Honeymoon Travel Guide: Japan 101

It’s official: Japan is my favourite place on the planet. Gareth and I first visited Tokyo in 2008 for our honeymoon and we’ve always wanted to go back. We haven’t really had the time or money for a (non-working) holiday since then though, but at the beginning of this year we thought “Screw it, we’ve worked our arses off these past few years, let’s just do it!”

Today I wanted to tackle some of your frequently asked questions about our trip. I’ve received so many since I’ve been (over)sharing on Instagram! I’ll be sharing some recommendations of things to see and do in each of the cities we visited over the coming weeks too.

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Our itinerary

The first time we visited, we spent our entire 10 day-trip just in Tokyo. While you can certainly spend more time than that exploring and experiencing this magical city (we still haven’t made it to the Sanrio theme park – TRAVESTY!) Japan is so much more than just its capital.

As we’d been to Tokyo before, and done a lot of the main sites already, we decided to spend just two nights there this time. At first I was worried we wouldn’t get to see enough of it, but we really did manage to pack a lot in. They were long 10+ hour days, but I love being busy and soaking everything in when I travel. The idea of lying on a beach all day sounds so dull to me! Our itinerary went a little something like this:

Thursday 17th March – Arrived in Tokyo
Sunday 20th March – Shinkansen (bullet) train to Kyoto (approx. 2.5 hours)
Friday 26th March – Shinkansen train to Hiroshima (approx. 1.5 hours)
Monday 28th March – Shinkansen train back to Tokyo (approx. 4 hours)
Tuesday 29th March – Flew back to the UK

Osaka is also only a 15 minute journey from Kyoto, so although we hadn’t planned to visit, we did! A lot of my research beforehand told me that Osaka wasn’t that exciting, but I’m so glad we ignored that because we loved it! It was more like Tokyo than Kyoto (which is way more quiet and traditional) but less intense and busy.

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Getting around

We each purchased a Japan Rail Pass, which is usable on all JR trains (more on this later), the Shinkansen, some buses and ferries, and the Narita Express to and from the airport. It is only available for tourists and you have to buy it in advance, outside of the country. They then post you a voucher (which also comes with a very handy train timetable and guidebook) which you exchange for your actual pass once you arrive in Japan.

The passes are valid for either 7 or 14 days and cost £176/£280 for standard tickets and £236/£381 for first class (which they call Green tickets). We decided to splash the extra £100 each on Green passes for 14 days which was a great decision. On the Shinkansen and Narita Express the Green cars offer more space, larger and more comfortable seats and are usually much less busy than standard. Each seat also had a plug socket which was great for charging our phones on the go. If you’re not planning to use the Shinkansen to travel around the country, a JR Pass might not financially be the best option, however if you’re going to travel between cities and you plan to get at least two Shinkansen trains then it will probably save you money.

So the metro/ trains within each city can be a little confusing. There are two main lines – the subway (like the Underground in London) and the JR Lines (like the Overground in London). However the two are totally separate and you need different tickets for each. We tried to travel on JR lines as much as possible (as doing so was included in our JR passes), however when we did need to use the subway for connections we found it very inexpensive, between £1 – £2.50 per journey. It took a bit of getting used to figuring out which was which and how to navigate between the two, but after a couple of journeys we had it down!

I’d advise you to download metro maps for each city you plan to visit beforehand as the maps you find displayed at the stations tended to have either JR Lines or Subway lines on them and trying to plan your journey without an overall map can be very confusing indeed!

While a lot of main train stations have WiFi, we found it could be unreliable (or the log-in details/passwords were in Kanji!) You can rent portable WiFi devices for around £20 a day (most hotels rent them or there are places all over the cities) but we chose not to do this. As weird as it might sound coming from someone who spends so much time online, I actually quite enjoy being disconnected when I travel!

However one of the most invaluable things we had for navigating was an app called Maps.Me, which is like an offline Google Maps. Instead of using the internet, it downloads the entire country you’re in onto your phone and uses GPS to pinpoint your location. This app meant we were able to navigate around really easily without having to desperately search for WiFi hotspots all the time.

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Is Japan expensive?

I’d probably compare it to the price of most things in London. While it’s by no means a cheap place to be, you can do things very inexpensively if you’re smart. We found luxuries quite pricey (clothes/ shoes, taxis [which we didn’t get any of because the public transport is so excellent] and fancy or themed restaurants) but other things pretty affordable (trains, cheaper eateries, cosmetics). You also don’t tip in Japan (wait staff are paid well and it’s actually considered rude!) which does automatically bring the cost of eating out down quite a lot. We found alcohol cheaper than London in supermarkets/ out of vending machines and pretty comparable (but often a bit cheaper) in restaurants and bars.

What’s the food like?

If you’re a fussy eater, you may find Japan difficult. While it’s not all raw fish (we actually found very few sushi places) it is a very fish-based diet. Most restaurants have photos on the menus, or plastic recreations of their dishes outside (odd at first but actually very helpful!) and some offered English menus although the translations could be clunky. There were a lot of things we ate that we had NO IDEA what they were! The way things are cooked and served is very different to the west and make sure you practice with chopsticks beforehand as, unless they’re serving western food, most places don’t have knives and forks available. Of course there are places that serve western food (burgers, sandwiches etc) but who wants to go to Japan and eat in McDonalds, Subway and Starbucks all the time?

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Our favourite things to eat were pork katsu (breaded meat with or without the curry sauce, served with rice), donburi bowls (rice bowls with your choice of meat or fish and an egg on top), deep fried chicken (OMG so good!) and udon ramen (large bowls of soup with your choice of meat and udon noodles). Most dishes also come served with extra rice, miso soup and pickles – yum! Neither of us are vegan or vegetarian, but if you are I do think things could be a bit tricky too. I’d suggest learning how to say “I’m vegetarian, no meat please” in Japanese as it’s not guaranteed that your server will speak English.

One of our favourite places to eat were ‘meal ticket’ restaurants, where you order and pay for your food from a vending machine outside! You then get a ticket with your order which you give to the servers inside. It’s so efficient; I don’t know why this idea hasn’t spread outside of Japan! However all of the ones we used were only written in Kanji, and while they did have photos of the food you were choosing, it was a bit of a guessing game as to what you might end up with!

Street food is also plentiful, cheap and utterly delicious. Look out for local specialities such as Takoyaki (fried octopus balls) in Osaka and Okonomiyaki (a kind of noodle and pancake cake – more yummy than it sounds I promise!) in Hiroshima. Green tea (Macha) and Sakura (cherry blossom) ice cream is also AMAZING as is shaved ice (get the rainbow one of course!) There are lots of regional sweets and treats everywhere too, and while some of them are tastier than others they’re still worth a try as you’re never going to get anything like them elsewhere!

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When emojis come to life!

Do people speak English? Do I need to be able to speak Japanese?

The majority of people we conversed with spoke some English (especially younger people). However I always think its polite when you travel to at least learn some basic phrases. Most signs (in the major cities) are written in Kanji and Romaji (Japanese words but written with Roman characters) so once you get over the shock of how busy the train stations are, getting around is easy enough.

Learning how to speak and read basic Japanese phrases is made a lot easier by taking a few moments to understand how to pronounce Romaji. The rules are really simple and once understood you can successfully read and repeat pretty much anything written in the Roman alphabet. This came in useful for us a number of times when ordering things off menus or buying things in shops.

Here are some words and phrases you might like to learn:

Hello: Konnichiwa
Good Morning: Ohayou
Goodbye: Sayōnara
Thank you: Arigatou
Thank you very much (more formal): Arigato Gozaimasu
Sorry/ excuse me: Sumimasen
Yes: Hai
No: Īe
English: Eigo
How much?: Ikuradesu ka?
How are you?: Ogenkidesuka?

Knowing the numbers is also a good idea as a lot of items on menus are numbered. The Japanese really appreciate when westerners attempt to speak their language. They’re often quite surprised when you do too so, even though I felt awkward at first, and worried I’d say things wrong, it was worth persevering! The Japanese are – without a doubt – the politest and most well-mannered nation of people I’ve ever come across. If you are ever lost or stuck somewhere, don’t be afraid to ask people. Even if the person you’re asking doesn’t speak very good English, I guarantee they will stop and try to help you.

The Google Translate phone app is also very useful. It can do everything from translating words from a photo (great for working out what a label on something in a shop says!) and speaking back to you in Japanese if you say something in English (and vice versa). Most of the functions don’t work without WiFi, but you can type something in in English and it will give you the Kanji if you’re really stuck.

Where did you stay?

We stayed at the following hotels and we loved and would recommend them all!
For our first few nights in Tokyo we stayed in Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku. Being so central and right near a main station was really advantageous. We were in a Japanese-style deluxe king room.

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Kyoto is a more traditional city than Tokyo and so, if possible, you should try and stay in a Ryokan (traditional guest house). We stayed at Seikoro (which I booked through japanican.com as their website is all in Japanese!) and although it was expensive (around £200 a night per person) the service was second-to-none. The room was huge with a view of the garden and your own bathroom, and they served breakfast (and if you wanted it, dinner) to you in your room!

For our short trip to Hiroshima, we booked the Sheraton Hotel. It was a 2 minute walk from the main station so made travelling around really. We stayed in a deluxe room.

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Making new friends on Miyajima Island, Hiroshima!

For our final night back in Tokyo we decided to stay in the same place we stayed for our honeymoon, eight years earlier! The Andon is a modern take on a traditional Ryokan, although in reality its a bit more like a hostel. While the location isn’t as convenient as Shinjuku it’s super cheap (around £55 a night including breakfast for two people!) making it the perfect option if you’re on more of a budget. The rooms are tiny (like literally five foot wide with a little extra at the end for luggage), the bathrooms are shared and you sleep on a roll mat on the floor (which unlike at Seikoro, you have to set up yourself) but for the price the experience of it can’t be beaten. And let’s face it, you’re not going to be spending all day in your hotel room are you?!

Phew, what a lot of information! I hope this post as been useful for those of you planning a honeymoon or holiday in Japan. It really is the most incredible place ever; you’re going to have a blast! If you have more questions feel free to pop them into a comment below.

Sayōnara!

31 comments

  1. so funny! we just thought the same at the beginning of this year (have been waiting almost three years for our honeymoon) and started our japan trip at the beginning of march (three weeks! pure bliss!!!) 🙂

    looks like we had a lot of similar experiences… and even ate the same eki-ben 😀

    fell deeply in love with the country and hope to go back one day as there’s still so much more to discover 🙂

  2. Sinead Murray

    Hi, im travelling to japan in 2 weeks and can hardly contain myself. I have throughly enjoyed your holiday photos, especially the food lol. The bit I was most worried about was the trains but after ready your blog , ive download the maps me app and I can already tell it’s going to be a big help. So just want to say thanks for all the useful info 😀. O and I absolutely adore your ombre skirt, im determined to obtain one lol

  3. Post author

    Hey Sinead, the trains really aren’t that tricky if you plan your route in advance and give yourself plenty of time the first few times. Dont be afraid to ask for help if you get stuck. The people are so lovely!

  4. Ann-Marie Lodge

    On our honeymoon in Japan right now and have loved following your Instagram posts along the way! We seem to be just a week behind of lots of the things you’ve been doing, in Kyoto this week after our first week in Tokyo. We will be returning to Tokyo next week to end our trip, not before a quick trip Hiroshima and Mt Fuji, we’ve loved every minute of it!! The perfect honeymoon destination. Xx

  5. Joanne

    I love love love Japan. Like Kat said the people are so friendly. I thought they may be wary of me with my pink hair and tattoos but no they were fascinated and so happy to help. I was just in a train station and looking at the board when someone came up straight away. Can I help you. I loved the people. Japan is a wonderful mix of brash neon lights, with sounds of trucks going by with the latest Japanese pop to tranquil gardens and parks with pagodas and shrines. I can’t recommend Japan too much. Kat I loved all your tips and info x x

  6. fran

    We are looking into having our honeymoon in Japan, as is my long-life dream to go there! This guide is so useful, thankssss 🙂

  7. Laura

    Thanks so much for this Kat.
    We’re going to be boomeing our honeymoon for next spring in Japan so these tips are super helpful!

  8. Oh my! This looks incredible, a great post to read to help cure my burning wanderlust as I sit in the office on a Wednesday evening!! Japan is high on my bucket list, I’ll be sure to take a few notes before my trip there hopefully in the next few years 🙂 Lisa x

  9. Cassie

    Hi Kat, this is such a great guide. I’m off to Japan in 6 weeks for 2 months of travel and you’ve answered so many of those little questions I had about travelling and ordering food. Your pictures are lovely too – you’ve inspired me to get going with the photo booths too. 🙂 Thank you so much!

  10. Brilliant info Kat – thanks!!

    We’re looking to book our Japan honeymoon soon, but the thing I’m struggling with is whether to book through a travel agency or book everything separately ourselves. Booking ourselves works out cheaper, but I’m a little concerned about not having anyone ‘on the ground’ to help us when we’re out there!

    x

  11. Ali

    Love it! We went to Japan in Nov 2014 and dos Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Osaka, Koyasan and Mt Fuji so quite a similar route! We’re planning on going back for our honeymoon. This time a a good week in Tokyo and some time in Okinawa hopefully. We can’t wait.

  12. Great photographs, they really bring Japan to life. They are so vibrant and colourful. I so want to follow in your footsteps and head there. One day, I hope!

  13. Post author

    I booked everything separately and it was totally fine. All the hotel staff spoke great english and we didnt have any troubles at all!

  14. Wow Kat!! It was so lovely reading this post! I’ve lived in Japan for years and all the information and photos you shared will be sooooo useful to someone who has never visited before. I’m so thrilled you had a wonderful experience soaking in the romance of Japanese Spring time. Next time you visit, you should definitely try during the summer when there are thousands of colourful and crazy festivals across the country(even though the humidity is INSANE). Or visit the southern most parts of the country (places like Yakushima/Kagoshima) where you’ll find yourself trying to create new words to describe the beauty of nature. it was so lovely to reminise about my time there looking at your photos on Instagram You were very kawaii(cute)! xx

  15. Helen

    I love this so useful. I have 3 children and planning trip to Japan as family of 5 next year. Did you come across any families from England with small children ?

  16. Kathy

    I found the Hyperdia website to be invaluable when planning train journeys. Like you we didn’t get wifi for the phones and relied on the hotels (most of which have free wifi, even the backpackers we stayed in in Jimbocho). Just takes a bit of forward planning – before you leave the hotel work out where you’re going and plug it into the website. Get your results and take a screenshot of it, then you use that to navigate the beautifully colour coded underground.

    http://www.hyperdia.com/en/

    We also used Suica cards (like Oyster cards) to get around most of the time. Very easy to recharge at the train stations and the staff at the stations seemed very used to tourists not having enough money on the cards.

    So pleased to find someone else who loves the ticket machines! I think it’s a brilliant thing, and not quite knowing what you’re getting is half the fun. Would love to work out a way to quit my day job and bring these across to Australia. It’s fantastic.

  17. Pamela

    We went to Japan last year for holidays, it is the most amazing place! My boyfriend proposed at Mount Fuji, most amazing day of my life, can’t wait to go back, would recommend it a million times over 🙂

  18. Risa

    Loved following along on your journey! Those Gudetama and Mameshiba videos mentioned on Insta are sooo great

  19. Japan in AMAZING! We did a very similar route to you guys but also went to Nikko for a night which is a national park and stayed on Naoshima Island for a night which I would highly recommend

    One thing to note for anyone reading… You have to buy the raik pass BEFORE you travel, it’s only available to tourists and you can’t buy them once you’re in Japan… As we found out too late! Luckily we worked it out with my friends family in the end. You’ll probably say that in another post but just in case 😊

  20. Hey!!!!! I’m traveling around Japan now and right now staying in Ryokan up in the mountains near the snow monkeys. Amazing experience. I completely agree with everything you said in your article. One of the thing I could add to that Japanese people are terrible in giving directions.xx

  21. Sammy

    There are a few things I would like to correct.

    Tipping is not considered to be rude, it’s simply not done. But no one will think oh this rude foreigner.

    In addition, the railpass is extremely useful but the taking two trips advice can be a big misleading. I’ve used Shinkansen were a one way trip was only about 3000 yen… The JR pass would have been overkill!

    Last: Streetfood os actually not that plentiful… Osaka + Fukuoka and some festival/tourist attractions are the exceptions. But compared to like Thailand and Taiwan? Very scarce.

    But I’m glad you had a great time, Japan is a beautiful country

  22. Suzanne

    Thanks so much for all the amazing info! My husband and I fly from UK to Tokyo next Wednesday and will travel round for 3 weeks. Your instagram and this post have been making me even more excited.
    I am worrying a little bit about our luggage size though, having read various posts that you really must travel light. But I noticed your luggage is not tiny as some would suggest. Do you mind if I ask what size your luggage was? And if you found a big bag to be a problem? I want to make sure I have plenty of space for all the amazing things we will inevitably buy while we’re there. Thanks! xx

  23. Post author

    Suzanne – haha I never travel light! It was a bit of a pain in the arse on the subway as a lot of them just have stairs, not escalators, but Gareth very kindly carried it up and down them for me. There are services you can use where you can send you luggage ahead of you when you travel if you’re worried though!

  24. Claire

    This is fantastic, thank you Kat! We can’t afford Japan for our honeymoon (it’s our dream destination), so we’re heading to Scotland for our ‘mini’-moon in June then saving the pennies to hopefully get there in a year or 2 and I’m sure your great tips will come in handy! Glad you had a wonderful time x

  25. Saxyrunner

    This is so perfect! We are honeymooning to Tokyo and Kyoto in June, and I’m so dang excited! Thanks for this informative post.

  26. Jess

    Amazing!!!

    We’re going on our honeymoon to Japan in November. My partner has been before, but I haven’t so I’m beyond excited. Having trouble finding places to stay though. We’re going for three weeks and don’t want to blow all our cash on accommodation. Some nice places will be stayed at, but for the most part we’re trying to stick to around $125AUD per night….not sure how we’re going to accomplish that!

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