I visited Japan as a lone female traveler earlier this year and it was the most incredible experience of my life! Not only was it my first trip abroad, but it was also a destination I’d dreamed of visiting ever since childhood! So for me, to actually set foot in this spectacular country was a real-life dream come true!
But as exhilarating as the experience may have been, it was also very eye-opening and – at times – challenging. As a result I’ve gathered quite a collection of tips from my travels; some I’d researched beforehand, others I learned along the way and some I discovered completely by accident!
And having amassed all these tips and tricks what better thing is there to do than share them with my fellow travelers? So with no further ado here are my 30 Top Tips for Traveling to Japan!
1. Get hold of a suica as soon as you arrive.
This nifty little card will get you around the Japanese subway system and can even be used on some vending machines too! They can be easily purchased from the suica machines in train stations, and are very simple to top up too!
2. Convenience stores are a great place for cheap food!
And not only is convenience store food cheap and delicious, but the cashiers will usually heat up your food for you too! Imagine that!
3. Bring a hand towel.
Japanese bathrooms often lack hand-dryers or disposable towels so having a small, personal towel on hand is a real necessity! That, or lots of tissues.
4. Bring insect repellant.
Seriously. Mosquitos are evil and you will be bitten if you don’t bring repellant. I learned this the hard way.
5. It’s custom in Japan to remove your shoes before entering certain places.
You can usually tell if you need to do so, but if in doubt always check whether it’s okay to keep your shoes on before entering a new place!
6. Indulge in street food!
Japanese street food is among the best in the world, and I’d really recommend trying as much as possible! There is an incredible variety of sweet and savoury delights on offer, and I was hard-pressed to find anything I didn’t enjoy!
7. Contrary to what we’re taught to expect in the West, few Japanese actually speak English.
You can usually find someone who does if you hunt around, but don’t take it for granted that the people you encounter will always understand you. So memorize a few basic Japanese phrases or come armed with a good pocket phrasebook!
8. But even if you speak no Japanese, the words ‘Please’ (‘Onegaishimasu’) and ‘Thank You’ (‘Arigato Gozaimasu’) will go far.
Politeness and making the effort to learn a few words of the local language will always go appreciated! I was always taken back by how genuinely pleased and surprised people were to be thanked in Japanese! It’s a small effort that’s definitely worth it.
9. Bring pocket-wifi!
I can’t stress this enough. I stumbled around Japan for two weeks trying to navigate via a (frankly crappy) pre-downloaded map and it was not fun. AT ALL. Not investing in portable wifi device was genuinely the biggest regret of my trip. Don’t make the same mistake!
10. Bring plenty of cash!
Few Japanese shops and restaurants accept credit cards, and ATMs always become magically hard to find whenever you desperately need one. So avoid any tricky situations by making sure to keep a supply of cash on hand!
11. ATMs which accept foreign cards can be found in 7-Eleven convenience stores.
Which are basically dotted everywhere in Tokyo. You should have little trouble finding those!
12. Always keep a handy supply of 100 yen coins for vending machines!
Notes can be used, but I’d recommend avoiding them if possible. I managed to lose a 1000 yen note to a faulty vending machine shortly after arriving, and three months on I’m still seething. Bloody machine.
13. Don’t be afraid to explore the incredible range of Japanese soft drinks!
Even the unfortunately named ones like Calpis and Pocari-Sweat. Because I’ll let you in on a little secret; they’re actually the best ones!
14. Gaming fans should definitely not miss Japanese arcades!
Japanese arcades are probably the most amazing in the world – I’ve lost count how many I visited in my two weeks there. Just don’t get too addicted!
15. When eating with chopsticks there are two taboos; pointing them at other people, and sticking them upright in your bowl of rice.
Taboo 1 is simply considered impolite, while taboo 2 is felt to resemble the incense burned at graves and alters. Both are errors to avoid, so keep them in mind while eating!
16. 100 yen stores like Daiso are a fantastic place to pick up cheap and handy items!
You can pretty much find anything in these places, so don’t spend a fortune stocking up beforehand! Torches, socks, snacks, cosmetics – it’s hard to think what they don’t sell!
17. 100 yen stores are also a superb place for thrifty souvenirs!
Don’t go spending a fortune at boutiques and gift shops. You seriously don’t need to! Toys, snacks and other gifts for loved ones can all be found here, and at a pleasantly cheap price to boot!
18. Be prepared to be bombarded with porn upon entering Akihabara.
This could either be heaven or hell depending on how you roll – just be warned! And maybe don’t bring your five-year-old to a comic store…
19. Nakano Broadway is a must for any manga or anime fan!
A goldmine for second-hand comics and merchandise, it’s a marvelously geeky place which is great fun to explore even if you don’t end up buying anything!
20. Research animal cafes before visiting them.
Animal cafes are a delightful Japanese idea (which has even spread to the UK!), and I adored the cafes I visited while there! That said, it is an unfortunate reality that not all places treat their animals well, and there are many horrified accounts by travellers to attest to this. So to avoid a disappointing experience, do check a café’s reputation before you pay it a visit.
21. Taxis charge by the minute, not by the mile.
Avoid hiring taxis for anything other than the shortest journey, otherwise you risk paying an absolute fortune if you are unfortunate enough to hit rush-hour gridlock!
22. If possible, stay at a traditional ryokan at least once.
I spent one night in a lovely ryokan in Kyoto, and it was one of my favourite parts of the trip! We were even lucky enough to be treated to a free maiko performance courtesy of the ryokan! How neat is that?
23. Blowing your nose in public is considered disgusting in Japanese culture.
Sniffing isn’t. That’s perfectly fine, apparently.
24. Harajuku is the best place for picking up cute and quirky clothes!
It’s hip, quirky vibe sort of reminded me a bit of Camden Market. A really girly, ‘Kawaii’ Camden Market. With plenty of goth, punk and lolita fashion for good measure!
25. Female travelers: it’s advisable to keep boobs and shoulders covered in Japan.
It’s completely your choice if you do or not – I have to admit that I didn’t always stick to this rule. But as Japanese women typically dress quite modestly, the sight of cleavage or bare shoulders will often draw some pretty blatant staring. Which could be a deeply uncomfortable experience if you’re not used to it.
26. Japan is one of the safest countries to visit as a lone female traveler.
However, being a white woman in an Asian country will always draw attention. I was only catcalled once in Japan, and nothing ever actually happened to make me feel threatened. Blonde or red-headed women may gain more attention however, and you should still take care to stay alert and take all necessary safety precautions during your travels!
27. Luggage compartments on trains are small so travel light!
Trust me, Japan is not the place to be lugging around enormous suitcases or multiple luggage. Unless you fancy an uncomfortable three-hour train or bus journey with no leg room that is!
28. Chocolate-addicts shouldn’t miss out on the wonderful range of Japanese Kit-Kat flavours!
These include the likes of Sweet Potato, Matcha and Red Bean Paste, but my favourite has definitely got to be Strawberry-Shortcake flavour! And the packaging they come in is beautiful, making them perfect souvenirs!
29. Tattoos are not accepted in most onsen due to their association with the Yazuka (mafia).
You can usually get away with tattoos small enough to be covered with a crafty plaster though!
30. Take advantage of the capsule hotels provided in major airports.
I’ve often seen capsule hotels dismissed as ‘weird’ but they are seriously the best solution for a late night arrival or an early morning flight! I actually really enjoyed my night in a capsule hotel! Yes, it did all feel slightly sci-fi, but in a really fun, uniquely Japanese way!
What are your top tips for visiting Japan? Let me know in the comments!
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