I get asked frequently how to get the most out of Japan, so here’s the first part in a series of quick reads that’ll get you started on your way to becoming a master of adventuring through Japan.
1. Buy Japan Rail Passes.
Japan’s public transport is second to none – you’ll be able to visit virtually anything via a simple train trip. That’s why Japan’s Rail Passes are so amazing – they’re made just for tourists, and depending how many days you choose (from 5-20 days in succession) you get unlimited access to the Japan Rail network of trains, busses and even ferries. Rail passes cost on average $30-40 per day, which means huge savings if you’re travelling between cities, but a waste of money if you’re only going between suburbs. Hot tip? Do what we did and get your pass activated mid-trip when you’re about to leave a major city.
You can buy rail passes through companies like HIS, where you can either buy online or travel to one of their local branches and pick one up in person. NOTE: You must buy them in advance, Japan Rail Passes can’t be bought on arrival.
2. Know your seasons.
Planning on climbing Mt. Fuji? Want to see the cherry blossoms? It’s worth checking the calendar in advance for public holidays or the best times to travel as Japan is incredibly seasonal. Some major attractions will close for several months over winter, so it’s worth doing your research and making sure where you want to go is open. Generally speaking, we travel between October & December – it’s nice and cool, the tourist season is well and truly over, and while we haven’t been able to climb Mount Fuji, every single other destination we’ve been to has been deserted. Winning.
3. Learn the language basics.
Japan is huge on manners, and learning the basics, even just enough to show a basic level of effort, will get you far with the people of Japan as a whole. In my experiences, just showing respect through language has meant people have gone above and beyond to help us on our trip.
Up until recently even just getting a temporary travel sim card has been a virtually fruitless and painful experience. And while the free wifi has been getting leaps and bounds better in the past few years, renting out a portable wifi hotspot is the most ideal way to stay connected when you’re out and about. Something like this hotspot from eConnect (who are amazing) gives you reasonably cheap, unlimited 4G data where-ever you are, and in our case, has saved our asses more then once. Pair with some Skype credit, and you’re able to call anyone and everyone in the country for the fraction of the cost of renting a local sim card designed for calls.
5. Don’t be a Gaijin and follow by example.
Japanese culture differs greatly from western culture as it focusses on the greater good and doing unto others instead of looking at one’s self. That’s why when you walk around the city you see an immense amount of pride in the way the city looks and behaves. People are polite, the streets are clean and at night Japan as a whole remains one of the safest places on earth. So to really fit in and experience Japan, follow their lead. You’ll know if you don’t because you’ll instantly hear someone mutter “Gaijin” or the more politically correct “Gaikokujin” (both essentiallly mean “foreigner” or “foreign alien”) under their breath. It’s simple, always be vigilant if you’re in someone’s way, always speak quietly when travelling and most important of all, keep your trash with you.
Have any other hot Japan tips? Share them in the comments below.