Thursday, December 10, 2015

Tips for your first trip to Japan

Tips for first time visitors to Japan. 

  • Bring your own tray back to the tray collection point after you are done eating at fast food joints, cafes, and food courts. When in doubt as to whether you should bring the tray to collection point or not, just look around and follow what the others are doing.
  • It is actually not common to find public trash bins around on the streets, so I usually carry a small plastic bag in my bag to keep the trash I may have during the day when I couldn't find any trash bins, and then I throw them away when I finally see a trash bin (usually outside convenience stores).
  • Keep to 1 side of the escalators. Often, people only had minutes to spare when catching their train transfers at train stations, so you will see people rushing up the free side of the escalators so that they can rush to catch their train transfers. 
  • It is common to find coin lockers at train stations and departmental stores. They usually cost between 300yen to 600yen (depending on locker size). For larger train stations (Eg. Kyoto station, Tokyo Station, Shinjuku station...), there is usually more than 1 area with coin lockers within the same station. You just need to walk around and you'd probably find more lockers. 
Coin lockers at Kyoto station

  • You can request for free local maps (they often have English versions, and sometimes Chinese or Korean or even French versions) from Tourist Information offices in Japan. Therefore, it is not imperative that you go and buy your own map to bring to Japan when you can get decent maps for free. See list of Tourist Information offices: here.
  • Put your mobile phone on silent mode whenever you take a train, and refrain from talking on the phone when you are on a train as it is considered rude. If you REALLY have to make a phone call during long train rides (eg. onboard Shinkansen or Ltd Exp trains), then you exit the carriage and go to the common area between carriages (usually where the toilets or vending machines onboard the trains are located at) to make your call instead of chatting on the phone while at your seat. 
  • Trains in Japan are EXTREMELY punctual. Eg, if it states on the train ticket that the train timing is 0710hr, it would almost definitely mean that the train will depart that station at exactly 0710hr. Unless there are any unforseen circumstances (eg. typhoon, earthquake, heavy snowfall, or the occasional suicide cases on the tracks) which would cause delays or train suspension.
My Shinkansen train ticket from Shinagawa (0710hr) to Kyoto (0948hr).
  • Many Japanese restaurants have plastic food displays outside their restaurants, so if you don't speak Japanese and if they don't have English menu, what I did on my first couple of Japan trips was to use my mobile phone to take a photo of the food item which I want from the plastic food display, and then show the waitress the photo which I took upon ordering.

  • Do keep a lookout for the manhole covers with pretty and interesting designs. Every town have a different design. :)
Manhole covers at Shirakawa-go 
  • Food Halls (usually located at the basements) at Departmental stores would often have discounts on their food items about half an hour before their closing time. Usually 20% to sometimes even 50%. 
An example on how a Departmental store's food hall looks like.
  • Not all attractions/theme parks open every day. (well, except for Disneyland, Disneysea and Universal Studios Japan, since I do believe they operate daily but with slightly different operating hours from day to day). Shrines, Temples, museums, themed attractions (eg, Sanrio Puroland, Edo Wonderland...etc) do have days when they are closed. Therefore, it is better to check their operation schedule when you are planning for your trip so as to avoid disappointment on your visit.

Will probably add more when I think of new tips along the way. :)


  1. Hi, Samantha I will be traveling to Japan (my first trip) on end Mar to mid Apr. My concern is about the JR Pass. Is it cover to all the train in Tokyo, Osaka & Kyoto? My itinerary include Tokyo + Osaka + Kyoto.

    1. My itinerary in general
      Day 1 to Day 4 in Tokyo
      Day 5 to Day 8 in Osaka
      Day 9 to Day 10 in Kyoto
      Day 11 to Day 14 back to Tokyo (back home)
      I intend to buy the 14 day JR Pass. I can activate on day 1.
      Do u have any advice?

    2. Hi,
      You don't really need to get the 14 days version.
      If you can squeeze your Tokyo to Osaka and Kyoto then back to Tokyo again within a 7 days period (Day 5 to Day 11), then just get a 7 days JR Pass will do.
      Because it is not economical to use the expensive JR pass on just trains within Tokyo itself since JR trains within Tokyo city itself is not that expensive to warrant the need to use the JR Pass on.

      People usually only use railpass to cover days when they have to take expensive train rides (Limited Express trains and Shinkansen trains).

      Trains within Tokyo city consists of both JR trains and non-JR trains. On days when u have JR Pass coverage (eg, Day 5 and Day 11), the railpass will also cover JR train rides within Tokyo (eg, JR Yamanoted Loop line, JR Chuo line...etc). But since subways/metro in Tokyo is operated by non-JR companies, so even if you are using railpass, the railpass won't cover those.

      For travelling within Tokyo, just buy either a SUICA or PASMO card. It is a card where u can store a certain amount of value in it, and u can use the card to tap in and tap out of the gate at trains/subway stations. Although there is no discounted rate for using SUICA/PASMO, but the good thing is that you won't need to keep queuing at the ticketing machines to buy single trip tickets.

      Same thing is Osaka and Kyoto. Trains within Osaka and Kyoto have JR and non-JR trains. So even if you are on JR railpass, you'd still have to pay when u take non-JR trains/subways.

      Eg of JR lines in Osaka and Kyoto:
      -JR Osaka loop line in Osaka
      -JR Yamatoji line from Osaka to Nara
      -JR Sagano line in Kyoto (if you go to Arashiyama)
      -JR Nara line from Kyoto to Nara.

      The 7days JR Pass is primarily to be used for:
      - Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo station (or Shinagawa station in Tokyo) to Shin-Osaka station in Osaka
      - JR trains within Osaka (if you use JR Osaka loop line or JR Yamatoji line)
      - Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka to Kyoto station
      - JR trains within Kyoto (if you use JR Sagano line to go Arashiyama, or JR Nara line to go Tofukuji or Fushimi Inari Shrine)
      - Shinkansen from Kyoto back to Tokyo (or Shinagawa)
      - and whatever JR trains u need to take within Tokyo itself between your Tokyo hotel and 1 of Tokyo's 2 Shinkansen stations (Tokyo or Shinagawa) on Day 5 and 11.

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  3. Samantha, Thank you so much for your advice. Really appreciate it. Hehehe please share more and recki more on your up coming trip. Cheers!!!

  4. Hi Samantha, per the commenter above, I'm trying to figure out how long of a JR rail pass to get. I'm staying for three weeks flying in and out of Narita. The 3-week pass is pretty expensive. Given this itinerary, any tips for which rail passes to get?

    Day 1 - 7 - Tokyo
    Day 8 - 10 - Kyoto
    Day 11 - 14 - Osaka - (likely day trips to Nara and Hiroshima)
    Day 15 - 19 - Wakayama/Kumano Kodo
    Day 20 - 21 - Tokyo

    Thank you in advance for the tips!