I’m back from 2 weeks in Japan. Â Here are some tipsÂ that I wish I had known at the beginning of my trip.
- Free WiFi is rare. Airports will have free WiFi. Large train stations will have free WiFi in the hub area but not from the platforms. Â I had problems getting paid WiFi to work from the platforms a fewÂ times.
- Less than half of the hotels we stayed at had free WiFi in the room. Â Some had free WiFi in the lobby though. Â Itâ€™s very difficult to tell when booking a hotel whether “freeÂ WiFi” isÂ in the room or just in the lobby.
- More than half of hotels hadÂ free wired ethernet available in the room. Â Highly recommended that you bring a compact wireless router.
- We rented a Japanese SIM from Advanced Global Communications.Â Despite inquiring several weeks before our trip, they were sold outÂ of WiFi hotspot devices, so we rented a SIM card and tethered. Â You reserve your SIM or device online and either pick it up at the airport or have it shipped to your hotel. Â The package includes a return mail envelope, and you drop it in the mail before you leave the country.
- Had we known that public WiFi is so rare, weâ€™d have rentedÂ one SIM card for each person. Â Several times our group wanted to split up, but it was too painful to find each otherÂ later, so we stuck together.
- Mobile providers advertise â€œunlimitedâ€ data, but you will be massively throttled if you go over 1GB in a 3 day period. Â We were throttled on the 2nd day, and for the remainder of the trip we had 6Mb upstream and 0.01Mb downstream (literally). Â Only Google Maps and Gmail worked at all on that slow of downstream. Â Strangely, because upstream wasnâ€™t throttled, uploading images and even movies to Facebook and Instagram worked well. Â Facebook home feeds or web browsing were unusable though – just timed out after a couple minutes 80% of the time.
- Vending machines, subway tickets, and ramen ticket dispensers takeÂ only cash. Â Save your cash for these things, and pay using a credit card at convenience stores and hotels.
- Every 7-Eleven location has an ATM where you can withdraw money. Â The fees for me (Bank of America) were approximately $5 per transaction + 3% currency conversion fee.
Japan Rail Pass
- AÂ JR Rail Pass costs $445 for 2 weeks. Â It *must* be purchased outside of Japan from a Japanese travel agent. Â They give you a voucher, then you exchange the voucher inside of Japan at the airport train station for your pass.
- The pass is good for the “JR” lines (trains). Â If you’re bouncing around the huge Tokyo area you’ll more often be taking subways, which aren’t JR.
- We traveled aroundÂ Tokyo and from Tokyo to Kyoto via Shinkansen (bullet train, ~$150 each way). Â The pass was slightly worse than break-even. Â If youâ€™re going to stick around Tokyo for your trip, the rail pass is likely not worth it. Â If youâ€™ll be traveling to Kyoto or farther, itâ€™s probably worth it.
Hostels, Hotels, and reservations
- Even the cheapest hostels and hotels are safe and clean. Â Every part of Japan we saw was safe and clean.
- If traveling in a group of 3 or more, a cheap hotel will be roughly the same price as a hostel, and youâ€™ll likely sleep better than in a large room with strangers.
- For a country obsessed with convenience, booking hostels/hotels/services in Japan is a pain. Â Many places donâ€™t have online reservation systems, instead you fill out a web request form and wait for someone to manually email you with an answer forÂ whether they can accommodate you.Â After a few days of being frustrated by these email reservations, we started using HostelWorldÂ and Hotels.comÂ to book.
- Hotels and hostels will fill up on Friday nights and weekends. Â Book a couple days in advance for those nights.
- Many special services like bath houses and river rafting won’t let you book less than 24 hours in advance, so plan your activities 2 days ahead.
- arigatÅ – thank you
- sumimasen – excuse me / pardon me
- konichiwa – hello
- sayonara – goodbye
- daijoubu – Iâ€™m OK (if someone bumps you)
- oishÄ« des – it’s delicious (thank the ramen cook after finishing your bowl)