7 Things to Know When Japan Trip Planning

Since reopening to tourists in October 2022, tourism in Japan has been booming! Today I’m sharing 7 critical things you need to know before you start your Japan trip planning.

Japan Trip Planning

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7 Things to Know Before Planning a Trip to Japan

Before visiting Japan last fall, we did extensive research on the country, including its customs and tips for successfully navigating our way around its many metropolises. Below are the seven most critical things that we found helpful to know before planning the details of our trip.

1. Try to Fly in Comfort

No matter where you’re located, Japan is a LONG flight from the US. Twelve hours from the West Coast and about 14 hours from New York. Flying comfortably can make a huge difference in how you feel upon arrival and in how you adjust to the considerable time change.

If you have award miles to burn on business or first-class seats, now is a wonderful time to use them. If not, check out this post on ZipAir, a Japanese budget airline that offers lie-flat comfort for the price of economy on a traditional carrier. To Note: Since writing the post linked above, ZipAir has added Vancouver to its list of North American departure points!

2. Expedite Immigration & Customs

You can significantly reduce the amount of time you spend in the immigration/customs line on arrival by pre-registering with Visit Japan via their website. Once you register and complete your arrival information using this site, you’ll be issued a QR code.

Those with a QR code will be shown to a special line and in a matter of minutes, you’ll be through!

Japan Trip Planning

3. Simplify Your Transport

Intercity Train Passes

Unless you plan on spending all of your time in very rural areas, you will want to purchase either a Welcome SUICA or PASMO Passport card. These are intercity, refillable train passes that can be used to travel on local trains, buses, and subway lines, and can even be used to purchase goods at some stores or vending machines.

To purchase at the airport, go to a train service center or look for freestanding vending kiosks marked either SUICA or PASMO. I recommend loading it with about 3-4,000 yen to start and then refilling from there. This will be enough to cover the Narita Express into Tokyo (if you land there) and will get you through a few days in the city.

Japan Trip Planning

This little card will save you so much time at stations as you won’t need to purchase any individual tickets. Just swipe your card and go! Not enough funds on the card to cover a trip? No problem, there are adjustment kiosks right next to the exit turnstiles at every station.

Shinkansen/Bullet Train tickets

If you plan on traveling throughout the country using the high-speed, Shinkansen trains, download the SmartEX app, available for both Android and Apple. You can book tickets and seat reservations online. If you link your SUICA/PASMO, you can enter the train by just scanning your pass without needing to pick up tickets at a SmartEX kiosk. Another valuable time-saver!

4. Stay Connected

We have Verizon cell phones and typically use their Travel Pass to stay connected when traveling. It’s super convenient but very pricey to use on longer trips. If you want to save, consider setting up an eSIM before you leave home. Airalo, Ubigi, Holafly, and Nomad are all reputable companies.

5. Navigate Like a Pro

Now that you’re connected, navigate like a pro using the Google Maps app. Once you enter your desired destination, you can see approximately how long it will take to get there via car, public transportation, and on foot. It also gives price approximations for each mode of transport.

In larger cities, it’s often both quickest and cheapest to take public transport. When you click on the public transportation option that appeals the most to you, Google Maps will give step-by-step directions, including what train platform you need, what car you should board for the quickest exit, and which exit of the station you should take to arrive at your destination.

Now, this may sound like overkill, but some of these stations are huge, and leaving via the wrong exit can substantially impact how long it will take you to reach your destination. When traveling, time is precious. Use your map!

Penny-wise, Pound-foolish

Lastly, check that you aren’t being penny-wise but pound-foolish. In the example above, the taxi/rideshare option is priced at 2-2,200 yen (shown when you click that option) compared to 167 yen via train. Because it is a direct line and about the same amount of time, I’d choose to save the money here.

But on different routes of a farther distance, with multiple connections or with several people traveling together, it may be a wiser choice to pay for a car instead of wasting a lot of time on trains/buses/etc. It’s always smart to check your options before deciding how to travel.

6. Ship, Don’t Schlep

One of the greatest things about Japan is its luggage shipping/delivery service, called takuhaibin. Available at most hotels, airports, train stations, and even some convenience stores, this fantastic service saves you from having to schlep your suitcases around metros, train stations, and more.

Most deliveries are made next-day although same-day service is available for close destinations while very isolated locales may require 2 days for delivery. The cost ranges from about $10-30/bag, depending upon the weight and distance to be shipped. It’s worth every penny to be able to travel freely with just a day pack!

7. Mind Your Manners

As a truly unique culture, the list of rules specific to Japan is long and detailed. Following the few below will get you through a typical-length trip without making any major faux pas!

  • The Japanese are exceedingly polite and dislike confrontation. Learn to read body language when enquiring about things like reservations, available tickets, etc. At times, you may encounter people who aren’t saying “no” but are trying to convey that through their body language or a more subtle word choice.
  • Don’t exchange cash/payment hand-to-hand. Put your payment on the little tray provided and take any change/receipts from the same tray.
  • Tipping for service is not expected, and in fact, even frowned upon, in Japanese restaurants, hotels, etc. One exception to this would be for guides on free walking tours as the tip is often their only form of compensation for the service.
  • Remove your shoes before going inside temples, smaller restaurants, and shops. If there is a shelf, rack, or locker out front, you are meant to remove your shoes.
Japan Trip Planning
  • Generally, the Japanese tend not to eat while standing on the street, walking around, or riding local trains. If you purchase food from a street stall or vendor, a designated eating area is usually nearby. Ask if you’re not certain.
  • Japan doesn’t have public trash cans due to a terror incident in the 90’s. With that in mind, be prepared to carry your trash around with you until you get back to your hotel or lodging. Everybody does this and Japan is incredibly clean!
  • Walk to the left and stand to the left of an escalator. Unless you’re in Osaka, then the reverse is true. 🤦🏻‍♀️😂
  • People form neat lines to enter trains. Be sure you do this as well. Wait for everyone to get off before boarding a train using a single-file line.
  • Japan is quiet. As an American, your normal talking voice will likely seem too loud. Take it down a notch.
Photo courtesy of Masa at Osaka Free Walking Tours.

Final Take

Japan is an incredibly intriguing country. From a cultural perspective, perhaps the most unique place we’ve ever visited. I highly recommend a trip. It’s a destination that is very safe, surprisingly inexpensive, and filled with great food, cultural sites, outdoor adventure, and more. Let me know – is it a destination on your bucket list?

Upon arriving back home, these are the tips that we felt were most helpful to know about prior to planning the details of our visit. I hope you found them helpful! Stay tuned for a future post highlighting an itinerary ideal for first-time visitors.


Thanks so much for your likes, shares, and follows! Until next time,

Since reopening to tourists in October 2022, tourism in Japan has been booming! Today I'm sharing 7 critical things you need to know before you start your Japan trip planning.
Since reopening to tourists in October 2022, tourism in Japan has been booming! Today I'm sharing 7 critical things you need to know before you start your Japan trip planning. #japantips #traveltips #japantravel

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