Want to travel to Japan?

Posted on September 10, 2017

Planning a trip to Japan soon? Here are some basics you need to know.

What time of year to visit?

The best time to visit Japan is when the weather is stable:

  • Spring (March to May)
  • Autumn (September to November)

Travelling during either winter (December to February) or summer (June
to August) is a mixed bag. Winter weather can be cold, particularly on the Sea of
Japan coasts of Honshū and in Hokkaidō, while the summers  are hot and humid. June is also the month of Japan’s brief rainy season, which in some years brings daily downpours and in other years is hardly a rainy season at all.

Things to pack

  • Slip-on shoes – you want shoes that are not only comfortable for walking but also easy to slip on and off for the frequent occasions where they must be removed.
  • Unholey socks – your socks will be on display a lot of the time.
  • Books – English-language and other foreign-language books are expensive in Japan, and they’re not available outside the big cities.
  • Medicine – bring any prescription medicine you’ll need from home.
  • Gifts – a few postcards or some distinctive trinkets from your home country will make good gifts for those you meet along the way.
  • Japan Rail Pass – if you intend to do much train travel at all, you’ll save money with a Japan Rail Pass, which must be purchased outside Japan

Places to sleep

  • Capsule Hotels – A night in a capsule hotel will set you back around ¥3000.

Food to try

  • Shokudō – You can get a good meal in these Japanese eateries for about ¥700. The tea is free and there’s no tipping.
  • Bentō – The ubiquitous Japanese box lunch, or bentō, costs around ¥500 and is both filling and nutritious.
  • Rāmen – You can get a steaming bowl of tasty rāmen in Japan for as little as ¥500. Soba and udon noodles are even cheaper – as low as ¥350 per bowl.

Places for shopping

  • Hyaku-en Shops – Hyaku-en means ¥100, and like the name implies, everything in these shops costs only ¥100, or slightly less than one US dollar. You’ll be amazed what you can find in these places. Some even sell food.
  • Flea Markets – A good new kimono costs an average of ¥200,000 (about US$1700), but you can pick up a fine used kimono at a flea market for ¥1000, or just under US$10. Whether you’re shopping for yourself or for presents for the folks back home, you’ll find some incredible bargains at Japan’s flea markets.

Areas of Japan

  • Tokyo for the modern Japanese experience
  • Kyoto for the historical sites
  • Nara for wondering deer in the streets
  • Takayama – A good side trip en route from Nagoya
  • Himeji – a famous castle town
  • Shikoku – a seldom-visited island but easily accessible

How to travel around Japan

With the JR Pass you HAVE to make reservations for your seat when riding the Shinkansen (you can do it the same day and same time you’re about to leave as long their seats available). If you made a reservations and you’re not going to make it or you miss your train make sure you cancel it and re-book.

For the JR Train, you don’t need to make reservations. You just flash it to the people posted at the check mark by the windows.

Note: You need to make reservations for the NEX train (red and black train) at the Narita airport).

Japan Rail Pass holders are able to explore Tokyo for free on the circular Yamanote line, which connects Tokyo’s major hubs and attractions. Otherwise you will need to preload yen on a Suica Card (to access Tokyo Metro)

Travelling without JR Pass?

You can book your tickets in advance at any midori-no-madoguchi ticket office just like JR Pass holders. The process is exactly the same, only you will have to pay full fare for everything. Although JR Pass holders don’t necessarily have to ‘book’ everything, they can just go through the gate with JR pass and non-JRP can use their IC card, unless they prefer to buy the paper tickets each time.

Different cities in Japan have different “brands” of IC Cards, but as of 2013, they are all compatible with each other.

When leaving Japan, you can bring your IC card to a station attendant, who can return you ¥500 deposit and the remaining balance on your card. Note that if you wish to have the balance on your IC card refunded, there is a ¥220 processing fee.

In Tokyo: You can load your Suica Card as many times as you like, topping it up at the station’s ticket vending machines and kiosks to a maximum amount of 20,000 yen. Please note that you’ll need to use Japanese yen to load the card, as credit cards will not work.

Smart cards like Icoca, Suica and Pasmo are generally valid across Japan, so don’t worry about which one you buy.

You can use Icoca in other parts of Japan. They’re fully interchangeable with other prepaid card systems in Japan. However, you cannot use a Icoca to travel out of the Osaka train system into another region’s train system. Once you arrive, you can use the card there. So, for example, you cannot use these cards to travel from Osaka to Tokyo by train, because you would leave the JR West area and enter the JR East area. But, you could use one to travel from Osaka to Kyoto, because you’d stay within the JR West area. And you can use Pasmo or Suica cards (or other smartcards from other parts of Japan) within Osaka and other parts of Kansai.

But you cannot use Icoca on the shinkansen.

Haruka/Icoca Combo Ticket

JR West offers an excellent deal that includes one-way or return travel between Kansai International Airport (KIX) and Shin-Osaka or Tennoji (or Kyoto) and an Icoca card containing Y1500 of credit. A regular one-way Haruka ticket between KIX and Shin-Osaka costs Y2330 and the Icoca card would cost Y2000 (there’s a Y500 deposit for the card). If you take advantage of this combo deal from JR, the total fee would be Y3300, which is a savings of Y1030 yen! These combos are available at the JR ticket office at KIX. For details, see the JR West Haruka/Icoca page.

Heading between Osaka and Tokyo?

If you have a JR Pass, travel is covered between Osaka and Tokyo but you won’t be able to use the Nozomi trains, which are the fastest. You can use other Shinkansen trains instead.

  • Don’t take the Nozomi, along the Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen because it is not covered by the Japan Rail Pass.
  • You can take the Hikari trains along the same line. They stop at a few more stops than Nozomi trains, arrive less frequently and end up being about 20 minutes slower.
  • Don’t take the Kodama trains as they are one hour slower.

Going Tokyo to Osaka?

  • Get a seat on the right side of the car and you might be lucky enough to get a view of Mt. Fuji on your journey to Osaka.
  • Buy a O-Bento lunch at Tokyo station before boarding. There are several vendors selling them close to the Shinkansen gates.

Heading from Osaka to Hiroshima?

Not covered by JR Pass: Mizuho and the Nozomi take just 1 hour and 25 minutes (¥10,400).

Have a JR Pass? Take the Sakura (1 hour and 32 minutes), or the Hikari (2 hours and 13 minutes), which normally costs about ¥5,620 without the JR Pass.

Facts about Japan

  • Over 3,000 onsens (natural hot-spring baths)
  • World’s busiest station: Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station, with 740,000 passengers passing through per day
  • Over 200,000 rāmen restaurants

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