After backpacking Japan for a full month I can tell you all about the things I learned and experienced along the way and share with you the basics you need to know to get the most out of your Japan adventures! You will find useful insides, some manners and traditions, transportation know-how, budgeting and safety information for a carefree travel experience. Let’s get started!
1. Useful Vocabulary
Communication. Despite Japan is a very modern country English is still not very broadly used. Therefore and because it’s part of immersing yourself more into local live some basic words in your travel pocket can’t be wrong. The people will open up so much more no matter in which country you are.
- Good morning – Ohayou gozaimasu
- Hello (midday) – Konnichiwa
- Good evening – Konbanwa
- Goodbye – Sayounara
- Excuse me – Sumimasen
- Thank you – Arigatou Gozaimasu
- I’m sorry- Gomennasai
- Please – Dozo
- Ja – Hai
- Nein – Ie
- Salute – Kampai
- Delicious – Oishi
- Very good – Totemo Yoi
Japanese people have a lot of habits that have a very big value in their daily lifes and that you may want to know before blaming yourself for being rude.
- Never touch your nose in public. This can be in situation while eating out, standing in the train etc. It is seen as very impolite and inappropriate to do so. You will know what I mean because there’s never anyone seen using a tissue in public. Instead you will hear a lot of sniffling sounds around you.
- Don’t give money directly into the hands of the cashier. There’s a little plate on the cashdesk to put it inside.
- Always take things as business cards, sheets or receipts with two hands and never put the business card straight into your pocket before you haven’t studied it carefully.
- Bow when you say thank you.
- Don’t talk in trains or public transportation. Usually it’s very quiet and a lot of people try to sleep on the way.
- Don’t eat while walking around or in temple / tourist areas where important buildings / sights are.
- Never put your chopsticks into your rice, or food. It’s a tradition that is done at funerals with rice.
- Put your shoes off before you enter a temple or a house.
- Fill your friends glasses on the table but never your own. Your own will be filled by someone else at the table. Wait with drinking till everyone has it’s own drink.
The public transportation has such a high standard in Japan that you really don’t have to worry how you get from one city to the other. There are a lot of special tickets available for tourists. Which ticket you choose really depends on which places you want to see and your time available.
Personally I would recommend you an IC card which makes transportation really convenient. It looks like a credit card and is sold at every bigger subway station.
Basically all you have to do is to load the card with money and hold it over the sensor at the subway entrance. Works also for most buses. You have a deposit of 500 Yen on the card that you get back at the end of the trip. But only if you give the card back in the prefecture you bought it.
So, for example in Tokyo you can choose either Suica- or Pasmo card. But you need to bring it back at a train station in Tokyo to get your refund. But if you can’t don’t worry about it. The card is valid for 10 years. And if you fall in love with the country too, you will want to go there a second time for sure. Otherwise just keep it as a souvenir, or use your last money in one of the many convenience stores where it can be used as a payment option.
It doesn’t matter if you buy your card in Tokyo and travel to Osaka later on. You can still use and recharge it in every prefecture of Japan. The easiest way to buy a card is directly at the airport.
With this pass you can travel with the Japan Railways 🚃 for a specific amount of days. I would just consider this pass if you’re really going to do long distance traveling by train. For short distances you will often just have to pay about 200-400 Yen (distances that take 45 minutes and longer). To have a clue about what you have to pay for which distance use Google Maps. It will show you the fare you have to pay.
Buses in general are the most inexpensive option to get around but they take usually longer then the train. Therefore you have the convenience of not having the need to change several times.
JR also operates buses. They often have special discounts for foreigners and some really good options if you need to travel further. So always check out if there’s a JR bus available.
Willerexpress and Nohi Buses connect a lot of the big cities in Japan and have very comfortable seats. If you have time t’s a very reasonably priced option. Their offer includes sleeper buses as well. Book your tickets at least 2-4 days in advance.
Japan is considered as one of the expensive travel destinations. While this is true you have always the option to make it more budget friendly for you. So if you plan to backpacking Japan on a budget here are some tips to help you.
Sleep in dorms. Japan might be the country which is the most famous for it’s sleeping dorms. Does the word “capsule hostel” say something to you? Of course it does and when you’re traveling Japan it’s an experience you don’t want to miss out. At first sight it can be a scary thought to sleep in a bed looking like a cabin, but believe me there are some really comfortable capsule hostels with a lot of space for all your belongings.
Otherwise the normal bunkbeds with curtains providing some privacy while sharing the room with other people.
In Japan it’s recommended to make your hostel reservation in advance if you want to have the freedom of choosing one that suits your needs. Especially to times when Japanese people have holidays too, like in springtime to see the cherry blossoms.
While Agoda mostly offers the same room for a little less money, Booking.com has more reviews to check out.
You can get a really good hostel for about 2000 – 2500 Yen per night.
The food in Japan mustn’t be expensive to be good. You will find a lot of great places on a budget. Also there are convenience stores at every corner where you find a lot of good and affordable food for on the way or to put in the microwave in your hostel.
7-Eleven, Lawson and Family Mart are the big names in Japan. They all have ATM’s inside which is a great and save way to withdraw money.
I love the Onigiri 🍙 they sell. These are little triangle shaped sushi balls with a big variety of different fillings and flavors. From just plain rice to fillings with meat, fish, plum, egg, seaweed, tomatorice and the once covered with silk tofu, you have some good variety to try. You will also find salads, soba and ramen and a lot of other typically japanese meals. I admit I was a regular visitor of these stores. And they have other useful products you might need like shampoo, cosmetics etc..
What I was missing in the first days of exploring Japan were the fresh fruits and vegetables. You need to find a very big supermarket or just know in which shops they sell it, cause otherwise you will search for it, especially in Tokyo.
Lawson 100 offers a great variety of Bento Boxes and also fresh fruits and vegetables.
Running Sushi is a great place to get delicious sushi for an affordable place!
Also look out for Musashi Sushi! They have such an amazing range of different Sushi types for such a good price you will eat way to much there! At least that’s what happened to me.
And there are so many more options to get food for an affordable price and still taste great Japanese menus. Just take a look at Trip Adviser or Google Maps for some good reviews of the places you consider. But anyway the most fun way is to just go out there and let yourself surprise with something new.
Japan is considered as a very save country and except of having a normal sense of attention there’s no need to be worried when you’re traveling solo, or as a female traveler. I would even say it is one of the best countries to make your first experiences as a solo traveler.
What I always like to do is to plan my flight arrival for a time when it’s still bright outside. This avoids the need to search your way in a foreign city in the dark, what makes you more easily to a potential target.
In Japan it’s better to pay in cash than with card. You find ATM’s easily and it shouldn’t be a problem to withdraw a good amount of money without anxiety of being robed.
If you don’t feel comfortable riding the metro at rush hour you can take the female wagon.
If you need some help the people are always trying to give you support even if they don’t understand you.
6. More Helpful Tools
Definitely my number one most used daily lifesaver. It’s true travelers want to get lost, but maybe not at the end of a day, in the dark, in a little side alley with no plan how to get back. Also perfect to look up the schedule of public transportation including ticket price.
Shows you all public transportation schedules. The difference to Google Maps is it allows you to filter certain transportation options. For example if you have a JR Pass it selects just the trains where you’re pass is valid.
Always a very helpful tool in foreign countries, if they don’t understand what you want. You can even make a screenshot of the Kanji signs.
I like the idea of being totally in the present moment with no distraction and not having to be available at all times of the day. But on the other hand I’m traveling solo and I like to have all the security a phone provides if theirs something not working out the way it should. I bought my SIM card at the airport. The price was 70 USD for unlimited use, for 30 days. But there are more and cheaper suppliers if you have a look outside of the Airport.
För recommendations. Cause there are so many temples in Japan you might want to figure out in advance which ones are worth the way to get there.
Even though I had a Raincoat with me, next time I would want to make sure it’s a really thick enough or especially windproof one. Sometimes it was 23 degress but with the breeze going on it felt 10 degrees cooler.
I hope that you found some helpful tips to make your trip to Japan a once in a lifetime experience! Lots of Love ❤️