Have you ever dreamed of going to the land of the rising sun? I recently returned from a trip to Japan, my first time there, though my third time in Asia. I spent most of my time in Tokyo, breaking the trip up with a ride on the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) to Kyoto with a side trip to Nara. It’s a great county with an amazing people. Though not the easiest to get around. The following are my recommended Do’s and Don’ts while planning your trip and during your stay.
Do go, it’s an amazing county both historically and culturally
Don’t go in September, rains the whole damn time. Go in the Fall or better yet Spring for the Cherry Blossoms
Do use their Subway system and get a JR Rail Pass. You may want a Suica card as well
Don’t bother trying to figure out their Subway system, just ask people who work at the station. Show them the station on a map and ask which track. Of note, train lines are color coded
Don’t expect most people to speak English in Tokyo, most Japanese do not. Outside, even less
Do accept the fact you will either get lost or just feel lost…a good part of the time(unless you do it on an escorted tour)
Do get a plan for Japan set up with your carrier before you leave or get a pocket Wi-Fi there. Surprisingly, Wi-Fi is not quite as available as you would think accept in the Hotels. If not, walk around with a paper map and constantly ask random people for help as I did. Great way to meet the locals. Of note, the Japanese overall I found to be an amazing and gracious people
Do go on at least some tours if you don’t go packaged. I only did 1 full day and one half day and likely should have done more. It’s not easy getting around. Of note the Full Day Tokyo Gray Line tour was a great deal at approx $100. It goes to five major sites, includes a Sumida cruise and a very good traditional Japanese lunch! The guides were great and bus comfy. The Sunrise Tour of Nara was a rip-off at $75 with only two stops. Look for other options, but do go to see the Bronze Buddha
Don’t be intimidated to ask people for directions, I was amazed at how many people helped me. Some even left their place of business to help me, people on the street pulled out their phones and walked or pointed out where I wanted to go. Of note, I help Traveller’s and tourists all the…karma
Do eat non Japanese food while there. It’s very good…but eat mostly Japanese food. Of note, I didn’t eat a thing that wasn’t fresh and tasty
Do ride the Shinkansen(Bullet Train) to at least one major city. I went to Kyoto and hit Nara. Ride 1st class, not a huge price difference and the chairs are so big and comfy. Get the Green JR Rail Pass
Do buy sandwiches, Bento boxes, Sushi etc at the train stations for the rides, they are very, very good. I found their bread to be remarkably fresh.
Don’t get into a cab without the address of where you want to go written in Japanese. Most taxi drivers do not speak English. Hotel staff can help here…but at least once I was dropped off not sure where I was with the driver having a tough time communicating
Do go to Nara while in Kyoto. You can do it in a half day trip. The giant Bronze Buddha is right out of your Lara Croft/Indiana Jones fantasies.
Do respect the shrines. Wash your hands when entering, take off shoes when requested, don’t take pics where told not to
Do drink Japanese Whiskey straight up and in Highballs. Hakushu was my fave. Add a sprig of Mint…it’s distilled by a forest.
Don’t get upset over how expensive it is, it’s very hard to find here and bottles here are overpriced
Do drink Sake and go to Buri in Ebisu and get the frozen Sake slushes.
Do try Waygu Beef Sushi. It’s very good.
Do eat Sea Urchin and Eel when you eat Sushi. These were the two things that stood out to me the most as being far superior to what we get here.
Do expect to find excellent restaurants in business buildings, both upper floors and lower as well as in Department stores. I even ate excellent Sushi in the upper floor of a Toy Store in Ginza.
Do expect hotel rooms to be small, though generally very well designed. Try to book in advance. I noticed a big difference just between booking three weeks vs two weeks out.
Don’t overpack, hotel rooms are small as is the closet space. Plus do you want to lug all your luggage on the Trains and Buses as you travel around?
Don’t freak if you hit the wrong button on the “Toilet” controller…just hit off to stop the warm bidet feature…it doesn’t stop on its own.
Do try to stay in Hotels within a 5-10 walk of subway stations, it will help with getting around.
Don’t believe anything is just a 7 minute walk. Every place states in its directions it’s just a 7 minute walk. They must have done a survey on what people will tolerate.
Don’t forget to watch Lost in Translation before or after the trip…