We have been to Japan twice in the past year and have really enjoyed it. Maybe one day we’ll get to live there…
We have learned a few things in our travels that might help someone plan a trip to Japan.
We aren’t really airline loyal. On our first trip, we flew Japan Airlines. On our most recent trip, we took Korean Air because it was cheaper. Both were good experiences. Japan Airlines had a special check in line for families with small children. But we didn’t wait too long in the Korean Air line. Clarissa received a gift on each flight. The food was great on both airlines. There was an actual meal served which surprised me because they were all relatively short flights. I will say that the second Korean Air flight didn’t have a tv for every seat and had less leg room.
We used public transportation almost all the time. The exception was our first night in Kyoto when we arrived later than the last shuttle to the hotel and needed a taxi to get all of our luggage to the hotel. All of the hotels we have stayed in have had shuttle service from the hotel to the closest subway station. We paid a little more for that in Kyoto, but it was worth it.
In Kyoto and Osaka, it is worth it to buy an all day subway card if you plan to visit multiple locations because they mostly just have a subway. In Tokyo, that is a little trickier because they have the JR lines plus the subway and you can only use one or the other for an all day pass. In Tokyo, I recommend obtaining either a suica or pasmo subway card. You can get them at the same kiosk that you pay for a single fare subway ticket. That way you can just reload . You can also return the subway card when you leave and get a refund of the balance left on your card.
When we landed in Osaka, we took the Limited Express Haruka train to Kyoto Station. There was a cheaper option, but this took an hour verses the cheaper one took three hours. We knew we were going to go back to Osaka the next day so we ended up buying a two day Kansai pass instead of just one ticket because it was cheaper to do it that way.
In Tokyo, we fly out of Narita airport. It isn’t really in Tokyo, but they offer airport limousine bus. Again, not the cheapest method but it will take you and all of your luggage either straight from the airport to your hotel or from your hotel to the airport. Your hotel can schedule your return trip to the airpot anytime between when you arrive and they day you need to leave.
I do recommend taking a shinkansen train from Kyoto to Tokyo. It was only about two hours and it was a great experience.
There are several smartphone apps you can download to your phone before arriving in Japan that are supposed to let you pick up wifi hotspots on your phone for free. We had wifi in all of our hotels. So in town, we thought we would like the wifi hotspot thing, but it wasn’t really worth it. My phone went through a lot of battery each day trying to pick up a signal. Sometimes I would pick up a signal in a subway station, but then the train would move and I would lose it again.
A lot of the large subway stations have information centers with maps of the subway or the town you are visiting. Those are beneficial. Google maps is limited in Japan and doesn’t work well in offline mode so it is hard to navigate the area without a map. We had a list of the places that we wanted to go with subway stops and exits if possible. Most of the popular attractions will be listed on the subway exit lists to make it easier for tourists.
English isn’t well spoken by everyone in the population. But the subway maps and exits are shown in both Japanese and English. If you want to buy something in a store, they will show you the total on a calculator so that you know how much you owe them.
I recommend bringing plenty of cash to Japan and exchanging it at the airport. Many ATM machines will take foreign cards if they have the chip technology, but you end up paying a few dollars in fees from both your bank and the ATM. Most places in Kyoto and Osaka only accepted yen. Even stores in the train station or places like McDonald’s only take cash. The benefit to paying for everything in cash is that it will help you stick to your budget! Tokyo is a different story. Most places take Visa and Mastercard and a few also take Discover.
If you are looking for things to do in Japan, you can read my blog posts about our trips: