Welcome to Japan!
Japan is an amazing country to visit, but it also presents a number of challenges to Western visitors. Whether it is your first or fiftieth trip to Japan, chances are there is important information you need to know when you visit Japan. At Voyapon, we compiled a comprehensive guide to what you need to know whether you are planning a trip to Japan or already in the country.
Japan Travel Guide
Welcome to Japan!
The moment you arrive at a Japanese airport, you will experience the joy of the efficiency of Japanese transportation. Trains run frequently and on-schedule, buses are immaculately clean, and service staff is helpful and friendly.
Using Trains in Japan
The best-known train system in Japan is the Shinkansen 新幹線 “bullet train” line that services major cities up and down the country. The Shinkansen is extremely fast and efficient, but it is also expensive, sometimes more costly than flying. For this reason, many people who intend to travel by Shinkansen purchase the Japan Rail Pass, which allows unlimited use of the Shinkansen trains for a fixed period.
Our Japan Rail Pass guide will advise you when it is worth getting a JR pass for your trip and when it is not, as well as how to get the most out of your JR pass if you do purchase one.
Riding Buses in Japan
There are many large bus terminals in Japan which facilitate bus travel between major and smaller cities. There is also bus service to and from major airports. Generally speaking, buses in Japan are very comfortable and often have amenities like phone or computer charging terminals and free wi-fi. You will also find some bus lines offer significant discounts to overseas tourists to get them to travel to lesser-traveled (but still amazing) attractions in Japan.
How To Rent A Car or A Camper (RV)
A person over 18 years old with an international driving permit (IDP) and a valid drivers license in their home country is eligible to rent and drive a vehicle in Japan. Certain countries have exceptions to the Geneva convention but have a separate agreement allowing drivers to drive in Japan with an official translation of their driver’s license obtained by the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF).
Renting a vehicle is only advisable for those who will be venturing outside of cities where public transportation is either absent or inconvenient. For those staying in or around large cities, a vehicle is only an expensive and inconvenient addition to your trip. Rent a vehicle only as long as you need it and return it as soon as possible to save yourself a lot of money and inconvenience.
Car rental shops are generally available at airports and near major train stations, though you will also find branches of national chains all over the country. The largest rental car companies in Japan are Toyota, Nissan, Orix, Times, Nippon and Ekiren.
Another fairly new option for vehicle rental in Japan is recreational vehicle (RV) rental. An RV gives you opportunities to venture off the beaten path and worry less about having to find a place to stay as you can sleep (and cook) inside your vehicle. Two of our Voyapon writers have documented their experiences traveling around Japan in a camper. They can share a variety of tips, including how the rental process works and where you should go.
Money in Japan
The currency of Japan is the yen. The exchange rate is about 108 yen to 1 USD or 115 yen to 1 EUR (May 2020). For rounding purposes, people often roughly round to 100 yen per USD to make estimating prices simple.
Identifying Japanese Bills and Coins
Coins come in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 and 500. All coins except the 5 yen coin have Arabic numerals printed on them, so they are easy to identify. The 5 yen coin is brass with a square hole in the center. Keep in mind that the largest denomination coin is worth approximately 5 USD, so don’t underestimate the value of your change, especially near the end of your trip!
Bills come in denominations of 1,000, 2,000, 5,000 and 10,000. 2,000 yen bills are rare in Japan, but common for visitors to Japan who exchange money in their home country. You won’t have issues using it in shops but it might not work in some machines. There is also rarely a problem using a 10,000 bill even for a small purchase, so although it might feel strange to use it in that situation, it is perfectly normal, especially at convenience stores who always have change on hand.
Pickpocketing and robberies are rare crimes in Japan, so it is generally safe to walk around with cash. As in any country, however, use common sense, and don’t assume you or your money are 100% safe.
How To Exchange Money in Japan
The easiest place to exchange money in Japan is the airport. Exchange rates vary on a number of factors, so it is difficult to advise whether you should exchange money in your home country or in Japan. If you are carrying heavily traded currency like USD or EUR, you are likely to get a good exchange rate in Japan. There are other places to exchange money in Japan such as certified money changers, some major bank branches and large hotels, but it is not always worth the effort having to locate these types of places on your own, so it is always best to have cash on hand when you leave the airport.
Best Japanese Bank for ATM Withdrawals
Many of the ATMs belonging to Japanese banks do not accept foreign ATM cards, but notable exceptions are the machines found in 7-Eleven convenience stores (or in public locations as 7 Bank ATMs) and Japan Post Bank ATMs, found in many post offices. The exchange rate is very competitive though additional fees depend on your home bank. 7 Bank also charges a nominal fee depending on the amount of your withdrawal. There is a withdrawal limit of up to 100,000 yen per 24 hour period (could be less depending on your home bank’s policy).
Japan Post Bank ATMs are found inside many post offices around Japan, as well as stand-alone machines. The withdrawal limit is up to 50,000 yen per transaction, and the transaction fee is 220 yen plus any fees levied by your home bank. Keep in mind that many of these machines are only accessible during post office hours, and even for stand-alone machines, they are not always available 24 hours a day.
Can You Use Credit Cards in Japan?
Japan is slowly adopting credit card usage, but you cannot assume that every shop or restaurant you visit will accept a credit card. For this reason, it is always important to have cash on hand. As a rule of thumb, larger establishments and chains are more likely to accept credit cards while small family-owned establishments (including many ryokan, which can be expensive) may not.
Many people carry IC cards primarily to store credit for transportation, as they are widely used in Japan for trains and buses. They go by various brand names: Suica, PASMO, Icoca, and others, depending on the region of Japan you purchase them. It doesn’t matter which brand you own because they all work on each other’s networks.
Because of the widespread use of these cards, they are accepted in a growing number of places and for a variety of services. For example, you can use an IC card to buy a drink from a vending machine, rent a coin locker, or as payment in many convenience stores. Even some shops and chain restaurants have begun accepting IC cards for payment. If you end up purchasing a transit card, you can store some extra credit on the card to use for small purchases when you don’t have or don’t want to fumble with cash.
Mobile Payment Options in Japan
Mobile payment using mobile phones is a growing market in Japan, though it is dominated by local companies whose services are not easily usable by foreign tourists. However, services such as Alipay, WeChat Pay and Apple Pay are often accepted at places accepting mobile payments. Google Pay, however, does not work on most phones sold outside of Japan.
Because there is changing technology and international differences between services, we don’t recommend you rely on mobile payment for your purchases made in Japan. It is just a possibility that you might be able to use at some shops and restaurants in Japan that you can try if you have no better options available.
Though it is becoming increasingly easier to find public internet connectivity in larger cities in Japan, you’ll undoubtedly find yourself in a situation when you need connectivity and can’t get it immediately. You might also need a local voice number, which you can only get by renting a Japanese phone. We recommend reserving a SIM card or pocket wifi online and picking it up at the airport on arrival. If you need further details about your many options, consult our Connectivity guide to find the best solution for your specific needs, and save some money in the process.
Japan has a virtual buffet of accommodations types for travellers, from historical to ultra-modern, basic zen to super luxurious, inexpensive to extravagant. But wherever you stay as you visit Japan, you’ll find the ever-present high standard of service and cleanliness that visitors love about Japan.
Ryokan are the quintessential accommodation of Japan, many of which serve beautiful and delicious kaiseki style meals and have their own onsen hot springs bath onsite. There are many types of ryokan for all different levels of comfort and budgets and we suggest you try it at least once.
Lesser known but still highly enjoyable are the many farmstay opportunities in rural Japan. You can experience the relaxing openness of rural Japan, participate in a little light farmwork (if you wish), and share a home-cooked meal with a friendly and hospitable Japanese family.
Browse our Accommodations page to learn about the types of lodging unique to Japan and read a few articles about some of the beautiful and luxurious places where our writers have stayed.
Sushi and ramen? These famous foods barely scratch the surface of Japanese cuisine. With a mind-boggling more than 150,000 restaurants in the Tokyo area alone, you’ll never struggle to find a place to eat in Japan; indeed, the trouble is narrowing down the options! Our writers have written a wide range of articles explaining the various styles of food up and down the archipelago, and yet there is so much more we can cover. Come to Japan with an appetite; you won’t be disappointed.
Japan is a shopping paradise for many reasons, from the vast selection of goods available to the quirky shopping districts to the high quality of Japanese handmade goods. While Japan is famous for trendy shopping areas like Ginza and Harajuku, those types of places barely scratch the surface of what Japan has to offer.
Visit our shopping page to discover the unique types of shops and shopping districts of Japan and learn where to shop for unusual souvenirs and other keepsakes that will become treasured memories of your travels through Japan.
As an ancient island nation often isolated from the rest of the world in its history, Japan has both a unique cultural heritage as well as aspects of culture influenced by other countries. With so many layers of history, exploring the culture of Japan can be both rewarding and never-ending. Japanese people are generally open to sharing their culture with the world and inviting visitors to participate in parts of Japanese culture during their visit.
With so many aspects of Japanese culture to explore, we have barely scratched the surface in bringing these experiences to you, but here are a few of our favorite things about Japanese culture that we think visitors will enjoy too.
Although Japanese is one of the most challenging languages in the world to become fluent in, Japanese people are incredibly gracious toward foreign visitors who attempt to speak some Japanese. Learning a little about the Japanese language will also help you understand some of the differences between Western and Japanese culture.
We have a number of articles with useful phrases you can use and understand during your trip to Japan. Who knows, you might make a new Japanese friend just by trying to communicate in Japanese!
Though nobody wants to think about it, sometimes emergencies happen while you are on vacation. We have compiled a guide to assist you in finding help in medical emergencies, reporting crimes or losses, and what to do in a natural disaster. We have also included a quick reference to contact your local embassy if necessary. We hope you never need to use this guide, but it is always best to be prepared.