Things to do Before Your Trip to Japan

Things to do Before Your Trip to Japan

Are you heading to Japan soon? Maybe you picked up some cheap flights to TokyoYay! Get ready to eat all the yummy food, see amazing temples and lose yourself in exciting cities. But before you jump on the plane, there’s a few other things you should get ready to ensure a fantastic trip to the Land of the Rising Sun. We’ve written up things that should be done BEFORE getting on the plane. We’ve even created a checklist, so scroll down for more info!

Order a Japan Rail Pass

A Rail Pass is a necessity in Japan, as rail is the best way to get around. The Japan Rail Pass saves a lot of money on rail travel and can even be used on the shinkansen (bullet train). The only catch is, you have to purchase it outside Japan and be a temporary visitor. You will need to provide your passport details, travel dates and select how many days of rail travel you would use (7, 14 or 21 days). I would order it 1-2 weeks prior to departure to ensure it is delivered to you on time. Upon arriving in Japan, you validate the pass at the various venues. For more details: http://www.japanrailpass.net/en/index.html

Planning a trip to Japan

Check out discounted fares from ANA and JAL

JAL and ANA offer cheap, flat-rate flights between domestic cities in Japan for people residing outside of Japan and who hold an international return flight (similar to the JR Rail Pass). ANA’s Experience Japan fare and JAL’s Explorer Pass are cheaper than the same fares offered through other booking systems. We saved 40% on our domestic flights by booking these.

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Things to do before travelling to Japan

Travel Insurance

We never travel without it, and neither should you. Medical treatment in Japan is not cheap, and the right cover of travel insurance can cover you for emergency evacuations, disasters, stolen luggage, and more. Knowing that you are covered while you are travelling far outweighs the cost of insurance.

Like checklists? Pin and print our checklist below!

Japan Checklist

Passports & Visas

It might sound silly for the seasoned travellers, but for those who are travelling for the first time, make sure you check if you need a visa to enter Japan (based on your country of residence). You also need 6 months of validity on your passport BEYOND your travel return date (so if you are travelling in June, your passport needs to be valid at least until December). I’ve been told this is to cover you in case an emergency occurs, and you are stuck overseas for longer than expected.

Want to know what to eat in Japan? Read our post, More than Sushi.

International Driver’s Licence

The idea of driving in somewhere like Tokyo makes me anxious, however driving in the quieter parts of Japan would be lovely. If you are visiting more remote areas, or the islands, driving is the best way to get around, so you will need an International Driver’s Licence to hire a car. For our Australian readers, you can get them from NRMA.

What you need for Japan

Get Cashed Up

Despite Japan being ahead in the technology stakes, cash is still the preferred method of payment. A lot of shops and restaurants do not accept international cards and even those that accept cards may not work when you try to use it in the machine. Change as much money as you can to Japanese Yen before you go, or get an international travel card that you can top up in local currency (however, note that a lot of ATMs don’t accept foreign cards). If you are worried about walking around with a load of cash on you though, rest assured general crime and pick pockets are not a huge concern here.

You need cash for Japan

Wi-Fi

Again, it may come as a surprise, but for the metropolis, high-speed futuristic country Japan may seem, wi-fi is a bit of a hit and miss. There is free wi-fi available in many cities, but the signal is not always that reliable. It might not seem like that big of an issue at first (I mean, we can always post to Instagram later, right?), but when you are lost and trying to find your way around a city that doesn’t have clear street signs or a metro system that only an engineer might be able to read, you’ll be wishing you had reliable wi-fi and Google Maps ready to save the day. Thankfully, you can order internet dongles in advance and pick them up from the airport or have them delivered to your hotel.

Learn some Japanese phrases

Japanese people appreciate the effort taken to learn some phrases, and in some places English isn’t widely spoken, so here are some phrases that may come in handy:

Hello                                       Konichiwa
My name is _________         Watashi wa ______
Please                                    Onegai shimasu
Thank you                              Arigatou gozaimasu
Excuse me                             Sumimasen
Yes                                         Hai
No                                          Iie
Sorry                                      Gomen’nasai
Do you speak English?          Eigo o hanashimasu ka?
I don’t understand                  Wakarimasen
Where is the subway?            Chikatetsu wa doko desu ka?
How much does that cost?     Kore wa ikura desu ka?
Where is the bathroom?         Ofuro wa doko desu ka?

Book Accommodation

Personally, I am a bit OTT when it comes to our travel planning, and create multiple spreadsheets, notes and detailed itineraries with accommodation, transport and activities long before we’ve arrived at our destination! So with that in mind, I like to know where we are staying before we arrive, so I can work out how to get there from the airport/train station. If you are at the other end of the traveller’s spectrum though, we’d still recommend booking at least your first night’s accommodation, so you aren’t wandering around a foreign city, searching for a place to sleep.

Bustling cities in Japan

Have you been to Japan? Are there any other things you should do before the trip? Let us know below!

This post contains some affiliate links. Booking via these links won’t cost you any extra, but will help me get closer to my dream career, so thank you in advance!

What to Eat in Japan – More Than Sushi

What to Eat in Japan – More Than Sushi

If you visit Japan and just stick to eating sushi or ramen, you are doing it wrong.

Japan is a foodie’s delight, with a plethora of food options that will please all tastes. Fresh seafood, flavoursome soups and delicious street food are just a small selection of the food options for travellers to Japan. I was fortunate enough to spend a week exploring Osaka, Sakai and Kobe and found myself looking forward to each meal along the way. Here is a small selection of dishes you should try when visiting Japan:

Okonomiyaki

This might be my favourite dish when I visited Japan in 2016. To describe it best, it’s a mix between a pancake or fritter, with its main ingredient being cabbage. Okonomiyaki is a popular dish in Osaka, however other regions also have their own take on the simple-but-satisfying dish.

Okonomiyaki - A favourite Japanese dish

My first introduction to Okonomiyaki was during my first day in Japan. After a long 10 hour flight, and bus trip to the hotel, we were ushered straight to lunch at Fugetsu in Universal City. They prepare the Okonomiyaki in the Osaka style, however they top it with noodles (which is technically not the traditional way of doing it in Osaka, but nevertheless, I loved it!). What really makes this dish is the mix of the okonomiyaki sauce (similar to oyster sauce) and Japanese mayonnaise.

Okonomiyaki with noodles

 

Takoyaki

I’m still on the fence with this one, as I’m not a fan of octopus, but am quite prone to gooey balls of batter and cheese. Takoyaki is a popular street food in Osaka, however Takomasa restaurant in Sakai have turned this common snack into a locally loved dish, served as a course with rice, salad and crumbed oysters. If you don’t mind the texture of octopus (rubbery, for the uninitiated), then takoyaki is a great on-the-go snack.

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Takoyaki - Japanese street food
What to eat in Japan

Udonsuki

Udon noodles are one of my favourite types of noodles. Who am I kidding, I love all noodles! But, udon noodles have got a unique texture and are delicious in Udonsuki – a soupy mix of broth, vegetables, meat, seafood and, of course, udon noodles. Japanese eating culture is quite sociable and the art of sharing a large, communal Udonsuki is a great example of that.

Udonsuki - Udon soup and veges
Japanese food

If you want to read more from my visit to Japan, read my posts Highlights of Osaka & Day Trips from Osaka at Mapping Megan.

 

Shabu Shabu

Another hot pot dish, this is a fun, social way to eat. You essentially order the type of meat you want (in our case, we had delicately thin slices of beef, pork and chicken) and the type of ‘soup’ you want. There are choices from a soy-based soup (which tastes nicer than it sounds), or your standard clear soups. Then, you pretty much cook your own meal, adding whatever vegetables and noodles you want to the bubbling liquid. Condiments are also provided, so you can add extra spice and flavour to your own individual bowl.

Shabu Shabu ingredients
Popular food in Japan - Shabu Shabu

Kobe Beef

I am a carnivore, through and through and love my red meat. After spending a week politely avoiding fish (which is harder than you think in Japan!), I was so happy to find out we were going to Kobe Plaisir, a restaurant that specialises in Kobe Beef on our final night. Perfectly marbled and seasoned just right, Kobe Beef is cooked in front of us by an experienced chef. Served with salad and rice, the beef is definitely the highlight, which just melts in the mouth. For our carnivorous readers, this is a must!

Kobe Beef is a Japanese delicacy

 

Katsu Curry & Rice

This is one of my favourite comfort foods. It turns out it’s also a favourite for the Japanese Navy where (I’m told) every Friday is ‘Curry and Rice’ day. Typically Katsu is a thin, crumbed, pork or chicken cutlet, but with the deliciously rich curry sauce and rice, it brings the flavour to a whole new level. Although curry isn’t technically a traditional dish of Japan, they have certainly made it their own (and, in my opinion, made it better!).

Bento Boxes

Bento Boxes are extremely popular in Japan, with an assortment of meat, rice and vegetables, all beautifully presented in cute individual dishes in a box. Kinda like a happy meal, but for grown ups (and a lot healthier!).

Japanese Bento Boxes

 

Chawan Mushi

When you think of egg custard, you think of a sweet, creamy dessert, right? Think again. Chawan Mushi is an egg custard dish, but savoury. It has a similar consistency of custard, but mixed with soy sauce, dashi and mirin, it is served as a dish with mushrooms and a meat. We had it at Kani Douraku (see below) as one of the crab dishes, and whilst a bit strange at first (as you expect it to be sweet), it is really delicious and smooth.

Chawan Mushi at Kani Douraku

 

Amazake pudding

Whilst ‘fermented’ isn’t a word that brings deliciousness to mind, Amazake Pudding really is that (delicious). It’s essentially a fermented rice pudding, where the carbohydrates in the rice turn to simple sugars. It’s actually similar to the first stages of making sake. The result is a sweet, smooth and creamy pudding, often served with sweetened beans and jelly. This was one of my favourite dishes during my tour of Japan.

Japanese Desserts - Amazake Pudding
What to eat in Japan

Delicious Crab at Kani Douraku

If you happen to be visiting Osaka and love crab, treat yourself to a 5-course meal at Kani Douraku, the most famous crab restaurant in Japan. Kani Douraku is a very popular restaurant chain (with multiple restaurants found around Japan, with Osaka being the original and their main one). You can order individual crab dishes, or set menus. We had a 5-course set menu, and, let me tell you, each course was delicious.

Crab dishes at Kani Douraku
Crab at Kani Douraku
Crab Sushi at Kani Douraku
Crab Gratin at Kani Douraku

You can find store locations on their website. Reservations are recommended.

And, of course, Sushi

The sushi in Japan is fresh and delicious. If you are like me, and are a bit of a wuss when it comes to spice, they put wasabi INSIDE the sushi, so don’t overload on the sauce before you have a taste. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! If you are a fan of sushi, a sushi-making-course is a fun and delicious way to pass a couple of hours!

Home-made Sushi tastes better
Japanese food is Oishi!

We can’t wait to return to Japan in June and continue our food journey.

What Japanese dishes do you like and think we should try?

Tell us below!

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