1. Rent a wireless router
Getting a prepaid SIM card with local calling service is difficult in Japan. It’s better to rent a handy little wireless router, known as “pocket Wi-Fi” in Asia.
Local calls are then possible via cheap Internet phone services like Skype. You can rent and return one of these devices easily at the telecom company counters at most airports.
Booking online before the trip brings the price down even lower. Global Advanced Communications, for example, offers a deal of ¥5,550 ($53) for a seven-day rental plan if you book before the trip.
They deliver the device to the airport/hotel/office for free the day before your arrival, and include a prepaid envelope for returns.
2. Book a Japan Rail Pass before arrival
A Japan Rail Pass can save a lot of money, but must be booked outside of Japan.
Booking the flat-rate foreigner-only Japan Rail Pass, which can be used throughout the extensive JR train network on all four main islands, can save a lot of money for travel by train.
There are two types of Japan Rail Pass.
The Green Pass (¥38,880 or $374 for a seven-day pass) is for “superior class” green cars on trains.
The Ordinary Pass (¥29,110 or $280 for a seven-day pass) applies to economy class cars only.
As green cars are less likely to be full, the Green Pass makes it easier for couples or groups to sit together (or sit at all).
Important: the pass must be booked outside of Japan before the trip.
To procure one, visitors must do the following:
• Buy an exchange order from JR sales offices and agents in a foreign country (see the list here).
• Make sure their passport is stamped with “Temporary Visitor” when they enter Japan.
• Bring exchange order and stamped passport to a JR Station with a Japan Rail Pass exchange office (list of stations here).
3. Buy a Pasmo card or a Suica card
For multiple trips on short-distance trains (including the subway and metro area JR trains), get a Pasmo card or a Suica card that can be charged in bulk.
These transportation cards save time otherwise spent buying individual tickets for each journey (it can be difficult to figure out how to select your destination on ticket machines).
They’re especially handy when transferring trains, and are available for purchase at ticket vending machines in train stations, bus stations and subway stations.
Preloaded options range from ¥1,000 to ¥10,000, with a deposit of ¥500 included in the price.
While some trains don’t accept Pasmo and some won’t accept Suica, most will accept both and the two are pretty much interchangeable.
They can also be used to make purchases at stores and vending machines.
4. Download the Hyperdia app
Cabs are extremely expensive in Japan — the price is hiked up even higher at night from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. — so it’s good to have a firm handle on the public transport system.
This easy-to-use Japan train app is a godsend to foreign travelers and is free for the first 30 days.
Upon entering train departure and arrival stations, the app displays (in English) the exact journey time, distance, fare and transfer stations, as well as which track your train is departing from.
This includes long-distance shinkansen as well as subway trains.
Woe to those who are late by even a minute — the schedule is incredibly accurate.
5. Take advantage of discount rates on domestic flights
Thanks to a fierce price war for domestic flights, Japan’s major carriers offer discounts for foreign travelers for any air travel within Japan.
ANA’s Star Alliance Japan Airpass allows international visitors to take up to five domestic flights for just ¥10,000 ($96) each.
Japan Airlines offers a Oneworld Yokoso/Visit Japan fare starting at ¥10,800 ($103).
Tickets must be booked outside of Japan on the airlines’ global websites.