By Patricia Belyea
Many people confide in me that they’ve always wanted to go to Japan. I tell them that all they have to do is buy an airplane ticket!
Japan promises to be safe, friendly and fascinating. The Japanese are welcoming and helpful so you’ll likely not get lost or in trouble.
Grab a pal and make plans to visit one of the world’s great textile meccas.
Narita—take the train into Tokyo from this nearby city.
For info on getting transit into town from the Narita Airport +click here
Haneda—recently transformed into an international terminal, a monorail whisks you into the city center.
Kansai—a great choice for a Kyoto stay with a “door-to-door” shuttle that can pick you up at the airport. +more
Nagoya—Central Japan Airport
japan travel tips
Japan Rail Pass
I highly recommend a Japan Rail Pass if you plan to travel around the country. The multi-day pass equals the cost of a two-way trip between Tokyo and Kyoto but you can use it 24/7 to go on limitless travel.
To get from major city to major city swiftly, ride the shinkansen —the bullet train. (If you want to travel first class with your seat reserved, buy the Green Pass.) +to buy a JR Pass
To read a blog post about Victoria’s and my two-week trip using a JR Pass, plus a few tips +click here
Pocket Wifi / Portable Internet
After an unfulfilled promise of wifi in a Tokyo AirBNB, I always travel with a pocket wifi. No bigger than a cell phone, it provides unlimited internet access wherever I am staying and when I’m out and about. +learn more about a pocket wifi
Ordering yen from your bank before you leave can be quite expensive. A more cost-effective option is to take US cash with you and exchange your money at the airport in Japan. In Narita, the Currency Exchange is right outside the Customs area. Please note, the Currency Exchange will only accept cash—not credit cards or checks.
The Japanese are generous folk. Even if they don’t know you well, they may give you a gift. It’s appropriate that you have a reciprocal gift. When I travel to Japan, sometimes half my suitcase is filled with gifts—thoughtful and appropriate gifts for people I know I will be seeing, and about 25% more gifts for unexpected encounters. I include gorgeous gift bags and tissue paper in my gear to quickly package my presents. (Note: as you give away gifts, you gain room to bring treasures home!)
tokyo travel tips
No-Sweat Tokyo Transit
Although it looks complicated, using the train and subway system to get around Tokyo is easy after you learn the basics. Well-signed and logical, you can affordably and quickly move from one side of the metropolis to the other. Download and print maps of the system or use an app to give you the exact info for the best station to embark and disembark for your trip. +here’s a blog post with a simple overview and tips
where to stay
You can find countless hotels on the internet for any city you wish to visit in Japan. For a truly authentic experience, make reservations at a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) for a few nights. +more
A more reasonable choice for lodgings is to rent an apartment or house. You get more space for your money and the ability to make your own meals (don’t expect an oven) while living in a local neighborhood. Two recommended resources are VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) and AirBNB. Plus, your host can often help with your visit to the area.
I recommend Curtis Hawes’ rental properties in Kyoto that are found at oldkyoto.com. The Gion House is a favorite place to stay on our Japanese travels. The faint sound of the drums in the early morn from the nearby Kenninji temple is a perfect start to a day of adventure and discoveries.
International Great Quilt Festival, Tokyo—late January +more
Nagoya Quilt Festival, Nagoya—April
favorite places to discover
Blue & White
Amy Katoh’s quirky store in the Azabu-Juban neighborhood. +more
A favorite day trip to see the giant buddha and enjoy a seaside city. +more
Nippori Fabric Town
Tokyo’s fabric district with over 80 shops filled with textile treasures.
A half-hour train ride from Nagoya, this historic town in home to shibori textile dyeing. +more
In the Shinkyogoku shopping arcade, this 400-year old family business sells handmade needles. +more
Kitano Tenman-gu Flea Market
On the 25th day of the month at the Kitano Shrine in northwest Kyoto. +more
Kawai Kanjiro Museum
The traditional home and studio of one of Japan’s most famous potters. +more
On the outskirts of Kyoto, experience UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Bamboo Forest, Monkey Mountain, and more. +more
In the textile district, this shop specializes in indigo dyeing by Ken-ichi Utsuki. +more
Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts
In the room with textile craftsmen, you can try your hand at a dyeing or painting project. +more
The nearby ancient capital of Japan is famous for the largest gilded buddha and Deer Park. +more
Bryan leads Japanese Textile Workshops at his silk farming home. +more
Here are a few places on my to-go list for upcoming trips to Japan:
Itchiku Kubota Art Museum
On Lake Kawaguchi, this museum displays kimonos by Itchiku Kubota. +more
Serizawa Keisuke Art Museum
In Shizuoka, this museum shows the works of renowned textile designer and dyer, Serizawa, and his collection of ethnic crafts. +more
On the island of Shikoku, this town is populated by 350 life-sized dolls. +more