Japan is an amazing country. The culture, traditions, cuisine, safety and beauty make it truly unique and captivating destination. An absolute must see in our humble opinion. Planning a first trip to Japan however is not a trivial task. It takes a good amount of time and plenty of research. This article is mainly a summary of tips, how to’s / dos and do nots based on our experience being in Japan for two weeks with our four year old son.
- Japan is very safe country and has one of the highest in the world literacy rates. Gun laws are extremely strict and the country hardly ever sees more than 10 gun deaths per year. We roamed the streets of the big and small cities with our kid without being concerned at all for our safety. Policeman are exceptionally well trained in various martial arts and are very well respected. Overall Japan would be one of the last counties for you to be worried about your safety. Just use common sense and you would have nothing to worry about.
- Many Japanese people wear face masks. This is mainly for health reasons and allergies. Also since the majority of them travel via the train / metro it helps them to feel more safe health wise.
- English is not very popular language in Japan. We found out that other than the staff at the hotels we stayed at (in various cities) the majority of the people we had the pleasure to speak with did not speak English. Many of them at all. Staff at the train stations were helpful but mainly by hand signals and finger pointing. At the main tourist attractions most of the staff there either spoke or understood English so if you are planning to visit those places chances are you would be just fine.
- The vast majority of the signs at train stations, airports, roads etc are translated. Overall be patient if you are in a situation where you need to ask for advice or directions. Japanese people are very nice and polite and will do their best to help.
- Learning some key phrases, words etc would help. Other than saying “Hi” and “Thank you” in Japanese we did not know much else and we were just fine so do not spend too much time on this.
- Luggage storage. Most hotels would let you store your luggage with them. Most of the train stations have plenty of lockers for luggage storage.
- Japan is a cash society. Local currency is the “yen“. Credit cards are not accepted in many places. Many of the mid and high level restaurants, taxies, hotel as well as the 7-Eleven convenience stores do accept credit cards. We carried cash with us consistently.
- Bring cash with you. We never carried more than $500.00 with us and when we ran out we just used an ATM. There are plenty of ATMs at the airports, train and metro stations etc. Overall we never had a problem finding one to get cash out.
- Japan is not cheap. Prices overall are comparable to those in USA so plan accordingly.
- When paying place the money/credit card at the little tray. Japanese people only take the payment from that tray and never from your hands. This was our experience.
- Plan your hotels locations strategically. Make sure they are close to train / metro stations. Japan has a superb rail system and you barely ever would need a car if you made a good hotel choice. To see how we did it check out the main post going over each of the locations we stayed. In each of the cities we have provided a link to the actual hotel. Hotels we stayed at were walking distance to the train station.
- Hotels are not cheap. Prices are similar to those in USA and Canada. Rooms are noticeably smaller.
- Make sure you try the Ryokans (the traditional Japanese inns). At least one night you should stay at a Ryokan for the experience. It is worth it. Note that you sleep on the floor on a portable mattress. Do not worry it is overall pretty comfortable. Food is great too.
In general, ryokan rates includes meals fee, too. If you stay over a night, ryokan prepares the dinner on the day and the breakfast on the next day.
- Japan rail system is second to none. Use it. Get yourself a JP rail pass and book your hotels close to the train / metro stations. You would not need a car if you do that. Note that JS rail pass is NOT always the most cost effective way to get where you want to. We got it mainly for convenience but in more than few cases it was not what we needed and we had to buy extra tickets.
- Cars overall are not very popular way of transportation in Japan. Since their rail system is so efficient the majority of people use it for their daily transportation needs. Also space wise owning a car does not make much sense in the large cities. We did not use a car even once during our stay in Japan. Anytime we needed to go anywhere we either used a train or a bus.
- Taxies are decent in Japan. Prices are reasonable and drivers would generally not try to screw you over. Just like in other countries in larger cities taxies tend to be more expensive. Based on our research.
We absolutely loved the food in Japan. However we are big fans of raw fish, sushi and overall exotic cuisines. Our son obviously is not being four years old. For him however there was plenty of rice and chicken, pork katsu etc. His favorite meal till this day is the Kobe beef we ate in Kobe. But then again … once you try that it is hard to say anything else really.
- Food quality overall is great. If you love sushi and raw fish Japan would be a heaven for you food wise.
- Japanese people do not eat on the go. This is not a thing there at all.
- If you are not into raw fish etc there are plenty of other options. There are also various Italian and other type of food restaurants. We mainly focused on the local cuisine however and we do recommend it.
- A lot of local places do not have servers but instead have vending machines located right at the entrance. You push the letter/number combination of your dishes, then insert your money. The machine will print a ticket which you give to the chef. They will let you know when you meal is ready to go pick it up. We ate one of the best Udon soup in one of those places.
- Breakfast, lunch and dinner are the same in most places. We had udon soup and chicken with rice for breakfast and we loved it :).
- Meal portions are good. Not as humongous as those in the USA however and that is a great thing. If you are used to 2-3K calories per portion meals (not including your Coca-Cola) you would be disappointed.
- Make sure you try an authentic Kobe Beef. Do not leave Japan without experiencing this. Trust us!
- Same as USA – electrical outlets are 100 volts non-polarized and ungrounded with two pins. If you are coming from USA no need for a converter.
Yes you read that right. Garbage is a topic in Japan because THERE ARE NO TRASH CANS almost anywhere! One of the biggest time wasters during our stay was to constantly look for trash cans. After few days we just carried plastic bag with us. We also carried paper towels as well. Yes we know traveling with kids is fun 🙂
- Trash cans are hard to find. Carry a plastic bag with you. Japan has very strict garbage laws. Businesses and home owners need to be very careful how they organize their trash. Almost all the attractions we visited did not have trash cans anywhere. Probably our biggest frustration during the entire trip!
Public Bathrooms / Washrooms
- Most of them are well maintained and clean overall.
- Some are squat toilets some Western-style toilets. Plan accordingly if you are traveling with kids 🙂
- No paper towels in most of them. Bring them with you. You would need them.
Travel Guide Book
Here is a LINK TO THE GUIDE BOOK we used to plan our trip to Japan. It had everything we expected and more. We highly recommend it.
Tours, Tickets and Attractions
A site we trust and you can use to conveniently book TOURS AND TICKETS FOR ACTIVITIES IN JAPAN.
There are more than 300 activities in that list so choose wisely.
Booking Hotels in Japan
If you are ready to go and just need to make your hotel reservations here is LIST OF THE HOTELS IN JAPAN for your convenience. It is an affiliate link to Booking.com and booking through it would help support this web site. For which we thank you in advance 🙂