Australian couple and date hunters Toni and Tom from Queensland recently went to Japan and have rounded up their top 10 tips for visiting one of their favourite places in the world- Tokyo!
Read up on their top tips below and have a fun-filled and hassle-free trip like they did.
1. Order a JR Rail Pass
A Japan Rail Pass is a ticket which allows the holder seamless travel via a huge number of Japan’s railways. It can only be purchased by tourists and, after our passport it was the best object we brought into the country. They come in various lengths including a 7, 14 and 21 Day Pass. We found that 95% of our rail travel was covered by this bad boy, but it is important to consider your own circumstances before purchasing; for example it probably wouldn’t be worth purchasing one for a 4 day trip. Be careful of the online calculators which try to convince you not to purchase one as they usually calculate the value based on the big trips between cities. If we had only been using it to get to Kyoto, Tokyo and Osaka the Rail Pass wouldn’t have been value for money, but we used it EVERY SINGLE DAY for all sorts of smaller journeys within the cities.
2. Purchase a SUICA card
Get a SUICA card for trips not-covered by the JR Pass. I think we used ours about five times but it was easier to have it than navigating paper tickets each time. You can also use them to make purchases from convenience stores.
3. Stay in accommodation near JR stations.
Our biggest Tokyo regret was that our (incredible) accommodation was nowhere near a JR station. As I will explain in Tip 4 you are going to do A LOT of walking in Japan, and you don’t want to add another half an hour to your journey at the end of days full of thousands and thousands of steps. Even in Kyoto we were still about 12mins from the train station which was still a bit much. We hit the jackpot in Osaka because we were a 3min walk to the station. I highly recommend you pay a little extra for the convenience.
4. Bring your best walking shoes
I am a notorious over-packer and may or may not have packed five pairs of shoes. If you pop onto our Instagam @toniandtomdate you will see that I am wearing the same pair of shoes in 90% of the shots. This is because it didn’t take me long to realise that my pretty pairs of shoes were not going to cut it. Tom tracked our steps and I think we averaged 22km a day. The biggest day for us was 27Km! Look after your feet as you don’t want to miss out on seeing somewhere spectacular because your toes are too tired. Pack your best shoes for wandering Hakone, and don’t forget to order your Hakone pass!
5. Don’t over pack on Apps
You seriously only need three apps on your phone for a trip to Japan. The most important is Japan Official Travel App as it is essential for train travel. The app even lets you prioritise JR routes if you’re happy to travel for a bit longer (most of the time it’s only a couple minutes more) to get the best use out of your JR pass. The app even told us when the trains were delayed – but I highly recommend you ignore these warnings because “late” in Japan usually means they are travelling about 1 minute behind schedule. Number 2 to download is Google Maps. We used Google Maps to find everything and never once got lost. Finally, you may like to download Google Translate. This was not as important as the first two but we were happy to have it taking up space on our phone just so we could translate the names of the drinks in the supermarket so we could find our favourite Plum Wine (and avoid purchasing Sake by mistake).
6. Get yourself some data
From the many blogs I’d read prior to travelling I was under the impression that Wi-Fi was available everywhere but that just wasn’t the case. Even in the places where it was available, it takes a bit of time to constantly sign in. We were very grateful to have purchased a data sim card for the journey. We don’t like to be super connected while travelling and so grabbed a small amount of data for the apps above and ignored Facebook and Instagram unless we were back in our accommodation using the elusive Wi-Fi. Depending on your preference you can get a sim-card OR you can get a dongle which can be used by more than one person at a time. Our trusty 4G WiFi allowed us to travel stress free.
7. Enjoy that Summer low season
All of my friends have been to Japan, but not a single one has made it there outside of Winter. In fact many people were confused as to why we would head there in Summer at all. Well, we have zero regrets. Us Queenslanders are certainly not upset by a bit of a humidity and heat! In fact because of Summer being Japan’s wet season there was regularly a light mist falling from the sky keeping us cool. I think that in two weeks were only rained out once (half way up a mountain we had to turn back – but that may have also been due to our tired feet and the deadly snakes in the area) and there was only one day we thought counted as a scorcher. Travelling in the low season also meant we never really lined up. We were fully prepared for lining up to be a thing, but just never had to.
8. Get up early
We certainly aren’t saying that there are no crowds in Summer, but just not to the extent you see in those YouTube clips. We did have to work hard to enjoy the most popular spots free of other bodies. We got to Fushimi Inari at 7:30 but that was already too late; it was crawling with foreigners (but here is another tip for free: just keep walking passed those famous gates down the bottom. There are over 30,000 gates but most visitors do not go passed the bottom ones. We hiked to the top of the mountain and enjoyed the walk mostly alone). We were determined to enjoy Kyoto’s Bamboo Grove sans-people and arrived at 5:30am. We got a full 15mins of forest bathing under out belts before others started appearing.
Arrive early to your Team Borderless session!
9. Dress appropriately
We only met wonderfully kind and caring Japanese people and not a single one made me feel uncomfortable for wearing spaghetti strap singlets. No one stared. No one said anything. HOWEVER after about four days I became acutely aware that I was the only person wearing tops that showed off my shoulders. For my own comfort, I purchased a plain white singlet and was able to blend in with the conservative Japanese crowd. Like a number of the younger women living there, I continued to wear shorts and skirts.
10. Learn some Japanese
At the very least learn how to say “Thank You” in Japanese. I must admit that you do not need any Japanese to get around; everyone chose to speak to us in English; even when we tried to use our basic Japanese. At the very least, you can acknowledge their beautiful language with a quick “arigatou gozaimasu”.
11. A bonus 11th tip for intrepid travellers is to follow @toniandtomdate for a detailed Japan itinerary or something similar!
Toni and Tom are on a mission to experience 52 dates in 52 weeks. Every. single. year. In all four years of their marriage, they have been able to smash this goal partly through their love of travel. Currently, they are on a pre-baby bucket list chase and are trying to squish in as many countries as possible before by beginning the new adventure of parenthood, and they’re happy to share their tips on the way via their bright and romantic Instagram account.