Planning a trip to Japan can be quite daunting. A well planned trip can allow more time for sightseeing and less time thinking how to go from point A to point B. There are a few options you have for your next visit depending on time, money, and interests.
One way to see Japan is with a group of people interested in some of the same things as you. There are a number of companies that plan themed or regularly scheduled trips. Do your homework to understand what is part of a package and what you must cover additionally. Some of the benefits to a group tour include sharing room costs, minimal planning, making new friends, and an experience that interests you. A few minuses are less free time, minimal flexibility, and missing sights not on the tour. One example of a themed tour is the baseball tours led by JapanBall.
Another approach to traveling aboard is the use of a travel agent. They can plan a trip for you including hotel stays, sightseeing tours, transportation, flights, and more. Some agents require a nominal fee up front along with information on what places and activities interest you. The costs can get quite high depending on what they book. Expect three or four star hotels, guided tours (personal or group), logistics planning, and a detailed itinerary. Japan is not a cheap country to visit, so be prepared. Agents are perfect for people who want a customized experience, but do not have time to plan out their own adventure.
Plan Your Own Adventure:
The most time consuming, yet rewarding option is planning your own trip. There are plenty of resources between the Internet and travel books to help plan the trip of your dreams. The minus for planning a is the amount of time it may take to research locations, logistics, lodging, and creating an itinerary. The benefits are enormous due to minimal time constraints, flexibility in the schedule, controlling costs, choosing where to stay, and creating a personal experience. Make sure you spend time learning about Japanese customs, transportation systems, and what operating hours and days places are open to explore.
Japan can be quite frustrating for travelers that are used to modern conveniences. With some knowledge and cultural understanding; especially about the conbinis (Japanese convenience stores), travelers can focus on having fun and stress less about the small things in life.
Tracking down a public bathroom is not too challenging. Most subway and train stops have a public bathroom. Department stores have them on multiple floors and are generally open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Many city parks have public bathrooms in them. In addition, some cities have them around high tourist areas such as Dontonbori in Osaka and Pontocho Street in Kyoto. Lastly, McDonald's and conbinis (Seven-Eleven, Lawson, and Family Mart) have public toilets; however, try to be polite and make a purchase. A word of caution; carry hand sanitizers, hand cloths, and toilet paper with you as many restrooms do not have these items.
Public Trash Cans:
Believe it or not, these are very hard to find. Consider yourself lucky if you stumble upon one. Japan is one of the cleanest places you will ever visit, but don't expect a place to dispose of your trash on the streets. Your best bet to find a trash can are fast food restaurants, outside conbinis (or inside by the coffee dispenser), vending machines for drink bottles, and around train platforms. You also can find one between cars riding a Shinkansen. A good tip is to use the plastic bag given with a purchase at conbinis as your trash bag while sightseeing.
It is very easy to find an ATM that accepts your international debit card if you know where to go. The best place to withdraw cash is at Seven-Eleven. Each store has a machine that accepts foreign cards for cash withdraw. Standard bank fees apply, but it is easy to find one with Google Maps or walking around town. You can also find foreign card friendly ATMs at central Japan Post Offices and some other conbinis. Japan Post Bank has a website with English maps of their ATMs found in many locations around Tokyo.
Food & Drink Options:
Conbinis have a vast quantity of delicious foods inside. You will find inexpensive onigiri (rice and a filling wrapped in seaweed), snacks, sandwiches, salads, and more. The drink selection is massive with coffees, teas, soft drinks, water, beer, wine, and even liquor. Conbinis offer fast, affordable, and convenient items for travelers to grab and go. If you want to know more about conbinis, read this great article.
Japan is a difficult country to navigate and communicate. These phone apps will help you find the places you want to visit, get on the correct rail line, and speak with local citizens.
1. Google Translate
A must-have app for any traveler. The text to text from English to Japanese works extremely well when asking questions to employees at hotels, restaurants, shops, and activities. Just have them read the translated text and they will understand what you are asking. You can tilt the phone sideways to show the text in a larger font. Google Translate allowed me to book a karaoke room, buy the correct sized pearl necklace, and find a shop selling kimonos. The photo to text translation is also decent as long as you line up the words correctly. Stay away from the voice to text as it has a hard time recording and translating. I have tried English to Japanese and vice versa using the voice to text with minimal success.
2. Google Maps
Another must-have app for any traveler, Google Maps is essential in moving from one place to another. It works just as well abroad as it does around your city or neighborhood. I found it helpful for mapping out subway rides, finding bus stations, and locating any business. There are a few caveats to keep in mind. It does not work as well if you are in an underground subway tunnel or walkway. Also, some businesses are only in Japanese text in google maps and cannot be found by typing in their English text equivalent. However, this is still the best mapping tool available.
This communication app works great as a way to stay in touch with family, make local calls, and contact other travel companions. It works off of your WiFi/Cell Data, so you avoid roaming charges. One nice feature in the app is to create a group of your family and friends back home. You can send updates and pictures without worrying about time zones.
A great app that will make traveling by Shinkansen or rail line much easier. This app allows you to select station names and to map out train schedules and stops. You can also select the Japan Rail Pass option to only show trains that are included with it. The app has a 30 day trial, but it seems to still work after the expiration. This app is a companion for the website www.hyperdia.com/en.
*All app badges pictured are trademarked by their respective companies.*