Before You Go!

Preparing for Your Japan Adventure: Everything You Need to Know Before You Go!

Are you aching to explore the land of the rising sun? Do you dream of slurping up ramen in Tokyo, strolling through the temples of Kyoto, or soaking in an onsen in Hokkaido? Before you jet off to Japan, there are a few things you must know to make your trip perfect. Consider this your ultimate guide to preparing for your Japanese adventure. From packing the right gear to learning essential Japanese phrases, we’ve got you covered. So sit back, grab some green tea, and get ready to become a Japan-prep pro!

What Kind of VISA Do I Need to Travel to Japan?

If you’re planning to visit Japan, you’ll need to apply for the appropriate visa before you depart. Japan has a range of visa categories available depending on the purpose of your visit, the length of your stay, and your nationality. You may not even need to apply for a visa under certain conditions, specifically for short-term visitation! Learn more HERE!

How Should I Book My Flight and Short-Term Accommodation?

When it comes to booking flights and accommodations for your trip to Japan, there are a few things to keep in mind to get the best deals. Firstly, check with your credit card company to see if they have any air miles or point partnerships with airlines that you can take advantage of which can help you save money on your flight. Otherwise, using websites like Google Flights or Skyscanner can be great tools to help you find the best day with the lowest price, but keep in mind that prices can fluctuate and the best time to bargain hunt is around 3 months prior to your desired departure date or even earlier.

Tip: If you’re planning to stay in Japan for an extended period of time such as 1 year or longer to finish your studies, buying a one-way ticket may be a better option than a round-trip ticket. If you do opt for a round-trip ticket for a year or longer, you may need to rebook your return flight mid-way through your stay and pay the fare difference on the day you intend to return, which may end up being more expensive than a one-way ticket since you are forced to book with the airline that you bought your ticket from which may be more expensive than alternative airlines.

You may be able to find combo deals if you book short-term accommodations with your flight, but it’s worth checking if you can find better prices by booking separately. We recommend using Agoda to find the best prices on hotels and short-term accommodations around Japan. We found Agoda to not only have the most competitive prices compared to competitors such as Booking or Expedia but also offer loyalty rewards including discounts from 12% to up to 25% for repeat customers!
Tip: When booking through Agoda, do not select Agoda’s currency conversion option as their rate tends to be higher at 5% than what normal credit companies charge.

How Should I Convert My Money to Japanese Yen?

When it comes to converting your money to Japanese yen, there are a number of options available. The simplest but most expensive option is asking your bank to do the conversion which is typically the worst option, as banks often charge high fees and offer poor exchange rates. Next is using a local exchange booth, often found in airports and shopping centers, as this option may offer about the same rates as banks or worse.

Online foreign exchange companies such as Wise and Revolut are a better choice, with rates as low as 0.5%. These companies offer competitive exchange rates and low fees, making them a good option for converting larger amounts of money.

The best option for converting your money to Japanese yen is to obtain a zero-exchange fee credit card, such as Brim Financial or HSBC World Elite Mastercard which are cards available to Canadians. While Brim Financial has a zero annual fee and is great for short-term stays, we would recommend HSBC World Elite Mastercard for longer-stay travelers like those on student visas for the card’s amazing perks! If you are a US resident, we would recommend picking up a zero FX fee American Express credit card. These cards allow you to make purchases in foreign currencies without any additional fees and often offer benefits that easily outweigh their annual fee. Additionally, it’s always a good idea to carry some cash with you for smaller purchases, as not all places accept credit cards. You can obtain this cash via cash advance at any ATM with most credit cards.

Tip: Another option for those who are comfortable with investing is to use a Forex Brokerage account such as Interactive Brokers (IBKR), which already has near-zero exchange rates, however, this method is not recommended due to its difficulty.

What SIM Card Should I Get?

Having reliable internet access while traveling is essential so you can navigate and translate Japanese anywhere you go, that is why you must get a SIM card. While you may be able to find many Wi-Fi hotspots in major areas, we would highly recommend having a data sim in case of tough situations.

The best SIM card provider for foreigners in Japan would depend on individual needs and preferences, as each provider offers different plans and features. However, some popular and highly recommended providers include GTN Mobile, IIJMIO, Sakura Mobile, and Mobal. In our opinion, GTN Mobile offers the best value as they provide 5G data speed support, eSIM compatibility, no minimum contract period, convenient pickup at the airport, and app monitoring support. However, we recommend conducting your own research to determine which provider is best suited for your needs.

You might be thinking “What about call or SMS? Should I get that or just a data sim?”. Good question, and ultimately it depends on what you intend to do in Japan. What a lot of people don’t know is that you can actually make normal calls using services such as Viber Out which is actually cheaper than Japanese call providers which charge 44 yen a minute. That being said, having call or SMS functionality can help you register for things such as opening a Japanese bank account or purchasing a concert ticket as these services often require phone or SMS verification.

Tip: You can find prepaid data sims at most convenience stores in Japan, but are generally more expensive than subscription plans. Alternative to data SIMs, you can purchase a portable Wi-Fi router at a very low price. Our recommendation for that can be found HERE. However, GTN Mobile’s 50 GB data plan may be a better option.


How Do I Travel Across Japan?

The most common modes of transportation in Japan include trains, buses, taxis, and rental cars. Of these options, trains are considered the best way to get around in Japan due to their reliability, speed, and coverage in most areas. In order to board the trains and local buses, you must tap your IC card at the ticket gate. A physical IC card, PASSMO or SUICA, can be obtained at the train station ticket terminals or, before arriving in Japan, installed on your phone via the Apple wallet or individual Android wallet. Note that your device must be equipped with NFC functionality for it to work. You can learn more HERE.

For tourists coming to Japan, consider a JR Pass, or Japan Rail Pass, which is a special ticket for tourists visiting Japan that allows unlimited travel on JR (Japan Rail) trains, including the famous Shinkansen bullet trains, for a set period of time. The pass can be purchased for 7, 14, or 21 consecutive days and must be bought BEFORE arriving in Japan. The JR Pass is a great way to save money on transportation costs, especially if you plan on traveling around the country as a regular one-way Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto can cost upwards of 14,000 yen. It’s important to note that the JR Pass is NOT sold in Japan and must be purchased outside of Japan from an authorized vendor. Once you arrive in Japan, you will need to exchange your JR Pass voucher for the actual pass at a JR Pass exchange office, which can be found at major airports, train stations, and other locations.

Tip: We recommend purchasing a JR pass from Klook for the cheapest price OR through the main website at a slightly higher price but be given the ability to reserve seats online which saves a lot of hassle waiting in line at the station!

WAIT! One Last Thing Before You Go: Essential Japanese Etiquette

Perhaps the most important thing to prepare for is the language and cultural barriers. Don’t be that “gaijin” (foreigner). It’s important to respect Japanese society as you carry out your activities in Japan. For example, not eating or talking on the train, rinsing your body before entering an onsen, standing on the left side of the escalator to allow people to walk up/down, and of course, not littering. A rule of thumb is to always be mindful and respectful of Japanese customs and social norms to avoid unintentionally upsetting local people.

Learning essential Japanese phrases is crucial for foreigners who plan to travel or live in Japan. While Japan is a very welcoming and friendly country, many Japanese people have limited English proficiency, which makes Japanese people uncomfortable and reluctant to speak to or help foreigners. Some might even run away. By learning key phrases, such as greetings, ordering food, asking for directions, and expressing gratitude, foreigners can communicate more effectively with locals, which can lead to a more positive and enjoyable experience in Japan. Ultimately, learning basic Japanese phrases not only makes a foreigner’s life easier but also helps bridge the gap between different cultures and creates a more inclusive and harmonious society.

Tip: We recommend picking up Genki 1 Textbook to get started learning Japanese. We believe it to be the most useful and informative way of learning Japanese when compared to other tools such as Duolingo. You can purchase a copy HERE.

That’s All For Now!

Congratulations, you made it to the end! This should be everything you need to know before coming to Japan but wait, there’s more… once you’re in Japan, then what? What is the cheapest way to travel? Best way to book a hair salon? How about buying cheap admission tickets to Universal Studios Japan? Best things to do in each city? Don’t worry, we got you covered! You can find all your answers on our website. We hope you enjoy your stay in Japan! がんばってください ヽ(*⌒▽⌒*)ノ