5 Must-Have Items When Travelling In Japan

Japan. Cloud-brushing mountains. A never-ending swarm of salarymen. Brightly-lit streets. Quiet neighbourhoods. What makes a perfect holiday in the land of the Sun? Even with the ultimate itinerary, things may go downhill if you are not properly equipped.

We came up with a collection of items that you should never go without in Japan. How many of these do you have?

1. Portable Wi-Fi device

Source: Global Advanced Communications
Source: Global Advanced Communications

Believe us, having Internet access is a blessing. If something from one of the flickering billboards caught your attention and you could make no sense of it, the Internet is your best friend. If you are stumped about what to eat for dinner, Tabelog is your friend but you need the Internet in order to use the website.

Because you can't resist cakes
Because you can’t resist cakes

We once tried a service that taps into various Wi-Fi hot spots and ended up having little or no wireless connection at all. This led us to our trusted travel partner: the portable Wi-Fi device, also known as Pocket Wi-Fi. You can book a Pocket Wi-Fi prior to your trip and collect it at a location most convenient for you. In our case, we chose to collect it at the airport since it was on the way. At the end of our trip, we could easily pack the device into an envelope that was provided and drop it into the post box. Smooth and hassle-free.

Which brings us to the next point: what if the device runs out of battery? We would suggest that you use a power bank. Alternatively, there is a number of locations providing free Wi-Fi such as Family Mart, Lawson, McDonald’s and the like. Some train stations do offer free Wi-Fi service so fret not.

There are many other providers but you can consider Pupuru or eConnect Japan for Pocket Wi-Fi rental services.

2. Yahoo Navigation app

Source: Yahoo
Source: Yahoo

We were fans of NAVITIME. NAVITIME works like Google Maps; you can get directions and details of many places. NAVITIME also released an English application called “NAVITIME for Japan Travel” to help us lost tourists find our way back on track. However, the disadvantage of using this app is that the features are limited unless you purchase the Full-Featured Plan.

As quoted from Martin Luther King, Jr., “we must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” Forget about NAVITIME. We chanced upon another app named “Yahoo!乗換案内 無料の時刻表、運行情報、乗り換え検索*” (excuse us for the long name), which is a life saver.

This app makes navigating easier by displaying various routes you can take, along with icons stating which is the fastest, cheapest and easiest option.

Source: Yahoo
Source: Yahoo

It was this app that made us love Japan so much because of the accuracy (not just the app, the trains are always on the dot). The app would state the platform number (it’s very helpful because you only need to look for numbers instead of names) and the transport fee (which is also very helpful because you can purchase your ticket right away without having to find your station name on the exceedingly colourful and elaborate Japanese railway map to know how much you need to pay).

Source: Yahoo
Source: Yahoo

You can also keep track of your current location because it shows you where you are based on GPS (see the orange arrow?). Just note that using this app may require you to have prior knowledge of the Japanese language because you need to be able to recognise Japanese characters. Looks like it’s time to study hard!

We do not recommend using Google Maps to navigate around Japan. We once went off course despite following directions from it. In desperation, we sought help from a kind elderly man who reprimanded us gently, saying, “don’t trust these things so easily! We Japanese don’t even use that.” He then showed us the route to take on his paper map and eventually brought us to our destination. We regretted not asking for his name or a house address to which we can send a thank you card. Thank you, wherever you are!

You can download the Yahoo navigation app via Google Play Store or App Store.

3. Accommodations via Airbnb

Why not go for a more genuine experience with locals by staying at their house for the night? It was quite an eye opener for us since it was our first time being in a local residence. We rather like the modest details of the house, from the narrow staircase to thin walls and a water heater.

It heats water.
It heats water.

We also got invited to the dinner table for a chit-chat and learnt more about our hosts. They then suggested that we tried different types of ramen at a ramen street in Kyoto that goes by the name “Ichijō-ji” (一乗寺). We were raring to go there the next day but time was not on our side.

However, not all experiences with Airbnb will be perfectly pleasant. We had a fair share of dissatisfaction due to some miscommunication with other hosts but it worked out in the end.

The Airbnb website can be found here.

4. Lockers

This is not something you can own personally, but its very existence can come in handy when you have nowhere to put your things. As it was a laborious task to drag our obese luggage around, we parked it in one of the many coin lockers at a train station. These lockers come in various sizes – according to some, the large locker can fit a golf club bag. We were also very impressed that our luggage could actually fit in. You can refer below for more details:

Source: Japan Rail
Source: Japan Rail

If you do not have the right amount of money, you can convert your notes to coins using a nearby change machine. If you dislike lockers (though you shouldn’t), try the luggage storage counters that can be found at airports or the bigger train stations.

5. Nihongo with Bunka Textbook

Nihongo with Bunka
Nihongo with Bunka

We do not mean this in the literal sense. You can work hard to commit the textbook to memory and watch your efforts pay off during the trip. It is always an advantage to be able to speak and understand the native language there. Furthermore, the textbook teaches you how to buy things in Japan and ask for directions. Don’t remember how? Just refer to your textbook!

Night in Osaka
Night in Osaka

There are many more items that didn’t make it to this list, such as JR passes or an extra suitcase for you to pack a bountiful supply of cup noodles. What will you not go without on a trip to Japan? Let us know!


Learn new Japanese words:

乗換 (のりかえ   norikae) – transfer (trains, buses, etc) / crossing over
案内 (あんない   an’nai) – guide
無料 (むりょう   muryoo) – free of charge
時刻表 (じこくひょう   jikokuhyoo) – timetable / schedule
運行 (うんこう   unkoo) – operation / service (trains, buses, etc)
情報 (じょうほう   joohoo) – information
検索 (けんさく   kensaku) – search / reference