Visiting Japan for the sportsball this autumn and not sure where to start? Here’s everything you need to know to enjoy your travels, from drinking to exploring and keeping connected.
A trip to Japan is often a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so there’s plenty of pressure to make sure you get the most out of it. Balancing technology with tradition, Japan manages to attract geeky game-loving otaku alongside temple-admirers and culture lovers—making it a popular destination, to say the least. If you’re in a group, catering for everyone’s different interests can make planning tricky, but whatever you decide to see, you’ll have a fantastic time. Before you start making those between-match itineraries, though, boring things like transport, SIM cards and accommodation have to be thought out, so read on for a comprehensive guide on getting your trip lined up.
1. Three quick tips to get you started
OK, so we have a lot to cover in this article, but once you’re done reading it, you’ll have the perfect reference guide for your trip (bookmark this one). Before we get started on the main topics, here are a trio of other cheapo resources we recommend you look through as well:
1. All the apps you should consider downloading before you get to Japan for the rugby
2. Tokyo travel disasters—and how to avoid/fix them
3. Transport guides for getting from Narita Airport to your accommodation, or from Haneda Airport
2. Staying connected: Wifi and SIM cards
You never know how much you rely on data until you don’t have it—and that is never truer than when faced with the translational nightmare that is Japan. Sometimes there’s no English, sometimes there’s too much and it’s somehow even more confusing than when there’s no English. Having wifi or a SIM card means quick access to Google Translate for the signs, Google Maps for directions and Instagram—for showing off to your mates at home about being in Japan, of course.
There are quite a few ways to keep connected, including Mobal SIM cards, our personal favorite because of their data-only or data and voice-calling options, together with solid English-language support.
3. Accommodation: Capsule, love hotel or regular room?
Finding a bed for the night is top priority, and Tokyo has a lot of accommodation options, from traditional tatami-floored ryokan to ultra-modern capsule hotels.
The options: Which type of accommodation will work best for you?
While you may just go for regular hotels on autopilot, Japan has a good range of options—all with their own experiences.
The areas: Where to stay?
The central parts of Tokyo are (unsurprisingly) going to be the priciest, but they are also usually big enough to present a decent range of options. Hubs like Shibuya or Shinjuku are well connected, busy and great for sightseeing. Smaller suburbs are good if you want a more chilled-out, local experience. For the latter, we suggest spots like Yanaka, Sugamo and Nakameguro—they’re still pretty central, great to explore and have everything you need, just with a more laid-back feel.
Pro tips for booking accommodation in Tokyo/Japan
4. Getting around: Transport in Japan
It’s all well and good knowing what you want to see, but you also have to figure out the best way to get there. Japan’s transport system is pretty amazing—it’s fast, efficient and punctual, but it can also be really confusing!
Travel in Tokyo
Tokyo has trains, a metro and a bus system, and the best way to navigate all three is using a Pasmo or Suica travel card. Meaning you can forget about tickets and all the annoying things that come with them, these cards allow you to whizz through gates and even change your plans while on the train. In terms of picking routes, we suggest you combine the magical powers of Google Maps and Hyperdia. The former tells you which stations are nearest and can give information about available buses, while the latter has more reliable train times and routes.
Travel around Japan
Depending on distance, you can choose from bullet trains, regular ones, buses and planes for travel in Japan, and prices vary wildly.
Pro tips for smooth travel in Japan
5. Eating out: Food and restaurants in Japan
Be it a ¥300 bowl of soba or a ¥10,000 set at a fancy sushi joint, eating in Tokyo (or elsewhere in Japan) is pure joy. It’s nowhere near as costly as people may have warned you (unless you want it to be), and there are countless great options and plenty of dishes beyond the old favorites of noodles and conveyor-belt sushi.
Some speciality suggestions to get you started:
A few extra points to help you along the way.
Tips (and about those …)
First off, here’s a quick guide to useful phrases for eating out in Japan.
6. Drinking and where to do it
Whether you’re after a pint or looking to try a traditional tipple, the options in Tokyo are limitless, especially with the growing popularity of craft beer. We have a guide to some of the common Japanese drinks like sake and shochu, plus a guide to the rules and hangover cures to get you through the night (and the following day). There will be a fair few bars screening the games (but maybe not as many as you would expect), so check out our list and consider making reservations for the games you’re keen on.
Popular drinking areas
For nights out in Tokyo, the main areas are Shibuya, Shinjuku and the infamous Roppongi. Shibuya has everything from tiny yokocho bars to huge clubs, while Shinjuku is known for Golden Gai, the LGBTQ+ area of Ni-chome, and the seedy sidestreets of Kabukicho (which is also where you will find the legendary Robot Restaurant).
Roppongi is a club-oriented part of town popular with foreigners and those looking to meet them—they have bar crawls, an ever-changing roster of clubs and a good balance of affordable and pricey establishments (not to mention the sketchy-AF ones—keep your wits about you).
Pro tips for drinking in Japan
7. Sightseeing: Recommended activities
You may be here for the rugby, but you might as well see Japan while you’re at it—and there’s plenty to see, that’s for sure.
If you’re in Tokyo, explore hotspots like Shibuya, Shinjuku and Ikebukuro, or check our 101 ideas to get you started. There are plenty of unusual museums (and we mean unusual), and gamers will love Akihabara, while Yanaka has the perfect amount of old-school charm for an afternoon stroll. If you’ve been to Tokyo before or just like things to be a little different, there are some more unusual and weird everyday options too.
For day trips, there are easy spots to hit up like Kamakura—known as ‘little Kyoto’ thanks to its history as an ancient capital and amazing shrines and temples. Hakone is a hot spring spot near Mount Fuji, while Nikko has some amazing natural scenery to enjoy, especially in autumn. We have a whole selection of day trip ideas though, so find a few that tickle your fancy and get sightseeing.
Outside of Tokyo
If you’re basing yourself in (or visiting) Osaka, Sapporo, Oita or any of the other rugby venues, we have a whole site dedicated to exploring Japan to get you started. Osaka is a great base for exploring the Kansai region, as it’s close to Kyoto and also Hiroshima as well as having great transport connections for the rest of Japan. While Tokyo is great, there’s more to a country than its capital, so don’t limit yourself.
Pro tips for finding fun things to do (besides the rugby)
8. Staying safe: Emergencies and medical care when traveling in Japan
Crime: Yes, it does exist here
Japan is known for its low crime rates, so you can (probably) leave your laptop in Starbucks, use your phone as a placeholder or get your lost wallet back with cash intact. You can also get your drink spiked, be groped on a train or stalked though (and worse)—so don’t walk around like you’re not still in the real world. While those three mainly apply to women, the first is common for male theft-victims in nightclubs and massage parlours too, so keep your wits about you. If you witness or are a victim of any crime, you can call 119 or go to the nearest Koban (police box)—you’re never far from one.
Medical dramas (and we’re not talking Grey’s Anatomy)
If you get sick or injured in Japan, there are certainly plenty of hospitals to choose from. But they may not all be very helpful. They may not all be open, they may not all accept injured people past 19:00 or they might just be on lunch—who knows. It’s a weird game to play and a terrible time to have to play it—if something goes awry, we suggest you try the Japan Hospital Guide app (details here if you skip down) which gives you locations and facilities of nearby hospitals. We also have a guide with some handy phrases and some tips on women’s health.
Note: Be sure to call your travel insurance provider before or as soon as possible after going to a hospital, as they may have a limited list of facilities you can visit, or other restrictions/requirements.
Earthquakes and other natural disasters
The less fun aspect of being in Japan is its high (compared to most countries) rate of natural disasters, be it a quake, landslide, flood or, in extreme cases, a tsunami. While apps can’t solve everything, they can give you a bit of warning. We suggest checking this article again for tips on Yurekuru Call and other apps. We also have a guide to having an emergency bag prepped if you’re really anxious or staying in one place for a while. Otherwise, just remember to note down where your nearest school is—that’s generally where to head to if there’s any significant incident.
One more thing: Before you leave, don’t forget to pick up a couple of Japanese souvenirs for the folks back home.
While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change.
Escape Tokyo for the day, see mountains, hot springs, the modern, the traditional, the old and the ancient!