1. Isn’t Japan really expensive?
This is by and large the main thing people ask me when I talk to them about my travels through Japan. Of course, if you’re comparing Japan to South East Asian countries you are going to find it a little pricier but you can definitely explore the Country on a budget that doesn’t make you cry like an onion.
Let’s break it down:
Accommodation – you can expect to pay around £15/$20 for a room in a hostel in Japan – about the same as Europe and definitely less than Australia/NZ.
Renting a room on airbnb is probably more comfortable and will cost you about the same. Alternatively, you could Couchsurf and completely dissolve your accommodation costs – there is a great community of couch surfers in Tokyo and Osaka – in Japan you’ll find a lot of western ex pats and English teachers, as well as locals who will be willing to help out.
Food – you can get a Bento box for around £2.50, light street food snacks will cost you less than £1. Eating out, unless you’re going all Marco Pierre White, won’t set you back more than between £5-£10.
When it comes to your itinerary there’s a lot of great things you can do in Japan for free. Entrance to shrines, temples and museums can stack up but just be clear on what you want to achieve and see during your trip.
2. I’m travelling alone, will I be safe?
I’ve been to Japan twice now, and spent most of my time in the country travelling alone.
I don’t think there’s anywhere I’ve felt safer. I think when a country is unknown and unfamiliar, it’s easy to dwell on the bad things that you hear about it and dismiss the positive reviews – when I first headed out to Tokyo in 2014 I was hearing stories about subway molestations and the strange sex culture of Japan – there are good and bad people everywhere you go so don’t let these type of comments put you off. Obviously you should exert usual common sense but I found the people of Japan extremely kind and helpful.
3. I’ve heard nobody speaks English – is it true?
Actually a lot more people speak English than you might think – particularly the younger Japanese people or people working in customer facing positions (in the metro, etc). As I mentioned, people are extremely friendly, it seemed all I had to do was look confused at a map and someone would materialise offering to help. I did find it useful to know a few words of Japanese – don’t get me wrong, my vocabulary is extremely limited but don’t to underestimate how useful it is to be able to point at a place on map and say “Sumimasen?” (excuse me?) or at a menu and say “Ichi onegaishimasu!” (One please!) You will also find most restaurants have plastic models or picture books of the menu if the staff don’t speak English.
4. How difficult is it to get around? Are the signs in English too?
The Tokyo subway is a bit of a spider web and it can be a little confusing to navigate at first – on each of the lines, there are standard trains, that stop along all the stations on that line, and “express” trains which only stop at the major stations – if you get on an express train, lights will show which stations the train will stop at.
In Tokyo and Kyoto most street signs and subway signs are also in English.
Hiroshima has a trolley service rather than a metro but the stops are also displayed in English.
In Osaka, a number of subways do not have a translation in English so you can find you get off the train at a station and all of the signage is in Japanese only, or Japanese with Chinese translation(!) be sure to carry an English subway map so you can cross reference with the Japanese signs.
If you take the Shinkansen, announcements are made in English too. In case you should ever get lost, I always recommend carrying your address of where you’re staying in Japanese too (most hostels/hotels have business cards or your host can write this out for you).
5. Will my bank card work? Can I change currency?
I can’t speak for every nationality here (I’m British) but be sure to research the specific card you intend to travel with before you travel. I had a UK visa debit card and I found that most ATMs and banks would not accept this – I had to use ATMs at Citibank branches and Japanese post offices. Most major cities have these but make sure you have plenty of cash with you too.
Charges for using your bank card in stores and restaurants in Japan can be high so I preferred to use cash and minimise the fees I was paying. Currency exchanges are available in most major cities and airports.
6. What about the food? Is it all sushi?
Thankfully no! I personally don’t eat seafood (I know I know, I’m probably missing out on a huge part of Japanese culture there) but thankfully Japanese cuisine has a lot more to offer – noodles are a big part of Japanese cuisine (Ramen, Udon, etc), as is curry, soup and yakitori/teppanyaki grills. It’s common for people to eat alone in Japan – there are a lot of restaurants catering to this, where you may just sit on a bench with others, so don’t be put off eating in restaurants if you are travelling alone. It’s common practice here.
7. Is the JR Rail pass really worth it?
Ahh that old chestnut! Honestly, it depends what your itinerary is whilst you are in Japan. If you’re spending the majority of your time in Tokyo and you think you might possibly head to Kyoto for a day or two, then it’s not at all necessary.
Let’s do the maths:
7 Day standard JR pass – 29,110 YEN or £172 or $245
14 Day standard JR pass – 46,390 YEN or £274 or $391
21 Day standard JR pass – 59,350 YEN or £351 or $500
Tokyo to Kyoto – Nozomi Shinkansen – 13,710 one way or 27,420 return
Kyoto to Osaka – 410 yen one way, or 820 return
Osaka to Hiroshima – 10,640 yen one way, or 21,280 return
Hiroshima to Tokyo – 19,220 yen one way, or 38,440 return
Kyoto to Hiroshima – 11,580 yen one way, or 23,160 return
As you will note, if you’re just doing a couple of city stops, you’re pretty much breaking even with the JR pass – it starts becoming worthwhile if you’re travelling a lot around wider Japan.
You must buy before coming to Japan (Check the JR page for more info).
Any other concerns about travelling to Japan? 🙂