I returned to Japan late last year having not been for eight years. I was very excited to see what had changed and what new things I could find. It was Mr Life London Food’s first trip so everything was going to be new for him.
I know travel in Japan puts a lot of people off, the fear of the language barrier, the cultural differences, the food! I would say forget all that and dive on in to Japan. Its one of the friendliest countries I have ever been to, and with such amazing public transport it’s incredibly easy to get around.
I thought I would share some helpful hints and tips to help you get a trip planned and underway.
I am a natural-born organiser, and planning holidays is what I do for a living so I always do lots of research. Japan can be done last-minute and on the hoof, but for a country that operates in a very organised and on time manner its best to do a bit of work first, especially as hotels tend to fill up and can get pricey if left to the last-minute.
Hotels in Japan are expensive, however it is possible to get a bargain if you are flexible and are up for a mix of accommodation types. In cities like Tokyo and Osaka, there is a lot of choice but if you venture a little further out you can get a nice hotel for a better price – the excellent public transport means its easy to get around quickly.
In Tokyo we stayed at the Moxy hotel which was located in an area called Kinshicho, not too far from the Skytree. We were only a couple of stops from Tokyo station by train but the area we were in felt like we were seeing the real side of Tokyo, a million miles away from somewhere like Shibuya.
The Moxy hotel was modern but warm, with friendly staff and the rooms although compact were well designed. I would definitely stay here again.
There are quite a few hip hostels dotted around Japan, if you do not mind sharing a dorm then it can be a very cheap options. Private rooms in the hostels are normally good value as well.
We shopped around quite a bit when looking at hotels, do not be afraid to use those price comparison websites as you can normally get a few bargains.
If you want to stay at a Ryokan, then depending on the standard they can rise in price quite a bit. I stayed in one my first visit and loved the experience. Futon’s are very comfortable.
For a real bargain and Japanese experience then try a capsule hotel. They are great fun for a night or two especially if travelling with friends. They are normally by far the cheapest option.
The public transport in Japan is amazing! It’s by far the best way to get around and if you are planning on city hopping around the country then get a rail pass. The rail passes come in 7, 14, and 21 days. You can have them for the ordinary cars or green cars, which are first class. The seats in the ordinary cars are big and comfortable so unless you have a particular need to upgrade, ordinary will be more than adequate.
On the bullet trains most carriages are for reserved seats, which you can get in advance from the train stations ( look for the ticket offices) or they do have one or two carriages for unreserved seats.
We planned ahead to maximise our time and pre booked most of our bullet trains so had reserved seats, but when travelling in Kansai we just jumped on trains as we didn’t want to be restricted to what time to travel back to Osaka.
It’s not normal when in Japan to see people eating/drinking in the streets or public transport, however on the bullet trains these rules go out of the window. It’s almost strange not to see people tucking into a bento box or drinking a can of beer or high ball. So when on those longer journey’s stock up on tasty bento. Part of the fun of travelling on the bullet trains is deciding what to eat on them.
We also got ourselves a Pasmo card which is a top up travel card for the metro and buses. There is also once called Suica and they are both pretty much the same. We found we couldn’t use our Pasmo card on the buses in Kanazawa, so just used coins to pay. Both Pasmo and Suica can be used to pay for things in some convenience stores and vending machines which was great.
As mentioned in a previous post we had to do a lot of pre-planning when it came to eating out due to gluten intolerance, however, food is such a massive part of Japanese culture you will never go hungry.
Seven Eleven and Lawson stores, are everywhere. They are in train stations and on every other corner, there is always somewhere to stop and get a snack or drink.
We found that a number of restaurants mentioned English menu’s in their windows or on the door which was very helpful, where as in others that had no English menu we used google translate ( to comedy effect sometimes) or just chose from the picture. If you are really struggling, then many restaurants have plastic food in the windows so just take the waitress to them and point at what you want. Sometimes it will be a guessing game but that is part of the adventure.
The markets are also a great place to try the local cuisine. In Kanazawa, the local food market was a feast for the eyes and the stomach. As we walked around fresh fish was being served, there was BBQ eel, delicious Noto Beef and gold leaf ice cream. it was here that we had the beautiful beef sushi and Noto beef flash grilled on a stick – best beef I have ever had.
The enormous many level train stations are also the place to eat as the locals do. Tokyo station or Namba station in Osaka for example are just levels of restaurants and shops. You can find nearly ever type of Japanese food in these amazing stations. You will see family’s eating in the stations, co-workers and people on their own.
I hope this is helpful in some way when planning for Japan. Its one of my favourite countries ( even if the food is out to get me! damn you gluten) and the people are so friendly that I do not see why you should not go and explore!
Any questions feel free to ask and I will try to help