I recently spent three weeks traveling throughout Japan with my 5-year old. Here are some of my important travel tips for Japan:
- Public bathrooms are usually nice but don’t often have paper towels or soap. Be sure to always have some tissues, hand sanitizer, and/or wipes.
- Public transportation is very good and prompt in Japan. If you take the metro carry a copy of the metro map written in both English and Japanese, in case you need to ask for help from a stranger. Trains are very good. Read my full post on trains in Japan.
- Japan is 13 hours ahead of US Eastern Standard Time (one day ahead).
- Learn some basic Japanese words and phrases like “excuse me”, “thank you” – they go a long way and I didn’t find many people who spoke English.
- Notify your bank before travel – even your ATM card issuing bank. I would also get some local cash before you go for the first day or so. With the craziness of travel, it’s one less thing to worry about in the airport. You can order most major currencies from your bank or AAA.
- Bring a little gift for someone who does something nice – the Japanese are quite formal.
- If in Kyoto hire one of the Good Samaritan student guides. They are a group of volunteers students who give free tours in exchange for practicing English. You are expected to pay for any costs – entry fees or meals associated with your time together.
- There are different ways to greet someone depending on the time of day – I found people to be very nice with a warm greeting in Japanese.
- Always be more polite – it’s better to err on the side of piling it on.
- You must visit an onsen – it’s a staple of Japanese culture. Be sure to get a wax or shave – there is no vanity!
There are no bathing suits allowed and if you have tattoos you are not allowed. Kids are allowed, however, so just cover your tattoo with your kid.
- Japanese remove their shoes at home and in places like onsens. Always take your shoes off upon entering a Japanese home. Japanese wear different slippers just for bathroom and others just for the kitchen.
- All the Japanese hotels in which I stayed provided kimono and slippers.
- Japan has the same electrical outlets as the US, you do not need adapter.
- Bring some dried fruit and nuts for train rides and long flights. They did offer “Western” or “Asian” options for our meals inflight but my unpicky daughter didn’t like either.
- For all trips – bring a medical kit. My daughter got pretty sick and I was able to give her some quick comfort with meds from home. FYI, they don’t give ibuprofen to kids in Japan. However, the pharmacist was very helpful in getting us new meds when we ran out of ours from home.
- Be sure you have health insurance when traveling. My daughter and I both needed medical care in Japan.
See my medical tips when traveling blog for more information.
- Bring along these items – a bungy cord (good for adding a bag or two to zip through train stations); if you’re not great with chopsticks bring a couple of forks as I found some places didn’t have any; bring a couple of your favorite tea bags – hot water is everywhere; a sewing kit which we used a couple of times.
- Download a currency conversion app for your smart phone, it helps you decide quickly if that souvenir is a good bargain.
- The cities we visited were Tokyo, Sapporo, Otaru, Nagano, Kyoto and Okinawa. Remember that in January-February it will be cold and snowy in much of Japan. Okinawa was not very cold then but you will have to fly there.
- Taxis are rather expensive in Japan and most drivers don’t speak English, have your hotel or home address printed in Japanese.
- Tokyo is the largest city in the world by area, it took me an hour by train from “my house” in Tokyo to the center of Tokyo.
- Build a few days into your trip to recover from the jet lag. It took us almost a week to get back on our schedule from the 13-hour time difference.
Japan is a very beautiful, historical and interesting place. Airfares from the DC area to Japan have been in the $500 R/T range lately (normally about $1000). You can also find reasonable accommodation if you know where to look. You have no excuse…