Alas travelling to Japan isn’t as easy as landing and starting your trip there and then; there are actually quite a few things you need to plan before you arrive. To some this may be off putting, however I can tell you now that it is well worth it.
Buy a Japan Rail Pass
If you intend to cover quite a few locations in Japan I highly recommend pre booking a JR Pass. The JR Pass will cover you on most trains throughout Japan and will save you a lot of money; the pass allows you access to shinkansen (bullet trains), limited express, express, rapid and local trains. The pass will also cover you on some local JR bus services (however not on highway buses), Tokyo monorail to and from Haneda Airport and the ferry to Miyajima from Hiroshima.
The pass must be purchase outside of Japan, a voucher pack will be posted to your country of residence which then has a 3 month expiry; so you must travel to Japan and exchange the voucher within 3 months of the date of issue. The voucher can be exchanged at the airport when you arrive. You will have an option of a 7, 14 or 21 day pass when you purchase online and once the voucher has been exchanged the date cannot be altered. You must be a non-japanese national travelling to Japan on a temporary visa. For more information and to purchase a JR Pass you can click here.
I recommend saving your money and purchasing an ordinary JR Pass. Green class provides slightly more space, however ordinary class has plenty of space and is just as immaculate.
Book in Advance
When I arrived in Japan with all these ideas of amazing places I wanted to see and things I wanted to do, I ended up missing out on quite a few things (I have an excuse to go back now). I highly recommend that you research whether some things need to be booked in advance; with the dense population and the interest of travellers heading to Japan, so many attractions require a 3 month advance booking.
Accomodation in Japan is much the same, where possible I recommend booking in advance. Hotels can be quite expensive and book out fast; staying in hostels is a great idea to save money as they also provide private rooms. I found that most hostels were nicer and cleaner to stay than some hotels so don’t be afraid to book a hostel once in a while. You will be bound to meet some amazing people along the way if you do.
If you can I recommend staying in a Ryokan to get an authentic Japanese experience. If you are travelling solo this may be a little harder; as most Ryokans require a minimum of 2 guests to make a booking.
Wifi and Sim Cards
It is possibly to organise portable wifi and/or a Japanese sim card prior to arriving in Japan. There are a few links online, however you can also use this link to do this. You can also organise wifi and a sim card at the airport when you land. This way you can return your rental wifi at the same time as fly out day. I recommend one of these two options; as once you leave the airport it can become a little confusing to locate a service to purchase wifi or sim cards.
Although there are free wifi locations throughout Japan, it is very easy to get lost and lose your wifi signal. Many street signs are written in Japanese. This is where a portable wifi and google maps saved me, although I found myself on some pretty amazing adventures when when I didn’t know where I was going.