My husband and I just returned from a week-long trip to Japan. It was incredibly fun and I thought it would be nice to share all the places we went as well as the information we found useful on our trip with you all. While Japan is most known for its capital Tokyo, located in the Kanto region, we went specifically to the Kansai region of Japan. (Fun fact: Kansai, or 関西, literally means “related-west” and Kanto means “related-east”.) We went specifically to four places: Osaka, Kobe, Nara, and Kyoto.
This will be presented in several parts based on the area that we visited. I hope that you find the information helpful. If you do, feel free to leave a comment letting me know!
This post is about Japan in general or travelling to Japan. For some, it might not be new but for an American who has lived three years in Korea, these were the things that I found the hardest to adjust to and would have liked to know before my visit.
General Information about Japan
The subway system in Kansai (and Japan in general) is very different from Korea. In my opinion, it is more complicated and difficult to navigate. It is doable, don’t get me wrong, but I think Korea has spoiled me so I found it difficult.
While Korea has rechargeable cards that you can use to access the subway, in Japan they use paper tickets. (Note: Cards are able to be used to tag in and out of the subway system in Japan, but travellers usually do not use them.) To get your ticket, look for the enormous map of the rail lines that you will see near the gates. Below are a row of machines where you can purchase your tickets. You can see this in the picture above. These machines have an English menu so don’t panic at first.
Your station will be indicated by a red rectangle. The first thing to do is to locate your subway on the map and look at the numbers indicated in black and red. Your fare is calculated by distance so once you see the station where you plan to go, look above it. That is the option on the screen you should press. Check out the picture below for an closer look at a subway map.
Once you print your ticket it is time to go to the train. Look at the overhead screens because they will indicate which platform your train will arrive at. (Sorry for not having a picture of these). Take your paper ticket that should look something like this:
Then head to the gates and insert your ticket in the turnstile like the picture below.
DO NOT LEAVE WITHOUT YOUR TICKET. I did this once on my visa run and a kind woman had to chase me down to give me the ticket. It will come out the second slot.
When you are disembarking from the train, the turnstile will simply “eat” our ticket so you won’t have to worry about it.
This is true for Osaka, but for some reason things were opposite in Kyoto. Just look around and join the rest of the pack of people to make walking easier for everyone.
Japan is a cash centered culture. You can use your card to pay but having cash is just better and makes things a whole lot easier. That being said, bring a lot with you. And when you pay, do not hand it directly to the cashier. There will always be a small tray sitting on the counter. Place your money there as this is the polite way in Japan to pay.
Tips for Travelling in Kansai, Japan
Bring a lot of cash with you!
This goes back to paying in Japan. Cash is just easier and will save you trouble in the long run. But beware…anything smaller than 1,000 yen (about 10 USD) is a coin. You will amass a lot of coins during your trip. I understood why coin purses are sold EVERYWHERE after this trip.
Buy a Pass and Plan Well
Seriously, Japan, these passes were a money-saving blessing. Thank you, thank you, thank you. There are a couple of options in the Kansai region, namely the Amazing Pass (1-Day and 2-Day) and the Kansai Thru Pass.
My husband and I decided to buy the Amazing 2-Day Pass which gives you access to several of the rail lines for free, free admission to the big tourist attractions, and discounts at other places. For more information, visit their website here. We did A LOT of things on the 2-Day pass and definitely got our money’s worth out of them, but in retrospect we should have switched to the Kansai Thru Pass after the Amazing Pass ran out to save us a lot on our following trips to Kyoto and Nara. Trains in Japan are definitely more expensive than Korea.
Stocking Up on Supplies
I use this same trick in Korea. Bottled drinks are way cheaper at a grocery store, so locate the Don Quixote, Harves, or any other grocery store for cheaper deals on water and such instead of the convenient stores of vending machines. It isn’t much but when you have a limited supply of cash monies, it really lets you spend your money doing fun things.
I thought Korea’s recycling was complicated…until coming to Japan. While Japan (also like Korea) doesn’t have public trash cans, they can be found in the subways. Be respectful and hold onto your trash until you at least get to the subway or your hotel. Something my husband and I did simply out of habit in our AirBnB was separate recyclables in a different bag with burnables in the main trash can. Just to save trouble for those who have to clean up.
At this point, many people know about AirBnB for renting people’s property or finding alternatives to guest houses. This was our first attempt at using the site and we were extremely pleased! Just be mindful that these places aren’t like hotels where there is a cleanup staff. Be nice, separate your recyclables and clean up when you leave. Be good guests.
The owner of the place we stayed was very nice and friendly. I just want to plug them here. Visit this link and check out this renter. Highly recommend!!
Google Maps works great in America…not so great in Korea. This is because Korea has it’s own version (Naver Maps) and trying to use Google will leave you in the general area of where you want to go, but not quite there. On the other hand, Japan and Google have a good relationship and you can get around by using it. It will behoove you to get a portable WiFi egg so you can use your phone without the insane roaming charges. Many AirBnB locations will give you one of the portable WiFi eggs in your room (if not all of them), so if you do book through this site ask the owner if one is provided. We just brought one from Korea.
In small places with a high counter where the cook puts your tray of food on it to give you your meal, it is also helpful if you raise your tray back to the counter to let them know that you are done with your meal. This is easier for them to reach.
For some reason, a lot of things are closed on Mondays and things start closing between 5-6:00 p.m. so be sure to check the times of when you are travelling and want to do those things to make sure you have ample time to explore.