There are a few things that I learnt during my month long trip to Japan. Since I was travelling mostly on my own, I did a lot of research to find places to go and things to do. Japan is a really huge country with a wide variety of things to do, and I thought I would just compile a list of things that could be useful for anyone planning a trip to Japan.
1. Get a local travel card
Seriously, the time and effort it takes to constantly buy train tickets or count coins for the bus fare is not worth it. You can easily get a travel card from the ticketing machines at any train station and then use it until the value in the card is depleted, or until you trip ends by simply tapping in and out at the gantries. Examples include the ICOCA card for the Kansai region and the PASMO card for Tokyo.
You can purchase the card for 2000 yen, from which 500 yen is an initial deposit and 1500 yen is for your use. If you don’t use all 1500 yen, you can always get a refund at the end of your trip. If you do use up the 1500 yen, you have an awesome souvenir!
Read more here : http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2359_003.html
2. Learn a few stock phrases
This is something that is not exactly necessary, but I think it’s really useful in certain circumstances and more respectful to acknowledge the person you are talking to in their native tongue. People are really helpful and will try and communicate with you as long as you make an effort.
Besides arigatou gozaimasu (thank you), Sumimasen (excuse me, sorry) is a big one that you should definitely know. It can also be useful to know _______ wa doko desu ka ( where is _______?) to ask for the toire (toilet) or eki ( train station).
More travel phrases: http://www.fodors.com/language/japanese/basic-phrases/
3. Secure your Internet access
Internet access is pretty much the most important thing for the modern traveler, especially since we can’t live without Google maps. It goes without saying that you should either get a pocket WiFi or a SIM card with data, both of which can be found at airports and electronics retailers such as Bic Camera and Yodobashi camera.
Besides this, you can also use free WiFi at Starbucks and convenience stores. Here is a useful app you can download to access free WiFi at convenience stores (this app worked pretty well for me). Using the official Japan travel app can also allow you search offline for free Wi-Fi hotspots.
4. Use the trains within cities
When I was in Kyoto, I made the mistake of taking buses initially because I thought it would be cheaper. However, this is not exactly the case. Public buses in Kyoto are rather expensive for short distances as there is a flat rate, hence it’s cheaper for longer distances (but time becomes an issue). Taking a train is faster, cheaper or similarly priced for areas within the city you are in, and just generally better. The network of trains are great and you can literally get anywhere.
If you are afraid of getting lost, don’t worry, Google maps is great and immensely helpful. When in doubt, ask the officers at the gantries, they are very nice and helpful! They have an app which specifies train platforms and timings so you really can’t take the wrong train.
Of course, this is not the case for long distance travel, especially if you have to take the Shinkansen, which can get rather expensive. If you plan to travel to multiple cities across Japan by train, do consider getting a Rail pass that suits your travel needs.
5. Try a local cultural experience
I really can’t stress enough about how much fun I had in Japan just from experiencing the local culture. Shopping and nature trails are great, but what truly defines a trip for me are the unique experiences you can only get in that one place.
Japan has many wonderful festivals that take place throughout the year. The processions offer a unique glance at how strongly the Japanese people hold on to their traditions. Plus there’s local food! There are festivals at different locoations at different times of the year, so I strongly recommend you do some research to find out if there will be festivals around the area you plan to visit.
You can also go for workshops teaching local traditional arts. There are pottery classes, cooking classes, even cloth dyeing classes you can take for a day. These are really fun and the wagashi making workshop that I went for was definitely a highlight of my trip. These classes usually require pre-booking, so again, research is key!
Japan is a fantastic travel destination, and there’s a lot to see and do. Like with anywhere else, the best way to fully enjoy your trip is to plan early!