Visiting Japan: Just a few tips
I wanted to share a few of my tips and tricks that I found helped me out when I was in Japan.
Learn the Language
As if this would be much of a shock to any of you – but if you can take a bit of time and learn the language even a little bit will find your time in any country a little easier. Likewise you will often garner a little respect among the locals if you show you have made a slight effort.
Japanese from the outside looked like a really tough language to learn, and as a disclaimer from the outset I am not fluent in anyway shape or form. I mainly focused on trying to understand the alphabet a little bit and maybe learn a few words.
The key building blocks of Japanese are the following:
- Hiragana – this is the alphabet used for Japanese words
- Katakana – this is the alphabet used to spell out non-Japanese words.
- Kanji – these are the characters that are used for many words and phrases. These are adopted from Chinese characters. There are about 2,000 different ‘common’ Kanji. I had no chance of learning them all but focused at least on some key ones. If you know the Kanji for some common objects or subjects it helps (eg. East Train Station Exit, Toilet, etc.).
I found a really handy website that gave me some handy tips and taught me to learn the Hiragana and Katakana in only about two weeks. Which if you had any clue as to how bad I am at learning languages that is a big win.
I attempted to learn some Kanji and found a few handy Kanji Decks that you could load into a FlashCard App such as Anki Droid. There is also a handy book/method by James Heisig called “Remembering the Kanji” which will give you a method to approach learning them. Unless you are extremely dedicated you won’t become fluent but I found learning some of the basics did help me out a little bit in Japan.
If you spend enough time googling and looking at online forums you will see there are almost more different opinions on “the best” way to learn Kanji than there are actual Kanji to learn. Find what works for you and give it a go.
Japanese Railway System
It goes without saying that the Japanese railway system is the envy of most of the world. It is a massive marvelous example of an amazing transit system. That said it is huge, with so many hundreds and thousands of possible timetable permutations. It can be quite daunting for a newbie to understand or for a tourist to get their head around.
Enter – Hyperdia – this website is your essential travel companion while you plan your holiday and also while you are on the ground in Japan. It is the best way to research travel routes, search for specific schedules and also working out what platform you need to be heading to for your train.
Japan Rail Pass
If you are going to spend some time travelling around Japan it makes sense to look at the Japan Rail Pass. They are available for Tourists and can be valid for 7/14/21 days. When we traveled we opted for the 21 day pass as we were planning on doing a bit of travel. The 21 day pass is about $800AUD and depending on how much you plan on doing makes economical sense.
We purchased ours from Travel Japan – a Brisbane-based travel agency that specialises in Japan travel. They were also located in the middle of the CBD so made it easy to pick up.
There are a few options, we ended up getting just the Economy (2nd class) option, that still gives you reserved seats on the Shinkansen lines. There are a couple of specific trains it doesn’t cover but we found it didn’t really restrict us. The pass also is valid for Travel on some ferries most popular is the Miyajima Ferry just outside of Hiroshima.
Those are just a few tips to get you started. I will try to keep coming back and adding to them. The key thing in Japan is just to get out amongst it and join in. The locals were all so friendly and accommodating and eager to help out when they could.
What are your top Japanese travel tips? Comment below and share them with us.
Thanks as always for checking out my Travel Blog. I am really honoured you chose to check it out and have a read. This blog is just a collection of my notes and travels. Let me know in the comments section below what you thought of this post.