Jonathan, our Joint Managing Director is travelling around Japan with his wife Sue, and he would love to share some of his hints and tips to help anyone thinking of going so they can get the best out of the experience.

It’s also great from a business perspective as one of Jonathan’s great skills is to be able to assimilate new experiences and use them to inspire new product ideas. It was from a previous visit to Japan that the concept for PresentaCard was developed (check it out under our Innovation solutions section). Inspired after witnessing the tradition surrounding the exchange of business cards, which is part of their culture and taken very seriously.

There is also a massive market for personalised items in Japan, and everything is packaged and presented beautifully, so we are eagerly awaiting any ideas or insights he may have on his return. This will be especially relevant to our thinking regarding the personalised boxes we currently offer via our Memory Keeper website for Consumers as we are currently in the process of developing an offering that will be available soon from Amazon.

We hope you enjoy Jonathan’s report about traveling independently around Japan.

We will of course keep you updated on our launch of our Personalised boxes via Amazon and share any new insights Jonathan might have from this latest trip.

Travelling independently in Japan

Sue and I have been to Japan several times, travelling around the country by train, and always independently.

When I tell people that, many seem fascinated by the idea of visiting Japan, but some find the language, and cultural differences daunting.

So I would like to share some of the things we’ve learned, to hopefully encourage others to experience the sheer delight of visiting Japan.

Travelling by train is relatively easy, and the rail pass (7, 14 or 21 days) is astonishing value.
Shinkansen (bullet trains) are fast comfortable and always on time (as are all trains).

They have names and numbers so instead of looking at a bewildering list of departures, e.g. Waterloo, you just need to find the sign for Sakura 547 and you can see it departs from platform 22 at 08.54.

You will already have made a seat reservation, and platform signs show where to stand for say, car number 6, so no rushing along the platform when the train arrives, or walking through the train with your suitcases.

The signs switch between Japanese and English. The station information and announcements on the trains are also in English. Not difficult at all.

The same applies to other long distance trains, although not the local lines. For those you’ll have to pay attention and perhaps ask someone. It really helps to allow enough time, which takes much of the stress away.

We almost always stay at a good hotel right by the station. So arriving at a new destination in the morning, before check in time (usually 2 or 3pm) you can walk from the station to your hotel, drop your cases at reception and go off for the day.

We stay at European style hotels and rooms because the staff speak sufficient English for it to be helpful and all the information you need is in English.

You’re also conveniently at the station ready to set off on departure day!

We have tried using Airbnb, and enjoyed that experience, but it is far more challenging than using hotels, and also, we think, not worth doing for a couple of nights.

We recommend pre-booking all your hotels well in advance. The secret of a successful touring trip around Japan is very detailed planning and preparation of the essentials, that minimises the risks and makes it all seem easy (except for restaurants- more about that another time).

Oh yes, do travel as light as possible. One medium size suitcase and a small carry on is all you need. No, you won’t have much room for your shopping, but we learned the hard way that lugging large cases around isn’t easy.

In addition to your rail pass, the other essential item to pre-order online in the UK for collection at your arrival airport is a portable wifi box. We use and found that works well for us.

This gives you constant wifi access wherever you are, so combined with a mobile phone you need never be lost! Believe me, without that facility you almost certainly would be. And in our experience, and perhaps because it isn’t a package trip, we only found a few Japanese that spoke English. Google maps – in English obviously – makes it simple to get to wherever you want to go.

The hotels all provide wifi, so you don’t need to pay for a massive amount of data on your rented box, but when you need it you’ll be glad you have one.

Finally, it isn’t as expensive as you might think, even at the current exchange rate.

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