Konichiwa and welcome to Japan! So you’ve decided to head to the land of contrasts where old meets new and east meets west. Where anime and modern technology sit side by side with Geisha and Samurais – good decision! But not sure what you should pack? Confused about when to visit and what to budget? We thought so! That’s why we’ve put together this handy cheat sheet for a rundown on all things Japanese. Listen up…
Number 1 tip: Learn a little bit of basic Japanese, it will come in handy and locals will appreciate it. Even if it’s just the phrase: 私日本語は話せません。(watashi-nihongo-wa-hanasemasen) ‘I can’t speak Japanese’. Bit of a mouthful but EXTREMELY useful.
Seasons and packing
- Jan – March: This is one for the ski bunnies! Expect cold days and snow covered mountains so pack your skis and warm clothes. This is also referred to as Japan’s low season, there are fewer crowds and it is slightly more affordable. Just be aware many businesses close over New Year.
- Jun – Jul, Sep – Dec: June – July is Japan’s rainy season (except in Hokkaido) so pack your poncho and brolly! September is typhoon season. November- December brings gorgeous Autumnal colours along with the crowds.
- April – May, August: The weather in April and May is usually incredible, August is pretty hot and humid but it’s festival season! So pack your best party outfit, loose clothing and your bikini! Cherry blossom is in full bloom between March and April, but everyone’s got the same idea as you so expect crowds and high prices.
- Top Packing Tip: Remember to pack some modest clothing as a mark of respect when visiting temples.
Japanese currency is the Japanese Yen ¥ or JPY.
The Japanese have NAILED customer service. Companies around the world actually send employees to Japan to learn about exceptional hospitality. It’s a country with some of the greatest accomodation on Earth, where you’ll find excellent prices along with outstanding service and you can quite often choose between Western or Japanese style rooms.
- Dorm rooms are around ¥3000 ($35 a night)
- A double room at a mid-range hotel is around ¥10,000 ($117 a night)
- A double room in a really nice hotel is around ¥25,000 ($293 a night)
Where’s good to stay? Go for the Grand House Chang Tee in Tokyo! Double rooms are around $60 a night, they’re clean and simple just like sushi, with air-con, spotless bathrooms and complimentary shampoos. Amazingly located in the heart of the buzzing Ikebukuro district and close to ridiculously good transport links
Japan is a breeze to get around and the train service is one of the most efficient in the world. The main company is Japan Railways (JR), they operate the shinkansen or bullet trains.
You can purchase a Japan Rail pass for however many number of days, 7, 14 or 21 you need, this then gives you unlimited travel on the extensive rail network. The trains are super fast, efficient and really comfortable with on board vending machines and drinks trolleys! These passes are only available to tourists so you have to purchase before you depart. Depending on how long you go for and what class you sit in they range from around $330 to $820.
In the larger cities, they have reliable subways, trams, buses and taxis – most locals only use public transport. Subways are the fastest and most reliable way to get around the major cities, for a one day adult subway ticket it’s around ¥800 ($9). Taxis are also a good way to get around, tariffs usually start at around ¥300 ($3.50) depending on where you’re going.
Top tip:It’s worth having your address written down in Japanese or a business card of the hotel you are staying at, as most taxi drivers don’t speak English.
If you’re after a cheap dinner in Japan, head to the sushi conveyor belts, these can be found throughout the country and they’re about ¥100 ($1.20) a sushi. It’s a great way to try delicious, affordable food and to meet some locals. It’s worth checking out Genki Sushi in Tokyo.
Don’t fancy sushi? Go for Japanese ‘fast food’, but not like fast food as we know it. You can grab yourself steaming bowls of rice, noodles, crispy dumplings, miso soup and sides of green tea. The cheapest meals are around ¥130 ($1.50) and these include a rice bowl and cup of green tea. But if you go for something a bit bigger it will be around ¥300-¥600 ($3.50-$7).
Generally meals in restaurants can range from ¥800 – ¥3000 ($10-$35), with a bowl of ramen costing around ¥500 ($5.80). Also, tipping is not necessary, if you leave money on the table usually the waiter will chase you down the street to give it back.
Top tip: Hit up grocery stores in the evenings because boxes of fruit and veg are discounted before they are thrown out!
The Japanese love to let their hair down as much as the next person, but avoid the bright lights and dazzling bars that will guzzle away your yen. Normally, the cost of a beer is around ¥600 ($7) and a spirit and mixer is around ¥800 ($9.40). Not so bad? But come on let’s be real, you’re not just going to have one drink are you? Your best bet is to head to a convenience store (that are dotted all over the place) and buy a chu-hi! A Chu-hi is a refreshing alcohol sweet drink served in a can, dangerously tasty!
Top tip: A few Chu-his are perfect for pre-drinks, but be careful they’re stronger than you think and you want to make it to the bar, don’t you?