So, 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 listed below in mind!
More info/pictures below, but... SIDE NOTE!
Where to go from Kyoto?! You can go to to Nachi Falls to see one of Japan's most famous views! You can make it a part of your Kumano Kodo itinerary to go to several UNESCO world heritage sites, also making a stop at the small Yunomine Onsen hot springs town!
Here are more ideas for your Japan trip planning!
- Best places to visit for your first time in Japan (including famous views!)
- Where to go to see cherry blossoms in Kyoto
- Where to go to see fall colors in Kyoto
- Where to go for winter in Japan
- Where to go to experience tropical Japan
- Where to go for epic snow-capped Mt Fuji views
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.
The ultimate Japan experience #1: You can read the reviews for watching sumo training!
The ultimate Japan experience #2: You can read the reviews for the samurai lesson at a dojo!
The ultimate Japan experience #3: You can read the reviews for the tea ceremony!
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Traveling around Japan and can't read Japanese? No problem! Just use the camera on the google translate app!
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.
For examples of taking a bus in Japan, see:
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!
If you find yourself becoming a bit frustrated or anxious, try instead to take a deep breath, and then find a station worker who surely will be very happy to help you out! It’s also said that Japanese people are very nice to foreigners.
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.
If you are American with t-mobile, most regular plans come with unlimited 2G data for international travel. 2G may sound very slow, and it can be, but it can also work out just fine for google maps. I have used 2G plenty while traveling abroad.
That said, faster internet with pocket wifi will of course always be better!
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, or else the train station worker you buy your ticket from may just assume you’re buying it for that day.
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.
It’s most popular to make the trip to Mt Fuji from Tokyo. Best if it’s a 2 day Mt Fuji trip and sleep in a mountain hut if you plan on making it to the summit!
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. The bus takes you to what’s called “5th station” which is basically the Mt Fuji trailhead. There are many people who simply make the trip to 5th station to take in the atmosphere without hiking up Mt Fuji. For that, you can make it a day trip.
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. Well, after the first night in the picture above. 😉 We were provided with blankets by the local government to sleep on the floor of a mall the first night!
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!
Do some more Japan trip planning!
- Best places to visit for your first time in Japan
- The seasons of Japan and when to visit
- Cherry blossom season in Japan
- Fall colors in Japan
- Snow in Japan
- Japanese Alps during winter
Here are ideas for your Kyoto itinerary!
- Day 1: Top tourist spots with one day bus pass
- Day 2: Fushimi Inari Shrine hike through 1,000 torii gates
- Day 3: Philosopher's Path walk
- Day 4: Arashiyama and Sagano
- Day 5: Kurama Kibune Ohara with one day pass
And the JR pass makes it time-efficient to travel around Japan by train and is a popular option among international travelers! See how to figure out if the JR pass will be worth it for you!
🍵 Read the reviews of these highly rated tours:
Is a JR pass worth it?!
- Google maps can make it easy to figure out whether or not you should get a JR pass!
- In google maps, type in your departure and arrival city, and choose the transit icon. The route will come up, and so will the estimated cost at the bottom!
- Here is an example of a train route with cost on google maps.
- So do that for all of your long distance routes to figure out how much it might cost.
- Next, go here to see how much a JR pass costs from an official JR pass vendor (and partner of this website).
- And compare!
- Not all forms of public transportation are JR, but long distance shinkansen bullet trains are, and that's where the most cost savings will come.
Best of Kyoto (and Japan!)
👇 Explore the best places to visit in Japan!
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