Between late November and mid December (2015) I went on a 16 day trip to Japan with my 4 friends. We had planned this trip for a while and needless to say, after the trip was concluded, I wrote it down as one of the best experiences of my life to date. We travelled Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima and the Seto Islands near Onomichi. I whole heartedly believe that I could write 20 blog posts about the different places, activities, foods and experiences. However, I thought I should start off with some useful tips for future or present travellers. Note that I’ll definitely be posting specifics in the future, as well as a nice after movie of what we did while we were there.
These tips are broad in relation to Japan as a whole and aren’t limited to a specific city and I’m sure they’ll come in handy while you’re over there. This list is hitting points such as travel, food, accommodation, money, things to do and socialising. Things to note about this article.
- These tips are quite broad but they’re primarily intended for young people around the age 20 (like myself)
- My friends and myself are quite interested in travel and put experiences over tourist-y things (even though we did do a ton of them)
- This list is based on my own experiences over the course of my 16 day trip and research I had done prior
If you have any specific questions about any of this, or even if it’s not about this. Hit me up on Twitter.
Tip # 1 – Get a JR Pass
If you’ve done any research on Japan, you know that you need this pass and you know that you need it before you get to Japan. A JR Pass is a rail pass that lets you have access to Japan Rail and associated lines. It will allow you to travel all around Japan after you’ve acquired it. Now you can get 7-Day passes, 14-Day passes or 21-Day passes.
But where do I get them? How much do they cost? Do they cover all lines/metros and inner city stations? I heard there were different ones, do they work the same?
Fear not young traveller as I’ll tell you. First of all, you have to get them from Travel Agents. Now, you could get them online for slightly cheaper but even though we were on a budget, we got them from an agent so we could keep that line of communication open and secure, there were a few problems that were sorted because of that. We paid ~$350 (AUD) each for 7-day passes. By travelling from Tokyo to Osaka to Kyoto to Hiroshima to Onomichi and back, we almost tripled the our investment in terms of value. It would have costed a ludicrous amount otherwise. Now the JR Pass doesn’t cover all lines, yes you do get to ride bullet trains but inner city is a little bit of a different story. There are privately owned lines that don’t accept the JR Pass as its only meant for JR lines. That being said, there are a lot of JR stations and you can definitely save some money using it. In other situations, you’ll have to get a ticket (which is fine because they’re really cheap ~200 yen).
When you order the JR Passes from the agent, make sure you ask for all of Japan. There are JR passes such as east/west etc. Don’t bother with them, you want to see all of Japan, its definitely worth it. For more information about this, this is the best resource. Any specific questions, ask me on Twitter.
Tip #2 – Try a Wide Variety of Food, Even if it Looks Unpleasant
Food is the reason I travel. You can see all of the tourist locations you want but you’ve never truly experienced the culture of Japan until you fully indulge in the local cuisine. Eat at small restaurants or street food stalls. Some of the best and cheapest food we had in Japan were tucked away in some alley that looked isolated. Try the different, try the weird, try the thing you wouldn’t try. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. A good tip is to do this during lunch time as it’s much cheaper than dinner time. So get the good stuff during the day people.
A brilliant surprise while we were travelling was the amount of convenience stores we came across. Convenience store food… was some of the best and most frequent cheap food we ate… They had tons of different sandwiches, rice balls, ramen, chicken curry, the list goes on. At first I was a bit worried that we weren’t experiencing the best that Japan had to offer but in reality we went to so many restaurants and this just had its own place in our hearts… and stomachs.
Just a bonus tip would be to enjoy Osaka. The very best food we had was in Osaka as it is indeed dubbed the “nation’s kitchen.” Here is one of the favourite things I ate while in Osaka. Chicken Katsu.
I’m sorry for the slightly blurry image, I was too excited to eat it…
Tip #3 – Buy Most of Your Alcohol Outside of The Bar
The drinking age in Japan is 20 and alcohol is cheap if you aren’t in a bar. Did I mention that public drinking (unlike Australia) is legal? Did I also mention that every convenience store has a great selection of it? There are convenience stores everywhere and I mean everywhere in Japan. We would be strolling around some of the best places to have drinks and socialise with the locals and there would be convenience stores selling beer/vodka for 150-250 yen a can (a big can). There would be bottles of whiskey for 700 yen a bottle. Now I don’t know where you live, but in Australia (where I live) that is unheard of.
Save your money and don’t bother with pre-drinks. Go out to those busy fun areas and buy the alcohol while you’re there, have a stroll while you enjoy your drinks, chatting to your friends, as well as the funny, unusual and eccentric characters you meet right there on the street. Save a ton of money, feel amazing before you head into a bar/club with your newly made Japanese friends who were doing the same thing.
Tip #4 – Don’t Get a Hotel, Use Airbnb
If you don’t know what Airbnb is, it’s Uber but for houses. If you don’t know what Uber is, this is how Airbnb works. A host i.e. house owner lists their house/room like a hotel on an app called Airbnb. Many people do this, you as the person looking for accommodation go on Airbnb and find a house you like, in an are you like with the features you want and you book this house. Not only do you get to experience cheap housing, but you get to experience Japanese hospitality and proper Japanese housing. This of course depends on your choices of accommodation.
Do the hosts stay with me? Is it exactly like a hotel? Is it Safe?
It depends on what you want, you could book a very cheap room in someone house where they are still living, you could book a house completely, you could book big, you could book small. It all depends on what you want and all the information as to whether they’ll be there or not will be mentioned in the actual listing. Airbnb is definitely different to a hotel, but it’s more of a mix between that and house sitting. And yes its 100% safe, there are real people that give reviews after staying there, you will as well. Always go for thoroughly reviewed listings. Sign up link is here, it’ll get you a discount on your first stay, it’ll also give me that much credit (I think). Not interested in getting a discount? Here is the direct link for you to check out.
I’ll make a video/post about my experience with Airbnb in the future.
Tip #5 – Don’t Bring a Wheeled Suitcase, Get a Travel/Hiking Back Pack
You can get a great travel back pack for the price of a great wheeled suitcase, if you do a little research. The difference is, the suitcase is going to be a gigantic pain if you plan on travelling a certain way. If you’re planning on staying in one city at one location the whole time, a suitcase is a great choice but this list isn’t for those types of travellers. If you’re going to go to many cities, stay at many locations and be constantly travelling, you should definitely invest in one. They’re easier to carry, easier to move and just overall easier to deal with.
The only reason people seem torn with this choice is the fact that big wheeled suitcases have much more room. Everyone seems of underestimate the amount of room that these back packs have. I might do a video to show you all how much you can actually fit into them. It’s true that they aren’t as spacious but it will rarely cause a problem for you. I had a pair of jeans, 2 chinos, 3 sweat pants, a pair of shorts, a pair of shoes, 4 long sleeved shirts, 7 t-shirts, 2 singlets, 6 pairs of underwear, 8 pairs of socks, 2 Jackets, a toiletry bag, a set of thermals and various other bits and pieces in my back pack. I had enough room for souvenirs as well. This was all under 15kgs in weight. It works people. It absolutely works.
Tip #6 – Strive to Meet People and Mingle With The Locals
Some of the best experiences I had in Japan were solely because we made new friends and spent time with the locals. As soon as you meet a few people that don’t mind having a laugh and hanging out, you’re in for an extremely good time. It’s as simple as being in a busy area like Dotonbori (Osaka) or Shibuya (Tokyo) on a Friday night and high-fiving people; saying hello, asking them if they know some English and then chatting to them regardless.
Sites like Trip Advisor are exceedingly helpful for research. You can find a lot restaurants and entertainment locations but nothing beats the locals. We were lucky to run into some friends in Dotonbori one night and it became one of the most memorable nights of the whole trip. Ramen for dinner followed by table tennis, darts, pool, a couple of long island ice teas at a bar, making new friends, bowling with new friends and finishing up second dinner in the middle of the night. All the while being surrounded by hundreds of flashing lights from hundreds of entertainment, food and shopping outlets around us. It’s an experience you never forget.
Having all the fun, I’m the handsome one…
Tip #7 – Don’t Have an Intensive Plan, Have a Rough Plan
If you’re going to Japan, you already have an idea of what you want to do. trust me when I say, you don’t need to have a detailed plan outlining everything you want to do for every hour of every day. Sure You’re on a budget and you want to do as much as possible but so did I and so did my friends. Having an intense plan to cover everything is going to end up making you stressed and in the end, it’s just going to devalue the whole experience.
Instead, you should have a few goals for each area you visit and a goal for the day. Even if the goal is just relaxing, you can then find things to do to achieve that goal. For instance, my 3 goals for Tokyo included going to see the Meiji Shrine, going up Tokyo Skytree and exploring Shibuya. As long as I did those things and ate a lot of food while I was at it, my trip would be a success in my eyes. What really happened was, we got side tracked and had an amazing time doing way more than that.
It’s not going to be the things you planned that are going to make your trip memorable, it’s going to be the screw ups, the unexpected, the coincidences and the pure excitement you’ll have every day. I hope you have a great time in Japan
Bonus Tip – Tinder is Your Friend
You’re 20-Something, you know what Tinder is but for some reason if you don’t, here you go. Now, you’re a young foreign guy/girl in Japan, what does that mean? It means that you stand out and when you use Tinder it blows up incredibly. We were all guys and the amount of attention you received was much more than in any other country. This was a great way to interact with ladies and actually meet up and socialise. The locals know more than you and it can be great fun to spend time with them and let them show you around. A lot of them are interested in talking and meeting people that speak English, if you’re reading this, you just checked some of the most relevant boxes. Good luck, go get em tiger 😉