we figured it wasn’t quite worth it for the two of us as we only have a few days in Tokyo before flying north to Niseko for a week’s skiing.

    • Kirsty Marrins
      January 16, 2017 / 8:02 am

      Thanks Juliette and enjoy Japan and skiing! If you’re flying, the the Japan Rail pass really isn’t worth it so you made the right choice!

  12. January 16, 2017 / 9:05 am

    Pocket wifi sounds like a life saver! Good advice about the socks, no one wants to be surrounded by stinky feet 😉

    • Kirsty Marrins
      January 16, 2017 / 9:12 am

      Ha ha ha!! I hadn’t thought about stinky feet 🙂

  13. January 31, 2017 / 4:11 pm

    I would love to visit Japan one day!

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