Jesse Mulligan: 5 Essential Travel Tips To Consider Before You Fly To Japan

By Jesse Mulligan
The streets are calm in the morning, when most shops are closed. Photo / Getty Images

Self-confessed Tokyo “fanboy” and Viva dining out editor Jesse Mulligan says there are a few handy things you can organise ahead of time to make the most out of your trip to Japan. Read on.

Book a pocket Wi-Fi device

Forget stuffing around with cellular networks and trying to work out what your telco will charge you for. Experience your first taste of Japanese efficiency and book a pocket Wi-Fi: for a few dollars a day you can have fast internet anywhere you travel, plus it comes with a backup battery AND not only will it be waiting at your hotel when you arrive, you drop it off at a post box right next to Air New Zealand check-in on the way out. I used Japan Wireless.

Check the average temperatures

We visited in early September and it was HOT — around 30C all day every day, and difficult to escape when you’re a tourist beating your feet around Tokyo’s most famous landmarks and neighbourhoods. Interestingly, the locals were talking about how nice it was to have a break from the peak temperatures of August so, although there is plenty of air conditioning, make sure you pre-check the average temperatures during your stay, pack right and know what you’re in for.

Jesse Mulligan in Tokyo.
Jesse Mulligan in Tokyo.

Have a plan for early mornings

You almost need a separate itinerary for the hours of 6am to 10am, when shops, restaurants and tourist attractions are mostly closed. Book some nice breakfasts, make plans for an early train ride out of the city, schedule a tour of the outer fish market, catch up on your shopping at a 24-hour “Don Quijote” store or join the crowds running around the palace. You’ll be on New Zealand time so waking up early anyway — plan your mornings and the rest of the day will take care of itself.

Plan to carry your passport with you

Japan has a generous tax-back system for international tourists and you don’t have to wait until the airport to claim it. Many shops selling big-ticket items (around $60 or more) will give you a 10 per cent discount on the spot or, at worst, send you to an agent down the street who’ll give you cash back on the spot — but you’ll have to show them your passport.

Book important restaurants long before you go

“I tried to book my wife’s favourite sushi restaurant six months ahead of her birthday,” our local host said to me. “It was already booked out! It took us a whole year to get in.” Yes, the Japanese like a reservation and if there’s a particular restaurant you want to visit, you’ll want to claim your table at least a few weeks in advance (your hotel concierge can probably help). Of course, there are plenty of great restaurants that don’t take bookings — and rest assured you’ll eat very well without any prep. But if you have your eye on a Michelin-starred eatery or if a friend has recommended somewhere special, don’t make the mistake of waiting until you get there.

Jesse flew to Tokyo with Air New Zealand.

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