JAPAN for First Timers: An Adjustable Guide

Are you planning on going to Japan for the first time?
Being all excited?
Wondering what to expect?
Having a million questions?
Well, I recently came back from my first big Japan-adventure and let me tell you: It was just overwhelming; in a good way!


Geisha with phone in Kyoto


As I had the chance to travel for three weeks, I know that not everybody has the opportunity to leave for so long. Therefore, based on my itinerary, I put together a travel guide that can be individually adjusted to your personal trip - for one, two, or three weeks in the Land of the Rising Sun.

日本へようこそ - Nihon e yōkoso - Welcome to Japan!

Since I was travelling to Japan for the first time - and as almost always exclusively in the company of myself - I was super-nervous and totally hyper:
How will I adapt?
How will I get along?
Will anyone understand what I wanted or even needed?
Will I be able to find my way?
Will children point at me laughing and villagers chase me?
Should I have rather ordered Sushi from the local supermarket and made myself comfortable in front of my TV, watching anime?

Spoiler: No! Way!

With a tiny bit of an adventurous spirit, a couple of helpful apps, and a big, big love for travel, Japan is one of the countries that are easiest to travel - also as a female soloist.

I've been planning on going to Japan for almost two years. I'd like to emphasize that it took me so long due to personal reasons - my flat was completely remodeled and I didn't want to come back to a construction site from such an epic trip.

So this spring, I decided to bite the bullet - still thinking it would be far too expensive for me.
Hesitantly, I began looking for flights.
And I was more than surprised: Prices were not different from most other flights between Europe and Asian countries. Hm, interesting.

So, right away, I can demystify this myth that travelling Japan breaks the bank. You can actually travel on a budget, especially since there are a number of special offers exclusively for foreigners.

I've heard and read a million times that Japan's most fascinating aspect is the balance between traditionality and modernity.
I promise you one thing: On my blog, you won't find this stale enlightenment.
Firstly, because it's an over-used bromide and most importantly because I disagree: Japan consists of 6852 islands - whereby this figure includes islands Japan only claims to be theirs. Only 425 of these islands are inhabited and actually, 98 of the population is living on the five main islands Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku, and Okinawa.

Not having borders with other countries, being so far from other nations, and experiencing practically no immigration does not make opening to new ideas and influences necessary.
I found Japan to be rather conservative than traditionalistic.

98 percent of the population is Japanese. For centuries, isolation and closure were imposed and even today, there is very little foreign influence.
Japan first is not a political slogan, it's a mindset.
All these are factors that impair cultural opening to foreign influence.
Whereby, maintenance of folklore and traditions can be a wonderful thing - as long as other peoples and their individual cultures and traditions are not considered inferior.


Adjustable Itineraries 
Route Number 1 - Japan in One Week
Route Number 2 - Japan in Two Weeks 
Route Number 3 - Japan in Three Weeks 
Preparation 
How to Get There And Around
Where to Stay 
Where to Eat 
Cash And Cards 
Language 
Communication 
Pinnable Pix


Adjustable Itineraries



I spent almost three weeks in Japan. I've seen 11 places in 20 days. In some spots, I spent only one night. It's actually a bit ironic since we Europeans used to make fun of Japanese tourist groups who visited ten European cities in seven days. And here I was, racing through Nippon to make the most of it.

You can follow my example or take it much slower. No matter which way of travelling you choose, you'll love the country and its culture and its people.

The following itineraries will take you to places that I liked best. Reading the guides to the individual destinations - that you'll get to by clicking on the pictures - you might want to add or replace some of my suggestions, stay longer or skip or replace one place altogether.
That's fine.
That's why I'm calling this an adjustable itinerary - have a great trip, in the end, that's all that matters!

This is how it works: Below, I'm making suggestions how many days you should stay in one place and what you might want to see there. 
By clicking on the pictures, you'll get to the comprehensive post on that particular destination and can learn more about the places, choose from further points of interest and finally put together your very personal itinerary.

Route Number 1 - Japan in One Week


Students at Tokyo in Japan
2 Days in Tokyo
Day 1: Shibuya - Shinjuku - Roppongi

Day 2: Ueno Park or Imperial Gardens - Asakusa - Trip to Kyoto (approximately 2.5 hours)

Geishas at Kyoto
4 Days in Kyoto
Day 3: Kiyomizudera - Sanneizaka or Gion - Temples and Shrines on the East Side - Philosopher's Path

Day 4: Fushimi Inari Taisha - Trip to Nara

Day 5: Arashiyama - Kinkakuji Golden Temple

Day 6: Nijo Castle - Imperial Garden - Trip back to Tokyo (approximately 2.5 hours)

Wako Retailer at Ginza in Tokyo in Japan
1 Day in Tokyo
Day 7: Tsukiji - Ginza - back to the Airport


Following this itinerary and travelling by train will cost you more or less the same whether you use the JR pass for one week or if you don't: The round trip Tokyo to Kyoto and back is about 28,000 Yen, round trip from Kyoto to Nara around 1,400 Yen and you can use it at least on one trip from or to the Narita Airport by the JR Narita Express (NEX); if you are travelling back to Narita within 7 days, you can even use it both ways. The JR pass costs 29,650 Yen for one week - so you might save a tiny bit.


Route Number 2 - Japan in Two Weeks


Students at Tokyo in Japan
3 Days in Tokyo
Day 1: Shibuya - Shinjuku - Asakusa

Day 2: Daytrip to KAWAGUCHIKO or HAKONE

Day 3: Ueno Park or Imperial Gardens - Trip to Takayama (approximately 5 hours via Nagoya)




Shirakawago view of the village and bye:myself
2 Days in Takayama

Day 4: Takayama Historic Center - Temple Tour

Day 5: Daytrip to Shirakawago - Trip to Kyoto (approximately 3.5 hours via Nagoya)








Geishas at Kyoto
5 Days in Kyoto

Day 6: Kiyomizudera - Sanneizaka or Gion - Temples and Shrines on the East Side - Philosopher's Path

Day 7: Fushimi Inari Taisha - Trip to NARA

Day 8: Arashiyama - Kinkakuji Golden Temple

Day 9: Daytrip to OSAKA or NAGOYA

Day 10: Nijo Castle - Imperial Garden - Trip to 
Hiroshima                          (approximately 1.5 hours)

Atomic Dome in Hiroshima
2 Days in Hiroshima
Day 11: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park - Shukkeien Garden - Jail Wall Painting - Museum of Contemporary Art

Day 12: Daytrip to MIYAJIMA - Trip to Tokyo (approximately 4 hours)

Wako Retailer at Ginza in Tokyo in Japan
1 Day in Tokyo
Day 13: Tsukiji - Ginza - back to the Airport

Following this itinerary and travelling by train, you'll save at least 6,000 to 7,000 Yen on long-distance trains. If you are travelling back to the airport within 14 days, you can add another 6,000 Yen for the JR Narita Express (NEX) and, of course, the local and regional JR transportation, which is not that much but adds up, too.


Route Number 3 - Japan in Three Weeks


Students at Tokyo in Japan
Day 1: Shibuya - Shinjuku - Roppongi

Day 2: Ueno Park - Imperial Gardens - Akihabara

Day 3: Trip from Tokyo  (approximately 2.5 hours) - visiting Mount Fuji - cycling around the lake

Day 4: More cycling and visiting - Trip to Nagoya  (approximately 4 hours via Shin-Yokohama)

bye:myself at Nagoya in Japan
Day 5: Visit to a museum or to the Osu Kannon - Kimono Shopping at the Osu mall - Nagoya Castel - Trip to Takayama  (approximately 2.5 hours)


Shirakawago view of the village and bye:myself
Day 6: Hida Folk Village - Daytrip to Shirakawago

Day 7: Temple Tour - Takayama Historic Center - Trip to Kyoto (approximately 3.5 hours via Nagoya)

Geishas at Kyoto

Day 8: Kiyomizudera - Sanneizaka or Gion - Temples and Shrines on the East Side - Philosopher's Path - Nishiki Market Shopping District


Day 9: Fushimi Inari Taisha - Trip to NARA

Day 10: Arashiyama - Kinkakuji Golden Temple - Ryoanji Temple

Day 11: Nijo Castle - Imperial Garden - Trip to Osaka   
 (approximately 15 minutes)



Umeda Sky Building in Osaka
1 Day in Osaka

Day 12: Station City - Umeda Sky Building - Osaka Castle - Osaka Aquarium


Atomic Dome in Hiroshima
Day 13: Trip to Hiroshima (approximately 1.5 hours) Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park - Shukkeien Garden - Jail Wall Painting - Museum of Contemporary Art


Day 14: Daytrip to MIYAJIMA

Himeji Castle
Day 15: Trip to Himeji (approximately 1 hour) - Himeji Castle

Wako Retailer at Ginza in Tokyo in Japan

Day 16: Trip to Tokyo (approximately 3 hours) - Ginza - Asakusa

Day 17: Daytrip to HAKONE

Day 18: Tsukiji - Ginza - Waseda - back to Narita Airport

Day 19: Morning flight to Europe
Following my itinerary, you would save money even if you actually bought the 21 days version. However, I opted for the 14 days version and adjusted my itinerary accordingly which meant that I paid for the trip from and to Narita Airport extra - see below - and also bought tickets to Hakone separately.

Nonetheless, my trip would have been 70,780 Yen - local and regional transport like the loop bus in Hiroshima or the ferry to Miyajima not yet included, yet I paid for a JR pass for 14 days 47,250 Yen.  This means that I've saved more than 23,530 Yen....or 195 €uro.....or 215 US$!

Preparation


Of course, you can buy a ticket and off you go to Japan. Well, it must be nice to call a diamond mine your own. I don't have one and therefore I depended on a little bit of preparation in order to save lots of money.


It's the Season


Like everywhere else, there are high seasons and low seasons. 
If you go in April, you get to see the cherry trees in full bloom - and you pay probably three times as much as I paid. 
Another popular season is autumn when the leaves change color. 
And then there are a couple of Japanese holidays when it's definitely not recommendable to visit. These would be the Golden Week which is at the end of April through the beginning of May, the summer holidays in July and August - when it's, by the way, far too hot for city tours, anyways. Another high season would be the New Year holidays and, of course, your country of origin's peak seasons.

I myself went in September. This way, I did not see all these glories of nature, however, I've seen many breathtaking sceneries and it was not so crazy packed with people and flights and accommodation was pretty reasonably priced.


Booking Your Flight


Like I said, the first time my image of Japan being unaffordable was shattered when I was looking for flights.

Maybe I'd picked the right season: In September, there are no blossoms and no colorful leaves, summer school holidays are over and Christmas still a couple of months away. A bit over 600 €uro for a round trip with the Japanese airline ANA via Dusseldorf respectively back with SwissAir via Zurich wasn't too bad.

Japan's most important international airport is Tokyo's Narita Airport, followed by Osaka's Kansai Airport, and Tokyo's Haneda Airport. Many other Japanese airports like for instance xx Hiroshima might have some international flights, mainly to Korea and China.

You can also save on domestic flights since some Japanese airlines offer discount fares if you came with them to Japan. These would be for instance the Japan Explorer Pass by JAL or the Experience Japan Fare respectively the Discover Japan Fare granted by ANA.

Also, there is a range of low budget airlines like Air Asia Japan, Air Do, Jetstar Japan, Peach Aviation, Skymark Airlines, Solaseed Air, and Starflyer.

Note that early morning and late-night flights can be significantly cheaper than those departing at more civil hours.


Booking Your Accommodations


What can I say - after the totally okay airfare, price-wise, the room rates were the second nice surprise: I paid an average of about 45 €uros a night for single rooms at hotels that were comfortable and clean and conveniently located in the city centers not far from the train station as well as the attractions.

There are all kinds of toiletries at your disposal including disposable toothbrushes and razors. But please, do the planet a favor and use there only if you really need them - it's such an environmental sin using these disposable things.

Below there is a whole section dealing with the different types of accommodations and what to consider.

I was very surprised how easy it had been to find extremely reasonably priced rooms. I booked about six to eight weeks before my trips, albeit, most of these bookings could have been canceled for free. Therefore, I can only recommend booking well ahead - you'll find a booking mask below and all the hotels I stayed at described in the individual posts.


Making Reservation


What you definitely should book before going to Japan is the JR pass if you intend to buy one. Purchase used to be possible only for international visitors from foreign. They changed it so that - still only foreign tourists - can obtain the pass now in Japan, too, however, it is more expensive.

Also, some of the regional day passes can only be bought while you are still outside Japan - like e.g. the Osaka 1day pass or 2 day pass.

Not least because everybody drove me nuts with this no-credit-card-business, I ordered a Keisei Skyliner & Tokyo Subway Ticket package from home and picked it up once I landed at Narita. 

Since just the single ride from the airport to the center costs 2,520 Yen, this package for 5,480 was a major bargain: Round trip from and back to the airport plus 72 hours of free use of Metro and Subway tickets. And I even made a mistake: The passes actually valid for 24, 48, or 72 hours, not one, two, or three days. So if you play your cards right and plan your trips accordingly, you might need only a 24 hours card for two days.



Subway Tickets in Tokyo
The Subway Ticket and my Skyliner Tickets. The return trip has to be taken within a couple of months. 

If you are planning on visiting many museums around Tokyo, you might want to get a Grutto Pass that grants reduced or free entrance to 95 museums. However, this past costs 2,200 Yen, so you definitely should do the maths if it really pays out for you.

The equivalent in Kyoto and beyond would be the Kansai Grutto Pass that lets you visit around 100 museums on a discounted price or even free. This pass costs 1,100 Yen.

I'm the most impatient person on earth, I hate waiting, standing in line drives me crazy. Isn't it ironic that this is something you have to do in Japan for each and every little thing.

If you are like me and want to save time, you should check if you cannot make reservation for time slots at museums and other venues. Also, if you want to join the guided tour of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, advanced reservation is highly recommended (although, in all honesty, the tour isn't).

You'll find all the relevant info and links in the posts on the individual destinations.

Since many saving perks are reserved for foreigners, some of them have to be pre-ordered or purchased in your country of origin. Then, as you pick up vouchers and tickets, you need to show your passport as proof that you are only a visitor and not a resident.

How to Get There And Around


I presume that you come flying and will arrive at one of the three major airports quoted above - either those in Tokyo or the Kansai airport that caters i. a. to Osaka and Kyoto.



ANA Airlines in Düsseldorf
ANA, Japan's largest airline.

All airports are relatively far from the city centers but conveniently connected by buses and trains. You'll find info on those in the posts on the individual destinations.


National Public Transport


Travelling around Japan is as easy as ABC: Public transportation is very reliable, safe, and clean. All relevant signs and announcements are also in English. However, it is not cheap: A one way trip from Tokyo to Kyoto on a regular Shinkansen is about 13,500 Yen. A bus ride can set you back up to 8,000 Yen - although it can also be a bit cheaper.


JR Pass and Tickets
To the left, you see my precious voucher with a handful of reservation tickets. To the right the one and only real JR pass - valid for two weeks.

This is the reason why practically every foreigner is getting a JR pass - check above itineraries. Why locals don't? Because they are not allowed: Only non-residents are entitled to get this - by the way, still very expensive - pass for unlimited travel on the national trains.

However, getting your JR pass will be your first Japanese adventure since the process is more suitable for 1819 than 2019: First, you have to order a voucher - and also pay for it right away. Sadly, you don't get it right away, you are actually getting it by mail. Isn't that exciting - you pay the nuance of 270 to 560 US$ and then you hope and pray that it doesn't get lost in the mail? Yeyi!

Actually, I've never heard that it got lost, but hey, there is still a chance.
What's totally ridiculous is the fact that this is just a voucher, not the ticket. So why don't you get some personalized code by mail? I know why: It wouldn't be as exciting as dreading for a couple of days that your 270 to 560 US$-voucher did get lost in the mail.
 
So after the excitement is over and you are holding your precious voucher in your hands, you take it with you to Japan where you exchange it for the real JR pass - a piece of pretty cardboard - and you're good to go.

Note: For a limited time, supposedly till March 31, 2021, you can buy a Japan Rail pass at certain train stations and airports in Japan. However, it is more expensive than ordering it online.

However, it's recommendable to make reservation on your chosen Shinkansens - those are free of charge. If for some reason you cannot reserve a seat, you have to go to the last three wagons and look for an available spot.

There are three versions of the general JR pass: one week for 29,650 Yen, two weeks for 47,250 Yen - whereby for some reason mine says only 46,390, and three weeks for 60,450 Yen. During the period of time your pass is valid, you can travel around Japan as much as you like - using exclusively trains and other means of transportation belonging to Japan Railways and with the exception of the Shinkansens Nozomi and Mizuho.


Shinkansen Train
The pointier the nose, the faster the Shinkansen. However, the two fastest kinds called Nozomi and Mizuho are not included.

To check train schedules and put together your best route using the JR pass, you should go to HyperDia and also download their App. Other than on google maps, here you can search for routes excluding Nozomi and Mizuho trains from the start.

By the way, there is also a first-class-version called the Green pass, but I don't think that you need to travel first class in Japan - the standard is already pretty great.

Only once I took a long-distance bus in Japan - and that distance wasn't really that long. However, travelling by bus is definitely an option if you really don't want to pay for expensive trains. But keep in mind that you'll need more time to go around. If you even take night buses, you also save on accommodations. I must say, I was so pleasantly surprised by Japan not being as expensive as expected, I just didn't feel the urge to save as much money as I could but chose comfort and time saving over a tight budget.


Local Public Transport 


Public transportation all over Japan is perfect. However, sometimes the touristy spots of interest are quite apart or in the outskirts and getting from one to another might take more time than you think. That's the reason why in my posts on individual destinations in Japan, I often divided the guide according to neighborhoods or cardinal directions - it's simply more timesaving.

Buying tickets, however, is a bit tricky: Not only are there local train, operated by the national company JR and therefore also included in the legendary JR pass if you have one, no, there are also subways and buses and tickets, in general, are not interchangeable.

Nonetheless, I made an effort to introduce the best day passes in the posts on the individual locations so you should make sure to read them carefully before heading out there.


Riding the subway in Tokyo.
Riding the subway in Tokyo.

So not only is there a variety of individual tickets, no, there is also a great choice of different day passes - don't overthink it, otherwise you'll spend your entire trip comparing price differences that at the end of the day are not that important; you had the cash for a plane ticket to Japan after all, you'll survive not paying the very, very cheapest price for a metro ticket, won't you?!


Day Pass in Kyoto
A day pass for Kyoto - but only for the buses, for the subway, I needed a different one.

Where to Stay


The cost of lodging was one aspect I was afraid of. I had read about tiny rooms at sky-high prices, saw myself snooze in some sort of capsule-sarcophagi-thingy at the rate of a European 5-star hotel room.

To get these great prices at middle-class hotels I did not use my magic wand, I just checked the common hotel portals.

I booked about two months in advance - in only one case I wasn't able to cancel my reservation, all the others could have been canceled free of charge up to a couple of days before my stay.

Only one hotel came with a basic breakfast, most of the others offered a breakfast buffet for 1,200 to 1,600 Yen - which is worth it most of the time given the fact that you pay for a large coffee and a sandwich at Starbucks almost 1,000 Yen.


Breakfast at Komeda's in Japan
At Komeda's Coffee in Kawaguchiko and in Nagoya, the toast is free with your morning coffee. You can choose between jam, a soft-boiled egg, or some egg-spread - that's what I picked. In other places, however, it costs only an additional 100 Yen.

Practically all hotels have also vending machines with drinks and sundries, ice dispensers, and a laundromat and dryers.


bye:myself on the bed at the hotel in Kyoto
Every hotel in Japan supplies their guests not only with free toiletries, but also with slippers and a pajama.
If you want to know what you can easily leave at home when travelling to Japan, check out my post on What (not) to Bring to Japan.

Japanese hotels - even the small, middle-class ones I stayed at - supply you with a nightgown or pajama or a Yukata, a light Japanese cotton robe. You'll find at least a water heater and tea bags in your room, sometimes even coffee - real coffee, not this Nescafé sh** - and bottled water.


Oh dear, did I feel foolish carrying all my wonderful environmental-friendly toiletries around this plastic-loving country: There were sponges for my face, a soap for my body, solid shampoo, a bar of soap for my face, a bamboo toothbrush and some solid toothpaste - arranged from left to right behind the corals which are actually only decoration.

I mostly stayed at middle-class business hotels in really perfect locations. Twice, however, I booked myself in some sort of Ryokan, a traditional Japanese guest house. I say some sort since I've heard that the real Ryokans not only offer a traditionally furnished room but also at least half board - and all this at a quite high price.


Japanese Ryokan room: On the Tatami mats is a Futon to be unfolded at night and a low tea table with a seating cushion.

Well, at the Ryokans where I stayed, there was no half board - as a matter of fact, there wasn't even breakfast. On the other hand, they weren't expensive at all, also perfectly located - and a truly Japanese experience.

As the rooms were classic Japanese Ryokan room, the bathroom were classic Onsen - Japanese baths. Whereby the Onsen is a bath that you take after you cleaned yourself. Yes, it's a bit like cleaning the house for the cleaning lady to come.

An Onsen is a bathtub - huge in a communal place, for one up to four people in a private home or a Ryokan. It is filled with very hot water - preferably from a mineralized spring.

Since this water is not being changed and is being used by every guest, it's crucial that you enter squeaky clean and after a good scrub.

Eventually, you get into the hot tub but naked. You're not supposed to take any kind of rag or towel with you nor should you have soap or shampoo on you.


Oyado Yamakyu guesthouse Takayama - Onsen
A private Onsen: First you take a thorough shower, then you can relax in the hot mineralized water.

For this,  there are showers - or at least basins - next to the tub.
At the communal Onsen, you actually share your tub with other people - orderly divided by gender.
At the private Onsen of a Ryokan, you get into the bathroom by family or party. Well, I was a party of one, so I just locked the door behind me.


Oyado Yamakyu guesthouse Takayama - Onsen
For your clothes and your toiletries: One basket each.
This Yukata, a typical summer robe, was ready for me in my room.


Here you'll find a wide range of accommodations included all the places where I stayed - you'll find them in the respective posts. Please note that this is an affiliate link. If you book through my page, not only do you get the best deal, I also get a small commission that helps me run this blog. Thank you so much for supporting me!


Booking.com


And yes, all my bathrooms were equipped with the famous Japanese toilets - another aspect I was afraid of: I saw myself desperately searching for the right button to flush, activating some sort of waterspout fountain that would soak me through and through and set the bathroom under water within seconds. And then I had to wade through the water to the phone to call maintenance.



Obviously, a lot can be said about these eight buttons. But a couple of pictograms do the trick, too.

Another spoiler alert: Nope, never happened, even not close. Firstly, there are not that many buttons: Usually, there are up to two for flushing, two for cleaning - and some toilet seats even have a sensor so that the fountain stops as soon as you lift your buttocks.


Here you can at least imitate the sound in case you do not actually flush.
My favorite pictogram, by the way, is the one for the bidet: It looks as if the lady is sitting on top of a very high waterspout fountain. Don't worry, the water jet does not have the power to lift you up this high.

Oh, and the noises: I experienced them maybe three times - once it was some birds chirping, other than that it was like a permanent flushing noise; and I must say that in public restrooms I do appreciate it.



Okay, here, there is no doubt what they expect you to do after. But actually, the feature that impressed me most was the toilet seat that can be lifted and lowered automatically.
This, by the way, was the bathroom on a train.

🔝



Where to Eat


In my search for something that explains and justifies Japan's reputation of being expensive, I finally counted on food: I had heard of these refined dishes and honey melons for 60 US$ that people bring as a gift when invited to dinner.

Well, yes, I believe that all this exists - and particularly fruits were really expensive - about three to four times the price you pay in Europe.

However, food in the sense of things you are eating on a daily basis in order not to starve were - again - surprisingly reasonably priced if not cheap.

I should start by saying that firstly, I'm not a picky eater, secondly, I have no allergies, and thirdly, I wasn't on a gourmet trip. 

Although most restaurants really try to have an understandable menu, it's not always that evident. Also, the plastic food might help in general but when you see a piece of a brownish....something, you still don't know if it's depicting meat or tofu or something baked. And who tells you what's in the beige colored plastic sauce and how it tastes in real life? 


Therefore, despite the sort of English menus and plastic food dummies, there are dregs of try and error. So if you really dislike some tastes or if you're allergic to certain ingredients - may the force be with you.

I'm only emphasizing that I actually wasn't on a gourmet trip to explain that I didn't look for fancy Michelin-star decorated restaurants. Because taste and quality-wise, each and every food shack in Japan is prime quality.

Therefore, eating in Japan can be delicious and quite cheap at the same time.

Firstly, there are all those konbinis, convenience stores like 7/11 or family mart to be found at basically each corner; and convenient they are. 

Obviously, you can buy all sorts of dry snacks like crisps and cookies as well as a great variety of soft drinks but also beer and wine and even sake.

A small snack normally costs less than 150 Yen and a complete meal not more than 500 to 600 Yen.
In many konbinis you'll find a counter or a small seating area where you can enjoy your food. You should definitely do so since in Japan eating while you are walking on the street is an imperative no-go. In two weeks, there will be an entire post dealing with all those things that will give you away as an ignorant boor who didn't do his homework before coming to Japan - so make sure to check it out.


Man eating at Yoyogi Park at Tokyo in Japan
A gentleman taking a quiet lunch break at the Yoyogi Park in Tokyo.

But they also have a wide range of convenience foods like Onigiri, plain or filled rice triangles, and Mochi, sweet rice balls, as a quick, light snack. 

But they have also entire meals like salads, sushi of all flavors and sizes, and Bento boxes that you can eat cold or heated. Then they have all those hot foods like corndogs and Yakitori, chicken skewers. But before buying those, take a close look since Yakitori can be made from basically every part of the animal - also parts you might not want to eat.

Oh, and they have the standard, global sandwiches, too - boring! 

And finally, once you have spent all your money on sampling all those interesting and tasty 
delicacies, you can stock up on the spot: At every konbini there is at least one ATM.

All the edibles you get at a konbini can also be found at supermarkets - and more. Also, in the late afternoon, easily perishable foods are offered 30 to 50 percent off. 

Other good places to snack are, obviously, markets that are daily in every city - at least according to my experience. However, here you often have to eat standing up - and I really dislike that.


I love Tempura: Yummy stuff like fish and shrimps, veggies and egg in a thin, crispy batter - who could resist?

To comfortable sit down and stuff face, there is a fantastic number of more or less small restaurants serving all kinds of Ramen, Udon noodles in broth, Gyoza, and Tempura - all between 500 to 1200 Yen depending on the portion and the joint.

Many of these places have kind of a slot machine: You choose your food - more or less assuming what it is since you cannot always distinguish between the stamp-sized pictures of the meals - insert the amount of money and hand the staff the little bon you get. At these machines, by the way, you mostly have to pay cash, as a matter of fact.

Weird. But Japanese. And that's what I got there for.

In most places, you can also save money on drinks since tap water or green tea is included. However, if you order a soda or a beer, in comparison to the food, it is quite costly.


I always found the illustrations and photos on those machines rather
confusing than helpful.
Although I find this buying food stamps from a machine is a charming quirk, I honestly don't get the sense of it since there is staff involved in the process of ordering, anyway. So why don't you just tell the person in charge what you'd like to eat instead of handing her the slip? 


Beef at the Tsukiji Market Tokyo in Japan
Perfectly marbled beef - but it sure comes with a price tag.

So you see you can do basically nothing but eating in Japan without breaking the bank. Nonetheless, there are fancy restaurants, particularly fancy specialty restaurants where you can spend a fortune: The Hida beef platters at Takayama, for instance, were at about 7000 Yen and I assume that Kobe beef or this special fish that will kill you if not prepared by a trained cook will be in the same price range - at least.


Hida Beef Stew at Takayama
Cheap Charlie's luxury: A cup of hearty soup made from the famous - and quite expensive - Hida beef.

But it's not necessary at all - you can have delicious food at really excellent prices. 

🔝


Cash And Cards


The Japanese currency is called Yen and it's the third most traded currency after the US$ and the €uro.

The exchange rate to these currencies is 1 US$ = 109 Yen and 1 €UR = 120 Yen (December 2019), but you can check the conversion on this page.

Contrary to all these legends how you hardly can pay with a credit card in Japan, you actually can at basically every hotel, most restaurants, many museums and landmarks, and large stores.

 Even if there are some small restaurants, shops, and minor train stations that accept only cash, there will be a convenience store like a 7/11 or a Family Mart within a radius of ten feet where you'll find an ATM; and at most of these convenience stores you can also pay with your credit card.

However, many guides claim that your trip will be much more complicated if you don't get a Suica or Pasmo card. Although I'm a sucker for local cards - I got loyalty cards on many of my travels since it made me feel so....local - I managed to spend three weeks in Japan and never found myself in a situation where I needed one. I either bought a day pass or paid by credit card - and I made sure to have enough small change which really was no biggie.


Japanese bills and coins laid out on the Haori I wrote about in my post on Nagoya.

Advertising that you get a discount on your tickets is ridiculous as the amount you actually save is between €0.01 to around €0.08 on a trip in Tokyo. So how much do you need to travel to save a significant amount of money?! However, at least they canceled the 500 Yen deposit for tourists: Since September 2019, there has been a deposit-free Welcome Suica card as well as the Pasmo Passport which are valid for 28 days. These cards are available with different pre-loaded amounts ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 Yen.

🔝

Language


Japanese speak Japanese - fair enough. Since I had heard that they speak almost exclusively their mother tongue, I was completely freaked out before going to Japan, downloading language apps and trying to memorize some Japanese signs. I was afraid of losing my way and never make it back to Europe.

Just like all the other myths going around about Japan, there is no reason to be scared by the foreign language with these funny letters.

 Fact is, most people really have a quite rudimentary knowledge of English. Nonetheless, you can slowly and clearly ask for things or direction and people will probably get what you need and find a way to help - even if they cannot actually answer you.

More complex matters and conversations, however, might be an issue.


sign advertising English speaking cab drivers
This sign at a Kyoto station taxi stand puts it correctly: Simple English; and no extra charge.

But more importantly, most announcements at stations, in trains, etc. are also in English.

Signs at airports, stations, trains, subways, hotels, and all touristy places are also in English.

Also, at stores and restaurants, they often have a translation app themselves.

Of course, it is a friendly gesture when you are able to say

good morning - ohayo gozaimasu
hello - konichiwa
good evening - konbanwa
bye bye - soyonara
sumimasen - excuse me
thank you - arigato gozaimasu
you're welcome -

and maybe a couple more words in Japanese, but you won't get lost if your knowledge of the language is next to non-existent.

🔝

Communication


Although getting a SIM card or renting a router is not complicated. I simply found the prices too high and thought I would have free access at my hotels, anyway.

Come to think of it, I hardly didn't have free internet access anywhere. But I'm also a person that can happily be without the internet - even for a couple of hours.

Then there is maps.me - which I didn't use for data protection reasons.
I solved the problem of orientation by taking screenshots of my searches. Worked sometimes.
And if it didn't help, I asked people. Worked all the time.

The plugs used are  A  and  B - whereby B is more difficult to find.
Since European computer plugs need to be grounded, it might be a bit tricky to find a connecting plug that fits.

Just like I happily survived without a Suica or Pasmo card, I comfortably relinquished personal internet access.

And I did. And at restaurants, too. And at museums. And on trains. And on the street.


Mobile phone with Wifi Page at the Imperial Palace at Tokyo in Japan
Who needs a SIM card when you can connect to the Emperor's  Wi-Fi?

Yes, but how about GPS? Well, firstly, you can walk to the next family mart and go on the internet.

Don't get me wrong: You don't want to carry cash? Get a Suica card. You want to be online all the time? Get a router. All I'm saying is that I happily and successfully travelled Japan for three weeks without it.

The voltage in Japan is 100 Volt and 50 respectively 60 Hertz. In general, phone and computer chargers have an integrated adaptor. All additional electric appliances purchased in other countries can cause problems or be damaged.

If you choose to pin this post, please use one of these pictures















Here are more pins from Japan for you  






🔝

1 comment:

For the required assignment of the comment personal data will be stored, namely name, e-mail and IP address. By submitting the commentary you agree with it. More in the privacy policy in the sidebar.