Japan Travel Basics 101

Below’s all the basic information you need to know before visiting Japan.

Visa Requirements

Prior to travelling to Japan you need to check your passport and make sure that it’s valid for the duration of your visit in Japan.  For nationals of many countries there is no need to pre-apply for visa as your country may have a visa exemption agreement with Japan (usually valid for visits up to 90 days). If your nationality does not have a visa waiver option then you will need to apply for a visit visa from your local Japanese consulate.

The following is a list of countries that have “Reciprocal Visa Exemption Arrangements” with Japan:

  • 90 days or less:  Andorra, Argentina, Australia,Bahamas,Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, France, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Surinam, Sweden, Tunisia, United States and Uruguay
  • 90 days or less with an option to extend another 90 days. Extension needs to submitted to Ministry of Justice:  Austria,Germany, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, United Kingdom
  • 90 days or less. Visas are not required only for holders of Machine-Readable Passport (MRP). Those who do not hold an MRP or ePassport are advised to obtain a visa in advance, otherwise will be strictly examined and may be refused entry to Japan: Barbados,  Lesotho, Turkey
  • Taiwan nationals with passport containing identification number no visa required and can stay 90 days or less. Otherwise if their passport does not contain identification number then a visa is required.
  • Citizens of Macao, visas are not required and can stay 90 days or less only for holders of SAR passport issued by the Macao SAR of the People’s Republic of China
  • For nationals of Malaysia  and Serbia, visas are not required and can stay 90 days or less only for holders of ePassport in compliance with ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) standards.
  • Thailand nationals visas are not required and can stay 15 days or less only for holders of ePassport in compliance with ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) standards.
  • 15 days or less: Brunei

For the latest information on Visas you can check site for Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (http://www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/visa/short/novisa.html)

Working Holiday Visas: Citizens of Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea and the UK who are aged between 18 and 25 (the limit can be pushed up to 30 in some cases) can apply for a working-holiday visa. The program is also open to residents of Hong Kong and Taiwan.  For the latest information on the Working Holiday Visas you can check the site for Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (http://www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/w_holiday)





Transportation

Transportation will be an important part of your budget, especially since long distance travel in Japan is expensive. If you limit your trip to only one region ( example Tokyo or Kyoto and Osaka ) then you will be saving tens of thousands of yen per person. Most likely you will be planning on visiting multiple regions so you will need to familiar with transportation deals available to tourists.

Long distance travel options within Japan

Japan Rail Pass:

Japan Rail pass should be considered by all visitors who plan to visit more than one region in Japan. These tickets are offered to tourists only at a steep discount to the regular fares local Japanese are forced to pay.

  • There are three tickets offered and they come in blue (regular) and green (business) class tickets.
    • 7 day pass ( ¥29,110 for blue/ ¥38,880 for green)
    • 14 day pass ( ¥46,390 for blue/ ¥62,950 for green)
    • 21 day pass ( ¥59,350 for blue/ ¥81,870 for green)
  • You must purchase these tickets prior to arriving to Japan, as they are not available for sale inside the country. When I purchased my tickets they arrived by fedex (in Jordan) the same week.
  • This pass gives unlimited travel on JR operated lines which really make them a great deal.
  • You can purchase your Japan Rail pass from https://www.japan-rail-pass.com.

 

Japan Bus Pass

This is a great way to save the most money with long distance travel for budget travelers.

  • The Japan Bus Pass is offered for 3 day passes at 10,000 yen and 5 day passes at 15,000 yen.
  • The bus schedule allows for travel during day AND night. Taking the night bus will save the cost of accommodation for one night and which can add up significant cost savings.
  • If you decide not to purchase the passes and buy individual bus tickets for one route it’s still significantly cheaper than taking trains or a domestic plane ( example: a ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto can be had for as low as 3,200 yen).
  • The drawback here is that you will be scrimping on comfort and time, as the buses are much much slower than the train service.

Willer Express is a bus company that’s focused on servicing Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and additional secondary cities. You can purchase the bus pass at http://willerexpress.com/st/3/en/pc/buspass/?aid=184.

 

Urban travel options within Japan

Japan’s large cities have an excellent metro system making movement within the city relatively easy. There are day passes available and are useful when you’re planning on a lot of city travel. For days with limited metro travel, buying single tickets is usually more cost effective.





Accommodations

As with any travel, accommodations will be one of your biggest expenses. Japan offers all kinds of accommodations from expensive 5 star hotels to budget oriented fare such as hostels, business hotels and capsule hotels. Below are some options to help you travel Japan on the cheap.

  • Hostels ( 1,500 – 3,000 yen): This is the standard go to accommodations for backpackers and budget travelers. Hostels provide communal living and great way to meet people while traveling.
  • Business Hotels ( 5,000 – 7,000 yen for single room or 8,000 – 10,000 yen for double room ):  These hotels offer small and basic rooms with a bed, private bathroom and maybe internet. Popular business hotel chains include Route Inn, APA Hotel, Toyoko Inn and Super Hotel.
  • Couch Surfing (free!): Shockingly Japan has quite large couch surfing community. Basically these are locals who have an extra couch or room and are willing to host travelers for a night or two for free.
  • Minshuku or Ryokan (3,000 – 10,000 yen): If you are looking for a more authentic experience then you should try a minshuku ( Japanese B&B ) or ryokan ( Japanese inn ).
  • Capsule Hotels (2,000 – 5,000 yen): This one falls under “Only in Japan”. A capsule hotel basically rents out boxes that are stacked on top of one another and side by side. You can’t get more basic than that!
  • Manga Cafes (1,500-3,000 yen): Some manga cafes allow overnight stays (renting by the hour or night). Options vary from only computer desks to private booths or rooms with futons. Some places may offer snacks and showers for their customers.
  • Overnight buses: If you take a night bus for one of your long destination trips, you can save on the cost of accommodations for a night.





Food

Food has always been one of my guilty pleasures when travelling. Discovering a new food and taste turns me into a child who is experiencing something for the first time, it fills me with joy. You can spend as much or as little as you want, it’s really is up to you. For cost conscious travelers it’s possible to get by on as little as 1,500 – 2,000 yen per day and still eat great. Here are some tips on how to budget your food expense while in Japan:

  • Package Deals: When shopping for accommodations or tour packages look for places that include meals with the stay. In Japan some Minshuku and Ryokan include both dinner and breakfast with the stay.
  • Convenience stores: can be found literally on every corner in Japan, and these stores in Japan are not like the US. They can offer cheap high quality meals on the go. They are famous for the bento ( lunch boxes ) they also have sandwiches, onigiri (rice balls), sushi, noodles and drinks.
  • Supermarkets: Preparing your own food from what you purchase from supermarkets is extremely economical. Interestingly the Japanese like their fruit to be perfect, any fruit that’s even slightly blemished will be sold at a discount by supermarkets. Keep an eye out for these deals.
  • Fast Food: Japan has lots of fast food to choose from. There’s famous international brands like McDonald and KFC as well as local brands that specialize in gyudon, udon, soba, ramen noodles or boxed lunches.
  • Business Districts and Train Stations: Competition is high around the busy business districts and train stations in Japan, this competition means you can find a good selections of delicious food or full meals at very good prices usually under 1,000 yen.