11 Crucial Tips for Traveling to Japan

Japan is such a wonderful country! “The land of the rising sun”, of cool toilets (yes, you might have heard about those!), of awesome food and of an evident culture of respect.

With a good balance between modern technologies and traditions, Japan is mostly known for its delicious food, its advanced technology and efficiency, and the contrast between traditional buildings and futuristic architectural projects.

11 Top Tips for Traveling to Japan

How Long Should You Spend in Japan?

An ideal time to spend in Japan would be at least 2 weeks, during which you could visit the main cities of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. If you have limited time, such as 5 days, you might want to restrict yourself to seeing just one of these cities.

A month would mean that you have more time to spend in each destination, and also the chance to discover places out of the city, such as Tsumago and Mount Fuji. You might also like to explore the island destinations of Ōkunoshima (rabbit island!) and Hokkaido (great for skiing in the winter!).

When to Go to Japan

The good thing is that Japan is beautiful in every season, and you’ll get different experiences depending on when you decide to go.

During the spring, you’ll be able to see the wonderful cherry blossoms in bloom and participate in many festivals around the country. Keep in mind that this season, even if you get the best temperatures, prices get quite inflated.

During the summer it is quite hot and humid, but you could see fireworks shows and you might considering climb Mount Fuji (in July). In autumn you’ll have less crowds and lots of colorful leaves on the streets. In winter you might want to ski or to see the cute little towns getting covered with snow.

Language

Although many people in Tokyo and main tourist areas may speak English, Japanese is the main language and is widely spoken. Learning a few polite phrases will help to get you far and you will be welcomed by the locals!

Tradition and Culture

Remember that when you travel to Japan you are arriving in a country where traditions and culture might be very different from what you are used to. But you should always mind them to show respect. For example, try to bow back when someone bows to you.

You might not want to delve so deep into Japanese culture that you know all of the different types of bows, but just try your best. Locals will understand it and really appreciate it.

I suggest you pick up a Japan travel guidebook before you go and flip through it, as you’ll learn a few of the cultural missteps to avoid.

Additionally, it is important to remember that in Japan, tipping is not common, and it might actually be considered offensive.

Budgeting Tips for Traveling to Japan

As you might already know, Japan is not the cheapest country to travel to. Yes, it might have perfectly functioning and comfortable transportation, but it comes at a cost.

If you want to save some money, you should take the 7 day JR pass (Japan Rail Pass), which allows you to access any JR line in the country. Prices start from around $275 USD (as of July 2019). This comes handy and worth it especially if you’re planning to visit Japan and visit more than one city and get to know the country a bit more.

On the other hand, if you only want to stay in Tokyo you might consider purchasing single tickets: it will probably be more convenient. But if you want them, you need to order them online at JRailPass.com, don’t forget!

Cash vs. Card in Japan

To continue with the money talk, keep in mind that Japan is still mainly a cash country.

While major credit cards will work in hotel chains, some restaurants or shops in bigger cities, if you’re willing to see more of Japan, it is recommended to take some cash. 7- Bank is the one that usually offers the best exchange rates.

(Editor’s note: I often struggled to find an ATM that accepted my American card, but usually I could find one that dispensed cash at a 7/11, which are everywhere in Japan!)

Food in Japan

We talked about Japan being expensive but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way.

For example, there are a lot of pretty cheap ramen, yakitori, and ikazaya spots. Izakayas are a place to drink and eat: a mixture of a pub and a cheap restaurant, where you can have a nice and social night! 1000 Yen meals are possible to find if you search – this is around $8.50 USD.

Convenience Stores

Additionally, Japan and Asia in general offer real convenience at convenience stores.

They are open 24/7, and you can buy pretty much everything, even though in Japan the most interesting would be the food section!

(Editor’s Note: 7/11 and Family Mart are the most common; a few things you have to try are onigiri rice snacks, bento boxed meals, and matcha green tea KitKat bars!)

Accommodations

Accommodation is usually the most expensive part of traveling to Japan. Some actually go for the claustrophobic capsule hotels, which might turn out to be an experience on its own!

For budget travelers, the price of dorm beds often starts around $24 USD, which is more than double the price of beds in South East Asia.

You might have better luck picking an Airbnb in Tokyo or other Japanese cities as opposed to traditional hotels, which tend to be more expensive.

It’s completely normal to pay over $120 USD per night in Japan. The Ritz Carlton comes in at a whopping $850 USD per night on average!

Best Places to Visit in Japan

When traveling in Japan, the best cities to visit, which will give you a good view of the country overall are Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Hakone. Tokyo is a very interesting city, which offers some different (crazy) experiences, diverse neighborhoods and where you could try out some amazing food.

Kyoto is filled with culture and temples, a destination where you will see more of the traditional side to Japan. Some of the best temples in Kyoto include Kiyomizu-Dera, Tenryuji, and the Fushimi Inari Shrine.

In Hakone, you can relax in an onsen (hot tub) with the scenery of the Mount Fuji! Hakone is located in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park west of Tokyo. It’s a mountainous town and also famous for the Hakone Shrine – the Shinto temple with a ‘Torii gate’ looking over Lake Ashi.

Nature in Japan

If you want to experience the beautiful nature Japan has to offer to its visitors, you might want to go out of the cities. Waterfalls, lakes, mountains… if you are a nature lover, you’ll find loads to do.

Hiking trails, monkeys, and bears: Japan is not only about the skyscrapers and the crazy technology!

Now that you know just a little bit more about Japan and have read some of the top tips for traveling to Japan, go ahead and book your trip. It is a fascinating and charming country which you won’t get disappointed by!

Author Bio:  Amy spends her time predominantly exploring Europe, North Africa, and Southeast Asia. She has an MA in South Asian studies from The University of Manchester and is now based in Liverpool, UK with her husband and Patterdale terrier, Blake. Her interest in world religion means that she is frequently temple-seeking! Always on the hunt for cathedrals, temples, mosques and historical sites, she loves to portray this in her work. For more blogs from Amy, see her travel sites: Temple Seeker, Game of Thrones Travel, and Globo Trav.

5 Traditional and Unique Shows in Tokyo for Your Bucket List

Tokyo is a city of theatrics and personality.

Neon lights illuminate the streets by night and waves of people animate the streets by day, expressing themselves through crazy and quirky fashion.

Tokyo is insanely photogenic and you’ll be endlessly surprised by the different sights and sounds of Japan.

No matter how modern they are, the Japanese are still deeply wedded to tradition, and they enjoy sharing their ancient traditions with today’s visitors. See ancient arts such as sumo or kabuki — or go full 21st century with the chaotic and famous Robot Restaurant. 

If you want to see a show in Tokyo, you’re spoiled for choice! No matter how much time you have in Japan’s capital — whether you have 48 hours in Tokyo or 2 weeks in Japan — make it a priority to see one of these shows. 

Top 5 Unique Shows in Tokyo to Experience

Sumo

Image source Flickr

Japan is virtually synonymous with its most famous sport: sumo wrestling. This ancient sport dates back centuries to a time where it was recognized as nothing more than a form of entertainment for the deities.

Yet these days, it’s iconic and internationally known, and to this day it still has a dedicated following across the country. Sumo might seem like just a shoving match, but that’s far from the case — it is incredibly regimented. Wrestlers train their entire lives to make it professionally, living and dining in communal living spaces called “stables” where they undergo a rigorous training schedule.

Attending a sumo match in Tokyo is high up on the lists of visitors who are looking for an eye-opening cultural experience, vicarious adrenaline, and a wild atmosphere. There are three tournaments held in Tokyo annually at the city’s 13,000-capacity stadium, Ryogoku Kokugikan, each showcasing the sport’s finest athletes at the top of their game. However, if you aren’t there during one of the three annual tournaments, don’t fret: visitors can take a tour to see a real sumo practice and see the authentic sumo stables where the men live, work, and train each day of their lives.

Kabuki

There are few traditions that have withstood the test of time and emerged into the 21st century unscathed – in cities as modern as Tokyo no less. But Japan is different, finding a way to allow the ultra-modern and the traditional to coexist.

Kabuki is just one of the many ancient Japanese traditions from the 17th century that are still practiced in Tokyo today.  Kabuki is a form of opera involving elaborate dress and insanely embellished stages. Epic stories are told over the course of several hours.

The stage design is what really steals the show — it’s what kabuki is most well-known for. A long runway extends into the audience to provide them an up-close and emotional performance.

Tokyo houses some of the finest kabuki theatres in the country and many provide headsets with English translations to help you enjoy the show. As performances last an entire afternoon, there’s the option to buy tickets for individual segments on the day, so always plan ahead to see what’s scheduled. It’s fanciful. It’s opulent. Kabuki is as traditional as it gets in modern day Tokyo. 

Check out these things to do in Ginza after watching a kabuki show.

Robot Restaurant

Image source: Flickr

No trip to Tokyo would be complete with experiencing the city’s most far-fetched, animated, and confusing performance there is: the Robot Restaurant. Forget the notion that this is somewhere you come to dine — the chaotic robots and neon lights steal the show.

Those who dine in this robotic fantasy land can expect nothing short of organized chaos from start to finish: erratic lasers, smoke, glitter, and lights all featuring heavily throughout the evening’s performance.

The story is basically centered around an epic robot battle, featuring synchronized musicians and robot-riding women, and crescendos in unapologetic chaos that leaves diners in awe. It’s loud and obnoxious, and everything you’d expect from Tokyo. Hailed as one of the best restaurants in Tokyo in which to enjoy an evening’s entertainment.

Tables fill up fast here, so be sure book a seat in advance!

Geisha Show

shows in Japan - a geisha show!

While Kyoto is the beating heart of Japan’s still-thriving geisha scene, if you’re keen to see a geisha show then Tokyo can certainly deliver.

Broadway ain’t got nothing on Japan’s version of dinner and a show. Enjoy one of Japan’s most sought-after foods, kobe beef, which can sell for over $100 per pound, all while watching some of its most iconic performers. Geisha dancing style is highly ritualized and formal, steeped in tradition. The kimonos they wear as they perform could very well be art pieces in and of themselves.

This certainly isn’t a cheap activity, but for those who want a premium cultural experience on their trip to Tokyo, it can’t be missed. Again, seats are limited and demand is high, so be sure to book in advance if you’d like to go.

Samurai Show

Another one of Japan’s most iconic cultural legacies to reach international fame is the samurai. While Japan has obviously modernized away from samurai culture, Japanese love for tradition has ensured that the practice’s legacy lives on. You can also see samurai shows in Kyoto, as well.

Kenbu tachibana ittoryu is a performance style that’s been around more than 80 years, and you can see it in action – and fight with your own ‘swords’ in Japanese costume – with samurai experience suitable for all. Check availability here.  Those more interested in the art of katana (Japan’s traditional curved swords, which are works of art all on their own) can take a lesson with a 7th-level swordmaster who is a descendant of actual samurais! See if there are spots left here.

Have you seen any shows in Japan that should be added to this list?

Note: This post contains affiliate links. That means that if you purchase something using one of these links, I will receive a small commission at no added cost to you.

I Failed at Climbing Mount Fuji: Altitude Sickness & Calling it Quits

clouds at mount fuji

There are so many things our body does for us each day that we take for granted: breathing in and out without thinking, heart beating along unnoticed, words coming out of our mouths with barely a thought. You only start to notice when things begin to break down. Unfortunately for me, this happened about 10,000 feet into climbing Mount Fuji.

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