Power outlets are the same as North America – no need for adapters if you’re from the States or Canada.
If you rent a car, they drive on the left side of the road. Parking is rare and expensive – don’t bother renting a car.
Get the JR Pass! You’ll save so much money traveling around. JR doesn’t cover many local subways, but it covers most Prefecture to Prefecture, City to City, and the Shinkansen trains. We got ours here: [https://www.japan-rail-pass.com/]
Download the Hyperdia App for the railway system. Do it now! Hyperdia will give you more accurate times and directions than Google or Apple maps. It also lets you take advantage of your JR Pass to give cheaper and accurate costs per trip.
7/11s have international ATMs that will take Visa, MasterCard, AMEX bank cards from USA (and other countries). Go there for your cash withdrawal. Don’t bother with money exchange places – ATM it in the airport.
Charles Schwab ATM cards have no international fees.
You’ll need cash for most restaurants, some taxis, and all rail travel. We recommend a minimum of $150 a week per person to travel comfortably, not including your hotels. Thrifty travelers may be able to spend less if you do street food and plan out your rail trips.
Taxi’s in Tokyo took American credit cards, but Kyoto and Hiroshima did not. Count on cash for Taxi.
The upscale shops take AMEX / VISA.
Alternatively, some (not all) high end restaurants relied on cash. Get cash.
$1 USD is roughly 1,000 yen. We took out 30,000 yen in the ATM (around $285 USD) for our first week between two people. ATMs require minimum of 100$ per withdrawal with American cards.
Trains stop early in Japan, around 11:30pm or so. Plan getting around accordingly. If you miss the last train, expect to be sitting around until 4-5am.
Get a Sapphire Reserve card. $300 towards your hotels, taxis, airbnb, airfare will be covered in the $450/year fee, then you can get Global Entry for free which was well worth it. It pays for itself, and on top of that the priority lounges are included.
Get Global Entry – saves tons of time and headache when re-entering the States.
Be prepared with their rail system. It’s vast but unintuitive. They have the English names for stations so you’ll need to pay close attention where trains come and go.
Some places only take reservations in Japanese (Suntory Brewery and Mazda Museum). If this is the case, get a native speaker to help you (concierge at hotel, or AirBNB host) or use Google Chrome’s browser with built in page translation to help you navigate If this is You don’t need one for baseball game.
If you get stuck in an airport for hours, do the lounges. They have food, drinks, and showers. Leaving the airport for a hotel (especially if you’re in China) is a waste of time and risky for any layover longer than 24 hours.
Don’t Take AirChina. Avoid Chinese airports all together if you can. More on that in the AirChina article.
Trash cans are your white whale. Trash cans are spread out far and wide and you’ll be lucky to find one every few miles. Ironically, Japan is a immaculate.
Japan’s railway is incredible (accurate and vast) but it’s unintuitive, complicated, and a lot of lines stop early.
Japanese people love being clean. It’s why the toilets are all bidets, and they demand no shoes in the house. The soaps, shampoos, and laundry detergents all smell nice. It’s pleasant to be in a country that appreciates cleanliness and good smells. Most people wear cologne or perfume (or smell clean in general). We witnessed a mother catching the crumbs of her young daughters cookie in her hands to avoid a mess on the train.
If people are sick or think they will be sick, they wear a mask in public. Wish the US would steel that idea.
They obsess over efficiency. The houses are technologically marvels too. The bathrooms are all bath/shower merged into one unit. It also acts as a clothes dryer. So rather than having a separate unit for clothes drying, you hang them in the shower (like you would a wet bathing suit) and press a button that enacts drying/heat mode. Awesome.
Ever see a Japanese movie film where the characters eat at the speed of light and gulp down their drinks in one giant swig? Not a caricature. They eat and drink with the vigor of a Samurai.
Vending machines every 20 feet. Who’s filling these things?
For every logical or efficient thing in Japan is an oddity. Vending machines galore, but no trash cans. Technically marvelous bathrooms everywhere, but sometimes no soap or no paper towels. And it’s not that they ran out, that bathroom just doesn’t have soap or paper towels.
If you do AirBNB, expect to play a real life game of Myst. The addresses through the app don’t work so you need to follow the pictures that the Japanese owners provide you via email. Find your way to the AirBNB. Find the key. Punch in the code. Unlock the gate. Unlock the door. It’s a fun (but can be frustrating if it’s late at night and you’re not expecting it) way of checking in.
Coffee and donut shops are closed in the morning in Japan. But open late at night. Weird.
Water pressure in the showers is like Niagara Falls. Every AirBNB and even the Onsen. Kramer would be in 7th Heaven.