Tips for First-timers in Japan
We’ve been to Japan twice, at the time of writing. Throughout our adventures, we’ve seen a lot, and have learnt a lot about the country. There are tons of guides out there that speak about how to use the IC cards, how to take the subway or Shinkansen etc. This guide is for those who’ve seen the repetitive articles already, and are looking for tips for first-timers in Japan.
A few conditions have to be met though. These tips cater mainly to couples, or non-family vacations; may not be applicable to those having young children or old folks. Our philosophy is to never scrimp on vacations, but spend within your limits of course. Time is money and we feel that the experience is always worth it.
1) Be Early for the Key Places You Want to Visit
If you are going to Japan for the first time, chances are you will be visiting places like Arashiyama Bamboo Groove, Himeji Castle, or even Disneyland. And chances are the places on your itinerary are the same places every other tourist is going to. You are there for a reason, and you’d want to capture the prettiest moments on photo. Without the crowd in the background. The last thing you want is to take your own sweet time and arrive at 11AM, only to find the place as crowded as Shenton Way on a weekday morning. Again, we would like to stress that this concept would not work if you’re bringing young children or old members as it may be inconvenient for them.
2) Get Accommodation Near Subway Stations
The difference between a 5 minutes walk to the station versus a 15 minutes walk is literally 10 minutes. It may not seem much, but it adds up. Consider this, on a 6-days trip, that sums up to an additional 2 hours of walking. You could easily do another tourist attraction with that lost time. Not to mention that you could easily pop by your hotel for a rest if need be. Again, spend within your own means, because the difference in price is substantially higher as it gets closer to the subway stations. For us, time-saving is the key, thus to each his own. Your mileage may vary.
3) Settle Breakfast on the Go
Time-saving is always our number one priority. The hotel’s dining area is not going to be open at 6AM to serve you breakfast if you were to reach the tourist spots at 8AM. You wouldn’t want to spend an hour at the cafe eating as well. To us, eating on the go is the best option. Nothing beats choosing an unknown onigiri flavor and eating on the subway. As such, you’ll also save some money on accommodation by selecting the non-breakfast options.
4) Orientate Yourselves Well
On the first day, our objective is always to get ourselves orientated with the area. Look out for the nearest shōtengai, that will likely be the place you’d hunt for your first meal. And also the place you’d look for random souvenirs to pack home.
Look out for the closest convenient stores, that will be your pit-stop for breakfast, as well as supper options. If you realize I didn’t recommend looking for a MacDonald’s or something. Family Mart, Lawson and 7-Eleven is where you’d want to be.
And then, chart out the shortest possible sheltered path to the subway. It is imperative that you do not hit bad weather and fall sick on your vacation.
5) Prepare Your Commute/Attraction Passes
I’ve emphasized this numerous times in our articles. As much as possible, purchase your tickets beforehand. Arrive in Japan and spend the first day orientating yourselves, and collecting your respective passes for the journey. You wouldn’t want to spend an hour queuing up at the JR Stations or Disney ticketing booths. Looking for the ticketing offices to collect your pre-purchased passes also help you orientate yourselves, so it’s a win-win situation!
6) Always Opt For Reserved Seating On Long Rides
Why? Because you’d get to sit down and enjoy the scenery. And if you’re tired, you can recharge with an hour nap. In Japan, the rides are so peaceful you could literally sleep like a baby. The culture is such that nobody speaks loudly in the trains. Except if there are tourists from *ahem* a certain country. Please estimate the time required and set your alarm (on low volume or vibrate mode please). You wouldn’t want to end up on the other side of Japan when you get up.
7) Bring Some Ammeltz Yoko Yoko and Good Footwear
It doesn’t matter if you’re an African athlete or a world class swimmer. At some point in time, your legs are going to ache from all that walking. The weather plays a part as well, in that cold weather, your calves will hurt. Japan is all about walking, and footwear is important. Come on guys, ditch those Havaianas or Crocs. Get some proper shoes on! And of course keep a bottle of Yoko Yoko in your bag. We’re speaking from experience, true story…
You’ve only got X number of days in Japan. Our philosophy is simple – make the most of your time here. Experience and soak up all the goodness of Japan. We hope you’ve enjoyed our tips for first-timers in Japan. Feel free to leave a comment should you have any questions. #MinAndLiang would be more than glad if we’re of help.