Need To Know Before Heading to Japan
Currency: Japanese Yen
Language: Japanese - but I didn't have a problem speaking English to everyone
Visa: US citizens can stay for 90 days or less without a visa. Same goes for citizens of most European nations, Canada, Australia, Korea, New Zealand and the UK.
Do you need a converter for Japan?
If you are coming from the US then NOPE! Electricity is 100V and two flat pins, just like US plugs. If you have a larger appliance (like a laptop charger) that has a third pin you will need a converter to use it.
Anything else I should know for Japan?
Do not tip in Japan. Ever. High-end restaurants will automatically add 10% service to your bill.
Words To Know Before You Travel to Japan
Honestly, I found that most people spoke English. Please, don't worry too much about the language barrier - you really shouldn't have a problem, especially in big cities like Tokyo or Kyoto. That being said, knowing some words before you go is helpful. Plus, locals are always appreciative of the effort. These words are all written out phonetically first. Practice before you go so you fit in a little better!
The bare minimum:
- Hello = Kon - knee - che - wah
- Goodbye = Sigh - yo - na - ra
- Thank you = Ar -ree - ga - toe
- Excuse me = sue - me - mah - sen
- Yes = Hi (Written Hai)
Some more words that are helpful (but not necessary):
- This = ko-ray
- You will hear this everywhere. It is used to order food or for shopping. Simply point and say ko-ray - super easy right!
- Please = koo-duh-sigh
- If you want to be super poliete add this to any phrase. For example, you can point to a menu and say ko-ray koo-duh-sigh. Basically you are saying "this please".
- Where = doh-koh
- Another super easy phrase to learn that you will find yourself using all the time. If you want to find a popular restaurant or store or train station simply say: what you want to find then doh-koh. For example, you are looking for the train station Akihabara, you would say Akihabara doh-koh.
- English = ey-go (say it like the waffles eggo)
- If you need help, the easiest thing to say is ey-go? The Japanese are super friendly and chances are someone around you will speak English and stop to help.
Best Ways To Get To Tokyo
International Travel to Japan
Tokyo is generally the cheapest city in Japan to fly into from most countries. I flew into Haneda and found it easy to get to Tokyo from there. But, check your prices because there are two major airports that service Tokyo:
- Narita International Airport (code: NRT)
- Tokyo International Airport, commonly known as Haneda Airport (code: HND)
Domestic Travel Around Tokyo
Bullet trains are awesome to take around Japan and especially into Tokyo. When in the train station look for the sign for the Shinkansen (this is the bullet train). These are also included in the JR Pass! I used the pass to get around while traveling Japan and found it an excellent way to save money while there. If you are traveling to smaller cities or even skipping Tokyo it may be worth it to fly into one of the Tokyo airports and then take a train to the smaller cities.
How To Get Around Tokyo
Quick Tip: There are apps promoted for traveling around Japan but honestly Google maps never let me down when I was there. It gives clear instructions including JR Trains, subways, and buses.
Using the Subway in Tokyo
- There are 13 Subway lines serviced by two different companies, they will take you pretty much anywhere you need to go.
- The trains DO NOT RUN between midnight and 5 am.
- All the trains have English signs everywhere and are color coded.
- Buy a Pasmo or Suica pass to get around easily.
These connect the suburbs and other cities to the city center. A JR pass is accepted for all travel on them.
Taxis in Tokyo
Expensive. Take them if you are in a group of 4 or more, or if you don't care about cost of course. A word of warning: Taxi Drivers rarely speak English. Also, because the trains stop running between midnight and 5 am taxis are pretty much your only option.
Is Uber in Tokyo?
YES! It's totally a thing and pretty awesome since most taxi drivers don't speak English. It is still very expensive but a good option if you find yourself out past midnight. Most Uber drivers I encountered didn't speak English.
Top Sights in Tokyo
Read on: 17 things you can't miss in Tokyo
Top Activities in Tokyo
Sumo at Ryogoku Kokugikan
You can watch a tournament or morning practice at the national stadium.
Part sexy girls, part dancing, part video game come to life. It is a bit expensive but I wouldn't miss this insane experience.
Read on: How to get the cheapest tickets for Robot Restaurant in Japan
Top of the Tokyo Sky Tree
Newly opened in May 2012, the Tokyo Sky Tree stands 634 meters. It has two observation decks - go up when there is good visibility. Price: 2000-3000 yen.
Kawaii Moster Cafe
Crazy colors in Harajuku (of course). There is a cover and food is expensive and not great. But, honestly you are there for the atmosphere and Instagram pictures.
Watch a traditional Kabuki performance including the incredible makeup and insane costumes
Conveyor belt sushi
These have recently become popular in the states but no one does it like Japan.
Top Day Trips from Tokyo
On clear days you can see Mt. Fuji all the way from Tokyo! If you want to see Fuji up close there are many options. Check out this article for all the different views and places to see Mt. Fuji. There is a great view of Fuji from the top of Ritz Carlton Tokyo by the way!
A gorgeous park in the Tochigi Prefecture. The most famous site in the park is Toshogu Shrine which is a UNESCO world heritage site. And, if you're a waterfall chaser (I mean who isn't) check out Kegon Falls in the park.
Oedo Onsen Monogatari
This is a public bathhouse/theme park. Sounds strange but I promise it is totally awesome. It's basically the most Japan you can get. Price varies: starts around 2000 yen.
Best Hotel in Tokyo
Tokyo, and in general Japan, is a pretty expensive place to visit. The good news is there are a range of hotels from high-end to budget conscious, you just have to do your research. On both ends of the spectrum, it really pays off to book early. For the high-end hotels, you can find offers for multiple nights and early booking. For the budget hotels, getting in early is key because their rooms sell out quickly.
Here is a short list of the best hotels in Tokyo broken down by category.
Best Budget Hotels in Tokyo
- Khaosan Tokyo Guest House Ninja
- Cheapest in the city, popular with backpackers.
- MCA Asia Youth Center
- ot as cheap as others but still budget friendly. Has ensuite bathrooms.
- Ryokan Sansuiso
- Closes at midnight, so not great for party animals. Better location than other budget options.
Best High-end Hotels in Tokyo
- Hotel Ryumeikan Ochanomizu Honten
- Best for a total Japanese experience while maintaining the comforts of the western world. Highly recommend staying here. Book early because it is a small hotel with limited rooms
- Read the full review of my stay here
- Ritz Carlton Tokyo
- Absolutely gorgeous and one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo making the views extremely unique. Stay in the club rooms for the best experience.
- Read the full review of my stay here.
- Peninsula Tokyo
- Consistently rated one of the top hotels in Tokyo this place is absolutely stunning. Don't miss out on their afternoon tea.
Best Restaurants in Tokyo
Mostly for the show, not really into the food
Kawaii Monster Cafe
Go for the experience and colorful food.
Afternoon tea is definitely worth it! Live music and amazing food and teas.
Great selection of Sake and the best sashimi I had in Tokyo.
Awesome ramen and a great place if you're looking for Vegan Ramen!
Final Thoughts on Tokyo
Planning a trip to the other side of the world is always stressful. And even though researching ahead of time is great, I definitely recommend bringing a guidebook along with you. Here are some books I recommend...
A super common question I get is what camera do I use for my travels. The body is a Nikon D3300 and I mostly use this wide angle lens made by Sigma. It's awesome for travel photography - I am seriously obsessed with it.
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