Is Japan calling out to you and your wanderlust this year? This East Asian country is on top of everyone’s travel bucket lists. Our fascination starts at how ancient civilisation and culture blends well with a modern and technology-driven society in Japan. What better way to see this than to experience it yourself?
Like traveling to any other country, you need to plan your trip to Japan properly. Here are some practical tips to make your vacation hassle-free and enjoyable.
Choose your destination in Japan based on your interests
Because Japan is such an interesting country, there are many places to visit and things to see and do. One simply cannot cover everything in one go, unless you have money to burn and time to spare. Some travel guides recommend spending two weeks, but not too many travelers can afford this.
In order for you to choose your itinerary, answer the following questions. What are your interests – learning about Japanese history and culture, savoring Japanese cuisine, shopping? When do you plan to go? Japan is a four-season destination as each season offers a unique experience. Cherry blossoms in spring, fall foliage in autumn and much more.
Most first-time travelers start with Tokyo, the country’s capital, but other cities like Kyoto and Osaka have a lot to offer first-time tourists as well. With so much information available online, from travel guides to travel blogs, you can learn more about your dream destination with just a mouse click.
Here’s a Quick Glance — Where To Go In Japan
- Tokyo is famous for its various districts that offer different experiences of urban Japan.
- Shibuya is the shopping and food district.
- Roppongi is famous for its nightlife.
- Ginza equals luxury and brand name shopping.
- Sumida is the place to go to enjoy cherry blossoms during springtime.
- Kyoto, as a former Imperial capital of Japan, has so much history in every corner that it will satisfy any history buff.
Will you need a Japanese guide?
One of the most common concerns of newbie travelers to Japan is the need for a a Japanese-speaking guide. While it’s true that most Japanese may not be able to communicate in English, that does not mean that they will not do their best to help out tourists. If you have the funds to spring for a local guide, by all means, book one. You can also try to book a volunteer guide (Goodwill Guides) or a Tokyo Free Guide online, but this is dependent on availability of guides during your visit.
Seasoned travelers however recommend that you learn essential Japanese phrases that will come in handy.
- “Sumimasen” which means “sorry”: perfect for excusing yourself in sticky situations, such as bumping into others in the subway or train platform
- “Kudasai” which means “please”: good when ordering food or shopping
- “Doko” which means “where”: perfect when asking asking directions, such as where the toilet is “Toire doko?”
- “Kore” which means “this.” When pointing out something that is near you; useful when pointing to a food item in a picture menu or to an item in a shop
- “Wakarimasen” which means “I don’t understand.” You can say this when someone talks to you in Japanese. Follow it with “sumimasen” (sorry) and you’re good to go.
- “Arigatou” which means “thank you”
Aside from learning basic Japanese phrases, try and read up about Japanese etiquette and customs. The most basic of customs is that Japanese are generally courteous and polite so it helps if you reciprocate in return. In addition, There are so many others that you can read about online.
Book your accommodations, air tickets and more in advance
Japan, compared to other destinations in Asia, is considered to be an expensive vacation destination. The more items you can save on, the better. Booking early usually means a lot of savings, whether on your accommodations or your air tickets.
With sites such as Booking.com or Agoda, for example, you can choose from thousands of properties in different cities and prefectures in Japan. From hotels, apartments to vacation homes, you can go through all of the information available such as reviews and photos and make your choice. Make sure to read the fine print especially when it comes to payment policies, refunds and cancellations.
For an authentic Japanese experience, most travelers swear by staying in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. Take your pick from the ryokans listed in the sites mentioned above.
As for flights, you can make use of flight aggregators such as CheapoAir and Expedia or watch out for promotions of different airlines. Take advantage of these online tools to get the best deals on international airfare, which is usually the biggest travel expense you will have.
Build your itinerary, but don’t overdo it
When it’s your first time in a country, there’s a tendency to pack your itinerary with activities sometimes to your detriment. You may end shuffling from one place to another without having the chance to enjoy anything. What most travelers recommend is that you take it easy when planning your itinerary, and be a bit more flexible.
Aside from travel blogs, you can also go through the top-selling and best reviewed tours on Klook. Unique experiences await you and your family in Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka. For example, so many culinary tours are on offer which can give you a better appreciation of Japanese food and local culture.
If you are on a budget, it is best you stick to the major cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. Again, read up on each destination and choose the itinerary that best suits you and your needs. Each city has its own attractions that appeal to different interests. Tokyo for example is a good balance of ancient and modern elements, while Kyoto offers a lot of history.
Prepare and save up for your trip
It goes without saying that you should also make sure to get basic travel to-do’s out of the way as early as possible. Malaysian nationals who carry biometric passports are visa exempt when staying in Japan for up to a maximum of 90 days so visa applications need not be filed. Upon entering Japan however, you will need to present your documents that show your purpose of visiting. You should keep copies handy for inspection.
Once you have your flight and hotel bookings confirmed, don’t think that your preparations end here. From here on, you should start saving every penny you can. It would be better to have a bigger pot for your travel funds especially in an expensive country like Japan.
Practical Tips For Travelling in Japan
- Carry as much cash as you can or find an easy way to get more.
Strangely enough, despite its modern trappings, Japan is still very much a cash-based society. Accepting credit cards are the exception rather than the rule. If you are wary of cashing too much cash around, have an international ATM handy and preferably one that does not charge outrageous withdrawal fees. Bring along a sturdy coin purse for all the coins you will carry which is anything between 1 yen and 500 yen.
- Local transport tips: day passes for subways.
Take advantage of Japan’s efficient public transport system. When going around cities like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, choose from a variety of day passes depending on your itinerary. Subway maps are readily available online, so you should use these early on. As the Japan Rail (JR) pass which costs around US$250 or around RM 980 for a 7-day pass, it is highly recommended you buy one if and only if you are traveling outside of Tokyo.
- Be wise when eating out.
Exceptionally good food in a restaurant can be quite expensive. So, choose what you will splurge on when it comes to eating out. Seasoned travelers say that they lived by eating in local convenience stores such as 7-11 most of the time. Staying in a ryokan also includes prepared meals which is not only convenient but also economical. You should be strategic when it comes to choosing where and when you eat out.
- Stay connected with a prepaid data sim or pocket WiFi.
As a modern day traveler, staying connected is probably a priority. The best way to achieve this is to get a prepaid SIM loaded with 1 GB data that is good for 7 days. You can pre-order this online for only RM 113 (eConnect Japan) and pick it up at the airport post office or other pick up points.
Consequently, make sure you keep your gadgets juiced up. Your smartphones will come in handy when checking Google Maps and computing currency exchange during shopping, among other uses.
Say ‘Konni’chiwa’ to Japan soon enough
So, what are you waiting for? Your dream vacation to the land of cherry blossoms is no longer just a dream. Shopback is here to help, book your hotel and flights with our partner Expedia, where you can get to fly for free with Expedia’s packages along with up to 6% cashback. Soon enough, you will be saying “Konni’chiwa” (Hello!) to everyone you meet.
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