Are you about to take your first trip to Japan? Have no fear! Here are a few tips that’ll make your life easier during your visit.
1. Buy a JR Pass ahead of time (Japan Rail Pass): If you’re planning to take a bullet train or travel between cities, consider getting a JR Pass to save some money. It gives you unlimited rides on all JR trains, JR buses, and select bullet trains. They offer regional passes as well as country-wide passes, and have options for the duration. Note that you’ll have to purchase it ahead of time. You’ll be mailed a slip and you’ll need to exchange it for the actual pass at one of their offices.
2. Get an IC card: If you’ll be taking the subway a lot, get an IC card. Pasmo and Suica are the two biggest options, and are now widely accepted in different regions. There are machines at subway stations where you can buy them from. Using the same machines, you can load up your card with money. Then you’ll be able to scan your card before you enter the platform. This saves you the trouble of having to buy a printed ticket each time. Many convenient stores also accept IC cards as a form of payment, so you can make a purchase and empty your cards before you return home.
3. Trains run until midnight: Many trains stop running at midnight, and won’t resume until morning. It’s best that you try to catch the last train, since taxis are insanely expensive. I like to check the transit via Google Maps to see what trains are available.
4. Fly into Haneda Airport: If you’re heading to Tokyo and have the option, fly into Haneda Airport instead of Narita Airport. Getting into Tokyo from Haneda is much faster and cheaper than from Narita.
5. Carry hand sanitizer and tissues: This is probably my biggest gripe–half the time there aren’t any soap or towels in public bathrooms. Even worse, sometimes there isn’t any toilet paper.
6. No need to tip: Tipping is not a general practice in Japan. There’s no need to tip hotel or restaurant staff. In fact, if you leave a tip for your waiter, they might come chasing after you and insist that you take your money back.
7. Keep some cash in your wallet: This might be a “duh” for some of you, but for those who always use a credit card and never carry any cash (like me), you might want to consider withdrawing from an ATM or exchanging some currency. Back in 2015, surprisingly, the majority of places I’ve visited did NOT accept card. Now, credit cards are more accepted in Japan, however there are still numerous shops and attractions that are cash-only.