Here are my tips for travelling to Japan. I spent three weeks there in the spring of 2023 and found these ideas really helpful.
For Japan Accessibility info, check out this website https://www.japan-accessible.com/
For Tokyo, this is a great guide for anyone with or without Accessibility Issues. https://www.gotokyo.org/book/en/list/1270/
I recommend using the Agoda App or Website for hotels in Japan. And book as soon as possible. If you wait till the last minute, you’ll only find the high end expensive hotels.
And be aware of the culture! Since many married couples live with their parents and need a place to um er, conceive children, Japan has numerous “Love Hotels”. These hotels are bookable by the hour, afternoon, evening, or overnight. They are beautiful and well maintained, but not meant for staying for a few nights! I accidentally booked myself into one as a solo traveler. Hilarious mistake!
You will likely need a visa for Japan. Once you apply and are approved, there will be QR codes to download to use when you enter Japan. Apply here: https://vjw-lp.digital.go.jp/en/
These groups are communities that offer very valuable advice – especially what is going on in real time.
Japan Travel Planning
Japan Travel & Planning
Japan Travel Updates and Tours
Japan Travel – Friendly Discussion
Phone and Wifi connectivity
While portable wifi devices are available for rent, people report that the batteries run out before the end of the day.
Your best option for newer phones is to get and e-sim. For Iphones, anything newer than an Iphone 12 should support an e-sim. (an esim is an electronic circuit on your phone that mimics a sim card)
Here is a website that lists devices that support e-sims. https://esim.holafly.com/how-to/esim-phones/
I got my e-sim from Airalo If you use the referral code MARK3407 you can save $3 or so. I used Airalo in Japan, Thailand and Cambodia. Service and signal was excellent and reasonably priced!
Japan Travel by Navtime – maps, tours, cultural information, updated tourist warnings, points of interest, discount passes and tickets… just tons of information! The best app to have.
These are the apps I used on my trip!
JAPAN RAIL PASS is offered jointly by six JR Group companies, and is a budget-friendly option that is perfect for travelling all over Japan by rail.
There are some quirks with the rail pass that you should know.
First of all, if you purchase your rail pass from the official website you can use the Japan Rail reservation site to book your tickets. If you purchase your rail pass from a travel agent, you are not able to use the website or app to book tickets. (If this has changed, let me know using the contact form on this website.)
There are tons of websites offering Rail Passes. Some of these sites are legitimate third party sites, but some are scams.
The official website is: https://japanrailpass.net/
How to purchase your Japan Rail Pass: https://japanrailpass.net/en/purchase.html
Reservations (if your pass allows) can be made here https://www.japanrailpass-reservation.net/
Do NOT LOSE YOUR PASS!
A little tip: When purchasing a ticket at a machine, use the SCAN QR code feature first, and scan in your Rail Pass QR code. This really simplifies the process.
Another tip: Know the NAME of your destination train station. Tickets are issued by Destination Station Name, not necessarily by City Name!
SUBWAYS: The Japan Rail Pass will work on the JR subway lines, but not on other lines. I purchased a two 7 day unlimited pass upon arrival at the airport. The pass days started counting after I used the pass. This was economical and saved all the hassle of trying to buy tickets at the machine.
Bring some Japanese Yen with you. Your bank may try to give you 2000 yen notes. These are not readily accepted in Japan as they are special commemorative notes (but they do make a nice gift for someone.
For travel in Japan get a SUICA card on arrival. For other payments I got a card from WISE.com It acts just like a pre-loaded credit card and worked in Japan, Thailand and Cambodia. You can load multiple currencies on it. Get it a few weeks before you leave as it can take a few days to be delivered…
Note that some people have had trouble using a SUICA card on an North American phone.
Tours and Day Trips
To plan some day excursions and to make sure I visited the best sites, I used ChatGPT to build a list of sites to see in each of the cities I visited. I used the following prompt:
“I’m travelling to [City Name] and have [insert number] days there. I don’t like shopping or really busy tourist sites. I enjoy temples, onsens, historical sites and nature [EDIT OR ADD YOUR INTERESTS]. I have a rail pass so I can easily travel to places in or near [CITY NAME]. What places should I visit? What is the best itinerary?”
The results were actually quite helpful!
This website has great travel tips for Tokyo and other parts of Japan. Sign up for the free Japan travel checklist! https://asocialnomad.com/japan/best-day-trips-from-tokyo/
Kerry runs walking and culture tours. He saved my trip when I was overwhelmed with crowds. I took a tour with him and he suggested a train trip to Kamakura which was the highlight of my trip! You can find him and his events on Facebook in the Omatsuri-Japan Plus Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/423725354628637 You’ll see sights that you wouldn’t otherwise find and get a much more detailed history! And he’s very knowledgeable about history, culture and best places around Japan to visit! Highly recommend him!