This might seem like a very random post, mostly because it’s been such a long time since I visited Japan, but also because there are so many other destinations that I haven’t shared with you yet. Many of you know about my obsession with the country and its culture, and that is exactly why I decided to do this little guide.
1. The myth that Japan is extremely expensive
Ok so first of all, I want to break the news you! Regardless all the common beliefs, Japan is not “one of the most expensive tourist destinations”. It really annoys me that so many people lacking any tourist experience in Japan come with this statements, scaring potential visitors away. Every time I hear people who haven’t even visited it themselves, but have heard from a friend of a friend of a sister of a boyfriend that apparently it’s unbelievably expensive, I get into a long conversation, explaining that it is not true at all.
If you’re looking for the local Thai restaurant on the beach that charges you $5 for 3 gigantic seafood dishes, Japan is not the country for you. However, in comparison to, let’s say, any other popular european city amongst tourists, Japan I would say is cheaper. For instance, we were there during the high season, which is the Sakura time in early April; we stayed in a great 5* hotel in every city we went to (Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo), and all of them were about €200-€300/night, while in Paris the 5* hotels vary between €400-€1000/night.
We found both the grocery stores and the restaurants a little cheaper than the average european prices; while the public transport has amazing rates for tourists.
2. Pre-plan it
Japan might seem like a small country, but it has so much to offer, so many absolutely fascinating places to see, so much unique experience; which is why once you decide to go on such a long trip, you have to make the most of it! Therefore my advice is to allow yourself at least 2 weeks for researching in advance, from hotels, restaurants, to internet, trains, traditions, etc.
3. Best time to go
Though Japan is an absolutely beautiful place, for the ultimately magical experience try to plan your trip for April, when the Sakura and all the other fruit trees bloom.
4. Trains, never travel by car!
Don’t ever think of renting a car and driving around Japan. I mean, you can absolutely do that, if spending hell of a lot of extra money is something you enjoy doing. Otherwise, the train is your saviour! Basically, as a tourist, you can choose one of the 3 types of tickets:
– 7 days for €207
– 14 days for €329
– 21 days for €419
I know, those are some spicy prices, but all of those tickets offer you unlimited access to the national railways. So say you want to heavily explore the country; you can literally go from one city to another every single morning, strolling Japan from South to North and West to East. Have a look at the tickets here http://www.japan-rail-pass.com/, where you can also read a lot more information about travelling around the country.
5. Wireless hotspot, don’t buy a SIM card.
Don’t know how familiar you are with the cellular frequencies across the world, but if you don’t, I’ll just try to make it very simple for you. Basically Japan has its own frequency, therefore a local SIM card on an European/American phone can be quite troublesome. Also the whole SIM card ritual is quite annoying and unnecessary when you have the chance to rent your personal Wifi hotspot for as long as you need, and get it right at the airport.
Before going to Japan I researched this a lot, since Internet is always a major issue for me, especially when travelling somewhere I expect to be out exploring 20h a day. I personally used this website http://www.rentafonejapan.com/, where I got a hotspot for €50 a week. One more time I bow to Japan’s level of technology. The hotspot worked absolutely perfectly for the whole 2 weeks I was there, moreover, I could connect up to 5 devices to it. Basically a portable office anywhere you go!
6. Money exchange
Exchange your money at the airport!! As a country with a very traditional society, Japan can be quite tricky to get around with a credit card, so you would definitely want to own cash. Banks are hard to find, and if you do, be prepared to wait for about 40mins-1hour, since they have to check you, ring your hotel, etc, etc, so it takes for ages. The airport is the easiest way to do it, and it also has the best conversion rate!
7. Museums and temples are free
Not all of them, but the ones owned by the government are usually free, and they even handle you a free audio guide in your language! I know, how crazy is that when you think Muse D’Orsay entrance + Audio guide equal your lunch for 2 days.
Yes, they do happen. Yes, pretty damn often. Yes, you are absolutely safe!
The first day I woke up on the 23rd floor in Japan, my ceiling lamp was slowly moving right, left. But whenever I talk to people, I tell them that if you want to be anywhere in the world when an earthquake happens, it’s Japan. The Japanese architecture is absolutely phenomenal, engineered in such a way that every building moves very slowly, together with the earth underneath. Think about the sad tragedy of the Japanese Tsunami. Not many people realise that before that an earthquake of 9.0 magnitude occurred, which didn’t directly cause any destructions. I find that worth admiring!
9. There are English signs everywhere
Japan is so efficient, getting around as a tourist is very easy. In train stations, on the streets, you’ll always find english signs to direct you.
10. No bins
I know this might be weird to you, but I personally think this is a fact people should know. Walking through a city as enormous as Tokyo, you might find one waste bin in a few hours, therefore you usually have to store your rubbish in a little bag and carry it around with you, which I think, once you see how clean all the streets are, you’ll want to do anyways.
11. Green tea everywhere. Try it!
I had never tried green Matcha tea before my trip, but once I did, everything had to be of that flavour: ice-cream, kit-kat, cakes, even the Starbucks latte. The Matcha powder tea is a great resource minerals, vitamins and antioxidants, so make sure to try it!
12. Spend more time in Kyoto rather than Tokyo
Kyoto absolutely stole my heart, it is by far one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to on Earth. The city hides over 1 600 beautiful temples, uncountable amount of Sakura trees, and empty streets. We spent there 5 day, and every single day we would rent bicycles and explore the city till late night. That is exactly why, when meeting anyone who’s planning a trip to Japan, I recommend staying in Kyoto than Tokyo.
And don’t get me wrong, I love Tokyo, the city has a good mix of tradition and modern, but if you’re looking to feel the Japanese culture, a smaller city like Kyoto is what you need.
13. You’ll always be stared at, especially if you’re an European tall woman, so be prepared and enjoy it!
14. Never leave tips
Unlike Thailand, in Japan tips are considered very offensive, so make sure you remember this for your trip. You’ll get a lot of help from local people, but they will never expect anything in return, helping others is just cultural.
15. Don’t be confused if when you stop someone on the road to ask for directions, they act like you’re some kind of alien
Japanese people are very closed and reserved, and usually there isn’t much interaction between strangers. But in the end, they turn out to be the most helpful people, ready to walk a few blocks with you in the pouring rain, just to show you the directions.
16. Collagen drinks and pills
The miracle treatment everyone pays hundreds and thousands of euros for in Europe is all over the grocery stores in Japan. Collagen juice, collagen milk, collagen smoothie, collagen candies, collagen pills. Collagen is everywhere. Make sure you get a good stock for when you’re back home!
17. Best cosmetic products
I mean, we all know what the Japanese skin looks like, so not much to be commented here.
Awwww! Ohhhh!!! This is one of my absolute favourite things in Japan. Bentos are cute little boxes of take-away food, that can be found especially at train stations and airports. They can contain rice, seafood, meat, vegetables, fruits… And more or less anything you can feel like eating during the day. HOWEVER. Bentos aren’t just any take-away food. When you open the box you realize that your food is actually an anime/cartoon character. Imagine a Hello Kitty meal… Cutesy overload!! Also budget wise I found bentos really good. You can get a small box starting from €5, and a quite sizeable one from €10.
19. The Manji Symbol
Arriving in Japan, both my family and I were shocked when we realized that the country was full of swastikas, especially in the temple areas (even on the map you’ll see them as well). Actually the symbol is called manji, and it appeared somewhere around 2 000 BCE as a good luck charm that was meant to repel the evil spirit.
This might be a completely useless point in this post, but I just felt like it was worth sharing, since it really captured my attention.
Now I know this might sound very weird, but, I just couldn’t leave this for myself… or for all the friends I’ve told this to. The Japanese toilets are the most impressive ones I have ever seen anywhere in the world. From heating to music, even the hygiene and facilities of the public lavatories, everything is unbelievable.