Japan was a country I had been hearing a lot about from people in Korea who have been. There seemingly wasn't a single person who didn't go to Japan and didn't come back raving about it. After hearing so much about it I finally got an opportunity to go and Japan did not disappoint.
The people, the sites, the food. It was worth all the planning, the extreme heat and the exhaustion I suffered in the days following my trip.
As with any country, there are things to be aware of before you go to make sure you get the most out of your trip.
Please let me explain.
1. Prepare for lots of coins
The Japanese Yen (円) consists mostly of coins. 1円, 5円, 10円, 50円, 100円, and 500円 all come in the form of a coin.
The Yen does have bills but they are only in amounts of 1,000円, 5,000円, and 10,000円. Most of your purchases are going to be below the 1,000円 threshold (I'll give examples in #2) so your coin buildup is going to be excessive. You're going to want to spend the coins the best you can.
More importantly, I HIGHLY recommend you plan ahead and bring a practical bag that is not bulky and one you won't have to hold. The most practical forms would be a fanny pack or a purse. You'll also notice that the Japanese almost all have some form of bag (men included) they carry around with them. The most popular item is one that looks like the one the guy is wearing in the picture included in this post.
Hopefully you can see how this type of bag is far more practical than a pocket full of change.
Most trips on the metro systems in Tokyo and Osaka cost 180円 ($1.70 USD). The metro trip from Osaka to Kyoto costs 940円 ($8.90 USD). The busses in Fukuoka cost 190円 to 230円.
Beer, for the most part, will put you back 700円 ($6.62 USD). Coca-Cola is a standardized price of 190円 at all convenience stores.
Although they're a tired travelers most convenient option, taxi's in Japan are ungodly expensive. Soul crushingly expensive. Although the drivers don't drive like absolute maniacs like they do in Korea and the driver can open the back passenger side door with the push of a button (seriously), avoid them at all costs.
I had a lot of fun my final night in Tokyo and decided to take a Taxi from Ginza (central area of Tokyo) to Haneda International Airport. It cost me over 6,000円 which is $57 USD. I wish I was kidding.
4. Public Transportation
Building a bit off of #3, the public transportation will save you tons of money if you put in the effort to figure out the metro and busses.
The metro systems in Tokyo and Osaka go everywhere and for a pretty reasonable price. Especially when put up against the prices you'll pay for a taxi.
The metro systems in Japan are a bit trickier to figure out then they are in Korea. In Tokyo, for instance, there are two separate companies that run the metro lines which can make transferring a bit trickier.
There are always English versions of the metro systems and if you get the price wrong, there are machines by the exit gates labeled, "fare adjustment" where you can pay the difference. Beyond that there is a booth that serves the same purpose and the metro employees speak English.
Sexual harassment and assault has become such a pervasive problem in Japan that all metro systems in the country offer a train car that is strictly women only. Men are forbidden from getting onto these trains. They are marked on the platform with a pink sign as seen in the picture to the left. The train cars themselves are also marked with pink signage in English and Japanese.
As best I can remember from asking someone to translate, this is only during the weekdays.
Much like metro stations in Korea, the stations in Japan are large and require lots of walking so comfortable walking attire is essential.
5. Grueling Working Hours
The Japanese work mind boggling hours. The infamous Japanese, "Salary Man" has almost dedicated his entire life to his job so 10, 12 or longer hour days aren't uncommon in Japan. Many Japanese even work six days a week. There is even a term in the Japanese language for employees that die at work. It is written as 過労死 and pronounced, "Karoshi." It happens with far more frequency than you would imagine.
Many Japanese men and women lack social skills due to their dedication to work and this type of lifestyle is not at all conducive of building and holding on to a family. Because of this, Japan is one of the few populations around the world that is declining. The country says it has a, "virgin crisis." It is estimated that 25% of the Japanese population under the age of 40 are virgins.
The work environment is most noticeable when riding the metro systems around 10pm on a weeknight. In Tokyo It seemed like this was rush hour. This was something that I couldn't wrap my mind around.
6. The People
The Japanese people are extremely friendly. If you're on the metro and you look confused and they have the time to stop and help, I have experienced that they will stop and try and help.
I even asked a few people how to get around on the street and they were willing to help. One bar employee even walked me over to a nearby Yakitori restaurant when I was walking by looking for food and asked for a nearby Yakitori restaurant.
I mean no offense to Koreans but from my experiences in both countries I find the Japanese to be more approachable than Koreans. They're seemingly a bit more comfortable and used to foreigners. They're more globalized, if you will. It could very well be that they are more confident in their English skills as well.
7. The Heat
Summertime in Japan is hot. Not hot, but like hot, hot. Be prepared. Water is important. Another important recommendation is to utilize a hand or body towel (most hotels and hostels supply you with one) as a sweat rag.
Trust me on this one. You're going to want it when you're sitting in a beautifully air conditioned car on the metro and sweating bullets because the walking caught up to you. With a rag around your neck or in your bag you can wipe away the sweat with ease. It drastically improves your comfortability level.
In the airports, there are stalls where you can get a SIM card to fit your data needs. These same stalls also offer pocket wifi but the SIM cards are less expensive.
If you don't feel the need for a SIM card or pocket wifi and really want a strict budget, all 7-Eleven's in Japan (and there is seemingly one on almost every corner) offer free wifi. Another convenience store that offers wifi is a chain called Lawson's.
Japan also has Mini Stops but as they are fewer and farther in between, I'm not 100% sure they have wifi. An educated guess would be that they do.
Most restaurants have signs up telling its patrons what its wifi username and passwords are. If they don't, you can always ask.