We spent 8 days in March 2019 in Japan and had an absolute blast and ate a lot of pizza. While it was a ton of fun and we’re wishing we could go back soon, we’re felt we could’ve been smarter about a few things. We hope to share a few tips and tricks we learned that might make your trip smoother.
We figured since we were hitting fairly tourist friendly cities (Tokyo, Osaka and Takayama) that we wouldn’t have to bring too much cash and could pay for things with our credit cards. We decided to bring about 30,000 yen and thought that could cover all the cash only places. Turns out, that cash disappears pretty quick from buying train tickets to playing UFO catchers. Some chain restaurants also didn’t take cards and places like the Bunkamura Museum and Yamazaki Distillery didn’t take credit cards for admission. We had to stop at a 711 ATM machine with our debit card to withdraw more money about halfway through our trip. ATMs are plentiful but we didn’t like having to pay for the fees.
Hyperdia is a great transit app to use if you’re taking a lot of JR trains. If you buy the JR Pass, you should know that you can’t take the Nozomi lines. Unfortunately, on Google Maps, there’s no way to filter out non-JR pass eligible train routes but you can on Hyperdia.
Hyperdia will tell you which platforms your train is going to arrive and depart at. It’s free and easy to use and we used it a lot when we were moving from city to city.
Consider a Baggage Service
About halfway through our trip, our two suitcases and duffel bag were already getting pretty full and heavy. We wish we had packed one or both the suitcases up then with stuff we wouldn’t use anymore and have a luggage service pick it up to take to the airport for us. That way, we could have enjoyed the last bit of our trip with a lightly packed duffel bag and not have to lug our suitcases on and off trains.
The most well-known one is Yamato Transport. Their website is very English friendly and you shouldn’t have any problems. Your hotel concierge should be able to assist you. On a previous trip, my friend used it to take her luggage from Nara to Narita Airport and she said it was the best choice she made.
Don’t assume that you can always rely on luggage storage lockers. On our last day, we had planned to drop our suitcases off at Tokyo Station’s lockers only to realize 1) our suitcases were too big to fit and 2) 90% of the lockers were used up anyways. We brought our things over to a baggage holding store only to see a sign out front that said they were full and not taking anymore luggage. We got very lucky because someone happened just leave with two large suitcases and they allowed us to check ours in. However, a girl came in after us and they turned her away.
Plan Popular Activities for Weekdays
If there’s a popular attraction you really want to do like teamLab Borderless, chances are that there’s lots of other locals and tourists who want to do it too. We recommend doing those activities on a weekday where at least locals will likely have to work. Less crowds also means that you can get a better shot at taking nicer pictures without a ton of people in the background.
We chose a rainy Wednesday afternoon to visit teamLab Borderless and we still waited for about 45 minutes in the rain before we could get inside. Imagine what it would be like on a holiday weekend!
Be OK with Changes in Plans
We planned a very tight itinerary for our trip with about 2 activities and one restaurant reservation a day. While this meant we got to do a lot of things and eat at places that we wouldn’t have been able to just walk up to, it meant that we were very committed and were constantly running around trying to make our next reservation.
We were exhausted near the end of our trip and we made the decision to skip a few of the activities we had planned. We would’ve loved to make our own cup noodles from scratch but an extra two hours of sleep was too hard to turn down at that point. We think it’s important to be OK with the fact that your plan might change. You should be enjoying this vacation and if it means skipping the Cup Noodle Museum for a nap, that’s totally fine.