Traveling to a new country is always exciting and often comes with some challenges. There are ways that made navigating the land of the rising sun a bit easier. This post will cover a few new things I incorporated into a recent visit to Japan that made this trip different from my last journey nearly twenty years ago.
I recommend using the Japan Rail pass. This simplified my travel expenses and the time it took to go from station to station without having to figure the cost of each leg of the trip. It is useful for traveling long distances. On my recent trip, I used the JR Pass to get from Tokyo to Nagoya, Nagoya to Kyoto, and then to get back to the Narita Airport. The pass is only for people who do not live in Japan. You receive a JR Pass form in the mail. When you arrive in Japan, you show this and your passport to get the actual pass. Instead of feeding a ticket into the machines each time to enter the train stations to catch your next train, look to the edges of the ticket areas and you will usually see a JR booth where you show your pass to the employees. The employees are helpful when you ask where your next train is. You may purchase a Japan Rail Pass (also known as a JR Pass) in advance on this website, the Japan Experience. https://www.japan-rail-pass.com/
If you are traveling across the country, you have the option of reserving your seat. During late July, when it was extremely hot in Japan, this was unnecessary as there were plenty of seats available. If you want to view Mt. Fuji from your train, keep in mind which direction you will be traveling to plan which side of the train you would like to find a seat.
At times, I found myself wanting to go places where the JR Pass could not take me. For that, I used the subway system. I have created a short video to help guide you on how to use their automated ticket machines. If you need additional help, there is actually someone who works behind the machines who can do just that.
While you are on the Japan Experience site, you may want to rent and reserve a pocket Wi-Fi. I picked mine up at the Narita Airport after reserving it online. It comes with instructions in English, a charger, a carrying case, and a return envelope. The pocket Wi-Fi enabled me to use the text feature on my iPhone and also use FaceTime. Some people may opt to use a SIM card instead.
Reduce the weight you carry with you by avoiding carrying a lot of coins. Buy a PASMO card. With the swipe of your PASMO card, you can buy drinks from a vending machine without having to dig through your change or even having to carry it to begin with. The downside to this is that you may not end up using any remaining credit on your card. I am still trying to figure out whether I want to bother with this or just give my PASMO card to someone else who may be traveling to Japan. I charged mine with $20 worth of credit and only used about $5.00 worth on a three-day trip traveling solo. The Suica card works similarly.
The ultimate in minimalist travel in Japan is to try out one of the capsule hotels. First Cabin is a chain that provides three sizes of cabins/capsules. The smallest, least expensive one has very low ceilings and runs about 4500 yen. Although I am not tall, I wanted something I could stand up in if I wanted to. I chose the midsize one for about 5500 yen. The largest size has a bedside table and a narrow strip of carpet along the side of the mattress, just wide enough for the table. As of July 2018, those cost about 6500 yen.
Although the screen door to the cabin does not close all the way in accordance with Japanese laws, it was very safe. Two floors are reserved for women only and two for men. To enter your floor, you must carry your badge with you to swipe the doors open. (Remember to bring your card with you in the middle of the night if you have to go to the restroom. It comes on a lanyard, which makes carrying it with you easy.)
The capsule has a lock box that is big enough for a briefcase or purse, but not large enough for a backpack or suitcase. The key for it comes on a plastic bracelet you can wear on your wrist when you go to sleep.
The amenities included air conditioning, TV with earphones (you have to ask for the earphones at the front desk), vending machines that serve a wide variety of beverages, hot food, a breakfast lounge, and free Wi-Fi. There are restrooms on each floor and a spa/public bath for women on a separate floor. (There is likely a public bath for men, too.) Again, remember to bring your key card to operate the elevator to get to your floor or to the spa.
Although it's possible to navigate the train system with a wheeled suitcase, it is simply much easier to carry a backpack as there are lots of stairs in the train stations. On this overseas trip, I first went to Guam for ten days. I emptied half of the contents of my backpack by sending it home via the U.S. Postal Service and did some laundry before heading to Japan. This enabled me to travel light and purchase a few new items to take home with me. In the summer time in Japan, be sure to stay hydrated (especially while doing cardio workouts with a backpack) and bring your Pasmo card with you!