What are some mistakes NOT to make in Japan?!
Okay, so maybe calling some of these things “mistakes” is a bit dramatic. (For more drama, see when you might potentially think is a bad time to visit Japan.)
In many cases (most? all?) you will survive your first trip to Japan just fine even if you make these “mistakes.”
But some of these things can make your time in Japan much easier or much more convenient.
And some of these things might even save you some money.
Maybe not ALL of these tips will apply for your trip to Japan.
In terms of the specifics of trip planning for Japan, a lot of things have to do with your travel style as well.
But still, it could be good to keep at least a few of these things in mind!
The quick list of trip prep for Japan:
- Best books and PDF guides
- When to go
- Tips to find cheap flights
- What are hostels in Japan like?
- Cost of food in Japan
- Should you buy a JR pass for train travel?
- Should you get travel insurance for natural disasters?
What are some things to know when traveling for the first time in Japan?!
Mistake #1: Traveling locally without an IC card
Buying individual train tickets can be a big hassle.
You first need to figure out where you’re going on a map.
And then you need to figure out how much it costs.
And then you need to go to the ticket machine and buy the ticket for that amount.
What about if you have an IC card?
With an IC card, you can go straight to the ticket gate and swipe in…
…and swipe out!
You don’t even need to figure out how much the ticket costs.
IC cards are basically recharge cash cards.
You can use them on most trains, subways, and buses.
And some vending machines, convenience stores, and coin lockers (for luggage storage) accept IC cards too.
You can get IC cards at all major train stations, and many more train stations as well.
Mistake #2: Thinking that you NEED a JR pass
As you get into more detailed travel planning for your Japan trip, you’ll probably hear a lot about the JR pass (aka Japan Rail pass).
These passes are primarily bought in an effort to save money when taking the long-distance super fast bullet trains in Japan (aka shinkansen trains).
And it could very well be that you WILL benefit from a JR pass, especially if you’ll be going to most of the cities on the classic Japan route.
But just to make sure that you will, you’ll want to do the individual calculation based on your own trip itinerary to see if purchasing a JR pass will actually save you money.
Very generally speaking, if you will be doing 2 long-distance shinkansen trips in a 7-day period, it will likely pay off to get a JR pass. (There are passes for 7 days, 14 days, and 21 days.)
Depending on where you’re going, 2 trips may not completely put you over the top, but there’s a good chance you can use the JR pass in other ways during that 7 days that you will end up saving money.
The absolute best way to know whether or not a JR pass is worth it is to see the current price of a JR pass (official JR pass vendor and partner website) and compare that to the cost of individual train ticket costs.
See a Japan public transportation app to calculate shinkansen ticket prices.
One alternative to taking the bullet train?
If you’re willing to sacrifice a little bit of comfort, time, and convenience in the name of saving money, you may also look into taking a long-distance bus.
Mistake #3: Getting frustrated when you get lost or have no clue where to go
It’s said that sometimes even Japanese people can get confused at train stations in Japan.
So don’t feel too bad if you have difficulty navigating train stations. (Or anywhere else for that matter.)
Just consider it a part of the Japan adventure!
Mistake #4: Traveling without super helpful travel apps on your phone
Some of the top travel apps for Japan to consider having on your phone:
- Google Maps
- Japan Travel Navitime
- Google Translate
The Google Maps app can be a reliable way to figure out how to get around in Japan, both locally and over longer distances.
Japan Travel Navitime
You can use this Navitime app to figure out how to get around too, and it’ll be better than Google Maps if you’re traveling with a JR pass.
There’s an option on the Navitime app that allows you to filter options so that it’ll show you the best way to travel with a JR pass. (Look for the “tourist pass” option.)
Without a JR pass, use Google Maps. With a JR pass, use Navitime.
This app can also be a good way to figure out individual ticket prices of a shinkansen to determine whether or not the JR pass is worth it.
The Google Translate app has a feature in which you can take a picture of Japanese writing and it will translate it for you!
It’s not perfect, but it can still help you out.
Mistake #5: Traveling without data or wifi in Japan
If you are feeling overwhelmed by public transportation in Japan before you even leave home, then you pretty much NEED data or wifi! (Or, you need to highly consider it!)
It can make your time in Japan SO much easier!
Being able to use Google Maps when you are out and about can help a lot.
In Japan, there are options for foreigners to get pocket wifi or a SIM card.
But even if you do end up traveling without wifi, don’t worry too much.
You will likely find people around to help you, especially if you’re traveling in the major tourist cities.
Mistake #6: Thinking that you MUST make train seat reservations when traveling on a shinkansen with a JR pass
So when you’re traveling with a JR pass, it’s possible to make seat reservations on the shinkansen trains to guarantee yourself a seat by going to a JR office at any major train station.
But it’s also not a necessity.
That is, if you have a regular aka “ordinary” JR pass, as opposed to the “green” JR pass. The green “first class” JR pass costs extra, and there’s a special car for it, so you do want to make reservations before each train trip.
But if you’re just holding a regular JR pass…
There is a reserved seating section, and there is also a non-reserved seating section for the vast majority of shinkansen bullet trains. (An exception to this is if you’re traveling up north from Tokyo to Hokkaido for example.)
So if you don’t want to bother with going to the JR office to make seat reservations ahead of time, or you don’t want to worry about being at the train station at a certain time, you can just show up to the train station and take the next shinkansen that arrives that you can board with a JR pass.
You won’t be able to travel on the fastest Nozomi or Mizuho shinkansen trains with a JR pass, but even other trains generally come frequent enough that you don’t need to be that concerned about train timings.
Being in the non-reserved section, there IS a chance that you might not get a seat.
But unless you’re traveling at a really busy time, chances are that you will be able to get a seat in the non-reserved section.
So if you like to travel with flexibility, just know that making seat reservations aren’t required.
This would also allow you to show up to the train station at your convenience.
Or if you do want to make sure you get a seat, you can head to the JR office to make seat reservations right before you pass through the ticket gate to board the train, instead of in the days prior. (This would apply for the green JR pass too.)
Again, there’s a chance there might not be seats available if you’re traveling during a busy time, but under normal circumstances, there’s a good chance that it will work out.
Likewise, if you’re traveling WITHOUT a JR pass and want to take a shinkansen train, you can just show up to the train station and buy your ticket when you’re ready to go to your next destination.
If you’re at a major train station, going to the JR office might be the easiest way to buy your ticket. You can also buy it at the ticket machine.
If you want to plan ahead, you can buy shinkansen bullet train tickets in the days prior as well. You’ll want to make sure you specify the date of travel when you buy your ticket.
See an estimate of how much bullet train tickets cost on your route.
Not to make things confusing, but there are trains that DO require train reservations no matter what. But the point is that it’s not a requirement to get a reserved seat before every train ride.
Mistake #7: Thinking that you can hike up Mt Fuji any time of the year
It IS possible to reach the Mount Fuji summit aka the highest point in Japan.
But not year-round.
There’s what’s called a “climbing season” because for most of the year Mount Fuji is a snow covered mountain at the top.
The trail to climb Mount Fuji is officially open each year from around early July to early September.
Mistake #8: Thinking that getting to the Mt Fuji summit is just another hike
There are plenty of hikes in Japan that you can just show up to the trailhead and treat it as another day hike.
Mt Fuji isn’t really one of those hikes.
It’s called the Mt Fuji “climb,” and although it’s not true rock climbing, it’s also not always just a regular hiking trail either.
Another one of the big things that’ll make a difference when you’re thinking about what to pack for Japan is that even though you’ll be doing the hike during the summer (since that’s when the climbing season is), you’ll have to pack cold weather clothes.
It gets colder the higher you go.
And aside from the cold weather, there’s also the high altitude, and it’s not uncommon for people to suffer from altitude sickness.
This guy was mostly kidding but altitude sickness is a real thing.
This is why the so-called “Mt Fuji bullet climb” of a straight hike up and back down in one day with minimal rest is not recommended.
You’re more at risk for altitude sickness if you do it as a bullet hike.
This means that climbing Mt Fuji can be a 2-day commitment.
You can get to the start of the trail from Tokyo by bus.
And then there are mountain huts on Mt Fuji where you can spend the night to split the hike up over 2 days.
The most expensive cost of climbing Mt Fuji can be the overnight mountain hut stay.
Mistake #9: Wearing shoes that aren’t made for walking
Even if you don’t get out into the mountains to do any hiking in Japan, there’s a good chance that you will be doing a LOT of walking in Japan.
If you plan on visiting the top spots in Tokyo and Kyoto, it probably can’t really be avoided.
So you’ll want to make sure that you’re wearing comfortable shoes.
Mistake #10: Going to Japan without travel insurance
One of the biggest reasons to get travel insurance for Japan might be because of the risk of natural disasters.
In summer and fall, there can be strong rainstorms and typhoons.
In winter, there can be snow. (Depending on where you go.)
These things all come with risks of travel delays or travel interruptions.
I had travel insurance with natural disaster coverage, and this covered my food and accommodation costs when my travel was impacted by a typhoon.
Mistake #11: Not drinking matcha green tea
Well, Japan is famous for green tea.
And specifically, it’s also famous for matcha green tea!
This means that there are plenty of places in Japan where you can get a taste, and you can find places to make your own straight from matcha powder too.
Kyoto can be the best city to try matcha, as it’s a city that’s known for this type of tea.
HAPPY PLANNING YOUR FIRST TRIP TO JAPAN!
More quick tips for planning your trip to JapanThere are affiliate links on this page that take you to partner websites.
Shoes for JapanFor summer travel, hiking sandals can be perfect for walking around cities and for many of the short day hikes! See travel sandals like these for women and these for men.
Japan is a mountain country so be sure to get in some hikes!
See trail running shoes too (for women - for men) for other solid hikes including climbing Mt Fuji.
Speaking of hiking, I love this daypack.
The super fast train in JapanIn general, 2 long-distance shinkansen train trips will likely end up making it so the JR pass will be worth it. But here's how to calculate it to be sure.
See the current price of a JR pass from an official vendor.
Natural disasters in JapanUnfortunately, Japan can be prone to natural disasters which means risk for travel delays. So be sure to look at travel insurance for natural disasters.
My travel insurance took care of my accommodation and food costs when I was forced to stay extra days in Japan because of a typhoon.
See how much insurance costs for your trip.
Best travel guides for JapanIf you're at step 1 in your planning process, have a look at this Discover Japan book.
For "books" that won't take up space in your suitcase, see the best PDF guides.
See more of the best books for Japan trip planning.
Cheap(er) flights to JapanI used this website to find the cheapest flight and to book my recent flight to Japan.
Sometimes it makes sense to book direct - my preferred way!
But this booking site will search a combination of airlines, including those who aren't partner airlines, which means that they can help you find cheaper flights by booking individual flights for you as part of one flight itinerary. This can be especially helpful if you're not flying out of a major hub with direct flights to Japan.
I've missed a flight booked through them and it was taken care of with hotel and new flight.
See more tips for finding cheap flights to Japan.