Before You Leave: Your Ultimate Japan Trip Checklist

Ready to go on your much awaited ultimate Japan trip? Hang on! Japan is a truly exciting place to take a trip in, but there are few important things to tick off your checklist before you leave to ensure that you enjoy and maximize your Japan trip. Traveling on a budget? I’ve got you covered – I’ve put together a cheapskate’s guide to traveling.

Take note of this helpful checklist before packing your stuff:

  • Your flight ticket – It all starts with a ticket, right? If you’re having trouble finding the cheapest airfare, don’t fret because I’ve listed down my recommended travel hacking sites for finding the best fare.
  • JRPass / Japan Rail Pass – If you do not have friends/family who can drive you around, you’ll seriously need this to save on your trips once you’re in Japan. JRPass gives you unlimited train trips across Japan for a certain number of days, and this is definitely a lot cheaper than buying a single ticket for each trip (one single bullet train ticket can cost you the same amount you’d pay for a JRPass). Here’s my easy guide on how to buy and use your JRPass.
  • Travel Insurance – As with any other travels, you’ll be able to travel worry free and eat all those raw sashimi without worrying about enormous hospital bills in case you’re unable to handle all those raw stuff. Plus, plane cancellations/lost luggage are all too common these days, and it’s better to be prepared these. Any travel insurance will do, but in my case, I found a cheap travel insurance that’s perfect for my travels.
  • Cash / Credit card – You’ll obviously need Japanese Yen and some US Dollars when traveling in Japan. In case of an emergency, an international credit card gives you additional peace of mind.
  • Your itinerary, or at least pick your top 3 bucket list items per city to prioritize so that you’d still get that sense of fulfillment even if you run out of time for other activities. Click here to read about my seven-day Japan travel itinerary. If seeing a Geisha is on your bucket list, visit my guide to Geisha hunting in Kyoto, too.
  • Notepad and pen – It’s especially helpful to have these on hand to take note of your next train stop and platform number, and also to prepare for last minute itinerary changes.
  • Rent a pocket WiFi device – To help you in planning your trip as well as last minute itinerary changes, and also to help you find a cheap accommodation for the night. This will definitely save you a lot of precious time, for a small amount. Plus, you can keep your social media accounts constantly updated. Trust me, it worked for me, especially during crunch time. In my case, I rented from Japan Rail Pass website for about $60 (good for 8 days of unlimited use).
    Japan rent pocket WiFi

    My rented pocket WiFi that I claimed at the Airport post office upon my arrival. The package included the device, charger, and a return envelope for when I send the package back at the airport post office. Definitely saved me a lot of time having been able to research in advance when I am on long train rides.

    The post office at the Osaka Kansai International Airport (KIX).

    The post office at the Osaka Kansai International Airport (KIX).

  • Mobile apps – download the following apps on your smartphone to help you out on your trip:
    • Google Maps – trick: you can save your maps for offline viewing by searching for a particular place, like “Tokyo.” Zoom to select the area you want to save on your phone. Go to menu, then select “Make available offline”.
    • Google translate – Very helpful when you need to discuss something with a local. You can just key in whatever you want to say and the app will display the translation in Kanji characters which you can then show to whomever you’re speaking with. I found this helpful when I was trying to find out room availability and haggle the price at a motel in Kyoto.
    • Hyperdia – this is your free go to app that lets you plan your train travels. Just enter your origin, destination, and desired departure time to find out which train stations / platform numbers to take and the exact time of departure/arrival. The app is only available for iPhone. For Android users, you can still use the app by going straight to their website.
  • Brush on your basic Japanese language skills. At some point in time, you may find yourself lost and clueless in the middle of a Tokyo subway and may need to ask a local for directions. Take note of some basic and important words that may save you and your trip. Here’s a crash course on basic phrases I found very helpful that I used during my trip:
    • Sumimasen – Excuse me.
    • Konnichiwa – Hello!
    • Doko desu location, e.g. Tokyo train station – Where is Tokyo train station?
    • Eigo wa dekimasu ka? – Do you speak English?
    • Ikura desu ka? – How much is this?
    • Arigato gozaimasu – Thank you.
    • Benjo wa doko desu ka? – Where is the toilet?
    • Tasukete – Help!
    • Kirei desu ne – You’re beautiful. (This came in handy ;) )
  • Download train maps on your smartphone or have them printed out for easy and convenient access. For starters, here are the Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo subway maps in downloadable PDF files.
  • Travel chargers with multiple USB ports – Very helpful, especially during outlet deprived long bullet train trips. Just make sure your devices are adaptable to changing country voltage requirements to avoid blowing a fuse (most mobile devices are adaptable, especially smartphones, like my devices in below photo).
    One travel charger, multiple USB outlets. Convenient, eh? Very "fulfilling" especially when you're only provided one outlet.

    One travel charger, multiple USB outlets. Convenient, eh? Very “fulfilling” especially when you’re only provided one outlet, especially when inside a bullet train (above pic).

  • Spare batteries for your phone and camera – You’ll never know when you’ll run out of battery and miss capturing that capture-worthy moment.
  • Trusty and durable sneakers – because you will be doing a lot of walking for sure.
  • Expandable backpack – so you can travel-lite and avoid missing that train because you’re unable to run with you carrying your heavy luggage around.
  • Know your alternatives when choosing accommodation when you’re in Japan. It’s so damn expensive finding out where to sleep in pricey Japan, especially when you’re traveling without prior reservations. As someone who did that spontaneous trip to the land of the rising sun, I’ve observed and experienced quite a lot – here’s my guide to sleeping in Japan that’s packed with tips on where you can stay (and yes, that includes sleeping at a 24/7 store near the train station).
  • Over-the-counter medicines for unexpected simple headaches, tummy aches, and dizziness. Good thing I brought a paracetamol on my recent trip because I suffered a minor headache on my third day, maybe due to my lack of sleep. However, make sure that you are bringing medicines that are legal to bring in Japan. Here’s a list of allowed medicines to Japan from the Japan embassy website.

Enjoy your trip!

Stay awesome,


Do you have something to add to this checklist? Feel free to Share Your Story, comment, share your tips, or ask a question. Please also like me on Facebook and Twitter! Thank you!