Japan is a dream destination. The magnificent sites, the welcoming people, the amazing food! What’s there not to like? But with every country, one must come equipped with the knowledge to wade your way safely through its vibrant culture.
I’ve been to Japan quite a number of times. Well, I’m just lucky because my parents live here. And with my current digital nomad setup, I don’t need vacation leaves for me to visit them. So I get to go every quarter. (I thank the heavens for seat sales!)
Assuming you already have your Japanese Visa, if it’s your first time or if you just want to play it safe your next visit, here are 10 things you must prepare for when traveling to Japan according to Miko Around the World!
Get a Tourist SIM Card and Install Google Maps (!)
First of all, I highly suggest getting a tourist SIM card. The streets of Japan are challenging to navigate. In fact, street signs are almost non-existent. Finding an address is extremely hard. (Or at least I had a hard time).
How can you enjoy the sites when you are just one little-lost lamb trying to find your way?
Save yourself the anguish and just rely on the Internet. The Google Maps in Japan is spot on. I have used this to go to virtually anywhere accessible by train or bus. In my opinion, here are the best SIM cards.
Recommended SIM Cards
If you don’t need that much data, a 3 GB SIM card is enough. Try out this BIC SIM Japan Travel SIM (2,800 Yen + tax). The data is good enough for those who just want to occasionally browse the net and use our miracle navigation app.
You can buy this at any BIC Camera store. Or if you are landing in Narita Airport, the convenience store near the arrival gate to your left. (If I’m not mistaken, it’s the Blue Sky Store.)
But do take note that you have to activate your SIM card and you need Internet in the process. So don’t leave the airport until you’re done with it.
(Also, if you’re using an iPhone, you need to download something for it to work. Don’t forget to delete that downloaded file because it will render travel sim cards in other countries useless. My sim card in Taiwan didn’t work because of it and the person at the counter didn’t have any idea why. I deleted the installation, and it worked. So be wary.)
If you need more data, you can reload 1 GB with prepaid cards with the BIC Camera logo across all convenience stores. But do take this carefully because it’s priced at a whopping 1,500 Yen + Tax per GB. Yikes.
I suggest buying the Mobal Japan 10-GB SIM Card if you need more gigabytes. This is the cheapest option at just 5,990 Yen. What’s good is that you don’t need to configure anything. Just plug the SIM card and that’s it.
The let down is that there is no way to track your usage. So just use a data manager when you decide on this option.
Know Your Train Lines
If you masochistically want a headache, just look at the map of the Tokyo railway. It’s disgusting. It’s like the web of life intertwining every stop. So just stop. Don’t. Torture. Yourself.
The train companies in Japan are privatized. No single company (or government) owns all the lines. So try to familiarize yourself with train lines.
If your landing in Narita, the first thing you need to know is your ride to Tokyo. Narita is roughly 45 kilometers from Tokyo. It’s one long ride.
I suggest taking the Tokyo Skyliner. Better get it from websites like Klook to avoid any hassles. It will reserve your seats and will take you to Nippori or Ueno station where every station in Tokyo is accessible.
Also, if you want to ride the bullet train for the heck of it but can’t afford the high price tag, riding the Skyliner is almost the same feeling. It’s not as fast, but you don’t really feel anything while in transit. It’s quite the same. It’s just comfortable airplane-like seats on a fast train.
Local and Rapid Service Trains
The next thing to remember is the type of trains and the routes normal trains follow. Unlike in some countries (like the Philippines), multiple trains for different routes pass by the same platform.
For example, there are Local and Rapid Service Trains stopping at the same platform. Local trains stop at every station while the Rapid ones only stop on the most in-demand train stations in that route. So you have to be careful what you ride.
I told this advice to my friend when riding back to their home. But I accidentally rode the local train to mine. So what’s supposedly a 20-minute ride became 45 minutes. So much for giving advice. Can you give me a slow clap for that?
But it’s so hard to know! Do you give up?
No. There is an easy way. I hope you bought a travel SIM card.
In Google maps, type your destination and the location. Choose the train option and now you see the exact time and platforms the trains will arrive at, the exact stations you need to transfer, and the exact fare you need to pay. You can even see if it’s a local or rapid train.
No second guessing. Just follow the guide completely. Google Maps is your friend.
Wear Comfortable Walking Shoes
This I highly suggest. Actually, if I can force you to do it, I would. Please wear comfortable walking shoes. I mean really really comfortable ones. Not the ones you think you are comfortable in but caused so many blisters on your feet.
In Japan, everyone walks. Fat, Thin, Rich, Poor, Young and Old. Everyone! If you can afford the staggering taxi fares (2000 Yen for roughly a 10 Minute ride or 30,000 Yen from Narita to Tokyo Station), go ahead. But if you don’t want to mindlessly burn your travel money in just taxi fares, better equip yourself with comfortable walking shoes.
I’m not even kidding. I have seen countless people, especially women, cursed the day they walked on those boots. You will really thank me for this.
Prepare for The Best Toilet Seats Ever
Japan is esteemed for many things. And arguably the one where you can bask on your throne, pun intended, is their high-tech toilet seats. If you happen to visit the toilet after your long flight, don’t get intimidated. It’s easy to use.
Just push the sign that looks like water sprinkling your bum and end it with the stop button if done. Feel the cleanest possible way you can be.
These seats are of the future. Most of these seats have a warmer too!
Bring Your Manners
I don’t mean to be racist, but the Japanese are the most polite people I have ever met. They seem really nice. When you talk to them, they sound so accommodating. The servers in restaurants are so jovial when they bring your food. It’s like they are serving royalty in just a normal Diner.
I tell you one story. One day, I bought some products online and got it delivered to our house. The delivery lady arrived and she was so happy to give me the package. And I’m not even exaggerating. It’s like she was thankful for her life that she brought me the package.
There was this other instance when we asked the policeman for directions, and he accompanied as to the exact place. That’s a 10-minute walk! Talk about service.
With this kind of people, PLEASE BRING YOUR MANNERS! Don’t act all Logan Paul throwing Pokeballs and raw Tako (octopus) to random people. Please! Just… Please!
Please be polite and thank them for their service. Thank you!
The Power of “Sumimasen”: Will Save You From Almost Every Communication Gap (Plus Some Charades)
If you need to know just one word in their language, it will be “sumimasen”. Memorize it! Again: “sumimasen”. This means, “excuse me” and can also be used as “sorry”. This is the most useful word every tourist should know.
You want to ask something, tap someone and say “sumimasen” then show your translated question in your Google translate app.
You want to go to the toilet, ask, “sumimasen, toilet?” You accidentally bumped on someone, “sumimasen”. You’re going through a crowd, “sumimasen” as you waddle across the people.
I don’t know how to speak Japanese. I just use this word plus Google translate (and some charades). And I survived for all these years.
Well, as a relatively materialistic individual, I would be happy to get tips from my customers. I mean, who would say no to extra money, right?
In Japan, that’s a Big No No. It’s an insult for them to receive more than what’s required. I don’t know why. Maybe because of honor? But at least, you can be sure that you get the right change when you pay for your bill.
Keep Your Trash to Yourself
I can’t help but wonder why Japan is so clean. There is no trash in sight. And the funny thing is, there are no trash cans in the area.
Is it their discipline? Is it their love for their country? I don’t know. But as a tourist, can you just keep your trash to yourself? The dirtiest I’ve seen is Shibuya where some random foreign family casually threw their Milk Tea Cups in the bushes.
I mean. Come on! If you can’t keep the trash to yourself, can you just eat it? Let’s not dirty their pristine city just because you are too itchy to manifest your unclean nature. *end rant*
Enjoy Tax-Free Goodies
It may not be common knowledge. But you can actually be exempted from consumption tax in Japan (currently at 8%). You just need to reach a total of 5,000 yen of spending to enjoy it. Some stores even allow you to accumulate the additional purchases after your initial 5,000 yen as long as it’s purchased within the day.
Although, you need to remember that they count consumables and non-consumables separately. So if you are buying let’s say 5000 yen worth of shampoo and 3000 yen worth of electronic, the 5000 yen worth of consumables are tax-free and the latter is not.
Also, you can’t use the consumables in Japan. It will be packed in a sealed plastic container. It’s an exemption for the Consumption tax. So you will be taxed if you consume it in the country.
Always Carry Cash
Lastly, it’s wise to carry cash all the time. Japan may be a technologically advanced country, but some establishments are as traditional as ever. Some “Ryokan” or Japanese traditional hotels only accept cash as payment. Some stores only accept cash.
If you’re going outside the city, some places like Noto or Kyoto sell their goods on cash-basis. Don’t feel helpless!
Go and stack up some moolah in your wallets. If you run out, ATMs are available in almost every convenience store.
Not everything is listed here. What are the things you must prepare for when you go to Japan? Let us know in the comments below! I hope you are more prepared on your Japan journey! Have Fun!