So you’re planning a trip to Japan – lucky you! But maybe you’re feeling a bit nervous about what it’s going to be like? Well, calm your farm and settle your kettle because GaijinPot have teamed up with the guys at Travel Japan Wi-Fi to offer the following smart travel hacks that will help you make the most out of your Japan adventure.
1. Get a travel (IC) card
These magical cards are your one-stop shop to pretty much all of your basic survival needs including water, food, shelter – and of course, transport.
There are different types of rechargeable cards. Pasmo, available in Tokyo, Suica in Greater Tokyo, Niigata and Sendai; Icoca in Greater Osaka, Hiroshima and Okayama; and Kitaca from Sapporo in Hokkaido are some of the most popular. Valid for up to 10 years, most require a 500 yen deposit which you can get back by returning the card at the airport or train station.
So which “ca” or card do you choose?
Well, good news! They’re almost all compatible with each other so whichever card you opt for, you’ll be able to use them in tons of situations no matter where you are in the country. Just tap your IC card to get around via train, subway, bus and even some taxis. Then, when you’re feeling hungry you can use it to pay for a gyudon (beef and rice bowl) at fast-food chain Sukiya, grab that suncream you forgot at the convenience store (see below), stop for a pick-me-up coffee at Doutor, before buying yourself a snazzy new gadget at Bic Camera.
When you pick up your card for around 500 yen at the airport or train station, make sure to personalize it with your own name or a funny alias.
Also does anyone else feel that Pasmo should be Pasmoca?
2. Download this Wi-Fi app
If you’re picturing Japan as a futurescape of hyperconnectivity ruled by flying robots, well…think again. The lack of accessible Wi-Fi is usually a big surprise for visitors here who often end up paying a chunk of money for a prepaid SIM or pocket Wi-Fi out of desperation.
Download the free Travel Japan Wi-Fi app, available for non-Japanese iTunes and Google Play accounts, before or when you arrive in Japan. It offers seriously comprehensive and reliable coverage, connecting to over 200,000 hotspots across the country, as well as showing local area navigation and tourist information. Plus, true to the travel hack spirit, you can also get discounts in affiliated places like Bic Camera and Edion (for electronics), Gyu-kaku (for Japanese-style barbecue) and the Robot Restaurant (for dinner and a mind-blowing robot show).
Basically like your own digital tour guide that keeps handing you coupons every now and then (maybe Japan is ruled by robots?!), the app will keep you connected pretty much wherever you go. The best part? There’s none of that messing about trying to login and being forced to create an account with your high school hotmail address.
3. Make use of the ridiculously convenient convenience stores
The Japanese convenience store is basically hack paradise with all of the fresh food and handy products you didn’t even know you needed on sale 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And it’s all delivered via a super efficient production line where every inch of shelving is squeezed to maximum profitability (one of the reasons why convenience stores in Japan show high growth despite economic deflation). Japan’s top konbini, 7/11, likes to think of itself as “a home refrigerator” which is definitely accurate if your fridge also contains nail varnish remover, phone chargers and underwear.
The convenience store is where you can also:
- Withdraw money from a foreign bank account
- Buy tickets to concerts, sports matches, events and museums (like the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo)
- Pick up flight tickets
- Pick up packages
- Use the fancy Japanese toilet
- Read magazines
- Pay bills (if you manage to rack any up while you’re traveling)
- Photocopy, print and scan stuff (with instructions in English)
- Store luggage
- Kill time forever browsing all of the interesting items
4. Save money with the different discounts only for tourists
Worried traveling in Japan is expensive. Don’t be! As long as you have a tourist visa in your passport, you qualify for countrywide discount passes galore. You can save heaps of cash on transport, shopping, dining and activities. You just have to know where to look.
For discount rail travel on the futuristic and oh-so-sleek Shinkansen (bullet train) network, make sure to get a JR Pass back in your home country before you fly. Speaking of flying, if you’re more of a plane nerd then opt instead for the JAL Explorer Pass – a flat rate airfare that covers a range of domestic routes. Or get the most bang for your buck by hopping on a Willer Express highway bus with their highly economical Japan Bus Pass.
Many major cities will offer transport and sightseeing discount combos. An increasing number of theaters, museums, galleries, zoos and aquariums are also jumping on the bandwagon thanks to encouragement from the Japanese government as it pushes to attract 40 million tourists to the country by 2020. Their rallying call has reached the most remote corners of the country so expect to find even smaller attractions giving discounts.
As a temporary visitor, you’ll also benefit from tax exemption on things like food, cosmetics and medicine, clothes and electronics. Look out for the tax free counters in big-name brands like Uniqlo, Don Quijote and Muji, as well as many department stores.
5. Learn these phrases to sound totally fluent
The myth that Japan doesn’t speak English simply no longer holds true. In general, tourist attractions in Japan have multilingual signage as well as staff – a fact that is becoming more widespread with the push to create a foreigner-friendly environment in the lead up to the Olympics.
But when the need comes for you to break out those mad linguistic skillz, the following essential phrases will make you sound like an absolute poet.
- Konnichiwa – Hello (a classic – you probably know this one already)
- Douzo – Please go ahead (expect to be be doing this polite “you first” dance a lot)
- Onegaishimasu – Please (an obvious one)
- Arigatou gozaimasu – Thank you (ditto above)
- Sumimasen – Excuse me (this will get you out of many a situation)
- Oishi! – Delicious! (Japan’s favorite word)
- Sugoi! – Wow! (Japan’s second-favorite word)
- Atsui/Samui desu ne? It’s hot, isn’t it? / It’s cold isn’t it? (Great to start a conversation, though after that you’re on your own).
- Shashin o totte mo ii desu ka? Is it OK to take a photo? (Always ask first)
- Eigo o hanasemasu ka? – Do you speak English? (Be the one to make the effort in Japanese!)
Hopefully with these genius travel hacks you’ll be able to make every moment of your trip to Japan as awesome as it can be. You’re welcome. 🙂