It's easy to make mistakes when planning a trip to Japan. Especially if it is your first trip.
Over the years I've seen many people repeating the same errors again and again.
Here we explore the three most common mistakes people make when planning a trip to Japan. And, importantly, how to avoid and overcome them.
3 Most Common Mistakes Planning A Trip To Japan
by Rob Dyer
The 3 Most Common Mistakes
In my experience there's three that repeatedly crop up. They are:
- Only planning to visit Tokyo (or Tokyo and Kyoto).
- Thinking it will be really expensive.
- Being worried about not being able to speak Japanese.
Let's take a closer look at each of these in turn...
1. Only Planning to Visit Tokyo
Or, only planning to visit Tokyo and Kyoto.
Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with going to Tokyo or Kyoto – you'll have a terrific time in both cities. But, if this is all you do, you'll have a very narrow, even distorted view of what is an incredibly diverse country.
Imagine a foreigner visiting only your capital city and how 'representative' of your country as a whole that would be. Not very, I'd bet.
You'll also have the same set of experiences and photos as millions of other 'tourists'. We don't want to be tourists. That's not good enough for us.
By all means, fly in and out of Tokyo, that makes plenty of sense. And using it as a base for a few days at the start of your trip is wise. But plan to travel beyond Tokyo.
During World War II, the Allied forces specifically spared bombing Kyoto because of its cultural heritage – so by all means go soak up those glorious temples and shrines!
But also keep some time and money for a few other places that are less well-known. You may well find that it's those that provide you with the most indelible experiences and memories of Japan.
TAKEAWAY: Japan is made up of more than 6,800 islands. Trust me, you need to go see more than two cities.
2. Thinking It Will be Really Expensive
Although it perhaps isn't as prevalent as it once was, there's still a persistent misconception that a trip to Japan is going to be really expensive. Like SUPER expensive.
Sure, it's definitely a country where you could spend a fortune if you wanted to . And, if you're lucky enough to have one, it would be easy to do so. (And probably a lot of fun too!)
It's not uncommon for people thinking about coming to Japan to get slightly obsessed with this idea of expense. So much so, that people go so far as putting off going so they can 'save up more money'.
A Big Myth About Visiting Japan
Putting off your trip to Japan because you think:
- it will simply be too expensive,
- or at least more than you can currently afford,
- or take you too long to save for the trip,
- or maybe you have other 'less expensive' priorities
One of the biggest myths about Japan is that any trip there will inevitably be seriously expensive. It need not be so.
Eating Cheaply in Japan
Eating out, either in restaurants, takeaway places, at food stalls, etc. can be cheaper than in many Western countries.
You can easy get lunch (including a drink) for around ¥980 (about $8.70 or £7), dinner and a drink for ¥1,400 ($12.50 or £10) – sometimes even cheaper.
Look for kaiten-zushi (conveyor belt sushi) places*. These use a simple system of colour coded plates. With each colour representing a price. So at a glance you can see how much each item costs and, as your empty plates stack up, how much you're spending.
*Not a fan of sushi? No problem - most kaiten-zuzhi restaurants also offer noodles and fried chicken.
Better still, some kaiten-zushi places have all their dishes at one fixed price. Sometimes as low as ¥100/¥150. These are great places to eat good quality fresh food at bargain prices.
Use Japan's famous convenience stores (aka Konbini). They are particularly handy for food (some have hot food counters or even kitchens) where you can get snacks and meals for just a few hundred yen. Some stores even have a seating area so you can eat it there and then.
Food available changes with the seasons and includes classics like hot, pork-filled buns in winter for little over ¥100, or year-round fried chicken – around ¥300 for several pieces.
Travel Cheaply by Subway and Train
There are many regional area passes covering trains and subways, offering unlimited travel within fixed periods, all of which offer good value for money.
If it's convenience you're after then ordering something like a Suica pass in advance (and pick on arrival at the airport) can be really handy.
Suica is a pay-as-you-go card that can be topped up as needed, offering cashless convenience both when travelling on trains, subways and buses and when shopping at stores, kiosks, or vending machines. There's more about Suica and other easy travel tips in this article.
Seishun 18 Kippu
There's also a special rail ticket - the Seishun 18 Kippu (ticket) - that'll get you from Tokyo to the southern island of Kyushu by a series of local trains for an incredible ¥2,410 per day.
That's 883km as the crow flies or approximately 1,200km by rail, meaning with the Seishun ticket you'd be paying just ¥10 / 9¢ / 7p per kilometre to travel! The catch? You can only use local and rapid JR trains (no bullet trains here), so whilst it is really cheap it isn't suitable if you're in a hurry.
The Seishun 18 Kippu is not available all the year round but three times a year, coinciding with school holidays:
March 1 - April 10
February 20 - March 31
July 20 - September 10
July 1 - August 31
December 10 - January 10
December 1 - December 31
Price and Availability
Seishun 18 Kippu tickets cost ¥12,050 each and can be bought at most JR stations throughout Japan.
More details on the Seishun 18 (in English) can be found on the JREast wesbite here.
A helpful way to think about the cost of travelling in Japan is to focus on value for money. In all aspects of travel, this is something Japan excels at delivering. Whatever your price range.
And, when it comes to value for money, few services offer more bang for your buck than the Japan Rail Pass.
Low Cost Flying
There are also a good number of low cost airlines operating in Japan.
Internal flights with them can often work out cheaper than travelling by bullet train. For more information on using these read our guide to low cost airlines in Japan here.
If you believe accommodation in Japan is always expensive – don't worry – it isn't.
Can you spend a lot of money on accommodation in Japan? Sure you can. But you don't need to.
Here's three cheap accommodation options. Heck, the first one is even free!
Giving some thought in advance to what you want to get out of your trip to Japan will help with managing costs.
Think about things such as the kind of experiences you want, how long you can visit, where you will stay, how you'll get around etc.
TAKEAWAY: Japan isn't the cheapest country, but there are bargains and savings to be had - if you plan ahead.
3. Worrying About Not Speaking Japanese
Being worried about not speaking Japanese - and sometimes using that as an excuse for not booking that trip to Japan just yet. I've even heard of people not coming to Japan until they've learned Japanese!
Worried about not being able to speak any Japanese? Or concerned that what little Japanese you do know won't ever be enough to get you by in Japan, especially if you want to go off the beaten track a little and do some exploring?
Are you really putting off planning that dream trip of a lifetime because you don't speak the language?
I bet you've not done that too many other times going to foreign countries, where the primary language isn't English?
Too much fuss is made of being unable to speak Japanese when travelling in Japan. But I also appreciate many people get anxious about this.
Not least, as you don't want to be a 'bad' tourist and turn up expecting everyone to speak your own language. I can still only speak a little Japanese. But I don't let that stop me going off to explore on my own.
It's a myth that if you cannot speak Japanese you won't get far in Japan, or your experiences will have to be curtailed as a result, or you cannot go off the tourist trail.
None of this is true.
How to Travel In Japan When You Don't Speak Japanese
When it comes to the capital Tokyo, the larger cities and other big or popular tourist destinations, the non-Japanese speaker will probably fare just fine. Particularly if you are travelling on public transport.
I've also written a guidebook to travelling in Japan when you don't speak the language. You can read more about that here.
Using public transport in Japan is probably a lot easier than you think and train station and station navigation signs are frequently written in English.
In the more familiar tourist locations, train station signs and announcements are also in English. Scrolling information screens on all shinkansen (bullet trains) and announcements are in English as well as Japanese.
Even when you're heading off the beaten track a little, provided you arm yourself with a few survival phrases, a translation app, some pre-trip planning to tackle the most common sticking points, you'll get by just fine.
TAKEAWAY: Don't let being unable to speak Japanese be a barrier to coming to Japan.
About the Author
A writer and publisher from England, Rob has been exploring Japan’s 6,800 islands since 2000. He specialises in travelling off the beaten track, whether on remote atolls or in the hidden streets of major cities. He’s the founder of TheRealJapan.com.
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