Japanese Travel Planning 101
So … you know you’re ready to book your flights to Japan.
But do you know how to get the lowest airfare? And once when you arrive, do you know how to track down the can’t-miss destinations? How to try the most authentic food? How to navigate your way around town?
Don’t worry! We’ve got you covered.
Cheap Flights to Japan
This much is a given: You want to spend more of your money actually experiencing Japan than on an overpriced plane ride there and back. And we all know that searching for airfares online can be an endlessly frustrating experience.
Your best bet? Visit the websites of a few fare aggregators, like SkyStub®. These are sites that give you access to tickets provided by numerous airlines, which in turn allows you to compare prices without having to visit each airline’s individual website.
And what if you’re unhappy even with the fare offered by an aggregator? Consider contacting the airlines directly. Occasionally they’ll have special deals that aren’t available on even the savviest fare aggregator sites.
Do remember, though, that when your highest priority involves snagging the absolute lowest-priced airfare available, having a flexible travel schedule will always make a big difference. Try comparing prices on a few of the days before and after your desired departure and return dates, and definitely do your best to avoid weekend and holiday travel, when fares tend to be significantly higher.
One other tip to keep in mind when booking your flights to Japan: Remember that you’ll be ‘losing a day,’ so to speak, as a result of the time difference. If you depart the United States in the morning, for instance, you won’t actually arrive in Japan until the following night. When you return home, of course, you’ll ‘gain’ that time back.
Guided Tours in Japan
Now that your plane tickets are taken care of, what exactly are you supposed to do with yourself when you first get to Japan?
After all, Japan is an enormous country with more travel options than anyone could hope to experience in a lifetime. That’s probably also why it’s a country with such an unbelievably wide range of available tours. There really is a guided trip for nearly everyone, including theme park tours, ski tours, anime-themed tours — you name it, and in Japan, a tour probably exists for it.
What’s more, many of these trips offer packages that can include train tickets, hotel reservations, meals, and everything in between. Only need transportation and a hotel? Tour providers in Japan can handle that. And because tour hosts tend to buy large blocks of hotel rooms, they’re often able to offer discount prices.
In other words, booking yourself onto a tour in Japan — not a cheap destination by any stretch of the imagination — can sometimes actually save you money.
Eating Authentically in Japan
If you’re like most international travelers, one of the very first experiences you’ll have after landing in Japan will somehow involve food and drink. Resist the urge to make a beeline straight toward the first American chain restaurant you see, and instead, keep your eyes peeled for food that looks new, unusual, and even odd.
Don’t be put off, by the way, when you pass by restaurants displaying dozens of plastic sushi rolls or wax entrees in their windows. This is actually a traditional dining industry marketing technique in Japan — think of the plastic food as a three-dimensional menu. Strange as it may seem, those fake dishes are uniquely designed to entice visitors and locals alike to enter a particular eatery.
Pay attention to those displays, by the way, if you’re traveling widely throughout the country, and you’ll notice just how much they tend to vary from region to region.
When you enter a restaurant in Japan — or nearly any retail place of business — you’ll likely be welcomed with the standard greeting of “irasshaimase” (pronounced “era-shy-moss-ey”), which means, “Welcome, please come in.” No response is required; it’s simply the restaurateur or shopkeeper’s way of politely acknowledging customers.
If you find yourself feeling especially hungry — or if you simply want to experience the stranger side of Japanese culinary culture — consider visiting a food theme park. Not entirely unlike an American food court, food theme parks tend to specialize in one specific type of food or dish.
The general idea involves giving visitors the opportunity to try different variations of, say, ramen noodles, or gyoza, or ice cream. Some food theme parks charge a small admission fee, and the cuisine on offer is usually prepared by very reputable, high-end restaurants.
Oddly, most parks are decked out to resemble a specific era in Japanese history. Not to put too fine a point on it, but passing a few hours in a food theme park is a wonderful way to immerse yourself in Japanese culture. But be forewarned: English-language information of any sort tends to be severely limited at most food parks.
One final tip: Many restaurants in Japan provide both Western-style and zashiki seating, which involves low tables with pillows and tatami mats on the floor. If you plan on eating in the zashiki space, you’ll be expected to remove your shoes before sitting down.
Public Transit in Japan
After tackling your initial long-haul flight to Japan, you may be surprised to learn just how simple and stress-free the process of moving about the country really is. Japan’s public transit system is world renowned for its efficiency and professionalism — trains are always on time — and you’ll definitely want to experience the country’s subway systems, its buses and taxis, and perhaps even its domestic ferry system.
Trains are often considered the best way to travel around Japan. There are five classifications of trains: local, rapid, express, limited express, and super express. Ordinary and green (first class) tickets can generally be purchased at a vending machine or a train station’s ticket counter.
Trains and buses in Japan are so high functioning, in fact, that most locals avoid using the significantly higher priced taxis during the day. Once the trains and buses stop running on Friday and Saturday nights, however, taxis become a very in-demand service. Should you find yourself needing a cab, just remember that a red light indicates a vacant car, while a green light indicates an occupied cab. (During the daylight hours, look for a red or green sign placed in the lower corner of a cab’s windshield.)
Taxi drivers in Japan are generally considered highly trustworthy. If you need to hail to cab, you can do so on the street, or at a taxi stand outside a train or subway station. You might also want to take note of your taxi’s license plate before entering the car: Licensed taxi drivers have green plates, while unlicensed drivers have white or yellow plates, similar to those found on regular cars. And in Japan, you don’t need to tip your taxi driver.
Ready to book your flight?
If you’re ready to make your trip to Japan a reality, take a look at the rates on SkyStub®, which has been offering the best fares to Asia for more than 35 years.
In no time at all, you could be eating zashiki-style at an authentic Japanese restaurant and navigating the Tokyo subway system just as effortlessly as a local.
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