Back in 2017, I finally got to visit the number one destination on my list–Japan. As a lifelong creative and having had a deep appreciation for Eastern culture since a young age, my curiosity and love for the country was cemented after laying eyes on Hayao Miyazaki’s film, Spirited Away at the age of 11.
In a snap decision, my best friend and I decided to take a risk and booked tickets to what would be one of the most life-changing trips of our lives at that time. As an uber-organized Virgo, I had mapped out pretty much everything to do beforehand. We planned to visit Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka while there and between flights, living accommodations and food, we amazingly did it all for a great price! With a dash of creativity, preparation and a growing need to understand other cultures apart from my own, we were finally on our way!
As this trip happened before the chaos that was 2020 occurred, be sure to apply proper precautions when booking your flight to Japan! In this guide I’ll be detailing just how I got ready to jetset off, what things I learned that were helpful once in Japan, and my overall experiences while I spent 10 days in the one country I’d always wanted to visit.
1. Visas And Purchasing A Flight
Before even looking at flights it’s important to know if you are required to have a visa for whatever country you may be visiting. For Japan, you’re allowed in the country for 90 days without a visa and you must present proof that you are not staying past that time. Wanting longer than a week but shorter than two weeks, we decided the ideal number of days for our trip is 10. We’ve all heard the magic numbers and days for when to buy a flight and unsurprisingly, they’re pretty spot on. We logged onto Skyscanner on a Tuesday night in March–almost three months out (hint, hint, wink, wink)–from when we wanted to depart for Japan. Behold! Round-trip tickets for $760 a piece. I can’t stress how much prior planning is important (to your wallet, especially) when booking a trip on the other side of the world. Set your flight tracker out at the six-month mark but for international flights, be sure to buy no less than three months out.
We’ve all heard the magic numbers and days for when to buy a flight and unsurprisingly, they’re pretty spot on.
Flight Tip: With long flights like this one make sure to sign up for some kind of air miles program. Whether it be with the airline you’re flying with or a credit card with your bank, you’ll thank me later. My May trip to Japan really helped my September trip to New Orleans.
2. Where To Bunk Up
Traveling with anyone means that sacrifices must be made. My best friend prefers hotels while I prefer hostels. The happy medium? Air BnB! Within three days of purchasing our flight we began looking at where to stay. We were flying into Narita Airport in Tokyo and unfortunately that airport is about an hour and some change away from the main parts of the city we wanted to see. Luckily, we found an Air BnB host whose residence is a block away from where the airport bus/train drops us off and less than a 10-minute walk to the subway station that will take us all around Tokyo.
Flight Tip: When visiting Tokyo specifically, fly into Haneda Airport if possible! Downside? Usually the tickets are more expensive, but it may be worth it to avoid a train trip into Central Tokyo. Also, start looking at maps now.
3. Apps, Apps, Apps!
One way I prepped for our trip was reviewing and downloading any useful apps, especially ones tailored to Japan. My favorite thus far is TripLingo. I highly recommend this app for any country as I’ve already been putting it to the test in the States. The feature that I’m most fond of is it’s Image Translator. Now, I may be coming late to the table but this is COOL! You simply snap a picture of whatever sign, menu, screen that you want translated from Japanese to English and voila! I’ve been testing it out in local restaurants and on some of my Japanese action figure boxes (yes, I have a Sailor Mercury figure and I love her) and it’s legit.
Along with this it also has a phrase dictionary, voice translator and Wi-fi dialer. Honestly, I have complete confidence that as long as I have data, I will be staying on this app while in Japan. Another app to practice Japanese with is Duolingo! Unfortunately when I went to Japan the app wasn’t offering the language yet but I’m happy to see (and practice) with it now.
Language Learning Tip: While these apps have been wonderful, I’m still pretty old fashioned and will be carrying a pocket-size phrasebook with me while there. Having back-ups is always smart.
4. Purchases To Make Before Your Arrival
Japan will be the first non-English speaking (as a first language, at least) country I’ve been to so any purchases that can be made before arriving are a Godsend. I discovered we needed a Japan Rail Pass to get from Tokyo to Kyoto, Pocket Wi-Fi (available for pick-up at the airport) and our Studio Ghibli Museum tickets needed to be purchased beforehand too. Places like the Studio Ghibli Museum often require you purchase your tickets at least one month in advance so be sure to have your days numbered so you don’t miss purchase dates.
Travel Tip: Pay close attention and do your research on exactly where you want to go. A useful tool to map out your days in Japan is Wanderlog. This app literally helps you plan out your whole trip from start to finish, with maps, recommendations, sharing capabilities and more.
5. How To Not Look Like A Foreigner
Okay, I know how that title sounds considering I went to Japan but one of my travel pet peeves is looking like I don’t belong or like I’m generally clueless about my surroundings. So while I’ll never look as if I hail from Nippon, I can and for the most part, did – come off like an expat. Part of why I love to travel is because I get to know myself more by living in someone else’s shoes. This means adapting to my surroundings and trying things that I wouldn’t usually do. Knowing what appropriate attire is worn in the country you’re visiting is necessary. Plus, you wouldn’t want to offend anyone. From general research I discovered that when it comes to clothes it was perfectly acceptable to show my legs however, any risque, low-cut shirts are a no-go in Japan.
Along with this I checked up on the weather for when we’ll be going and what to expect. Apparently Summer in Japan means layers as it’ll be hot outside but freezing indoors (similar to North America). I learned carrying an umbrella is a must as Japan will usually get rain sometime during the week and that flip-flops usually aren’t the go-to shoe for the city regardless of the heat. To top it off, there is a reason Tokyo gets a reputation as an Eastern version of New York– the fashion is impeccable. Shopping for super kawaii outfits beforehand is a must!
Travel Tip: Don’t go into it blind! Do your research for an authentic experience.
Check out part 2 of this Japan guide series where I’ll show you how my research and planning paid off and how you can learn from any of my travel mishaps.
This article was originally published for Quirktastic, Inc., 2018 and has been edited/updated for accuracy.