This time last year I was on the other side of the world, exploring the beautiful country of Japan with my boyfriend. In order to relive what was by far the best trip I’ve ever been on, as well as offer some pearls of wisdom that I picked up along the way, I’ve decided to put together my Top Tips for Travelling in Japan.
Tip #1: Pocket Wi-Fi Will Save Your Li-Fi
Gone are the days of awkwardly standing in the middle of the pavement gawking at your gigantic paper map trying to figure out how to get where you’re going. With a pocket Wi-Fi and constant access to Google Maps no matter how remote your location, you will never get lost again! Plus, you can immediately look up the reviews of restaurants you’re thinking about trying, and just about anything else.
Tip #2: Maybe Don’t Go During Golden Week, IDK
Unless you really enjoy standing in queues for 3+ hours, I would not advise visiting Japan – or at least, not its theme parks – during Golden Week. A public holiday in Japan, just about everyone is off work and school that week. Unfortunately, we didn’t realise it was Golden Week until we were already waiting for our connecting flight in Moscow…
Tip #3: Mount Fuji Looks Best When It’s Upside Down
More of recommendation than a tip, but if you’re visiting Mt Fuji, a trip to Fuji-Q Highland theme park is a must. With record-breaking rollercoasters, a dedicated Hamtaro section (massive nostalgia fest!), and loads of awesome rides and experiences, this theme park would be super fun anywhere. But even better, you have a spectacular view of Mt Fuji from just about everywhere in the park, and on some rides you even get to see it upside down!
Tip #4: Get a JR Pass and Guard It With Your Life
If you’re going to be travelling around Japan, you NEED a JR Pass. This invaluable ticket will get you onto most trains, saving you time and money. But be careful! You can’t get a replacement so if you lose it, you have to fork out for another one (and they’re not exactly cheap!).
Tip #5: Don’t Be Vegetarian
In general, finding a place to eat when you have dietary requirements and don’t speak or read the language is HARD. In a country like Japan where so many dishes are based on meat – especially fish – being a vegetarian can be particularly tricky. There are a lot of restaurants that cater to vegetarians in Tokyo, but you’ll find that the further out you go, the harder that is to find. Try to plan your meals and restaurant visits in advance to avoid going hungry. A lot of hotels have self-catering facilities and there are well-stocked convenience stores everywhere, so if you’re really in a bind you can always whip something up yourself or grab a sandwich on the go.
Tip #6: DO NOT CROUCH DOWN NEAR THE MONKEYS
Wherever you go – especially when there are animals involved – obey the rules that you are given; they are there for a reason. At the Iwatayama Monkey Park in Arashiyama, one key rule is not to crouch down to get closer to the monkeys. At best, they will steal your phone as you attempt to take a cute monkey selfie, at worst, they will fight you and probably win. Either way, breaking the rules is a great way to get yourself thrown out of any attractions you visit.
Tip #7: Take Your Time and Explore
While my trip was filled with breathtaking sights and experiences, one of the things that has stuck with me the most is simply the fact that I was able to walk around and see how other people live. Walk through the residential streets instead of always taking the train, take the long way around if you can – it will help you get your bearings as well as giving you a glimpse of ordinary life in Japan, away from all the tourist attractions. Walking up from the train station to our hotel in Fujikawaguchiko, we saw a local baseball team practising their sport, people tending to their gardens or just walking from one place to the next, running errands and going to work. That was just as magical and surreal as seeing Mount Fuji or the Fushimi Inari Shrine.
Tip #8: Don’t Chase Geisha Down the Street With Your Camera
Be respectful. This is a golden rule for any place you might travel. Don’t leave concepts like privacy, personal space, and basic human decency at the airport. This tip was inspired by an American tourist who we saw borderline harassing a geiko or maiko (I can’t remember which, as at the time I didn’t know the difference) in Arashiyama. Observe, don’t interfere.
Tip #9: Travel Light or Plan for Your Luggage
Visiting Japan is crazy exciting and the shopping possibilities are virtually endless, so it’s extremely tempting to bring a near-empty suitcase to fill up with goodies (which is exactly what I did). However, if you’re going to be travelling around a lot on a small budget (like I did), you need to be prepared to carry EVERYTHING with you, sometimes for a significant distance. Alternatively, there is a service in Japan that allows you to ship your luggage from one hotel to the next for a pretty reasonable fee. We didn’t try it out because we didn’t stay anywhere for more than two nights and we didn’t want to risk not arriving at the same time as our bags, but from what I’ve heard it’s pretty efficient and a great way to avoid lugging heavy suitcases everywhere.
Tip #10: Stock Up on Your Favourite Japanese Exports
If like me you have a Fujifilm Instax camera, you’ll know that in the UK a pack of film can set you back £8-15. In Tokyo, the exact same film will be somewhere between 700 and 850 yen, which at most will be about £6. Whatever your thing is, if it’s made in Japan, it’s almost definitely cheaper in Japan. Just make sure you don’t buy more than you can fit in your suitcase!
Tip #11: Go For at Least Two Weeks If You Can
Although we managed to cram a lot into the week that we were there, we were often rushing and exhausted. For the amount of time it takes to get there and back, ideally you want to spend at least two weeks there in order to really appreciate it, see more, and not tire yourself out completely – that’s definitely what we’ll be doing next time we go.