It took me over two years, but I finally finished my travelogue of our trip to Japan. Figured I would wrap things up with a list of helpful tips for anyone visiting Japan.
1. Take pictures, lots of pictures.
As I uploaded photos for each post, I realized that I managed to capture a decent slice of our trip, but there was so much more I wish I captured. Should have taken photos of every dish we ate. Should have taken more photos of the streets, the people, everything. I finally understand why I would see Japanese tourists with multiple cameras at Disney World. You’ve spent so much money getting there that you want to record as much of it as possible. The reality is you just don’t have the money to visit that often; those photos will have to tide you over until you scrape up the cash to visit again.
2. Don’t take too many pictures.
While you should capture as much as you can on film, don’t do it at the expense of missing out on actually being in Japan (or anywhere else you travel).
3. Bring a good guidebook, phrasebook, but don’t be afraid to get lost or experiment.
While we did some guided tours, our best experiences came from picking a place out of the guidebook. Tokyo is setup for English speakers to visit the main sites, but some of the more unique corners and restaurants are tucked away and require a spirit of adventure. You may not know exactly where you are going or what you may be ordering, but the result will always be memorable.
4. Make sure you know when the stores and attractions you want to visit are open.
Our guidebooks warned us about this; every store in Japan operates on its own schedule. You can’t rely on one store being open on the same day simply because a similar one is open. Do as much research and preparation as you can before you leave. This may save you some of the backtracking we had to do.
5. Take at least one bullet train ride.
It may seem like a banal item, but it truly is a unique experience. You ride in quiet comfort while the landscape whizzes by in a colorful blur.
6. Do not eat breakfast at a hotel or restaurant.
Don’t make the same mistake we did; you can stretch your yen out if you find a local bakery near your hotel. They serve fantastic breads, morning pastries, and such for cheap prices. If we found a place like Sazuya in Tokyo, we probably would have come back with a few more souvenirs.
7. Bring a good pair of walking shoes.
It is common sense but bears repeating. I tried walking one day in sneaks and paid for it with killer blisters the next day. You lose your sense of time and how long you’ve been on your feet; your feet will thank you for making sure they survive.
8. Bring plenty of cash.
By cash, I mean hard, cold yen notes. Most major shops and restaurants will take plastic, but cash is still emperor in Japan. Not sure if we would have been able to see, do, and buy as much if we didn’t have a thick roll of it on hand. Never felt uneasy pulling a wad of it out in public. Yes, there is crime in Japan, but it is still the only place where I felt safe enough to carry large cash sums on me.
Also, make sure you know and understand what the going yen to dollar conversion rate is. Japan can be an expensive place to visit, especially if you lose sight on just how much you are actually spending in your native currency.
9. If you take the trains, find out what exit you will need before you board.
I had read many stories about the Japanese train system; most of the advice I read said to not worry about paying for the correct fare amount. You could always make up the difference once you arrived. However, I didn’t find buying fares to be a problem; the ticketing system is easy enough to understand. What will trip you up is trying to figure out what exit you want once you arrive.
Most major stations will likely have at least five, if not many more, different exits. There are usually signs pointing you to the various roads or attractions they lead to, but actually trying to read them while avoiding the crushing sea of humanity piling out behind you is a daunting task. The largest bit of text on the yellow signs is the exit number; try to figure out what number you need. You’ll be able to scan for it faster than trying to find the text that says “Ueno Park”.
10. Take notes as you go.
Aside from not taking more photos, my only other regret about the trip was not taking better notes along the way. Bring a small notebook and a pencil. Jot down phrases, pictures, whatever will help you remember what happened that day. There are likely tons of stories locked up in my head about Kyoto, but they will have to wait for random chance to unlock them. Having a write-up, no matter how small, about what happened can breathe new life into your photos and memories.
That’s about wraps things up; if you ever visit Japan and find these tips useful, send me back a bottle of Aquarius as thanks.