I know a lot of you are waiting for my Japan posts, so today I’d like to start off with a couple of tips on what you should pack if you’re going on a trip to Japan.
Bring shoes that slip on and off easily
Many places in Japan – including ryokans (traditional inns), temples, and many izakayas and restaurants – require you to remove your shoes before entering. You can recognize the places by the higher level (mostly wood floors) in the entryway and by the amount of shoes the guests have left there. You can switch to the slippers the places have provided for you. As a rule of thumb, if you see tatami mats, you’ll need to take off your shoes.
Pack as lightly as possible
Most travelers in Japan rely heavily on Japan’s comprehensive and easy-to-use railway networks, but unfortunately Japanese trains and train stations do not cater to travelers with a lot of luggage. I only took a big suitcase, a trolley and a backpack for the trip and it wasn’t always easy to get around because the transportation system is always crowded. If you do want to bring more luggage, you can always use a forwarding service (takuhaibin) to take your luggage off your hands and have it transported it to your next location. Leave some empty space to bring small gifts from your home country in case you get invited over (omiyage) and of course to bring some souvenirs back home.
I’m also happy I had a backpack to carry around most of the time instead of a handbag, so I could easily put all of my stuff away and keeping my hands free to make photos and film. Plus, it’s also better for your back because the weight is evenly distributed. This backpack from Herschel Supply* came in really handy as it has a lot of compartments to tuck everything away all of my tech stuff. I noticed Herschel is extremely popular in Japan, so I fitted right in.
Packing for the weather: seasons in Japan
The weather is really different in comparison to where I live and even in Spring the weather would change from a sunny 25° day to a rainy 14° in a day. The best thing you can do is to pack clothes you can wear in layers and just put clothes on and off as you go. You can buy cheap umbrellas on every corner, so don’t bother bringing one. Also note that in Winter it’s very cold while in summer it’s really hot and humid. Just make sure you check the weather right up until the point you need to leave.
The Golden Ticket
If you’re planning on visiting a couple of cities spread across Japan, you should consider getting a Japan Rail Pass for the Shinkansen train. This special pass is only available for foreigners and you can only order it outside of Japan, so make sure you order it a couple of weeks before you leave. I ordered a 14-day pass at JRpass.com. They’ll send a voucher which you’ll have to exchange for the actual rail pass once you’re in Japan. You can do this at the airport or the JR train station. There are a lot of conditions regarding the use of the Japan Rail Pass (what trains you can take, regarding reservations etc), so make sure to read them carefully. Another cheap way to travel around the country is by using the Japanese Ryanair, which is called Peach. Such a cute name for an airline! It’s important that you know which cities you want to visit during what period of time to see what’s the cheapest option for you.
Like when visiting any other country, it’s important to check wether or not you need an international passport. Make sure you have recent pictures and have one made at least 2 months before departure just to be sure (because we all know it can take some time to get back to you). Make photocopies and keep a copy in each one of your suitcases. To shop duty free you’ll need to have your original passport on hand though, so keep that in mind. Speaking of copies, also make sure you keep the address of the hotel in both English & Japanese with you, in case you need to ask for directions or you’re taking a cab. Finding an address is really difficult, even for Japanese people, so that and Google Maps will come in handy!
It’s all about the money
Even though Japan is miles ahead when it comes to modern technology, Japan is still a cash country, so make sure you have some yen at hand. You can exchange money at the airport and at terminals at major department stores like Isetan. For some reason bank cards like Maestro are blocked in Japan, so make sure you bring a credit card like VISA so you can always withdraw money at the post office or 7-Eleven supermarket terminals. Also make sure to increase your spending limit so you don’t get into trouble while overseas. With the time difference it might be hard to get ahold of your bank and there’s nothing more annoying than being abroad without access to your money.
It’s fine to have a couple of touristy things you absolutely want to do, but don’t follow them blindly. Instead step out of that comfort zone to wander off the path from time to time to discover Japan through the eyes of the Japanese. There’s a big chance Japanese will come up to you for a chat and that’s the perfect time to ask them for some local tips, especially when it comes to food & good places to eat. One guide I felt showed some unusual places is the Citix60 Tokyo guide, featuring the recommendations in architecture, sightseeing, restaurants, shops & nightlife venues of 60 local creatives.
Stay connected: Pocket wifi
Japan has a different phone network so there are a couple of options to stay connected: either you can rent a Japanese phone, buy a Japanese sim card or you can rent a pocket wifi. I opted to rent a pocket wifi at japanwifibuddy.com so I could use my own phone and connect wherever I wanted. The device has a Japanese sim card and works like a portable wifi router. You can connect up to 10 devices and it offers you access to the internet and use all of your online apps anytime and anywhere super fast. You also get a spare battery so you can easily make it through the entire day. I had it shipped to the post office at the airport, but you can also have it shipped to your hotel. Before you leave you can just put it back in the envelope that is provided and drop it off at the post office or ask your hotel to send it back for you.
Make sure you take a travel adapter with you so you can plug in all of your devices. I also brought a trio adapter with me so I could plug in 3 devices at once with just one travel adapter. That way you can recharge your smartphone, camera and pocket wifi at the same time. Really handy when you want to spend as less time at the hotel as possible.
Although English is more common than since my last visit 7 years ago, there will be times communication will be hard. At those times even the tiniest little bit of Japanese can be of great help. It shows you’re trying to make an effort and it will be greatly appreciated. They’ll compliment you on ‘how great your Japanese is’, while in reality it just sucks balls. These websites can teach you some basics here & here. A translator app can also be of assistance.
So that’s my quick roundup of things you need to bring when coming to Japan.
Got any questions or tips yourself? Let me know in the comments!
Follow our trip on instagram: #moshimoshibelgium
More pic-heavy posts & a video is in the works, so stay tuned!