Tokyo Travel Tips: 5 Things You Need In Japan

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Tokyo Travel Tips

In June 2015, I finally took the trip of my dreams to Japan. I’ve had a school girl crush on the Land of the Rising Sun for years. It’s the mecca of Hello Kitty, ramen, vending machine canned coffee, extreme rush hour and home to 13.5 million people. My Japanese adventure was everything I hoped it would be (and so much more), but had I done my research beforehand, I would have known a few tips and tricks that would have made it so much smoother and more comfortable.

So without further ado, here are my top 5 Tokyo Travel Tips for having a great time and not messing up your vacation in Japan.

1. Comfortable, Stylish Walking Shoes

I’m a die hard lover of Chuck Taylors with their bold colors, white laces and classic style. My Converse are rad, but…we clocked about 20,000 steps hustling and bustling around Tokyo and by the end of the 3rd night, my feet were killing me. Fortunately for me, Okinawan sake is a powerful pain killer and after a few rounds at dinner, I was able to finish off the night by exploring the area around the Tokyo Tower despite my blistered toes.

tokyo travel tips www.coffeeandpassport.com

We walked everywhere, visiting shrines, exploring alleyways and markets and of course, the famed Harajuku fashion area on Takeshita Street.

tokyo travel tips www.coffeeandpassport.com
So cute. So not made for walking endless miles through the streets of Tokyo.

I spent quality some time in Japanese drug stores looking for bandaids and blister protection. We clocked at least 10 miles across the city one day. I highly recommend bringing only comfortable shoes and alternate wearing a pair every other day. And pack bandaids.

And by the way, along with those stylish, comfy shoes, remember to only bring high quality cushioned socks. You’ll be taking off your shoes a lot in Japan when you enter a home or particular restaurant areas and you’ll bring much dishonor upon your family if you show up in dingy gray gym socks full of holes. 😉

2. Cash. Cash. And a Little More Cash.

I brought about 200 US dollars worth of yen, thinking that would be plenty since I’d just use my credit card for incidentals throughout Japan. I mean, Tokyo is one of the most modern cities in the world, right? Well…in some respects it’s the epitome of modern, but it’s also a cash only city. I burned through my cash since I had to use it unexpectedly for train fare, meals, entrance fees and for settling up with my travel partners (we also used PayPal between us to transfer money for settling the bigger hotel bills). I would have been more comfortable with $400-$500 in cash.

Hotels take credit cards including accepting them at their restaurants and gift shops, but it was a surprise that I needed to use up my valuable yen so quickly. I partially blame my fascination with Japanese vending machines and my need to pop in my coins every couple hours for a coffee or tea. 

Tokyo is also one of the safest cities in the world, so don’t worry about having cash and your passport in your wallet. And…how about a cute and organized place to put that cash? I personally have the “File and Fly” organizer (the one in black below). It’s super cheap and I love that it gives me labels to help keep me organized if I get flustered when boarding a plane and trying to get situated once I find my seat.      

 

 

Tokyo Travel Tips www.coffeeandpassport.com
I had my fan, my Japanese candy and my JR Rail Pass…just needed more cash.

3. Internet Connectivity! Pocket Wi-Fi or Pre-Paid SIM Card

Just like I assumed I would be able to use my credit card everywhere, I also assumed there would be plentiful Wi-Fi available. Wrong.
Free and reliable Wi-Fi is not commonplace yet in Japan. Even our hotel Wi-Fi connectivity was consistently poor at all three hotels: spotty and inconsistent to the downright non-existent. While literally unplugging is part of the adventure of travel that helps you focus on the present moment, it was unnerving to get lost in a city where I couldn’t read the language at all without having the ability to use Google Maps or Google translate.
When I was separated from my travel companions, I couldn’t message them to tell them I was lost and I couldn’t find the restaurant where were supposed to meet. Fortunately, we had casually  stated that we could meet at the famed Hachi statue in Shibuya and were actually able to find each other in the middle of one of the busiest intersections in the world.
To ensure connectivity on your trip to Tokyo, there are two main options: buying a SIM card with a fixed amount of data over a week up to a month or renting a pocket Wi-Fi. Or…the new roaming device from Amazon (which I haven’t used yet, but looks rad).
tokyo travel tips www.coffeeandpassport.com
The SIM card versus pocket Wi-Fi is a virtual sumo battle.
Many companies will ship a rental pocket wifi device to the first hotel on your itinerary and some companies have a pick up location at the Narita Airport. So assuming I was able to navigate from the Narita Airport to the hotel by myself, I would be handed my package of SIM card or Pocket Wi-Fi when I checked in. However, according to Trip Advisor, sometimes it wasn’t waiting for you.
Spending half a day of your precious vacation time trying to get a SIM card or attempting to communicate with tech support is a total bummer to say the least.
According to expert world traveler Breanden Beneschott (in a guest post on Tim Ferriss’ blog), he recommends getting it in a store when you arrive and not leaving the store until it works.
Get a local SIM card (usually a prepaid or pay-as-you-go for between $20-$50 at T-Mobile, Vodafone, etc., with a few GBs of data that you can top up as-needed) everywhere you go so you can always be online and never stress about what you’re missing. Don’t leave the store until you have the phone in your hands with working Internet.
FYI – The Japan Tourism Agency has introduced a universal free Wi-Fi graphic for foreign visitors to identify wireless hotspots providing free Wi-Fi service. We found the Tokyo Tourist guide that highlights free Wi-Fi really didn’t work at all either. I even went into a McDonalds in Tokyo (blasphemy!) since it was identified as a free hotspot for tourists. Nope, it didn’t work either.
Japan free wifi
To dive a little deeper before making your decision, check out the following resources:
 And as a final note, stay off Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook if you don’t want to blow through your data. 🙂
I came across Glocalme Unlocked Travel Wifi product on Amazon in their new “unique and innovative” product section and though I haven’t used it yet, it looks like it might be perfect for international use. Powered by cloud sim technology, GlocalMe G1 is not required a sim card embedded in. It assigns different carrier’s data traffic to you automatically based on your location.
All you need to do is switch it on and enjoy your surfing with no roaming fees in 100 countries. Basically, free roaming at the touch of a button. Whoa. So far, it has a 4-star rating.

4. Google Maps (in English)

The Tokyo train system is relatively easy to navigate (at least in the downtown part of Tokyo where the signs include English characters- the further out you get from tourist areas, the more difficult I found it to be) and always on time. Trying to find your way on foot however, is not nearly as easy.
Personally, getting good and lost in a city is part of the fun. But, when I’m meeting up with people and can’t contact them, I’d like to know where I am, where I’m going and how to get there. However, to use Google Maps I needed a solid data connection and when Google Maps did work, directions were written in Kanji. At the time, the extent of my Japanese language was brought to me by Styx’s classic “Mr. Roboto”.
tokyo travel tips www.coffeeandpassport.com
Not super helpful, Google Maps…but domo arigato, Mr. Roboto

5. My Own Personal Walking Tour Guide

The last thing I wish I had on my trip to Tokyo is my own private tour guide. Fortunately, GPSMyCity.com has created a whole series of Walking Guide apps to guide you through the city. For a $5 app, totally worth it. It’s a BIG app though, so make sure you have room on your phone for all those vacation photos you’re going to take.
Tokyo Travel Tips www.coffeeandpassport.com #walkingtour

And when in doubt, get a guidebook (or two) from Amazon. I own the Japanese Slanguage book which like me, is both hilarious and actually really helpful. 

              

Okay, so I gave you my Tokyo travel tips, now we need your tips for your favorite city. Which city are you going to storm through like Godzilla through Tokyo? Let me know in the comments below and don’t forget your comfy walking shoes! 🙂

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  • I’d like a free walking tour of just about anywhere in Japan, Arles (France), Dublin, Glasgow, and Inverness.

  • Paris please for me. And this is a great article. I love the while SIM card vs wifi debate. I will be trying the SIM card route in Scotland. Wish me luck!!!

  • I know what you mean. I’ve spent 3 months in Japan over the past 2.5 years and Tokyo isn’t the best for wifi, although Starbucks and Tully’s coffee are guaranteed always good and enough of them around.

    However maybe the post should be titled “Tokyo” instead of Japan as other cities have great wifi networks. Osaka where I recently spent 2 weeks has free wifi all over the place, from cute little coffeehouses to Osaka free wifi service. And of course Starbucks.

    The problem is if you’re travelling on a budget getting these sim cards for internet connectivity is not cheap anymore. If on a 2 week break who cares right? But for the backpacker saving money I wouldn’t recommend getting any and just find the occasional wifi spot and it will be fine.

    I have a lot of friends in Japan and if we arranged to meet somewhere and I was going to be late I could find some wifi, was never a problem. Train stations often have good free wifi connection, even in Tokyo.

    But yeah comfy shoes and Google Maps essential I agree !!! Although I’m not the stylish kind 🙂

    • True, you can get wifi in pretty much all the train and subway stations now and, if you’re meeting people, you are going to be catching the train 🙂

      One of the issues with wifi is that a lot of places like Starbucks require you to sign up first (so you need to be online to get the wifi!) Worth going online and setting up from your hotel or backpackers. Then you can stand outside (or inside if you are cheeky) and use the wifi. A lot of convenience stores, department stores and even McDonalds have wifi too.

  • I’m so in love with Japan and I woul love to visit Tokyo in 2017 (or I hope so!). Fantastic guide, especially that part about wi-fi that in foreign countries it’s needed like air.

  • Will certainly keep your valuable tips about Tokyo in mind when I make the trip with my family next year! Frankly, am also surprised to learn that free wifi is not available everywhere in Japan!

    Would love a guide for Tokyo (next year) or Barcelona and Rome (Oct 2016).

    Thanks!

  • I’m in Japan with a girl friend of mine and after reading your blog; can’t agree more!
    We are in Hiroshima at the moment and then go to Osaka and Kyoto. I then travel onto Europe; Italy – Venice and Cinque Terre, Rome and Amalfi. Then I go to NYC, Portland and San Fran. A guide for these or any of these would be just amazing!

  • Hello! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my previous room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this write-up to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!

  • Thanks for the info and great post. I’m considering a spontaneous trip to Paris and a guide would be great 🙂

  • Great tips to file away for future travels. In Sept I’ll be in Barcelona for six weeks. A walking tour and maps would help greatly.

    Any suggestions will help even more. Thank your for sharing.

  • Great tips! And thank you for including links about Wi-Fi vs. SIM cards. I’ve heard that internet access in Japan is pretty difficult, so it’s good to read other people’s experiences with what they found worked best. I hope to travel to Japan in the near future. I’d LOVE a walking guide to Kyoto!

    • Hi Danielle, keep in mind that your mileage may vary with my tips! 😉 Jonny says WIFI is widely available at train stations and in cities outside of Tokyo.

  • Japan is an amazing place to visit, really Asia in general! Had so many great adventures there last summer! (spent 2 months backpacking)

    Cairo is next on my destination list!!! Talk about jumping in the deep end lol but hey this is one adventure I can’t wait to take! So that walking guide would be beyond awesome!!!!

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    • Hi Sophia

      Tokyo with kids is perfectly doable. Just be very prepared to do lots of walking and lots of looking for the elevators at the stations as they are usually tucked away. If you were planning on bringing strollers, I would recommend you bring two umbrella strollers instead of a double as the streets can be quite tight, and There have been times when I’ve had to carry my stroller up a flight of stairs or take it up the escalators.
      I’ve lived in Japan for 4 years now and moved here when my youngest was 2. I blog about life in Japan and have a category about Tokyo with kids: https://somedaysbyc.me/category/series-and-challenges/tokyo-with-kids/

  • We are planning to visit Kyoto and Tokyo! The walking guide app will be amazing! Thanks for the terrific post. My packing list will include every one of these things.

  • Hi Allie

    Your blog about Tokyo is spot on- especially the shoes and walking. My pedometer when I first moved here said I was averaging 10 miles a day!

    Cash is another spot on thing as Japan is still very much a cash society!

    A pocket wifi is also invaluable as besides providing Google maps to assist with getting around, I find having access to Google translate invaluable as I’m still amazed at how little English is spoken here.

    Great post.

  • I do agree to invest in good walking shoes, but I like to bring some shoes that are not as comfy because of style. So, every night on my trips, I massage my feet. I massage my feet as I’m watching tv or skimming through the Internet trying to plan or review the next day’s activities. It works wonders and makes me feel new again the next day. Invest in some foot massages along the way.

  • Completely agree on most of your tips! We were only there about 5 days but I walked more those few days than I did the rest of the month once back in the US. Luckily, I’d packed good walking shoes. Unfortunately, I wasn’t used to all the walking and probably needed better socks. I still got a really bad blister by the last day or so. Bandages are definitely a must.

    We rented a pocket wi-fi unit at the airport and it came in handy, along with Google Maps, for getting around. I’d also recommend having a phone charger or extra battery whenever out and about. My sister-in-law was misdirected on a train late at night as they stopped. Her phone had died so she was lost and had to find a convenience store and place to charge her phone before she could call me and then hail a cab to our hotel.

    It’s also amazing how safe I felt carrying around cash. Love Japan for that. 🙂

    • Hi Rosy!

      We got turned around at one point but were lucky enough to catch the very last train to Nikko (I thought the trains ran all night, but as your sister-in-law also discovered, they don’t). Yes, great point about the battery! Mine didn’t run down since I didn’t have WiFi (and thus wasn’t using it much).

      For iPhone users, bring an external charger. For Android users, bring a spare battery that you can pop in. Thanks for swinging by!

  • I’ve been travelling to Japan for the past ten years. The use of credit cards throughout Japan is much easier now than when I first visited. Tourists should be told that they can go to any post office to get a cash advance from their credit-card. There is a charge for this service but it is better than having to decide how much money you want to change into yen before you arrive in Japan.

  • Thanks for the heads up! Will certainly remember your tips when I go to Japan this September! However, I’m also in a dilemma as whether to use sim card or wifi when I’m traveling there.. really need goole maps since I’m bad with directions

  • Great article!! I’m traveling throughout South America for about 8 months and there are so many things I wish I brought with me. Since it’s winter in the Southern Hemisphere I should have brought a pair of stylish walking shoes, sweaters, and better jeans. Thanks for sharing your tips!!

  • Awesome blog you have here but I was wondering if you knew of any community
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    I’d really like to be a part of community where I can get suggestions from other
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    please let me know. Thank you!

  • Today, I went to the beach with my children. I found a
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    She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is totally
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  • Hey just wanted to give you a quick heads up and let you know
    a few of the images aren’t loading properly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue.

    I’ve tried it in two different web browsers and both show the same results.

  • For my it was helpful the free wifi on the 7-Eleven. Before leaving the hotel I would check where was the closest to my location. But my travel took me to the mountains as well so I have to buy a SIM card, it was quite easy to follow the instruction and it worked all over Japan. I used a docomo SIM card and it came with a brastel card to top it up.

  • Went to Tokyo last year and a pocket wi-fi was a godsend. Ordered it before we left and had it sent to our hotel. Loved it! And we had a pocket charger just in case. Also exchange money at your bank if you have one. It takes a couple of days but you get a way better rate than the exchange places in the airport

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  • Thanks for the great article! We are headed to Japan in March for almost three weeks and yours is the first article I’ve been able to find that mentions how much cash we should bring. Huge help! Also, the wi-fi has been a debate for us since we’re traveling from Nagasaki to Hokkaido and all those mountainous areas will keep things interesting. All in all, this was super helpful, so thanks for putting it together and posting!

  • I’m an Asian, and I think Asian ppl tends to buy local/rent mobile wifi everytime they travel either for navigating or simply to stay online in social media. In Japan, my life saver is Hyperdia, a public transport apps which suggested the best route for Japan rail pass user. Google maps only give you the quickest route but Hyperdia give you zero yen if you want to maximize the JR pass. I save a lot of yen using it and spending it for endless vending machines. Lol

  • Thanks for the great advice! I wouldn’t have suspected Japan to have a lack of Wi-Fi since it seems like their technology is significant there, so it was good to have that information. I’ll have to look into the Wi-Fi products you suggests for future travels in general!

    • Hi Therie!

      That definitely surprised me too. I just got back from a little island in the Azores (outside of Portugal) and I was shocked at how GOOD their connectivity was!

  • Thx for these tips! I’ve not yet been to Japan, but would never have expected that credit cards were not widely accepted and that Wifi would be so limited. I will check out that Google gadget you mention.

  • Thank you so much for this post! I’m planning a trip in November and this was very help. I was wondering if you can rent a phone with the sim card there. I had planned on buying a prepaid phone in the US and bringing it with me (I can’t bring my current phone) but if I can just rent a phone there? Lastly, since google maps in Kanji how did you use it? I know there is a walking function but I’m worried about using up all my data walking to a location with the app running.

  • Well a few months ago we spent 11 amazing days in Japan as we were on a guided tour it could not have happened any better it was brilliant when you book in advance your travel plans are well looked after, catching the bullet train was amazing every day is a highlight, as the say it’s reasonably expensive but do your homework before you travel and get a few ideas, money i usually work on equivalent to $100 a day & which would account for $1,200 so i took an extra $700 and came back with around $800! I guess we were very lucky as we had 3 meals a day and that was perfect, and on our last day we were free to walk around parts of Tokyo after catching one of their underground trains 15 stations to Tokyo spent around 8 hours brilliant, one of the best holidays in ages.