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6 useful things to know when visiting Japan

Six useful tips for 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 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, 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.

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

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Six useful tips for visting Japan

Kirsty Marrins

Reader, writer, occasional runner, travel lover.




  • Rhiannon

    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

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

  • Angie Silver

    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

      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!

  • Ashleigh Dougherty

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

    • Kirsty Marrins

      Glad you found it useful, Ashleigh!

  • Mellissa Williams

    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

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

      • Mary James

        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.

        • Kirsty Marrins

          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.

          • Mary James

            For some reason I never saw your reply but will keep info for next trip as I enjoyed my trip so MUCH I want to go again! I actually got the mobile wifi through the JRpass people, collect at airport or deliver to hotel and it was invaluable. A lot more than the one you found so perhaps can save some money next time. Took all your tips on board when travelling. No tipping makes life so easy, wish it was everywhere. Presumably people in Japan get paid fairly or is it just their culture. Mary

          • Kirsty Marrins

            Hi Mary, Japan is amazing isn’t it? Glad you found the tips useful and yes, it does make life easier (and cheaper) if you don’t have to tip 🙂

  • Anupriya Basu

    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

      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.!

  • amanda

    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

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

  • Jaynie Wall

    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

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

  • Global Brunch

    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

      Glad you found it useful!

  • Annie

    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

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

  • LC of Birdgehls

    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

      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.

  • 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

      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!

  • Frankie The Mayfairy

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

    • Kirsty Marrins

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

  • Valerie

    I would love to visit Japan one day!

  • Megan

    Excellent tips for Japan – the tipping, pocket wi-fi rental, and the socks tip are especially useful. Thanks!

    • Kirsty Marrins

      Pleasure Megan and glad you found them useful! Are you planning a trip to Japan at all?

  • Obligatory Traveler

    Thanks! You have really useful tips here. Will save this away to revisit when we go to Japan in 2020

    • Kirsty Marrins

      Pleasure! Have fun planning your trip!

  • Julie Cao

    I have never been to Japan, but your tips come pretty handy. I have no idea the tax and the service charge is 23% of total bill, this is much more expensive than the ones in North America.

    • Kirsty Marrins

      I know, it’s soooo expensive! It only happens in luxury hotels though

  • Elaine J Masters

    Love the tips and especially the pocket WiFi. I’d love to try train travel in Japan. We were lucky to have a coach for most of my last trip. Tabi socks are wonderful. Still have mine.

    • Kirsty Marrins

      Thanks Elaine! Ooh, a coach must have been great for actually seeing the landscape. The trains go so fast that you can’t really see much!

  • Nicola

    Thanks for your tips! I didn’t think about socks, but will do so!

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