Guide to Travelling to Japan
I thought I'd write this "Guide to Travelling to Japan" to help those who want to visit Japan anytime. All tips I give are based on my own experiences! I tried to make it as informative as I can so if you guys want me to talk about something I didn't in this post, feel free to comment and I will try work on it when I have time!
Planning to travel to Japan but don't know where to start?
First off you have to ask yourself; what do you plan to do in Japan? Do you want to travel around to different cities? Do you want to go sight-seeing? Or do you just want to shop and meet up with friends? You can do all these things if you want to, but deciding what you want to do BEFORE you leave is important.
Who are you going with?
Finding a travel buddy is probably the most important thing if you want to have a good trip. Last time I went with a group of 6 people, it was awesome fun being together, but sometimes it got a bit hard. When travelling and sight-seeing, a bigger group is definitely a lot more fun in my opinion. However, for those that want to go shopping, it may be a bit hard especially if you are in a big group. This is why deciding what you want to do before you plan everything out is important.
Last year when I went to Japan, I wanted to travel around to different cities and go sight-seeing since it was my first time in Japan. Because it was my first time, I knew nothing about travelling to Japan so I wanted to travel in a group. We had 6 people in our group and shared rooms in a hostel so it was quite cheap for accommodation. If I can remember we paid approximately 2500-3000yen a night for accommodation. We had a friend in our group who had travelled to Japan before in the past so he was able to teach us how to get around. We were able to get to places with no problems which was good. However, since I also wanted to shop in Japan, while in a big group (with guys) it was quite hard to go shopping. When we are walking around and I find a shop I want to go into, the guys would had to stand outside the shop and wait for me which made me feel bad for just leaving them there. We had days where we got to travel alone, however I wanted more time to myself.
The last time I went to Japan (earlier this year), I wanted to spend more time shopping and vlogging around Japan. I've already done the sight-seeing things and I'm not interested in going to those places again. Since shopping and vlogging is my main priority, I wanted to travel with someone who wants to do the same as me so I don't have to rush while shopping or rush my vlogs. I also wanted to travel with someone who enjoys taking lots of photos since that was what I plan to do as well.
Where are you going? How long?
Another important thing is deciding when and where you're going to be somewhere. First off, how long do you plan to be in Japan? 1 week? 2 week? a month? Once you've decided on how long, decide on where you'll be going. Do you want to go for 1 week but travel to different cities? or go for 1 week and just stay in one city?
Depends on what you really want to do. First time I went to Japan, I went for 6 weeks because I wanted to travel to other places like Hiroshima. The last time I went, I only went for 3 weeks since I only spent time in Tokyo and Osaka.
How are you getting around? (Transport)
Bullet Trains (Shinkansen 新幹線)
Now, say you want to go to Japan for 1 week and want to travel around to different cities. What I recommend you do is decide on a place that you are going to stay for the week, for example; in Tokyo. Book a hostel there for the whole week. Then what you want to do is get a JR pass (Japan Railway Pass). As you probably already know, Japan has bullet trains which you can use to travel between different cities. Really fast trains and really convenient for travel, downside is that it's REALLY expensive to use. For foreigners only, you're able to get a JR Pass.
For more information you can visit the site:
So what does the JR Pass do? You can buy the JR pass for a 1 week period, 2 weeks and so on. During the days where you have the JR Pass, you're able to ride the bullet trains as much as you want. Keep in mind that the JR Pass isn't exactly "cheap". For a 1 week pass, it is 37,800 yen which is around $480AUD. It is worth it if you plan on using the pass everyday (or most days) of the week. This option is good for someone who only wants to be in Japan for a short amount of time but wants to do a lot of travelling. Stay at one hostel for your whole trip, use the JR pass to travel and then come back at night.
So now say if you are going to Japan for 3 weeks for example (what I'm going to be doing). I'm going to be in Osaka for 1 week, then I want to travel to Tokyo for 2 weeks. For me, it's not worth getting a JR Pass. I plan to catch the bullet train from Osaka to Tokyo which is going to cost me around $200 I believe, but I'm only planning on catching it once so I would be better off not getting a JR pass.
Keep in mind that if you want to get a JR pass, you need to do it at the Japanese embassy in YOUR country BEFORE you go to Japan. You cannot get a JR pass when you're already in Japan since this is a pass only foreigners can get. I can't remember how long the process takes to get one, but if you can do it as early as possible.
If you are staying in a city for a while and just want to travel around in the city, JR trains are very convenient for that. They are also foreigner friendly so if you can't read Japanese, they usually have an English map of the station for you. It is super easy to use as well, just find the location you want to go on the map, it will say next to it how much it costs for you to get to that station, then you just buy your ticket, and go to the platform. Really simple and convenient.
Some cities don't have a JR station so you have to take the subway (Asakusa in Tokyo for example). Subways aren't as foreigner friendly as JR trains are. Most of the subways in Tokyo do have an English version of the map, however some don't. I remembered when I was travelling from Asakusa to get to Tokyo Disneyland, I got a bit stuck because I didn't know how to read the kanji for the station I wanted to get to.
Not confident that you can figure it out on your own?
Want to go somewhere but not confident that you can figure it out on your own? Here is a very useful site you can use. Just put in what time you want to leave (or arrive) at what station and the site will give you different options on how you can get there!
I didn't catch the bus much while in Japan as subways and trains were a lot more convenient for me. However, if you want to save money for example, going from Osaka to Tokyo, then catching an overnight bus is an option. Last time I went to Japan I caught a bus from Tokyo to Osaka, it cost around 5000yen and took about 6-8 hours (can't really remember). We left Shinjuku station at around 10.30pm and arrived in Osaka station at around 6.30-7am. Much cheaper than the Shinkansen which will cost around 15,000yen, so you save around $150. It will also save you a lot of time. From Tokyo to Osaka by Shinkansen, it takes around 2.5 hours.
However, from past experiences, I would much rather pay the extra $150 for a comfortable ride. It was winter when I went to Japan last time, was freezing outside so they had the heaters on in the bus. In Japan, heated seats on trains/busses are quite common. It's nice if you just want to sit down for a little while, but sitting on a heated seat for 8 hours? My ass was so sore after the ride. Also I don't like wearing shoes when I sleep so I took my boots off on the bus. Whenever I accidentally touched the floor with my feet, it would burn (the floor was actually really hot too!) The seats weren't very comfortable. Also, say for example you're catching the bus from Tokyo to go to Osaka. There will be maybe 5-10 stops in between. Every time they arrive at a stop (usually once an hour), the bus conductor would speak in a microphone to announce what station you arrived at. Annoying if you are on a night bus and are trying to sleep.
When I went from Osaka to Hiroshima (also by bus), the bus we had was a lot more comfortable I thought, so really depends on what bus you get. But to be honest the ride was still just as painful (being woken up every hour when we got to a station, hot floor/seats etc).
If you want to save the money then go ahead and take the bus, but I personally would much rather catch the bullet train for a more comfortable ride.
Japan isn't a cheap country to travel to, it can be quite expensive. In this section I'm going to talk about the things that you need to think about while you set your budget.
Food is relatively cheap in Japan. While I was there, I usually eat at Japanese fast food restaurants (Yoshinoya, Matsuya, Sukiya). Meals there are around 300-500yen. If you go to restaurants you'd be expecting to pay around 500-1500yen a meal. Sometimes if I'm lazy I would just go to a convenience store, buy a bento box (around 500 yen) and eat that for dinner. If you are travelling on a budget, save around 2000-3000yen a day for food.
Depending on how far you are traveling, transport is expensive in Japan. In one day if you are traveling just to random cities close-by (by Subway or JR Trains), I would save around 1000 yen a day for transport (if you are not planning on taking the Shinkansen or travelling to far away places).
This really depends on how much you want to shop. When I went just a few weeks ago, I spent A LOT of money shopping. Clothes in Japan are around the same price clothes are in Australia, except the quality is a lot nicer. You can find some clothing items for cheaper if you're buying non-branded stuff, but if you plan to buy Shibuya109 brand clothing, it will be expensive. The money you bring for shopping is completely up to you since everyone will spend differently.
For accommodation, if you would rather save on accommodation, then I would recommend staying at hostels. Hostels are cheaper than hotels, and most of them are nice and clean. I would recommend booking your hostels a month in advanced. If you are going during the peak season, booking perhaps 2-3 months in advance is advisable. Before you book for a hostel, make sure to read reviews first. I made a mistake of NOT reading reviews for a few hostels at the start, and some hostels I went to... I couldn't wait to get out of it. There are may reviews online if you just google whatever hostel you are planning to book at. However, most hostels are very nice. Most of them have staff that can speak fluent English, otherwise some just have simple conversational English. So how much will you be expecting to pay for a hostel? Depends on how many people you are travelling with. If you are sharing a room with 2 or more people, it is much cheaper than having a room to yourself. For most hostels you'd be expecting to pay around 2500-3500yen per person. You also can meet many new people in hostels. If you are booking last minute, some hostels might have specials on if they have rooms left, however if you already have booked your tickets early, I would recommend booking your accommodation as soon as possible.
If I go to Japan again, I think I'm just going to stay in hotels instead of hostels. You can get a decent hotel for only around 500-1000yen extra and you get your own private bathroom etc. I didn't like sharing bathrooms in hostels, sometimes you have to fight for showers in the morning, have to wait until someone else is finished before you can brush your teeth, and sometimes the showers are just very stinky.
Tokyo - (東京)
I'm assuming most people are wanting to go to Tokyo so I will recommend some places. There is a lot to do in Tokyo, if you want to shop mainly for gyaru style clothing, definitely check out Shibuya (渋谷) and Harajuku (原宿). Shibuya109 is a great place to shop at, also the streets in Shibuya (渋谷) have many gyaru brand shops. Harajuku (原宿) has Takeshita dori (Takeshita street, 竹下通り) which mainly sells cheaper clothes/accessories. You can find many clothes inspired by gyaru brands for 1/3 of the price which is really good. They also have brand name stores on that street such as Liz Lisa (リズリサ). It is easy to get to, once you exit Harajuku (原宿) station, walk to the left for about a minute, and you should see Takeshita street (竹下通り) across the road from you.
Ikebukuro (池袋) is another favourite place of mine to shop. Sunshine city (サンシャインシティ) is a great place, lots of shopping you can do in there. They also have Icecream City (a place you can try out all weird kinds of icecream flavours) and an Aquarium in there, however I've never been there myself. I spent a lot of time at Sunshine City when I was in Japan last time since shopping inside there is great. They also have some stores that sell fake Liz Lisa clothes/bags/wallets there so don't be fooled. The shoes I liked but I don't think the bags are worth the price. If you go to Studio Alta inside Sunshine City, they have many stores selling cheap shoes and clothing, definitely worth checking out.
If you are interested in checking out electronics/Anime goods, Akihabara (秋葉原) is a great place to go. I enjoyed looking in the smaller stores more, usually you will find much cheaper items than the huge stores dedicated to electronics. I don't know much about Akihabara (秋葉原) since I don't hang out much there, but definitely check out retro game centers if you are able to find them. You're able to play really retro games for free!
Odaiba (お台場) is a good place to go for some sight seeing. It is a man-made island in Tokyo which has a few very nice shopping malls. Venus Fort is one of my favourite malls in Japan, it is like an old Italian-style mall, very nice place to visit! They also have lots of pet stores where you can go and play with many cute pets! To get there you take a monorail train, and you go under rainbow bridge which lights up very nice at night. There is also a nice view + a mini Statue of Liberty there too.
Click here to read my experience in Odaiba in 2011.
Yokohama (横浜) is another good place to visit in Japan. Very nice scenery and they also have a big China Town there. They also have a huge roller coaster there with a few rides in the middle of the city. Unfortunately I didn't spend that much time there when I went last time, but I heard it definitely is a good place to check out.
Click here to read my experience in Yokohama in 2011.
If you are into sight-seeing, Tokyo Tower is probably a good place to visit, since I'm not a huge fan of sight-seeing I've never been to Tokyo Tower.
If you want to check out some of the more traditional side, Asakusa (浅草) is a good place to go. They have a very famous temple there, and also lots of small markets, it's worth a visit.
Click here to read my experience in Asakusa Temple in 2011.
There is also the Meiji Shrine which is right next to the Harajuku JR station (原宿JR駅). When coming out of the station, walk to the left and across a bridge, you should be able to find the entrance easily. It is also close to Yoyogi Park (代々木公園), but I haven't been there myself, I've only been to the Meiji Shrine.
Click here to read my experience at the Meiji Shrine in 2011.
Ueno (上野) is also a nice place to visit, they have lots of markets around that area, and if you have time, you can visit Ueno Park (上野公園) which is quite big.
Click here to read my experience in Ueno in 2011.
For nightlife, Shinjuku (新宿) and Roppongi (六本木) are known places to hang out. I haven't been to Roppongi (六本木) to hangout myself, but I have hung around Shinjuku (新宿) before, lots of stuff to do at night. Just be careful to not walk into the "dangerous places" in Shinjuku (新宿).
Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea is also worth a visit. You can buy a 2-day pass to go to both Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea for around 10,000yen I think (Around $125), or you can just get a 1-day pass to go to 1 theme park (Around 6100 yen for an adult ticket, approximately around $90). If you are able to get an international student card however, you can get a 1-day pass for 4900 yen which is around $75, so you save quite a bit of money. However, you can only buy them at the Disney Stores beforehand if you want that price. There are a few Disney stores around in Tokyo, there is one inside Sunshine City in Ikebukuro and there is one in Shibuya. I'm sure there are more around so you can find the closest one to you. Personally I love DisneySea but I found Disneyland a bit boring. DisneySea is more catered towards older people, whilst Disneyland is catered more towards kids. If you've never been to a Disneyland themepark before, then I recommend going to both, if you don't have time to go to both, then I suggest just going to DisneySea.
Click here to read my experience at Tokyo DisneySea in 2011.
Click here to read my experience at Tokyo Disneyland in 2011.
Osaka - 大阪
Osaka is my favourite place in Japan. The people are really friendly there and I seem to have more fun in Osaka than in Tokyo.
Shopping is great in Osaka as well. One of my favourite places to go shopping is Tennoji (天王寺). One of my favourite malls is MIO, it is in the same building as the Tennoji JR Station (天王寺JR駅) I believe. MIO reminds me of Shibuya109, it has a lot of the Shibuya109 brands in there including Liz Lisa. What I don't like about it, is that it is connected to another mall, so it is very easy to get lost in there. Also in Tennoji (天王寺), they also have Q's Mall which also has a mini version of Shibuya109 called Abeno. If you are in Tennoji (天王寺), do try out the nikumans there, there is a small shop called Horai551 and it is right next to the entrance to MIO.
Another favourite shopping place of mine is Shinsaibashi (心斎橋). Shinsaibashi (心斎橋) is a LONG street full of shopping. They have many department stores, and many different Japanese brands on the street. They also have cheaper stores too selling cheap shoes/clothes. Definitely one of my favourite places to shop. Be sure to wear shoes that you are able to walk in for a day, because you will be doing A LOT of walking in Shinsaibashi (心斎橋).
Umeda (梅田) is also a nice place to shop. They have a mall there that is also very simliar to Shibuya109 called HEP5. HEP5 is easy to find, you just have to find the huge red ferris wheel which is actually on top of the HEP5 department store. HEP5 has a Liz Lisa inside too. Umeda (梅田) also has one of the largest Pokemon Centers in Japan, so be sure to visit if you're a Pokemon fan! The Pokemon Center is inside the DAIMARU department store in Umeda (梅田).
One thing about Osaka I've noticed is that they have quite a few underground shopping malls. There is one in Umeda (梅田), where they have lots of different restaurants, shops selling clothes/shoes/cosmetics/stationary etc. They are usually where the trainstations are so they are easy to find. Namba (難波) (walkable from Shinsaibashi (心斎橋)) also has one.
Osaka also has their version of Akihabara called Den Den Town. It is a walkable distance from Namba (難波). It is VERY small compared to Akihabara, however they do have a lot of anime goods you can buy there.
Osaka also has some nice tourist places to visit. The Osaka Aquarium is a nice place to visit (大阪海遊館). It is a huge aquarium, and if you visit at night, usually they have illumination lights on outside which is really pretty. However I'm not a huge fan of aquariums since I personally think they are mostly all the same.
Click here to read my experience at Osaka Aquarium in 2011.
If you like history, the Osaka Castle (大阪城) will probably be an interesting visit. They have lots of history in there written in both English and Japanese on every floor. History isn't something I'm particularly interested in so I did find it quite boring. Also, the castle was re-made so it is quite modern now. Since I'm not interested in history, I didn't read many of the historical stories they had on the walls.
Click here to read my experience at Osaka Castle in 2011 .
If you want to see a more traditional Japanese temple, you should go to Kyoto (京都) for a day or two. Kyoto (京都) is very close to Osaka, it is only about 30 minutes away by train. Kyoto (京都) has many temples that you can visit. Some are foreigner-friendly, some are more catered towards Japanese. The easiest way to get around is to go to Kyoto JR station, and purchase a day pass where you can take the subways/busses as many times as you wish for the day. They also provide you with English maps to help you get around. My favourite place to visit in Kyoto (京都) is Suzumushi Dera (鈴虫寺). The Suzumushi Temple (鈴虫寺) is famous for making wishes come true. It costs around 500yen to go inside and listen to a lecture, with tea and sweets included. However, the lecture is all in Japanese and goes on for about 30 minutes, so if you don't understand any Japanese then it might be a bit boring for you. After the lecture, you buy an amulet which you use to make your wish. Most people go to the temple to wish for high scores for exams, good marriage, lasting relationships or good luck in job hunting. Kyomizu Temple (清水寺) is also worth visiting. It is a huge temple, so there is a lot to see. They also sell various good-luck charms which you can buy there. Arashiyama (嵐山) is also worth a visit, it has the famous bamboo forrest there.
Click here to read my experience in Kyoto in 2011.
Another place I recommend in Osaka is the Umeda Sky Tower (梅田スカイビル). The Sky Tower is two 40-story buildings connected by a "bridge". You can go all the way up to the top to see a view of Osaka city. Going at night is really nice and pretty! But it will be VERY cold up there, so don't stay up there for too long.
Click here to read my experience at Umeda Sky Tower in 2011.
Osaka also has their own Universal Studios, it's worth a visit if you haven't been to any Universal Studios before. The Universal Studios in Japan is expensive, it costs more than Tokyo Disneyland/DisneySea and it also is A LOT smaller. It's fun if you have never been to one before, but if you have then you can probably give it a miss.
Click here to read my experience at Universal Studios Japan in 2012.
Other random things~
I've been to Japan twice in winter time. If you come from a place where it never snows and the winters aren't very cold, you will probably struggle a little bit with the winter in Japan. I strongly recommend you go to Uniqlo to buy some thermal clothing to keep you warm. I've never been to Japan in summer before, so I'm not sure what it's like then.
Can staff in shops speak English?
With my experience, I would say no. When I went shopping with some friends and I spoke English to friends, shop assistants would try avoid us. I always have fun talking to staff when I'm in Japan, especially the Liz Lisa ones! If you are in Japan and want to practice your Japanese, talking to shop assistants is a great way to do so.
Should I learn Japanese before going?
If you are not planning on joining a tour group, I'd say yes. You will enjoy it so much more if you understand (or get the gist) of what people are saying when you're in Japan. I've been to Japan twice, the first time with intermediate knowledge of the language, and the second time with advanced knowledge. I enjoyed traveling around more the second time around since I could understand more of what people are saying. However, it depends on what you want to do in Japan. If you are there just to shop then perhaps you don't need any Japanese knowledge, but I still think it is still good to know the language, incase you get lost and need to ask for directions.
Hope this was helpful for all of you! If you have any questions feel free to comment below and I'll get back to you ASAP, happy traveling!
Also if there are a lot of questions, I might write a blog post dedicated to FAQs.