With the proliferation of budget airlines and greater accessibility to seat sales and other airfare promos, destinations that used to be a far-off dream are now easier and easier to get to. Ranking high among those destinations is Japan, land of cherry blossoms, Mt. Fuji, and some of the best food in the world. There are now twelve flights per day that connect Manila to Tokyo, and according to the Philippine Primer, the first ever Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) opened its first office in Manila in October 2018.
Japan is closer than ever before, and if you’re planning your first trip to Tokyo then you should take a look at some of these helpful travel tips below.
- Dress for the weather
The first thing you need to do before you even head to the airport is make sure you’ve packed the right sort of wardrobe for your trip. Unlike the Philippines, Japan has four seasons, and depending on when you’ve scheduled your trip, you could be facing a lot of unfamiliar weather. Remember that Tokyo is incredibly humid in the summer, and cold in the autumn and winter, so dress accordingly. Use websites like Weather.com to help you plan your outfits.
- Take advantage of tourist promos
Japan has a lot of infrastructure in place to make tourists have an easier time while traveling in the country, and chief among these are the tourist rates for rail passes. If you’re headed out of Tokyo, then you should definitely check out the Japan Rail Pass for tourists. If you’re staying within Tokyo, try the unlimited Metro passes and you’ll find that you’ll be able to save a lot more than you’d expect to on transportation.
- Study the train system
Tokyo has one of the most complex and widespread train systems in the world, and you’re definitely missing out on the experience if you don’t try the Tokyo Metro out during your trip. These trains can go almost anywhere you want in the Greater Tokyo Area, and though the sheer number of lines can get confusing, it’s definitely cheaper and more convenient than flagging down a taxi. Download the Tokyo Metro App to help you plan trips, and you’ll be all set.
- Make a balanced itinerary
While everyone travels a little bit differently, it’s still pretty helpful to plan out where you want to go and what you want to see before you head out the door. First time travelers should definitely head to all the regular tourist spots like Meiji Jingu and Asakusa Skytree, but leave a little more space in your itinerary for exploring off the beaten path. In a city as big as Tokyo, you’ll be sure to find some hidden gems here and there.
- Do your research
Doing a bit of research before you start your trip will save you a lot of potential grief later on. Things as simple as what time the trains close, how to ask for the toilet in Japanese, and restaurants in the general area of where you’ll be headed for the day, are all essential in making sure you don’t encounter any unpleasant surprises. When in doubt, it’s always better to ask, and your best friend while traveling is always a quick Google search.
- Rent a portable WiFi or buy a Japan SIM card
Staying connected while you travel is important for a lot of reasons, be it for work, family back home, travel tips, or even posting updates on social media. Although Tokyo is replete with free WiFi spots, if you’re the type to want convenience at your fingertips it might be better to make sure you bring your own WiFi along with you. You can rent a portable WiFi unit at the airport, but if you have an unlocked phone it’s definitely smarter and cheaper to simply buy a traveler’s SIM card.
- See if you’re eligible for the Tax Exemption Program
The Japanese government and tourism board has a lot of concessions for foreign tourists, and one of those is the Tax Exemption Program. According to JNTO’s Tax-Free site, an 8% tax exemption for tourists applies to all items, including general merchandise, electronics, and consumable items such as food or alcohol. However, tax-exemption is only available in certain stores, and you’ll need to make a purchase of at least 5,000 JPY or above in a single store in order to avail. Tourists should also note that they’ll be paying the full price at the till, and will only be able to get their refund at the airport.
- Book your tickets in advance
Although you should definitely keep yourself flexible when it comes to planning out your activities, you should consider booking tickets in advance for tourist spots that you really want to see. Booking in advance has a lot of advantages: you’ll be able to skip the line, and sometimes you’ll come across a promotion that offers the ticket for a cheaper price. Some attractions also may not offer same-day ticket purchases, so it’s always better to check ahead.
- Keep to the left
Tokyo isn’t just a tourist haven; it’s a bustling metropolis filled with over 9 million people. It’s the technological and economic center of Japan, so you’ll come across a lot of people hurrying to and from appointments and their workplaces. To keep from clogging up the streets, escalators, or train stations, always remember: staying on the left frees up space on the right for people in a hurry, and it shows proper tourist etiquette, especially if you’re new to the city.
- Respect the culture
Finally, the number one thing you should do if you’re a new traveler in Japan is to simply respect the culture. Japan has a rich history and culture, and a lot goes on under the surface. While it’s impossible to expect anybody who’s new to the country to be an expert on their social norms and customs, do take your time to research on what to do or what not to do. That way, you can avoid trouble, develop a deeper appreciation for the country, and devote all your energy to enjoying your trip.
For more travel tips, check out our travel section on Daydreaming in Paradise.
James Gonzales is a Filipino-American travel enthusiast and writer currently based in the Philippines. After living and working in New York for 10 years, James decided he wanted to see more of the world and leave the city behind. In the course of saving up for what would become an epic trip across Asia, he wrote about previous traveling experiences for various travel websites and publications based in the Lower East Side.
James focused on journeying through the Philippines in the hopes of understanding his roots, and began Daydreaming in Paradise to share his thoughts and experiences. He’s always looking for like-minded travelers to trade stories and swap tips with, and he hopes you’ll join him on his journey.