Japan is one of my favorite countries. Preparation for this journey took me a lot of time and energy. I read an endless quantity of blogs, prepared itineraries, drew maps, and calculated budgets. All my efforts paid off with an amazing adventure in this beautiful and interesting country. Some useful information you need to know before going to Japan to make your trip amazing too!
Download: Detailed Itinerary of Japan in 2 Weeks + Budget
From October 2022, Japan is open to tourists. You need either a certificate of vaccination (3 doses approved by the WHO) or a negative test (taken 72 hours before departure). Up-to-date information is here and here.
Do you need a visa?
Citizens of Canada, the USA and most European countries do not need a visa to Japan(details here), with passports of CIS countries (Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, etc.) and Ukraine need to obtain a tourist visa in visa centers and embassies(information here).
How we travelled around the country
We travelled on high-speed shinkansen trains, regular trains, subways, and buses. We decided not to rent a car because of the left-hand traffic and incomprehensible signs on the road. There was a lot of walking around the city. Uber is not developed, but there are cabs and rickshaws.
I used Google maps (we had unlimited internet) and Navitime site/application with JR PASS ticked (google automatically builds the fastest trains route, not all are covered by JR Pass, so it’s better to double-check with Navitime).
- Koyasan: Visiting Japanese monks
- Jigokudani Snow Monkeys
- Shirakawa-go: Japanese most popular village
- Himeji – White Heron Castle in Japan
- Kanazawa: Things to do and see in 1 day
To travel between cities, we bought a JR Pass for high-speed trains (shinkansen) for a week. Despite the high cost (from $250USD/person), it quickly pays for itself. You can calculate in advance the price of travel on your route without a JR Pass and compare what is cheaper.
- JR Pass covers only high-speed (bullet) trains, city trains and subways you buy separately.
- Not all high-speed trains are covered by the JR Pass. It is not valid for any seats on NOZOMI and MIZUHO trains on the Tokaido, Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen lines.
- It is better to book a JR Pass in advance (on the spot may not be) with an official agent, or online (this method is better, as it will be possible to book seats on the trains). When you arrive in Japan, you will need to exchange your purchased ticket for the actual one, which you will put on the turnstile or show to an employee of the train (in small towns).
- Green and Ordinary differ in class of service. Green is more expensive, has more space and fewer people.
- Use the Navitime site to route with JR PASS (you can tick it off there) or the free Japan Travel app.
Download Itinerary: Japan in Two Weeks
Maps, prices, restaurants, activities, time for each location, and other helpful travel tips
We ordered a pocket wifi from this company 3 days before the trip. Unlimited fast Internet, coverage was almost everywhere and always, used on several devices. It came in very handy because in a lot of places people did not speak English, and our itinerary was challenging, with a lot of traffic, also we constantly double-checked schedules and opening hours. We picked up and dropped off the device at the airport. As an alternative, you can buy esim Airalo.
I booked all hotels in advance on booking.com
Business hotels 2, 3 stars – optimal price / quality. Small rooms are equipped with everything you need (slippers, toothbrushes, bathrobes), there is a laundry.
Capsule hotels are popular with budget travellers. Even for two people it’s cheaper than a business hotel. Men’s and women’s rooms and showers are often on different floors. I do not recommend this option to couples.
Rayokans are rooms in traditional Japanese homes where you sleep on the floor (tatami). The cost of such accommodation depends on the availability of a bath, a traditional dinner and breakfast. Often they only accept cash and you have to book the room on their official website or by email.
Shukubo is a room in the temple. The essence is the same as in the rayokan, but the food will be vegetarian.
There are still few places in Japan that accept cards. It’s a little better after the covid in the big cities. We only paid with the card for hotels, expensive restaurants, JR PASS, admission to Tokyo museums and shopping in big stores. Everything else was paid in cash (food, temples, electric trains, buses). If you stay at a rayokan, find out if they accept cards.
READ MORE: 27 ways to save money in Japan
According to various rankings (also in the famous Global Peace Index) Japan is one of the top 10 safest countries in the world for all travellers, including LGBTQIA and female solo. During rush hour there are separate subway cars for women in large cities. Thefts are quite rare.
Geographically, Japan is located in a “ring of fire” and is subject to typhoons, earthquakes, and tsunamis. The country’s infrastructure is built with these features in mind. But it is worth familiarizing yourself with the rules of action in this or that event. Check the weather forecasts and take appropriate clothing.
There are many unspoken rules and customs in Japan. Tourists are naturally forgiven for not knowing. But here’s what caught my eye personally:
- In the train, bus and subway it is not customary to talk loudly. There was perfect silence in the Tokyo subway!
- There are no garbage bins on the streets. You take all the trash with you. Everything sparkles with cleanliness
- The Japanese are very polite. Even if something went wrong or you are unhappy with the service, respectfully and calmly explain the reason
- Rinse yourself in the shower before climbing into the onsen.
- You can’t go to public onsens with tattoos. Cover them with something.
- Never stick chopsticks in food/rice
- It’s not customary to tip in Japan!
- In museums, palaces, and Japanese houses, you must always take off your shoes. Usually, there are slippers lying at the entrance. In rayokan and shukubo, you had to change your house slippers for toilet slippers before entering the bathroom.
Our itinerary turned out to be very ambitious and incompatible with giant suitcases. We took two carry-on bags with everything we needed. Every hotel (except rayokans) had convenient laundry facilities. There are lockers in every touristy place and city right at the stations/entrance. Never once had a problem where to leave bags/suitcases (stock up on small coins)
We took comfortable clothes according to the weather.
Download: Detailed Itinerary of Japan in 2 Weeks + Budget
Something you don’t have to worry about. The food in Japan is very good!
We found the perfect Japanese breakfast at fast-food cafes that are open 24 hours. “Matsuya in Tokyo, Nakau or Yayoiken Kawaramachi Sanjo in Kyoto. For 400-500 yen/person you get: miso soup, fried egg, a piece of salmon or beef, salad and tofu. Service is fast, you order from the machine at the entrance.
For lunch we had udon, ramen, soba, or donburi. Also check out Kaiten Sushi, where the food arrives by conveyor belt.
Try to eat lunch before 2 o’clock in the afternoon. After that, you can only find food in expensive restaurants, and the small-budget ones close until 5 or 6 pm.
We often bought our dinner in stores. Rolls, sandwiches, Japanese dumplings, salads – all fresh and inexpensive. After 8 p.m., many Japanese stores sell ready-to-eat meals at a 50% discount.
Authentic places: Japanese inns, barbecues, yakitoris and sushi bars. In these places the check will cost more than average. If you have a choice – definitely sushi! Download discount coupons and deals from the DigJapan app. Please note that smoking is allowed in izakayas. Once they brought us a handwritten menu, have an online or offline translator.
Almost all temples in Japan are free, but inside each one there are some beautiful rooms with a 300-500 yen entrance fee. Don’t forget to put it in your budget.
Japan uses 100-110 volts, 50/60Hz and a Type A plug. Get the adapter!
Buy tickets to popular tourist spots in Tokyo and Kyoto and make restaurant reservations in advance(TeamLab, Pokemon Cafe, Ninja Restaurant, etc.).
Have a great trip everyone and share what else you need to know before you go to Japan in the comments!