All you need to know before traveling to Japan
Japan is one of the most addictive destinations on the planet. Travel to Japan is fascinating thanks to this mixture of ancient traditions.
See the snowy peaks of Mount Fuji. Admire the delicacy of a Japanese garden in Kanazawa. Hear prayers in a Buddhist temple in Kyoto at sunset or taste the freshest sushi in the world.
Few places on earth will allow you to experience at once what it means to move through a futuristic metropolis like Tokyo.
In Japan, you can move from overcrowded cities to villages that are not yet accustomed to the presence of foreigners. Both scenarios you will feel treated like a guest of honor.
Besides telling you what to do in Japan and what to see in Japan, we will try to help you with your travel plans.
Recommendations before traveling to Japan
Documentation for going to Japan
- Passport: All foreign visitors wishing to enter Japanese territory must have a valid passport.
- Visa: Citizens of many countries do not need a visa to visit Japan for a limited period of time, as long as they are not engaged in any remunerated activity. From 2020, most of the countries may obtain in advance an Electronic Visa to enter Japan.
We advise you to go back to the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAEC) to find out how to act in the event of loss or theft of your passport, although it is recommended that you contact the Embassy immediately.
- Registration of travellers: Before travelling to Japan or any other foreign country, it is preferable that we register our data in the MAEC to facilitate attention in case of emergency situations or need.
- Travel Insurance: Japanese authorities have strongly recommended that travel insurance be taken out for visitors to Japan from January 2019. The travel insurance will give you peace of mind, even in case of emergency, and will allow you to enjoy your trip. Medical expenses in Japan can be expensive, but if you take out insurance that offers sufficient coverage, you can get the treatment you need without any problems. In addition, as advised by official sources, we recommend international travel insurance that includes referral hospital care, translation services and that does not require immediate payment in cash by the insured at the time of medical care. This is the case of international travel insurance.
Flights to Japan and the ‘Sayonara’ tax
One of the biggest expenses in the budget for a trip to Japan is usually the flight. The price of flights to Japan is usually between $400 and $900 depending on the season. If you are going to buy the tickets yourself, it is recommended that you look almost daily in search engines for flight reservations. The sooner you start looking for your flight to Japan, the better, especially if you want to travel in summer or spring, which are the peak seasons.
Since January 7, 2019, Japan has imposed a new tax on every passenger leaving the country by plane or boat. The Sayonara tax of 1,000 yen (8.03 euros / 9.27 dollars) will be charged directly on the plane and boat tickets purchased and will affect foreigners as well as Japanese over two years old or those who stay longer than 24 hours. Those who call at the country’s airports or ports do not have to pay.
Where to sleep in Japan
Staying in Japan can be a daunting task at certain times of the year. Asian tourism is one of the most important in cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka and these types of travelers usually book their stays well in advance.
We recommend that you look for accommodation at least two months in advance, especially in seasons such as the cherry blossom which is usually in spring.
Accommodation is usually very clean and has excellent customer service. Check-in times are usually at 15:00 and check-out times are at 11:00. Let’s see what options you have:
- Capsule hotels, Internet cafés or manga cafés: These are probably the most affordable accommodations in large cities, as they are contracted by the hour. They are recommended to travel to Japan during a very short stay or in case you miss the last train. Although they are very small spaces, they have an internet connection, drink machines, food and also showers.
- Youth Hostels, Hostel or Minshuku: The traditional accommodations are the cheapest. You have them with shared rooms and common bathrooms, although in general, they are very clean and silent, a tonic in Japanese establishments. Minshuku is the Japanese equivalents of B&Bs.
- Ryokan: is the name given to traditional hotels in Japan. The floors are of tatami and one sleeps on futons in the ground. They tend to have quite high prices, but if you can afford it you should sleep at least one night in this type of accommodation to enjoy the Japanese experience and hospitality. Many of them serve traditional food and have an ofure or onsen for you to relax in hot water. Some are located in unique locations in the middle of nature.
- Hotels: Western style, they are spread all over the country. You can find super luxurious accommodations and some family and more modest ones, but in general, the prices are higher than those you can find in the United States or Europe. All of them tend to have an oriental touch, either with the type of cuisine they serve or with the very modern toilets with buttons. Many of the big international chains have hotels in this Asian country, either luxury or medium price. It is very important to book early, especially in spring.
In general, sanitary conditions in Japan are excellent. In almost all large cities and medium-sized towns, it is relatively easy to receive quality medical care. On the contrary, prices are very high and most charge you in advance. prices are very high and most charge you in advance. Better to pick up a small first-aid kit with medications you take daily or those basics you can resort to at any given time, such as anti-inflammatories or painkillers.
Today, foreign travelers do not need a vaccination certificate regardless of the country they come from. No vaccination is required for travel to Japan. However, before each trip, it is advisable to consult the website of the Ministry of Health or check with the International Vaccination Centers in case the regulation changes.
Travel Insurance to Japan
The hiring of travel insurance is more than recommended before your trip to Japan. First of all, because travelling to this country is not cheap and requires a lot of advance booking of transport, accommodation and excursions. For this reason, it is very important to have travel insurance to be covered in case of cancellation of the trip, which will give us much peace of mind.
Tickets for direct flights to Japan usually run out very quickly and you will probably have to make several stopovers. The travel insurance will cover possible loss of connections or misplacement, delays and damage to the luggage. Japan is generally a very safe country but health care is very expensive, so make sure you are covered in case you need to visit the doctor or hospital.
Best time to visit Japan
Depending on the time of year, your trip can be completely different, so the season you choose can have a big influence on what to do and what to see in Japan.
In summer, the heat in the most touristy areas is often suffocating and very humid. There are also many possibilities of torrential rains with the risk of typhoons at the end of the hottest season. However, in summer some of the most important festivals or matsuris in the country are held:
- Gion Matsuri in Kyoto.
- Tenjin Matsuri in Osaka.
- Samba Matsuri in the Asakusa district of Tokyo.
In winter, the temperatures are usually more severe than Europe and it is not uncommon to see snowfalls and very low temperatures even in Tokyo. On the northern island of Hokkaido or in the Japanese Alps there are many ski resorts and the winter is much harder.
Autumn is probably one of the best times of the year to travel to Japan because the temperatures are very pleasant and the main attractions of the country are less crowded. You will marvel at the reddish tones of nature in what they call the momiji there, especially in places like Nikko, Hakone or Miyajima.
Spring is the real high season in Japan by the phenomenon of hanami or the explosion of cherry blossoms and also by the so-called Golden Week in which the Japanese enjoy a few days off. Both nature and the big cities are full of small cherry blossom petals that draw an incredible picture all over the country. The temperatures are usually very pleasant, although it tends to rain and be cold until mid-April. In May there aren’t too many cherry blossoms left, but you can enjoy Tokyo’s Sanja Matsuri or the best sumo competitions.
Tips for your trip to Japan
Japan is probably one of the safest countries in the world. Crime rates are very low and the hospitality of the Japanese is legendary. In few destinations in the world, you can live that feeling, although as is logical at all times must reign common sense.
However, Japan’s location places it in an area of seismic and typhoon risk (especially in late summer). Both phenomena are specially controlled by the authorities and the buildings are designed to withstand natural disasters very well.
In large cities and towns, there are usually many koban or police buildings that will help you at all times. You should also be especially careful with traffic in the capitals, although Japanese drivers are often very scrupulous with the rules of the road and respect the traffic lights and signs.
Japan has one of the most advanced transportation systems in the world, especially when it comes to railways. The best way to get from one city to another is by train since it has an extraordinary network and very fast (and expensive) vehicles such as shinkansen or bullet trains.
Foreigners can purchase the JR Pass before the trip, a pass that allows us to travel freely in most means of transport that Japan Railways Group (JR) manages throughout Japan. It can be purchased by people without Japanese nationality whose reason for visiting Japan is tourism. Therefore, all persons with work visas or visas for stays longer than 90 days are excluded.
There are passes for 7, 14 and 21 consecutive days. Prices depend on whether you choose the green (first class) or tourist (second class) pass. Children (6-11 years old) pay half and it is usual to book the tourist pass, as Japanese trains are excellent. The JR Pass of a week usually costs about $250 and can be purchased at any travel agency or official distributors where it will always be cheaper.
To move to Tokyo or Osaka, big cities, it is highly recommended to use the metro. This service stands out for its punctuality and also because it covers practically all the neighborhoods of the metropolis. In the Tokyo metropolitan area, for example, there are 13 private metro lines and 37 JR lines. If you are going to spend a long time in Japan, it is interesting to buy a Suica or Pasmo card to move around on public transport and make small purchases. The first time you buy them you pay a deposit of 500 yen and then they can be easily recharged at subway stations.
In Kyoto and in medium-sized cities bus services work very well. Taxis are expensive and you probably need the address you are going to in the Japanese alphabet. Don’t forget that doors open and close automatically.
What to eat in Japan
There’s no doubt that one of the greatest pleasures of travelling to Japan is to enjoy its authentic gastronomy. You’ll see small and large restaurants everywhere, usually specializing in one type of food. If you like sushi, you’ll be amazed at the quality, and you’ll probably be surprised at the prices, as Japanese food is usually very expensive abroad.
You can have a bowl of good noodle soup, gyoza or yakitori for about 1,000 yen. Most restaurants and stalls have menus in Japanese kanji or alphabet, but they usually have replicas of the dishes they cook in plastic so you can point to them with your finger and have them prepared for you. Generally, hygienic measures are usually very good, and the food has excellent quality.
When it comes to drinks, there’s plenty of variety. There are vending machines or 24-hour stores all over Japan. You can go to an izakaya where you can eat a bit of everything and also drink beer or sake.
Please note that you can enter or withdraw from Japan as many currencies as you want, although if the amount exceeds one million yen you will have to declare it at customs. There are coins of 1 yen, 5 yen, 10 yen, 50 yen, 100 yen and 500 yen and notes of 1,000, 2,000, 5,000 and 10,000 yen.
It is highly recommended to travel to Japan with cash, as it is often used a lot (usually in all Asian countries). As soon as you arrive at international airports there are currency exchange offices or ATMs that accept foreign cards.
When paying in Japan, credit cards are accepted in restaurants and establishments of a certain level, although cash is generally used. In general, foreign cards are not accepted at the ATMs of Japanese banks, although the situation has been changing in recent years. It is easiest to use ATMs available at post offices in Japan or near convenience stores. Tipping is not customary.
Are you ready for your trip to Japan?