Are you working out the details of your next trip to Japan? I mean, is this your first trip to the land of the rising sun? Oh, I’m delighted for you in advance! Every trip to Japan promises great discoveries but the first trip to Japan leaves magical memories.
Japan is a serene modernity with, surprisingly when you don’t expect it, a magnificent natural setting. That said, at the moment, you must be in the preparations that some people (including me), enjoy the least: the administration and logistics of the trip. It’s tedious but it allows you to enjoy your trip to the fullest once you’re there. In this article, we will talk about transportation, accommodation, cash, dangers, things to take, I will even give you some ideas for an itinerary in Japan… Japan is a destination that cannot be improvised in order to enjoy your first stay in Japan.
HOW TO PREPARE MY FIRST STAY IN JAPAN
THE ADMINISTRATIVE ASPECTS OF A STAY IN JAPAN
I will hear, I think, a sigh of relief for those like me who can’t stand the passage in the embassies because… for a stay in Japan of 90 days maximum, no visa is needed, a valid passport is enough. If you plan to stay longer than 90 days for study or work, you will need an adapted visa, it’s not really a tourist stay anymore.
TRANSPORTATION IN JAPAN
A direct flight to Japan is a 12-hour flight with a time difference of 7 to 8 hours on arrival. Therefore, prepare yourself in advance so that you are not completely lost in the first few days. To take advantage of the best airfare deals, it is best to avoid the high tourist season (cherry blossom season in spring) and be on the lookout months in advance (which was our case) for regular promotions from French, Japanese and Asian airlines to try and get the best prices for flights to Japan. With a bit of luck and persistence, you can save over 200e / prs on your tickets.
On our side, it was a flight with a stopover in Dubai with Emirates. A flight for a first trip to Japan that we will remember for a long time because we were in business class on the first part of the flight, for the young people (still students for Magda) with the still fresh twenties that we were, it was a most pleasant flight.
THE JAPANESE SESAME: THE JAPAN RAILPASS
On the Japanese territory, unless you have some knowledge of Japanese and have had your driving licence translated (this is also possible on the spot, it will just take 2 hours of your time), you will mainly travel by bus/subway/train/local train (the famous shinkansen). To do this, the best option is to take a Japan RailPass for 7, 14 or 21 days which gives you access to all the lines. The price may, at first glance, seem prohibitive (and it is for students travelling to Japan for the first time) BUT you will see that, if you plan to visit Japan without limiting yourself to the capital, Tokyo, the Japan RailPass option is much more cost-effective than buying single tickets and, above all, it will allow you to discover more of the magnificent Japanese territory by using the comfort, speed and punctuality of the shinkansen.
It is a mixture of the modern and the ancient, the eccentric and the traditional, a striking contrast between the cosmopolitan cities and the nature that makes up 70% of the Japanese territory. It’s true that at first you are struck by the large, sprawling cities, but Japan’s mountainous landscapes are just a train ride away. Just get away from the big cities and you will see that Japan rhymes a lot with nature.
Interacting with Japanese people, even young ones, in English is not as easy as you might think (even if as French people, we are not geniuses in foreign languages either) and Magda’s knowledge of Japanese helped us a lot, whether it was for a home stay like couchsurfing or airbnb, to find our way around in the street, to order in a restaurant or to make some rudimentary exchanges. In fact, I can only advise you to learn some basic Japanese (like recognizing kanji) with tools like Preply that give you access to experienced tutors available anywhere from your smartphone or tablet. This is a worthwhile investment if you want to immerse yourself more deeply in Japanese culture while remaining a little more independent during your trip.
Another solution, more expensive however, is to go on a semi-organised trip to Japan or to use the services of a local guide who will act as an interpreter or even a travel agent to help you discover a Japan that is somewhat off the beaten track. This was the case during our 2nd trip where we had a guide/translator and it allowed us to make some very nice encounters and discoveries that were not in our initial program. But even in this case, I am sure you will be proud if you can use, like Magda, your basic Japanese to find your way around or exchange a few words with your Japanese interlocutors.
IN JAPAN, YOU WILL NEED CASH
I know, we are so used to using and abusing our credit cards that we forget that some countries don’t work that way. In Japan, cash is king and as surprising as it may seem, ATMs do not necessarily allow you to withdraw money at all hours. In the city, this is not a problem as there are many ATMs, but if you go into the countryside, it can become a problem… especially as some ATMs follow the office and bank opening hours. In fact, for your trip to Japan, prepare at least enough cash for the first 2 or 3 days. The ideal is to have the majority of your budget in cash (don’t worry, Japan is very safe in this respect). As for the budget, count 2500e / prs for 15 easy days.
A tip to save a little on your trip to Japan is to follow the evolution of the Yen/Euro rate. On our side, for our first trip, Magda was able to take advantage of very interesting exchange rates, so change your money in advance. On the spot, additional fees will be charged for each transaction.