Once in Japan, our main mode of transport will be trains and trams, but there is walking involved. If you have bad knees or find walking difficult, maybe this trip is not for you. If we get to a hotel and you feel like taking it easy by not joining us on an excursion, that is totally fine, but just be aware that we are wheeling our luggage around stations when we're in transit. We will be right in amongst everyday Japanese living!
Luggage restrictions have recently come into play on the Shinkansen. If a suitcase is over 160 lineal centimetres, the rear seats of a carriage need to be reserved to accommodate the luggage. Without a reservation, passengers will be charged 1,000yen for the journey. As we don't reserve seats on the Shinkansen (this allows us much more freedom) and because of the size of our groups, this would be very difficult so we need to make sure our suitcases measure 160cm or below. I measured the case I take on every trip - it is a medium sized case with four wheels - and it falls under 160cm. (The way to measure this is length + width + depth = 160 or less)
Money can be exchanged into yen before getting to Japan but if the exchange rate is reasonable, I have found it just as easy to use my card and withdraw money from ATM's as I need it. 7Eleven stores for instance have ATM's with an English option and are easy to use. Many places in Japan only take cash.
It is helpful to learn a few basic phrases before going to Japan. Besides being handy, it is also very satisfying to be able to ask for something in Japanese even if it's a coffee!
One very important thing to remember is that Japanese people on the whole are respectful of those around them in public places. You will notice there is very little loud talking on trains and buses and talking on mobile phones is always done away from others. It's probably a good thing just to remember not to be the "loud foreigner". And above all, never forget you are in another country - it can be easy sometimes to expect everyone to know a bit of English, but this is not always the case. If you expect this of anyone, it is no different from a Japanese person in Australia expecting you to understand Japanese. You will find nearly everyone you meet to be courteous so it is important to be the same.
When speaking English to Japanese people it helps to pronounce words very clearly and in a neutral accent. Australian rounded vowels can be confusing sometimes as Japanese only have five vowel sounds in their language. Keeping the expressions very simple will help, too. For example, rather than saying to a taxi driver, "You can drop us off up there," it would be better to say, "Please stop there."
There is no tipping in Japan. If you try to tip, you will more than likely confuse whoever it is you are thanking, so don't worry about it!
You will find Japan a very safe place to travel around. I have left my phone in cabs before and it always turned up later at reception in the hotel. One of our group once left his ipad at a very busy tourist attraction. Naturally he was very worried, but later that night, he had it back.
I would suggest you bring footwear that is easy to slip off on the odd occasion we need to remove our shoes to enter a room.
The hotel rooms are small, so suitcases that open out flat can sometimes be a problem. I would suggest a medium sized case that is easy to wheel. Make sure you leave room for some souvenirs and gifts!
It won't take you long to discover how convenient the convenience store are! You can buy nearly everything you would need on a daily basis in there excepting fruit and vegetables which can be bought at any supermarket. 7Eleven, Familymart, Lawson etc stock pre packaged meals, drinks, beer, wine, whiskey, sake and so forth, all very reasonably priced.
If you have any other questions, please contact me or Ian Greenwood. If you use the contact form on this website, those emails come directly to me.