Now that we’re about to leave Japan, I thought I’d share a few practical tips and tricks for your visit.
Carry cash – We were surprised at how few places take credit cards. We expected it at the mom and pop restaurants, but even some major chains didn’t accept credit cards. We actually went to a McDonalds that only took cash or Japanese credit cards. There’s nothing worse than ordering food, then realising you can’t pay for it.
And speaking of cash – Not all ATMs in Japan accept foreign cards, so when you find an ATM that works (we always had luck at the 7-11), stock up.
Buses – In Kyoto, you get on the bus through the back door and exit through the front door, paying your fee as you leave. In Tokyo, you get on the bus through the front door, paying as you get on, then exit through the back door. In both countries, tickets for the bus are not required. Typically, there’s one fare rate for the bus, depending on where it’s going, so you pay the same amount no matter how long you ride it.
Trains – Buy your ticket before going on the train. There are ticket kiosks when you enter the station. They usually have an option to change the language to English.
Public transport – In general, the trains and buses are clean and safe. I wouldn’t get on a bus in Philly, but I didn’t hesitate at all to ride the bus by myself in Tokyo.
JR Trains – First, we were in Japan for a week before I realised JR stands for Japan Rail. If you’re going to ride JR trains, make sure to purchase your tickets online before you enter Japan. You’ll get a discount, and once you enter Japan you can no longer get the discounted rate.
Picky eaters – Our kids are picky eaters. One pretty much only ate white rice and plain pasta the entire time. The other one only wanted chips (French fries) with ketchup, chicken nuggets, or pizza. If your kids (or you – I know a few picky adults, too) are like ours, know that you can get microwaveable single-serve packs of plain white rice at most grocery and convenience stores. And most Family Marts will also have cooked French fries in single serve packs in the heated food area by the register. Be aware that chicken nuggets you get from a restaurant or convenience store will not taste like what your kids are used to. They’re likely dark meat and somewhat fatty. One of our kids would eat them, the other wouldn’t. If they need a chicken nugget fix, go to McDonalds. They taste exactly like the ones in Australia or the US.
Paying for kids – Much to my delight, you often don’t have to pay for kids under 7 on buses, trains, or at temples/shrines/other attractions. And when you do, there’s usually a discounted kid’s rate. It’s always worth checking at the gate.
Speaking English – While we always used the 1 or 2 words of Japanese we knew, we found that people were very accommodating about helping us when we just couldn’t figure something out, or when the signs were all in Japanese.
Accommodation – This is less about Japan, and more about how we’re travelling in general. We try to get an apartment with a kitchen, and eat two of our meals in – usually breakfast and dinner. We’ve had a lot of success with AirBnB in Japan, finding that the apartments are larger and cheaper than a hotel room. Be prepared, though, that the kitchen probably won’t have an oven – just a stove top – so if you go to the grocery store, don’t buy anything you have to bake until you’ve checked what cooking facilities are available.
Parks – If you’re travelling with kids, be aware that “park” just means a large green area. It doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a playground. In fact, in our 3 weeks, we only found 2 outdoor, public playgrounds, which was a shock, since we’re used to Australia’s habit of having a playground every few blocks.
Trash – There are very few trash cans on the streets in Japan, and yet there’s almost no litter. If you’re going to make a lot (or messy) trash throughout the day, bring a plastic bag to collect your trash until you get home.