8 Tips to Best Enjoy Your Trip in Japan's Big Cities
City trips! They are exciting, educational and fun, especially here in Japan, where modern lifestyle, a rich culture and excellent cuisine meet. But if you are spending time and money on traveling, you want to be well prepared. Here are some useful tips to make the most of your trip.
1. Choose a Hotel Downtown
I took a short trip to Tokyo recently and the hotel prices made me book my stay way outside the city to save a couple 1000 yen. I wasted precious time and money getting into Tokyo to the sightseeing spots. Rush hour, crowds and not being familiar with the right train connections are also factors that make traveling in big cities harder if you have a hotel outside the metropolitan area. It is really worth it to spend more on a well located hotel and to not spend unnecessary time during your holiday on the train.
2. Get a Train Pass
Every major city with a good train system offers passes for commuters or tourists. On my short trip to the capital, the Tokyo Metropolitan District Pass (Tokunai pass) got me everywhere I wanted in the metropolitan area for only 750 yen a day. It can be used on the JR Line and even other central lines. That was all I needed for sightseeing and I didn’t need to buy several tickets, so I felt it was definitely worth it.
See the JR website for more information on the Tokunai Pass.
3. Research Tourist Discounts
If you are a visitor to Japan, make sure to look up the discounts that you can take advantage of before you start your trip and to avoid paying too much for trains, museums, or parks. You can save a lot of money, for example when booking seats on the Shinkansen.
4. No Japanese Phone? No Problem.
As a tourist, there are many options you can take advantage of using your non-Japanese phone to make calls, use maps or the internet. In Japan, the konbinis, malls, Starbucks and many public places offer open and free Wi-fi hotspots. You can even use your smartphone GPS in airplane mode. Make sure you load the route on your Maps app in a place with Wi-fi and pin your destination. Start the navigation and move towards where you want to go. The program will keep guiding you, even without internet. If you need to call someone, make use of the helpful Skype app. Put money in your Skype account and use it as an international phone and call landlines or cell phones (inside and outside Japan) without roaming costs.
5. Choose Where You Want to Eat Before Starting Your Day Trip
Maybe you are adventurous and want to decide on the spot where to eat and that is a great way to explore the city. But if you only have a limited time, choosing your place to eat beforehand is the wiser decision. On my trips to big cities, planning out my meals helped to make the most of my sightseeing, so I didn't have to be hungry and search for affordable food and could really try the city's specialties instead.
6. Team Up with People Who Walk Your Pace and Have Similar Interests
It's the worst if you are stuck omiyage (gift) shopping or if you are bored at museums when you actually want to do something completely different. In the same way it's frustrating if you want to see the city but your friends are too tired to go on. A big part about traveling is to go with people that have similar interests and can walk your pace, whether it is to go fast and to see a lot or to comfortably stroll and enjoy the day rather than hitting a strict program. It saves you the frustration of feeling like you didn't see enough or being utterly exhausted on your trip.
7. Don't Torture Yourself. Be Comfortable!
On my trip to Tokyo I finally made the wisest decision and wore trainers. I usually end up wearing my usual flats and regret it after the first hour of sightseeing. Not this time. My running shoes served me well and I was able to walk a whole 17 kilometers in them. Good shoes really do prevent feeling exhausted and having to deal with leg or foot pain. If you do get tired, treat yourself to a rest, a coffee, a good power bar or even an energy drink. It will give you the energy you need and don't worry, you will sightsee the calories right off.
8. Plan Your Trip Back to the Airport
Be realistic when choosing a time to check out of the hotel and to make your way back to the airport. Give yourself the time you need. Do not try to squeeze in that last sightseeing spot if you don't really have time for it. Nothing can ruin your holiday like a missed flight. Reserve seats on trains and busses beforehand, make sure you know the bus stop and how long the ride to the airport will take, so you can finish your trip without stressing over being late.
These tips are gleaned from many city trips where I made mistakes and suffered from it, or where I really listened to good advice about traveling and had a fantastic time. I hope they will serve you well on your next trip!