JAPAN tops many travelers’ wishlists and for all the right reasons: sprawling cities, delicious food, natural beauty, and a rich, complex history.
But before you book the next available flight to Tokyo, there are a few things you need to consider before arriving in the Land of the Rising Sun.
When you hear people talk about Japan, the first thing they’ll say is that it’s expensive. They aren’t wrong, and its health care system is no exception.
While it isn’t in the same category as places like the US or Switzerland, bills can add up to the high figures if you need a lot of medical treatment.
Japan runs a Universal Healthcare system which is generous to natives, expats, and foreigners living in the country for longer than a year.
But if you’re planning a three-week adventure here, that privilege doesn’t extend to you.
Before making your way to Japan, be sure to check on your insurance policy to see if it covers Japan and is still in date.
Japan Rail Pass
With one of these bad boys, you’ll be the envy of the Japanese. Unavailable to natives, the Japan Rail Pass gives travelers unlimited access to Japan’s railways and ferries for either seven, 14, or 20 days.
If you buy this pass in advance outside of Japan, a seven-day ticket can cost as little as JPY33,000 (US$293).
While that might sound like a lot, when you consider that a one-way ticket on the Shinkansen (ultra-fast bullet train) from Tokyo to Kyoto is JPY14,170 (US$126), the Japan Rail Pass makes perfect sense.
You’ll need to register your details on the website before arriving in Japan, then you’ll receive something called an “Exchange Oder” which can be swapped in for the Japan Rail Pass once in Japan.
Sometimes you can buy the pass when you’re in the country, but it’s often more expensive and not always available, so it isn’t worth the risk.
Cash is king
While Japan is undoubtedly at the cutting-edge of technological innovation, cash remains king throughout the country.
This means that credit and debit cards are rarely used in bars and restaurants and contactless is almost unheard of.
To make sure you don’t find yourself in an awkward situation after a mountain of gyoza, be sure to stock up on Yen (Japanese currency) before you arrive in Japan.
Alternatively, get a currency card such as Revolut so you can withdraw Yen at ATMs while incurring minimal fees and minimal fuss.
Language and etiquette
It’s worth brushing up on some basic Japanese language skills before you touch down as this will make your trip easier and more rewarding. Plus, the language is very cool.
For those people who have dietary requirements, brushing up on some Japanese is essential.
If you can’t eat meat or gluten, for example, you will need to explain your dietary requirements in clear words and phrases. Otherwise, you could get more than what you paid for and not in a good way.
Give your tattoos some thought
At the risk of sounding like your mother or grandmother, you’ll need to think twice before parading your tattoos in public around Japan.
Many Japanese, especially those from an older generation, associate tattoos with the yakuza, a lethal Japanese gang that was prominent throughout the country in the 80s and 90s.
If you’re someone who is covered from neck to ankles and beyond in tattoos, you might want to consider covering them up when you’re in Japan and you’ll certainly need to research which onsen (natural hot spring baths) you’ll be allowed in.