Cara visiting the blossoms

A good few months have passed since my last post, mainly because I’ve been procrastinating writing this. It means having to re-live all the food and fun times in Japan. This makes me sad as it was one of the best holidays to date. Cara’s been wanting to travel here for ages. It’s been a month since the holiday and I still find myself watching clips of “things to do in Japan” on YouTube, and reading articles about “what’s new in Tokyo this month?” Rather than write a blog in my usual format, I thought I’d mix it up and provide some tips for holidaying in Japan based on what we picked up during our 16 day stay. There’s hundreds of these already available on a Google search. I read most of them before travelling. Hopefully some of these will help you when visiting this surreal country.

To note, we only visited the main tourist destinations of Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. Some of these tips won’t apply to other prefectures and areas of Japan. 

Cara visiting gashapon store Me and a deer in Nara

Travel Tips for Holidaying in Japan
  • IC cards and apps: it seems physical cards are slowly being phased out and getting harder to find as they become digital via apps. When we travelled, the Suica worked with iPhones, but not for non-Japanese Androids. The Suica and Pasmo cards are still available at the main airports, but less so at train stations now.  We were lucky enough to collect a Pasmo Passport, great souvenir but be sure to spend the balance before you leave as there’s no refund. Makes for a good game at 7-Eleven! 
  • Buy direct: if you have the patience and want to save some money, purchase Shinkansen (bullet train) tickets directly from the provider rather than via third-party agents. There’s an English version and once you’ve signed up, it’s easy to search for and book trains. Once you’re within a month’s window from travelling, you can choose your preferred car and seats. The QR codes are also easy to scan through the specific QR gates. 
  • Google map it from A to B: the easiest way to navigate around the cities is with Google maps. Punch in your destination and it’ll show you the quickest way to get there. When taking a train, it will even tell you which exit to alight and which section of the train to board to make the transit as smooth as possible. We only got lost a couple of times, mostly within Tokyo Metro station when we couldn’t find the right exit.  

Cara visiting temple in Kyoto

Food Tips for Holidaying in Japan
  • Reserve or queue: if you’re looking to eat at a particular restaurant, it’s best to reserve a table in advance. Due to the size of some restaurants, you may have to split up if you have a larger party. Easiest way to reserve a table is via Google. If that doesn’t work, ask your hotel concierge or Air-BnB host to book for you. Alternatively, if you can’t book or it doesn’t accept reservations, try queue as early as possible by checking what time they open. Most tend to open at 12pm for lunch and 5pm for dinner service, so rocking up earlier will help secure a table.   
  • Vend is your friend: you might be intimidated by the vending machine restaurants, but once you know how it do it, the process is so easy. The steps are queue up if there is one, if not go to the vending machine and enter some money or scan your IC card. Select what food (and drink) you’d like. If you’re not sure what you’re ordering, whip out Google Translate and hover it over the Japanese text. Press anything that looks like a ‘Confirm’ or ‘Okay’ button and you’ll receive a ticket and change. Then wait for a table, hand over the ticket to the staff member and get ready to feast! 
  • Convenience and quality: if you watch YouTube videos about visiting Japan, you will most likely come across the food at convenience stores. The trifecta of 7-Eleven, Family Mart and Lawson, you’ll see them everywhere. In the UK and Australia, it’s unlikely you’ll eat at a convenience store unless you’re close to starvation. However, in Japan, they’re a different level. Fresh food is cooked on site in a lot of the stores, there’s variety, and it’s good value! Be sure to visit one to try the egg-sandwich and fried chicken.   

Bowl of ramen Wagyu sashimi

Overall Tips for Holidaying in Japan
  • Book ahead: competing with so many locals and tourists, planning and booking things ahead, such as activities (e.g. Street-Karting in Shibuya), train tickets, and restaurants will ensure you’re not disappointed when they’re full and booked out. Most reservations are accepted a month in advance and the popular places, are all reserved in seconds of release. Be sure to check how to do it for your preferred activity! 
  • Carry some Yen: although a lot of the larger chains and businesses will accept card, it’s still quite cash dependent. It’s also fun to try and use up all your coins at 7-Eleven. 
  • e-Sim it for connectivity: to ensure you’re able to use Google Maps and Translate, be sure to purchase an e-sim and setting it up before arriving (assuming your phone allows e-sims). As long as you don’t need access to a Japanese number, then a data-only plan provides what you need. We used Roamify which offers a wide range of data plans based on how long you’re staying. If there’s a number of you in the family with phones and tablets, then it might work out cheaper hiring a pocket WiFi.  

Cara visiting a capybara cafe Street karting around Shibuya