There are a few things that I learnt during my month long trip to Japan. Since I was travelling mostly on my own, I did a lot of research to find places to go and things to do. Japan is a really huge country with a wide variety of things to do, and I thought I would just compile a list of things that could be useful for anyone planning a trip to Japan.
1. Get a local travel card
Seriously, the time and effort it takes to constantly buy train tickets or count coins for the bus fare is not worth it. You can easily get a travel card from the ticketing machines at any train station and then use it until the value in the card is depleted, or until you trip ends by simply tapping in and out at the gantries. Examples include the ICOCA card for the Kansai region and the PASMO card for Tokyo.
You can purchase the card for 2000 yen, from which 500 yen is an initial deposit and 1500 yen is for your use. If you don’t use all 1500 yen, you can always get a refund at the end of your trip. If you do use up the 1500 yen, you have an awesome souvenir!
Read more here : http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2359_003.html
2. Learn a few stock phrases
This is something that is not exactly necessary, but I think it’s really useful in certain circumstances and more respectful to acknowledge the person you are talking to in their native tongue. People are really helpful and will try and communicate with you as long as you make an effort.
Besides arigatou gozaimasu (thank you), Sumimasen (excuse me, sorry) is a big one that you should definitely know. It can also be useful to know _______ wa doko desu ka ( where is _______?) to ask for the toire (toilet) or eki ( train station).
More travel phrases: http://www.fodors.com/language/japanese/basic-phrases/
3. Plan your trip using Odigo
I can’t express how much I love this website. Odigo is a gift from the travel gods that lists places of interest, restaurants and even hotels. When you plan your trip, you can visualise the proximity of the locations, estimate travel fares and even timings for each location.
I used it to plan both my Tokyo and Kyoto trip and it really helped me in arranging the places I wanted to go to based on location. There are also reviews and articles by other people so that you can get a variety of recommendations. I seriously cannot recommend this wonderful website enough.
However, a drawback is that it’s not all inclusive and doesn’t have some locations (like omi jingu shrine) but is still very useful for exploring places you may want to go.
My trip on Odigo: https://www.odigo.jp/itineraries/37077
My profile: https://www.odigo.jp/profile/asha
4. Use the trains
When I was in Kyoto, I made the mistake of taking buses initially because I thought it would be cheaper. However, this is not exactly the case. Public buses in Kyoto are rather expensive for short distances as there is a flat rate, hence it’s cheaper for longer distances (but time becomes an issue). Taking a train is faster, cheaper or similarly priced for short distances, and just generally better. The network of trains are great and you can literally get anywhere.
If you are afraid of getting lost, don’t worry, Google maps is great and immensely helpful, but for long distance travel, be careful not to take the shinkansen (bullet train) by accident if you plan to travel by local train.
When in doubt, ask the officers at the gantries, they are very nice and helpful! They have an app which specifies train platforms and timings so you really can’t take the wrong train.
5. Try a local cultural experience
I really can’t stress enough about how much fun I had in Japan just from experiencing the local culture. Shopping and nature trails are great, but what truly defines a trip for me are the unique experiences you can only get in that one place.
Japan has many wonderful festivals that take place throughout the year. The processions offer a unique glance at how strongly the Japanese people hold on to their traditions. Plus there’s local food! There are festivals at different locoations at different times of the year, so I strongly recommend you do some research to find out if there will be festivals around the area you plan to visit.
You can also go for workshops teaching local traditional arts. There are pottery classes, cooking classes, even cloth dyeing classes you can take for a day. These are really fun and the wagashi making workshop that I went for was definitely a highlight of my trip. These classes usually require pre-booking, so again, research is key!
Japan is a fantastic travel destination, and there’s a lot to see and do. Like with anywhere else, the best way to fully enjoy your trip is to plan early!