Isn't it simply thrilling that Japan's borders have just opened up?
The thoughts of eating a Bento on a speeding bullet train, drinking Green Tea while contemplating a Japanese garden or bathing in a Hot spring are no longer a fantasy but can soon be a reality!
From Oct 11, Japan has resumed its visa exemption scheme for short-stay tourism and business travel. This means you'll no longer need to apply for a visa prior to arrival or arrange your holiday through an authorised tour operator.
So... independent travel is back on like Donkey Kong! Personally, we feel the best way to explore Japan is to formulate your own itinerary and definitely allow some free time to simply wander the streets and discover.
Whether you're a frequent visitor to the Land of the Rising Sun or want to plan your first trip, here are some essentials you need to know before you go.
MEDICAL REQUIREMENTS (for blue countries which includes Australia)
1. You either need to show that you are:
- Triple vaccinated - You need a valid vaccination certificate showing 3 doses of an approved vaccine OR
- Get tested before you fly - Without a vaccination certificate, you need to get a Covid 19 test within 72 hours before leaving Australia and show proof of a negative result.
- Check your airline's testing requirements, as they may have different COVID-19 requirements than Japan.
IMPORTANT THINGS TO REMEMBER WHILE IN JAPAN
- Wear a fitted face Mask - Even before Covid-19 arrived, mask use was common in Japan, worn to protect oneself but also as a courtesy and sign of respect for those around you. We feel by respecting this Japanese etiquette and wearing a mask will be most appreciated by those living in Japan.
- As of Oct 2022, is that no mask is required if you can maintain 2 metres distance from others and when you are not talking. When you cannot maintain a physical distance from others (e.g. on a commuter train, in shops etc) or if you are talking to someone within 2 metres, wearing a mask is recommended). For latest mask wearing rules when you travel, keep an eye on updates here
- And if you do happen to feel ill while in Japan, you can check out helpful information here
- Carry a Combination of Japanese Yen/Travel or Bank Card:
Many places that previously only accepted Japanese Yen (eg. restaurants, shops etc) have now implemented cashless payment options. It's wise to still carry some yen but you may find that you have more opportunities to pay with your card than you did last trip.
Tip: At the time of this blog post the Japanese Yen is weak against the Australia dollar (and other currencies too) so it pays to top up that travel card with some currency quick smart!
- Japan Rail pass - Is it worth getting one?
As anyone who has travelled to Japan before knows, it has such an efficient rail system that allows you to reach your destinations quickly to maximise your time. Plus...the thrill of riding a bullet train (Shinkansen) going at a hurtling pace but feeling smooth as ever on the inside never gets old!
The 7,14 or 21 day Japan rail pass is an option for travellers to Japan but it must be arranged prior to arriving in Japan. So is it worth the price?
If you are looking to cover a fair bit of ground and travel to a few spots in Japan, I would say definitely consider it. If you are staying in mostly one or two places, it may not be economical for you. A good way to work it out is to compare the cost of the Japan Rail Pass with train trips you may plan to take by checking the Hyperdia website. As a quick example, if a return trip from Tokyo to Kyoto will set you back around $300 AUD. A 7 day rail pass is currently going for approx. $340 AUD so you can easily see its value if you are doing a bit of travel across Japan.
- Prepaid, Reloadable Suica or Pasmo card
Japan has always been miles ahead on the tech front so it would come as no surprise that they have had a prepaid, reloadable train card option since the early 2000's. Simply grab one at most train stations either from the office or ticket machine (select English) and load up some yen.
Bonus: You may have to put down a ¥500 deposit, but you get it back when you return the card, making it free!
These cards can also be used to make purchases at station kiosks, convenience stores, and vending machines.They can be charged at any train station and even at convenience stores.
For overseas visitors, a Pasmo passport is also a great option that gives you access to discounts too!
The main difference between Suica and Pasmo is that they are managed by different companies. Suica cards are managed by JR East, while Pasmo cards are managed by non-JR Lines. However both cards can be used on train lines run by other operators, e.g. you can use you Suica on a Tokyo Metro Line or your Pasmo on a JR Line without issue.
WHAT'S CHANGED SINCE YOUR LAST VISIT TO JAPAN?
- Temperature screenings
Be prepared to have your temperature checked in some locations such as larger stores (eg Uniqlo), airports and so on.
- Shortened open hours for shops and restaurants
Since many Japanese have worked from home over the pandemic and not commuted into the middle of cities, shops and restaurants have reduced their opening hours accordingly.
- Luggage on Bullet Trains (Shinkansen)
Reservations will be required for larger pieces of luggage. In case you are carrying a huge luggage piece or don’t want to carry your luggage, then we recommend looking into a luggage forwarding service.
- No smoking in restaurants
Many restaurants do not allow smoking inside now. If they do allow it, they have to be in a completely separate closed room Exceptions to this are some smaller restaurants and bars.
Smoking carriages on the bullet trains are mostly a thing of the past too, with exception on the Tokaido Shinkansen and some trains along the Sanyo Shinkansen on which smoking is allowed in small smoking rooms.
- You now have to pay for plastic bags
A welcome arrival for us is Japan now charging for plastic bags. Consider packing a reusable bag of your own or picking up one after arriving to avoid this extra charge and help reduce your footprint while travelling. A Keep Cup, Cutlery (including chopsticks) and a Water Bottle won't go astray either!
- Less crowds in touristy areas
The opening of borders to the rest of the world may mean crowds will return but for the short term, expect fewer people in previously heavily frequented areas eg. tourist attractions in major cities.
- New Redevelopment & Attractions to visit!
Speaking of new tourist attactions, while Japan has been closed off from the rest of the world, exciting new developments have been built including:
Shimokitazawa, Tokyo - Known for its unique retro feel with second hand goods stores and an array of cute cafes, the area around "Shimokita" station has been redeveloped while still retaining its former charm. New additions include a ryokan Japanese-style inn with an open-air bath, Shimokita College and a new shopping & restaurant complex known as Mikan Shimokita.
Shibuya Sky, Tokyo - For 360° views & the highest view point going round in Shibuya, head up to this open air deck, from which you can also get obstruction free photos at the "Sky Edge" Corner as well as watch a nightly light show. There are also hammocks for cloud watching - what's not to love? The complex also features a cafe and bar.
Ghibli World, Aichi Prefecture - In the works for a few years now (teasing us with little updates here and there), Ghibli World will officially open on Nov 1, 2022. What do we know so far?
The theme park will be divided into five areas: Hill of Youth, Ghibli’s Large Warehouse, Mononoke’s Village, Valley of Witches and Dondoko Forest.
Note: not everything will open at the same time. Mononoke’s Village won't be ready until Autumn 2023 and The Valley of Witches will be March 2024.
The park also features exhibition space, themed children’s playgrounds, shops and restaurants.
Located about 3 hours from Tokyo, near Nagoya. If you're keen to visit, you must head here to find out how to make a reservation as you won't be able to enter without one.
Super Nintendo World, Universal Studios, Osaka - This brand-new land is a Nintendo fan’s dream come true. There are themed rides, food, shops, characters and more! To guarantee you’ll experience Super Nintendo World, buy an ExpressPass with a timed entry.
For the Matcha Green Tea Lovers out there, never fear! We have a blog written of must visit spots in Tokyo and Kyoto to get your fix which you can read here
While this blog is by no means exhaustive on information to know before you visit Japan, hope you've found it useful! Please let us know in the comments if there's something we have missed.