If you’re planning to visit the Land of the Rising Sun, here are some of my top tips:
Japan tends to be mild in spring and autumn, very hot in summer (temperatures often hit the mid-30°Cs) and colder in winter (although it remains mild in the southern parts of the country).
There’s also a six week rainy season during June and July, which is best avoided if possible. The first time I went to Japan, we unwittingly arrived in the middle of an extended rainy period and it was very, very wet. Autumn and spring are great times to visit – plan a trip around March/April time and you may be lucky enough to catch the country’s famed cherry blossoms.
The currency is the Yen and I’ve found it’s worth taking quite a bit of cash to Japan as it can be hard to find cash machines that accept foreign bank cards, even in some of the major cities. If you do get stuck, the cash machines in the 7-Eleven stores and post offices usually accept foreign credit/debit cards, and I found that major stores tended to accept my debit card, too.
If you’re planning to travel around Japan, it’s worth investing in a JR pass before you leave as it usually works out much cheaper than buying train tickets while you’re there. The rail passes, which can only be used by foreign travellers and must be purchased outside Japan, can be used on most of the country’s trains, including the Shinkansen bullet trains, and you can choose between a seven-, 14- and 21-day pass. When you buy your JR pass you’ll receive an exchange order that you’ll have to swap for your pass once you’re in Japan – you can do this in the country’s major railway stations.
Be warned, Japanese hotel rooms are, on the whole, tiny. I could barely squeeze my average-sized suitcase into my hotel room in Kyoto. Love hotels, meanwhile, may be cheaper, but they’re designed to be discreet short-stay hotels for couples looking for some privacy.
It goes without saying, but make the effort to speak some Japanese – it really is appreciated. My (very poor) attempts at the language were welcomed everywhere and I’d often be met with beaming smiles, even when all I’d uttered was arigato gozaimasu (thank you very much).
Have fun embracing all the incredible gadgets and technology. Everyone looks at me like I’m nuts when I say this, but my favourite is the heated toilet seats – and the little tap on top of the toilet that automatically comes on when you flush it. Genius.