(Almost) Everything You Need to Know about Visiting Japan
“For me, photography is not a means by which to create beautiful art, but a unique way of encountering genuine reality.” -Daido Moriyama
It’s often been said that Japan is a land of contrasts. And for good reasons too.
If you walk around Shibuya, you will see a lot of glass and steel. Not a blade of grass anywhere. In the countryside, however, expect cedar forests–with actual wild monkeys– and emerald rice fields. Not a sliver of synthetic polymer anywhere.
You will encounter energetic, chatty school children walking to school or meet somber Buddhist monks chanting in ancient temples. From dark-suited businessmen lining up for the train at Shinjuku Station to punk rockers at Ueno Park doing the Twist.
In Japan, there are few absolutes.
Interested in visiting Japan? Here are a few tips that will help you get started.
How to Fly to Japan Without Having to Flap Your Arms
It’s best to book flights to Japan (with most flights to Narita Airport in Tokyo) well in advance. Be aware that securing seats could be more difficult during the high season of travel in Japan (late December, late April/May, July, August).
Travel agencies specializing in flights to Japan, such as Amnet and IACE, can be great resources for securing competitive rates.
How to Use Zen Simplicity When Packing
Avoid bringing heavy, bulky luggage and try packing lightly as navigating from one location to another, within Tokyo or between cities, can be frustrating with so many people around you and the maze-like paths that you need to cover to get from one train line to another.
To reduce your baggage, first, empty your mind of any thoughts. Now, empty your suitcases. You’ve just achieved enlightenment—en”lightening” your baggage that is.
How to Get into Tokyo in Exactly 53 Minutes
Tokyo is about an hour away from Narita Airport, and there are a couple of ways to get into the city.
- Airport Limousine Bus: The bus will take you right into the city and even your hotel if it is designated as one of the stops. As no transfers are necessary, this is the easiest method for first-time visitors to Tokyo. The buses go into major areas of Tokyo including Shinjuku, Asakusa, Shibuya, Ikebukuro, among many others. Check out their site to see if your hotel is on one of the bus routes.
- N’EX (Narita Express): This train will take you to Tokyo Station (¥3020) in 53 minutes. There you can transfer to the many subway or other train lines to get you to your destination in Tokyo. For example, the Yamanote Line (green line) is the circular loop that will take you to major centers in Tokyo.
Why You Should Carry 50,000 Yen in Cash With You
Japan is a cash society, so it is not uncommon to find people walking around with $300-500 in cash. Credit and debit cards are not accepted everywhere. In fact, even some bigger department stores do not accept overseas credit cards at all for fear for fraud.
ATMs in post offices and 7-11 convenience stores offer cash withdrawal from international banks but if you’re suddenly strapped for cash, finding them could be a problem, particularly in the rural areas.
Chances are if you look around and you don’t see a convenience store at all, there’s a strong likelihood that you’ve just wandered into some primeval Japanese forest that is inhabited by wolves and forest spirits of Princess Mononoke’s world .
How to Stay in Touch With Your Mom While in Japan
Except for the airport and larger hotels, access to Wi-Fi is surprisingly limited in most public areas considering Japan’s technological achievements. If you need to have a phone (and can’t enjoy a holiday without one), there are several prepaid/pay-as-you-go options that are offered by Rentafone and SoftBank.
What to Wear to Get Attention
Temperatures can reach as high as 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32oC) in the summer, particularly in Tokyo, so dress accordingly. The winters are generally mild and dry with some snowfall in Tokyo.
Japanese tend to be more formal in dress, particularly in the city, so it is rare to see people wearing just shorts and t-shirts, even on the hottest of days. In contrast, the air conditioners are often at full blast inside many stores and restaurants, so be prepared to bring something light to cover up—like a parka, for example.
Comfortable walking shoes are a must as there will be a lot of walking, including up and down many flights of steps when accessing the train system in Tokyo. It is no wonder that the legs of Tokyo-ites are often well-toned.
How to Eat Food Like a Prince or a Pauper
Japan takes great pride in the availability of fresh and local seafood. Other staples of Japanese cuisine include rice, soba and udon noodles, ramen, and meat.
Similar to other major cities like New York and London, dining out in Japan can be on the expensive side. A typical dinner in Japan costs around $30 to $50, depending on the restaurant.
For those on a budget, smaller food stalls and restaurants (and even convenience stores) can offer set meals for as low as $10.
What Things You Should Consider to Maintain Group Harmony
- Public trash bins are sparse, so it may be necessary to carry your garbage with you until a bin is available (usually at train stations or convenience stores).
- Because workers in the service industry are paid a living wage, tipping is not customary, and will usually be returned.
- The inside of most train cars are quiet, so keep phones on silent mode and speak quietly.
- On escalators, stand to the left and pass on the right.
- It is typical to remove shoes when entering rooms with carpet or tatami mats, certain areas of restaurants, and always in a private home.
- Japan is a very photography-friendly country. At many sight-seeing locations, it is common to see photographers set up their tripods and zoom lenses to get the perfect shot. Japanese people are often quite receptive, particularly to visitors from another country, when asked if their photo can be taken.
Are you interested in seeing all this for yourself? Join us for our 2017 edition of the Japan trip to Kanazawa and Noto Peninsula.