You will be pleasantly surprised with how easy it can be to travel around Japan. Check out these websites below for info on some of the best ways to research and plan your domestic and international adventures.
Hyperdia (English, Japanese, and Simplified Mandarin Chinese)
Hyperdia is a free service that lists train times, transfers, and costs. It will be your most widely used travel planning website when venturing domestically. You cannot book or reserve tickets using Hyperdia. It is simply a listings website albeit the best one available.
You can use this website when booking bus tickets around Japan. This site accepts credit card payments and you can usually pay for your tickets using the convenience store payment kiosk as well. Many options are available, but the Japanese only navigation can make booking the correct ticket tricky sometimes.
JAL (Japanese and English available for domestic Japan)
JAL is a popular airline that you can use from your prefecture’s local airport to fly domestically. Check prices around other airlines before booking. Convenience store payment option available for those without access to a credit card.
ANA (Japanese and English)
Another popular airline that you can use for domestic travel. Convenience store payment also available.
Peach (English, Japanese, Cantonese, Traditional Mandarin)
Discount airline with great specials. Not likely available in smaller prefectures, but travelling from Osaka and Tokyo could save you a lot. Convenience store payment available.
A useful website for finding and booking domestic accommodation is http://www.jalan.net/en/japan_hotels_ryokan. The website is available in English, Japanese, Traditional and Simplified Mandarin Chinese. You can search by prefecture and find great deals. It also usually has information on English language availability at the hotel or ryokan that you want to book. You can cancel your reservation using this site as well. Very easy to use, but sometimes the English on the site is machine translated and can be a bit difficult to understand. Many options to pay at the hotel as well for those without credit card access.
You can also use google maps on your PC to find hotels around a certain area and use their websites to book directly.
Just like in your home country, do preliminary inspections on your vehicle to ensure a safe journey. Remember!!! Many gas stations have set hours and it can sometimes be very difficult after 19-21:00 to find an open gas station. Make sure you have a full tank if you plan on driving for an extended period past this time. Make sure you have your Resident Card, International Driving Permit or Japanese License, and insurance information available in an easily accessible location in case an emergency arises or you get pulled over. Check your insurance restrictions as well to make sure multiple people can drive under your particular policy.
Also remember-if you are in a wreck, collision, or “fender bender” no matter how small, you must contact the police. No exceptions.
Google maps – Driving with a smartphone will be the most convenient way to navigate your trip. Technology is not without flaws however, and you may find yourself down a tiny road or completely lost in the mountains if you rely too much on your technology. If you’re feeling particularly nostalgic, you can usually buy a map easily from your local station or grocery store.
Calculate how expensive your road trip will be with the toll road calculator (Thanks Kochi JET Kayla Potter) here and see road closures here. These sites are in Japanese, but should be easy enough to navigate for novice language learners.
ANA, JAL, Peach
Use the above websites to find international flights with these airlines as well. Peach and ANA have convenience store payment options for those without credit cards, though Peach only flies to South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong internationally.
You can always use websites like Kayak, Travelocity, and Expedia, but be mindful that using these sites may be more expensive than booking yourself. It may save you money though too, so always do your research before leaving. Convenience store payment is not an option on these sites, so you will need to have access to a credit card.
Travel agencies are still very popular in Japan. You can step into your nearest one to have your vacation easily planned out for you. This option will probably be more expensive, but you might end up saving money through agent-exclusive deals. You will probably need a fair amount of Japanese ability for this option. You might be surprised with the results. Try it out!
You can order currency through Travellex (available in English and Japanese-special thanks to Kochi JET Rebecca Spence for providing this info) and have it delivered to your door with COD option available. This is a convenient way to order your currency before your adventures abroad.
Some JP post branches offer currency exchanges as well. Check out your options! It’s safe to assume that airport exchanges will cost you much more than if you plan in advance. Many sites list their exchange rates so a little research could make your wallet on your trip fatter and happier.