Japan Activities and Itineraries
Japan is home to some of the most friendly and welcoming people on earth. Speak to anyone who has visited Japan and they’ll tell you a similar story.
The country has enough wonderful places and scenery to keep you going back for more and the generous hosts make Japan so easy to travel around – especially if you don’t speak Japanese.
Tips for travelling around Japan
Our first week in Japan was spent travelling around the north island, Hokkaido. During our first couple of days in Sapporo, we used the subway when we wanted to get around, although most things are fairly central.
For the next five days we hired a car and drove over to the Shiretoko Peninsula. We spent two days in the Daisetsuzan National Park, on the way back to Sapporo. As we only had five days to spare on Hokkaido, having a car was the best option for us. It also helped us get around the remote towns of the Shiretoko Peninsula.
From Hokkaido, we flew to Tokyo where, aside from walking, we used the subway to get around 100% of the time. Each stop has an English name translation and the announcements on the trains are in both Japanese and English, making it easy to get around.
It was only when we left Tokyo that we activated our Japan Rail (JR) pass. We didn’t activate it earlier as it can’t be used on the subways in Tokyo. As soon as it’s activated, the clock starts the 7, 14 or 21 days countdown, depending on which pass you buy. Having the JR pass was the most cost effective option for our last two weeks in Japan, as we planned to see as much of the country as possible.
If you choose to use a JR pass, you’ll need to buy a voucher before arriving in Japan and redeem it from the airport when you arrive. A handy guide to figure out if it will be worth it for you, can be found here.
The language barrier
Google Translate is your friend in Japan. Some restaurants have English translations of their menus but not everywhere – especially in the more remote regions. It’s a good idea to learn a few key phrases too, such as Hello (Konnichiwa), please (Onegaishimasu) and thank you (Arigatōgozaimashita). Don’t worry – Google Translate will also play the words back to you to help with pronunciation.
We bought a SIM card at the airport when we landed in Sapporo, which proved to be a great idea – especially when it comes to translating when out and about.
There are certain rules around etiquette in Japan and the Japanese take them extremely seriously. Some rules may seem odd to us travellers from Western countries, but it’s important to respect the etiquette of the country you’re visiting – always.
You’ll notice when boarding the subway that there are rules on display everywhere. Mostly things like not playing music loud and not standing with your backpack on when it’s crowded. The rules are there to make travel pleasant for all passengers.
It’s bad etiquette to eat while walking down the street and you’ll find designated eating places near street food stalls.
Tipping is not a thing in Japan. It is even considered rude in some places. We didn’t realise this until we had waitstaff chase after us out of a restaurant with our change. The best thanks you can give after a lovely meal is “Arigatōgozaimashita”.