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!
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.
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.
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 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.
Read this great post for more insight into Japanese culture, customs and society.