What time of year is the best to travel to Japan?
It depends entirely on what you want to do. For simple sightseeing in Tokyo and Kyoto, the pleasant weather in spring and fall cannot be beat. Also, in April, the cherry trees start to bloom in Kansai and the baseball season kicks off. In October, Tokyo is abuzz with its international film festival and numerous design events. Summer is hot and muggy nationwide, though August is also the peak of the festival and fireworks seasons. Winter means skiing in the mountains of Hokkaido and the Japan Alps, but New Year’s is one of the three big travel periods—Obon in August and Golden Week in late April/early May are the other two—where the big cities empty as everyone heads for their ancestral homes, which makes travel generally more expensive and frantic.
Is free Wi-Fi readily available?
Japan is considered to be one of the most technologically advanced countries on the planet, but finding free wireless access to the Internet can be challenging. However, the number of free Wi-Fi hotspots is increasing, with Starbucks and 7-11 convenience stores both offering free access with registration. NTT-Flets also offers two weeks of free access at hotspots across Eastern Japan for foreign tourists; you need to pick up an access card in person in Tokyo. You can also get online at manga kissa (comic-book coffee shops). At these businesses, which are scattered through all of the nation’s big cities, Internet terminals are included in the fee to enter the shop, roughly ¥400 for the first hour. Another good option is to rent a mobile hot spot from a company like eMobile or SoftBank (available at international airports).
How do clothing sizes compare with Western countries?
Japan can be very hard for clothing purchases. For simple items, such as a T-shirt, the equivalent of a typical XL size may not exist, and even if it does it might be equivalent to an L size in the West. Women may be challenged finding designs that fit around both their hips and waist. The sizes for men’s shoes will generally top out at 10½. The country’s favorite clothing retailer, UNIQLO, usually stocks larger sizes, and big cities have seen an influx of foreign retailers like Gap and H&M, which are probably a foreign traveler’s most reliable options.
Will my mobile phone function?
Probably not. Though things have improved as far as foreign models functioning in Japan, renting a mobile phone at the airport is the simplest solution. Basic fees will start around $30 per week and the handsets (English-ready) have access to the Web, email, and texting. The assigned telephone number can be made known in advance if a booking is made—at a carrier like Softbank—a few days prior to pickup.
How expensive is Japan?
Japan has a reputation for being very expensive, but things are not as they once were. Sure, that $10 cup of coffee does exist in Tokyo but so does the $3 version. In other words, do your homework. Buying a Japan Rail Pass can cut back on transportation costs for a multicity trip. Book hotel rooms in advance online—there are bargains when staying with the non-big-name foreign chains—and look for midweek discounts in tourist destinations. Spending time outside big cities like Tokyo will cut down on other common expenses.