Japan travel checklist

Japan Travel Checklist for Planning Japanese Trips & Travel

As unique as it is stunning, friendly and welcoming a trip to Japan is unlike anywhere else that you’ve been before.  Certain things are done differently in Japan to other places that you may have visited.  Here are our recommendations and tips for things that you need to do before you go to Japan.  Welcome to our Japan Travel Tips and Japan Travel Checklist.

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Check the Entry Requirements for Japan

This, as for other countries, the number 1 requirement prior to travel to Japan and it should be number one on your traveling to Japan checklist.   Check well before you travel to see if you need a visa to enter Japan.   And then check to see how long you are allowed to remain in the country.

As British Citizens, we can stay up to 90 days without a visa.  We always check with the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.  Here are some key links for what your entry requirements are for Japan.

While it is more usual to pre-book accommodation in Japan than in any other country, if by some chance you do NOT plan to travel in this way, then you will need to book your first night accommodation, or at least have a hotel or hostel address in order to complete the immigration and customs forms on arrival in Japan.  We recommend using booking.com to book your accommodation in Japan.

Sign up for Foreign Travel Advice About Japan

Wherever you live, your government will provide advice for foreign travel.  This is key for your Japan travel planning and could be very pertinent to your safety and security while travelling.  In the UK this is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the FCO.  When you sign up for notifications, and the government policy about a certain country or area changes, then you’ll get notified automatically by email.  Check out their advice.

Japan_foreign_travel_advice

You’ll probably be the first to know if trouble breaks out around you, but the FCO is pretty good at letting you know if there’s anything else to be aware of and somewhere you should NOT be going to.

Japan Foreign Travel Advice From Your Government

It’s key that you take heed of the advice that your government gives.  If something does go wrong and you need consular assistance, then this may not be forthcoming if you have gone against specific advice.  More importantly, your travel insurance will be null and void.

Visiting Japan if you have a criminal record

If you are visiting Japan and have a criminal record then we’d advise that you check with the Japanese consulate closest to you and confirm whether you require a visa to travel to Japan with a criminal record.

You will be asked to answer the question on your passenger card on entry to Japan if you have even been convicted of a crime.  If you answer yet, then you will be taken aside and questions.  You may be refused entry to Japan.   Many foreigners, the most famous of whom are probably Paris Hilton and Paul McCartney have been refused entry in the past because of prior convictions.

For Japan Proof of Onward Travel is Required

Japan is one of the countries that requires proof of onward travel.  This is especially important for your Japan trip checklist if you’re arriving by ferry and don’t have an outbound flight booked!   It’s likely that your travel to Japan will be scheduled, but on the off chance that you have an open-ended date, then you’ll need to buy a refundable flight ticket.

If you are flying into Japan, then you will be denied access to your flight unless you have a confirmation of an onward ticket out of the country.  This is because the airline is responsible for getting you out of the country again if you’re refused entry.  It’s recommended that you have an airline ticket out of the country.

The easiest way to organize proof of onward travel is to book a flight with a carrier or supplier that lets you cancel within a certain period.  Expedia lets you do this.  We have more on providing proof of onward travel here when we really don’t know when or how we want to leave a country.

You can also use a service like Onward Ticket – a company formed by Digital Nomads to give you a PDF ticket and a valid PNR for your transit through immigration.  It’s an excellent idea, a great price and a super service > get it here!

Travelling to Japan with Medications

Japan has very strict rules that relate to the import and carrying of prescription medication.  Even if you have been taking your medication for a long time, or it is legal in your home country does not mean that it will be legal in Japan.  We recommend that you carry a letter from a doctor detailing your medical condition and outlining your prescribed medication.

The list of substances that are forbidden includes some over the counter painkillers like those containing codeine, Vicks inhalers.  It is usual to be allowed to carry 30 days of medications.  If you are in any way concerned, then check with Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare for more information.

Get the RIGHT Travel Insurance for Japan

If you are planning to hike to certain altitudes (the summit of Mount Fuji is 3776 metres for instance), or you are planning to undertake specific activities, then you need to make sure that your travel insurance covers you for those activities and altitudes.  Check out our guide to Japan Travel Insurance here.

You can read more about Travel Insurance for Japan in our in-depth article here.

If you’re leaving from your home country then getting insurance is usually straightforward, but if you’re away for a longer period of time then it becomes more complicated. There are only a handful of insurance companies that will allow you to take out a policy once you have left your home country or allow you to extend your policy once you’re away from home OR renew it while you’re away.  One of those is World Nomads > Get an insurance quote NOW.  READ THE SMALL PRINT.

 

World Nomads enable you to buy, extend and claim online, even after you’ve left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from over 150 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.

Climbing Fuji Altitude insurance

Pre-Book Your Accommodation in Japan

The Japanese culture is to pre-plan both travel and accommodation.  In that way, more than in any other country – and ESPECIALLY during holiday periods – you’ll find it a requirement to prebook your accommodation in Japan.   Luckily, there are many options available to pre-book on booking.com.

You should book WELL ahead of time (ASocialNomad readers, on average prebook their Japanese accommodation a minimum of 6 months in advance for their Japanese trips!!)

If you are travelling during the following holiday periods, then you will need to be very organized.

Japan Holiday Times – book well in advance

  • January 1 – New Years Day
  • January 15 – The Coming of Age Day
  • February 11 – The National Foundation Day
  • March 21 – the Vernal Equinox
  • April 29 – Green Day
  • May 3 The Constitution Memorial Day
  • May 5 – Children’s Day
  • July 20 – Maritime Day
  • September 15 – The Respect for the Aged Day
  • September 23 – the Fall Equinox Day
  • 2nd Monday in October – Health Sports Day
  • November 3 – Culture Day
  • November 23 – Labour Day
  • December 23 – The Emperor’s Birthday

You may also find accommodation is booked out during the Japanese Cherry Blossom season.

Write your Hotel or Hostel Addresses in Japanese

Especially if you’re getting off an international flight then you’ll want to write your accommodation address in Japanese.   Japanese lettering can be bewildering at first – and if you do get lost and can’t find your hotel or hostel, then having this in writing will allow anyone to help you.

You will need to register at your accommodation in Japan

Japan law and regulations require that foreign visitors provide detailed information when checking in at a hotel or hostel.  This may include the copying of your passport.

Plan how you will get from the airport to your hotel

Japan can be somewhat bewildering for the first time visitor.  Be sure to work out how you’ll get from the airport or ferry port to your hotel on your first day.

Download and use a VPN in Japan

We always travel with a Virtual Private Network (VPN).  We fire up our VPN when connecting to public Wi-Fi networks to ensure that no one is snooping on our data when we’re booking things, looking at our bank details or paying bills.

It also lets you do things that might be blocked geographically.  Like, watch Netflix or the BBC.   We recommend ExpressVPN, which we’ve used in some of the world’s most difficult countries to access the internet – check it out here.  This link will give you up to 49% off RRP or 3 months for free!

There are no reports that the Japanese government blocks access to certain websites, other than a few manga piracy sites, but we’ve found that cloaking our location helps us find cheaper flights.

As you’re likely to be connecting to the public Wi-Fi in hotels, hostels and the like, you’ll also want to fire up your VPN before you put any passwords, banking details or credit cards into whatever site you’re using.

We’re always super conscious of our data security – and ALWAYS use a VPN – you can get up to 49% off RRP – or 3 months for free with this link to the VPN that we use – ExpressVPN.

READ THIS POST
How A VPN can secure you and help you save BIG when travelling

In Japan carry ID at all times

It is the law in Japan that you carry your ID with you at all times.  There are hefty fines if you do not.  Keep your passport safe and carry it in a safe place.  Japan is very safe to travel in, but if you’re not used to carrying your passport at all times you really don’t want to leave it behind in a strange place!

We tend to carry a laminated copy of our passports, especially if we are hiking and want to make sure that all our valuables are secured.  We tend to leave our passports locked in our portable safe in our hotel rooms.

Plan ahead for your Cash and Payment needs in Japan

Japan is still primarily a cash-based society, so you’ll want to plan ahead for how you’ll pay for your accommodation, your transport, your activities and your food and drink.  Check out our post on Japanese ATMs, fees and charges here.

What about Electricity in Japan?

The voltage in Japan is 100 volts.  North America is 120 volts, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, 230 volts.   The most common electric socket that you will find is a 2 pin one.  Most electrical equipment from North America will work fine without an adapter, but hairdryers, for instance, will most likely not.  You will need to buy an adapter.  You will find it difficult to buy an adapter for British, Europe and other countries in Japan.  Bring one from home, you can buy one here.

What Health Issues Are There in Japan

Check with your government and healthcare advisor about the risks of travelling to Japan.  It is generally very low.  There was an outbreak of dengue fever while we travelled in Japan and rabies is present in bats in Japan, but is usually of little concern to most travellers.

And remember just because you’re travelling in Japan which is a non-malarial area doesn’t mean that there aren’t mosquitos.  There are mosquitos in Japan and travelling in summer means that you will be more prone to bumping into them.  If you’re prone to being bitten (like Sarah), then stock up on mosquito repellent and wear appropriate clothing to protect yourself.

Apps & Websites to Use in Japan

There is a shortlist of apps and websites that will aid your trip to Japan massively.  Installing them on your device of choice and learning how to use them before you get to Japan will help you immensely.  You’re going to want to focus on using apps that work as well offline so that you don’t chew through any data allowances you might have.

Download and Install Google Translate – and the Japanese Dictionary

While you’ll be able to communicate – at least basically – with most people in the more touristy areas of Japan, it definitely helps to be able to translate to some extent.  Even if it means you’re just looking at the label of a bottle of sake in the supermarket!

Google Translate works very well with Japanese and it’s well worth downloading the Japanese dictionary for offline use when you’re travelling in Japan.

Bookmark this site to find ATMs in Japan

Finding ATMs that you can use with a foreign card can be tough, although its getting better.   ATMs provided by Seven Bank let you withdraw cash with international cards.  You’ll find Seven Bank ATMs inside the 7-11 convenience stores in Japan.  Bookmark this site so you’ll always be able to find your nearest ATM in Japan.

Read our post about Japanese ATMs and Currency Exchanges here

Download XE currency converter to use in Japan

While you’re downloading apps for travel to Japan get yourself the XE currency converter app.  Japanese Yen is one of the currencies you can track and work out how much or how little you’re paying for things.  Even if you don’t have internet access XE will give you an idea of the exchange rate from your last internet connection.

Use Google Maps or Maps.me when travelling in Japan

If you use Google maps then be sure to save the map for offline use.  GPS positioning will still work even if you don’t have access to the internet.  We like to have a backup and tend to use maps.me as well as Google maps.  Sometimes the content is the same, sometimes it’s different and it’s good to see an alternative point of view!

Maps.me is just one of the resources that we use when planning a Trip > you can check out where else we (and a host of other travellers) look when we’re trip planning.

Download Line to Use in Japan

While WhatsApp may be the app of choice across the South American continent it is Line that is primarily used in Japan.  Line is similar to WhatsApp, Facebook messenger or weChat in China. Line has about 218 million users across Japan, Thailand and Taiwan.

NHK World TV

This app is provided by the public broadcaster.  It is free and can be set up to receive emergency notifications – in English – about tsunami warnings, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and weather-related incidents.  You’ll need to turn on push notifications to ensure you get them!

Tell your bank that you’re going to Japan

You’ll likely be pre-planning your accommodation and travel when you travel in Japan and therefore paying for it ahead of time, on a card.  Make sure you have a card that doesn’t charge you for foreign currency transactions.  Or if it does make sure it’s a low rate.

We recommend Wise (formerly Transferwise) and their multi-currency Account for great rates and ease of management.  You can use the Transferwise debit card easily and for free for up to GBP200 (and equivalent in your local currency) per month for withdrawals PLUS no foreign transactions fees on card purchase!  – Read how we save with Transferwise here.

Be sure to tell your bank that you’re travelling to Japan and ensure that you have plenty of funds for your trip.

Buy a JR Pass for Travel in Japan

Japan has a superb train network.  Most (not all) of that train network can be utilised by buying the JR (Japan Rail) Pass, which once purchased allows you to travel in a reserved seat for free.  The Japan Rail Pass is of excellent value.

Train travel in Japan is fast, super, super-fast, exceedingly clean and amazing.  But we understand it’s not for everyone.  Even with the JR Pass, it can be beyond some budgets.  Buses are cheaper in Japan but will take a LOT longer (up to 5 times longer in some cases).

The best way to travel around Japan is by train – and you can save a fortune by buying the JR Pass BEFORE you get to Japan. Get your JR Pass here.

Use a Pasmo or Suica Card in Japan

Pasmo and Suica cards are electronic transport cards that can be pre-charged.  If you are taking multiple short trips on metro area JR Trains and subways, you can use these cards to save time and money on buying individual tickets.    They’re like the London Oyster card of Japan.

You can buy them at ticket vending machines in bus stations, subway stations and train stations.  You can pick up preloaded ones with values from ¥1,000 to ¥10,000, with the ¥500 deposit included in the price.

You can also use these cards to make purchases from some stores and vending machines.

Prebook your Tours in Japan

For many people travelling to Japan is a once in a lifetime experience and maximising your time there is seriously important.  You don’t want to be sat on WiFi trying to figure out where to go next, you want to be out there experiencing it.  On our first month-long trip to Japan, we were up and ready to go at 0600 EVERY SINGLE DAY to make the most of it (we slept for a week in Vietnam afterwards!!).

Arranging what you want to do and where is absolutely key to your experience and making the most of your time here.   Equally, you’ll want to take advantage of any skip the line tickets, to make sure you’re not spending your vacation stuck in line!  Here are some of the best experiences we recommend pre-booking in Japan.

Best Experiences to Prebook for your Japan Trip

  • Go to the Robot Restaurant in Tokyo – giant robots engage in battle in Shinjuku – a once in a lifetime show – discount tickets available here.
  • Visit the Mitaka City Studio Ghibli Museum in Tokyo and experience all the magic of Hayao Miyazaki’s classic movies! Last minute tickets available here!
  • One Day Mt Fuji, Hakone and Lake Trip – awesome views, amazing trip and the best way to see a whole lot in one day!  Book tickets now!
  • Extremely unique to Japan – head to a Sumo stable and watch morning training – this incredible experience will be a once in a lifetime trip!  Book now to avoid disappointment!
  • Prebook this incredible Maiko makeover in Kyoto – an incredible experience you’ll never forget!  Book now!
  • Organise this Gion, Kyoto, nightwalk ahead of time and you’ll get behind the scenes to see what really happens in Gion! 

.Best Skip the Line Tickets to Prebook for your Japan Trip

  • Tokyo Disneyland pick up and skip the line tickets – book here
  • Skip the line at Tokyo’s tallet tower the Tokyo Skytree – plus get discount tickets here!
  • Get timed access to certain rides and areas with the Osaka Universal Studios skip the line tickets available here

Best Cultural and Food Experience in Japan

We just love taking cooking classes and so the experience by AirKitchen, is for us, incredible.  You not only get to learn local recipes (and take them away with you), but you do this in a private home, so you get serious cultural immersion in Japan as well!  Here are the best cooking classes you can prebook in Japan.

Make your own noodles in Tokyo – this is one of the highest-rated cooking classes in Japan – and it’s well worth it!  you’ll not only make your own noodles, but also gyoza too – an incredible experience don’t miss out!

Try to Learn a Few Key Words of Japanese

If you’re using a translation app, then you’ll likely pick up a few words of Japanese as you travel around.  You’ll make a lot more friends and get a lot more smiles if you can manage a few simple words from the get-go.  Here are a few Japanese phrases to get you started:

  • Hello – Kon’nichiwa
  • Goodbye – Sayōnara
  • Yes – Hai
  • No – Iie
  • Excuse me – Sumimasen
  • Please – Onegaishimasu
  • Thank you -Arigatou gozaimasu (or just Arigato)
  • To ask for the bill just make an “X” with your index fingers!

Although you can travel to Japan without a word of Japanese, the people of the country are friendly and unfailingly polite.  A few phrases will steer you well.

Wi-Fi in Japan is ok, but not everywhere!

Generally, you’ll find internet access in Japan to be very good.  Every hostel, hotel and apartment that you stay at will probably have it.   And it will usually be free.  That said, you won’t always find that the cafes and restaurants that you go to will have Wi-Fi.  You might want to consider getting a local sim, pocket wifi Japan or a portable Wi-Fi unit for your travels.   It’s relatively cheap and you can preorder and pay for this before you leave home.

 

Can You Drink Tap Water in Japan?

Another absolutely key item for your checklist for travelling to Japan.  Yes.  Japan’s tap water is drinkable.  It is reliable and well maintained.  There is no high level of minerals to upset tummies.  That said, we recommend that you travel with a reusable water bottle to minimise your purchases of single-use plastics.

We also carry filter water bottles, in order than when we’re hiking, we can safely drink from stream and river water.  Check out our guide to filter water bottles here.

If you Smoke in Japan be aware of where you can

Smoking on the streets of Japan is forbidden.  There are specific areas where smoking is allowed and if you smoke outside of these areas is extremely disrespectful and offensive.  That said, there are bars, restaurants and specific cars on trains where you can smoke.  Check the signs.

Secure Your Valuables with a Portable Safe.

Japan is generally very, very safe.  And we never felt insecure or that our valuables were at risk at all.   However, we always use a Pacsafe portable safe when we travel.  It secures our laptops, passports, cash and other valuables.  It’s a wire mesh lined safe that we attach to something solid in our room, apartment or even a tree when we’re snorkelling.  For us, it’s a key item to put on your checklist for Japan trip planning.

Getting a Portable Wi-Fi in Japan

Roaming costs to Japan are very expensive from North America and Europe.  Organising a portable Wi-Fi unit to collect on your arrival will ensure that you get great coverage, easy access to real-time translating on your phone.  You’ll be able to connect all your devices to this unit, use for internet access, cheap calls, Skype access, whatever it is that you need to do.

You can rent these once you arrive in Japan, but they are cheaper to arrange PRIOR to your trip.

 

Tipping in Japan

I’ll make this easy.  There is no tipping in Japan. Period.  None.     That’s right.  Never leave a tip in Japan.  That’s great, it means you’ll have more money to spend on experiences, food, drinks.  Go on, splash out and book yourself a fancy ryokan stay now!

Taking Photographs in Japan

It goes without saying that you’re going to want to take a lot of photographs in Japan (and you’ll probably want to ensure that you have some backup SD cards to store all your photos on).  There are some key considerations that you’ll want to take into account when taking photos in Japan.

  • There is no law about taking photographs of people in public places. It is the publishing of those photographs to the internet where the law comes in. You’ll need to ask permission to post the photograph unless it was taken at a public event.
  • If photography is forbidden in a certain area there will be a sign with a camera crossed out. If in doubt, always ask.
  • Selfie sticks are banned in some places (Woohoo!) these include the JR West train stations. If you’re at all unsure ask.

Travelling with Tattoos in Japan

It is entirely possible to travel to Japan with Tattoos.  Tattoos are not illegal in Japan, the issue is slightly more complex.  You will rarely see Japanese people with exposed tattoos.  They tend to be covered for social and cultural reasons.

Tattoos are banned in certain places – like onsens, ryokans and gyms.  If you have tattoos and plan on travelling to Japan, then we recommend reading this guide.

Driving in Japan

Traffic in Japan drives on the left. (yee ha, says the Brit in me J).  Signposting on rods is generally only in Japanese and if you don’t understand the language you will seriously struggle.  Traffic around cities, especially Tokyo is very congested.   There is little to no legal roadside parking.

The traffic laws in Japan detail that every driver is held responsible in the event of an accident, therefore Japanese Compulsory Insurance is mandatory for all owners and drivers.

You will also need an international driver permit issued by your home country prior to arrival in Japan

The National blood-alcohol level is 0.03 per cent.  If you are stopped for driving under the influence of drinks or drugs your license will be confiscated.  If you are found guilty of this offence, then you could be subject to up to 15 years in prison, longer if you cause injury or death.

We REALLY recommend buying a JR Pass and using the public transport systems to move around Japan, it’s so much quicker and much more relaxing.

The best way to travel around Japan is by train – and you can save a fortune by buying the JR Pass BEFORE you get to Japan. Get your JR Pass here.

What You Need to Know About Shoes in Japan

Shoes are typically not worn inside many buildings in Japan.  Oh, I don’t mean that you’re going to walk into a store and have to take your shoes off, but it’s well worth getting used to looking out for shoes at the entrance to buildings.  If there are shoes there then it means you should remove yours before entering.

In many cases you will be given a separate pair of “indoor shoes” or sandals to wear inside, this is especially the case if you’re staying in a ryokan.  Although you do NOT want to wear any footwear on the tatami mats!  (for more on the etiquette of Ryokans, check out our guide here ).

If you are buying new shoes specifically for your trip – consider that you may be taking your shoes on and off a lot and laces may prove to be much more irritating than you’d ever thought possible.

Take Hand Sanitiser to Japan

Japan is very clean.  Super, super clean.  Public toilets may sometimes be squat toilets, but they are also generally clean.  They do not, however, usually have either hot water or soap with which to wash your hands.  Stay healthy, take hand sanitiser with you.

Take a Garbage Bag with you

It was an anti-terrorism measure in 1995 that started the trend of the removal of public garbage bins.  Following an attack by a terrorist gang on the Tokyo metro with explosives being left in garbage cans, public garbage cans were removed.  You will need to take your trash back to your accommodation with you.  National Parks also follow this and have a pack it in, pack it out rule.

The Seasons in Japan

Japan is in the northern hemisphere and has four different seasons

  • Spring:  March to May
  • Summer:  June to August
  • Autumn:  September to November
  • Winter:  December to February.

However, the temperature and weather differ immensely between different locations of Japan.  Check your weather and pack accordingly.  Layers ALWAYS win.

We hope you’re enjoying this stage of planning your Japan trips and that this travel to Japan checklist helps you with that.   Activities that we’d recommend you try and find time for during your trip to Japan include:

Let us know how your Japan planning goes, how you found this Japan checklist and what other questions you have either in the comments or drop us an email [email protected]

Travel Tips for Exploring Japan

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