From experience, I know that the two biggest concerns for visitors to Japan are the language barrier and the high cost of living. To help alleviate fears about the first, I've provided a glossary of useful words and phrases, given the Japanese characters for establishments that do not have English-language signs so you can recognize their names, outlined tips for dealing with the language barrier, given brief instructions on how to reach most of the places I recommend, made suggestions for ordering in restaurants without English-language menus, and provided prices for everything from subway rides to admission to museums.
As for costs, probably everyone has heard horror stories about Japan's high prices. Ever since the dramatic fall of the dollar against the yen in the 1980s and 1990s, Tokyo and Osaka have been two of the world's most expensive cities, with food and lodging costing as much as in New York or London, maybe more. But after Japan's economic bubble burst in the early 1990s, something happened that would have been unthinkable during the heady spending days of the 1980s: Japanese became bargain conscious. There are now inexpensive French bistros, secondhand clothing stores, 100-yen shops, and budget hotels.
Still, it's difficult not to suffer an initial shock from Japan's high prices, which will seem especially exorbitant if you insist on living and eating exactly as you do back home. The secret is to live and eat as Japanese do. This book will help you do exactly that, with descriptions of eateries and Japanese-style inns that cater to the native population. By following this book's advice and exercising a little caution on your own, you should be able to cut down on needless expenses and learn even more about Japan in the process. While you may never find Japan cheap, you will find it richly rewarding for all the reasons you chose Japan as a destination in the first place.
Despite the difficulties inherent in visiting any foreign country, I think you'll find Japan very easy to navigate. There are many more signs in English now than there were even just a decade ago. And Japan remains one of the safest countries in the world; in general, you don't have to worry about muggers, pickpockets, or crooks. In fact, I sometimes feel downright coddled in Japan. Everything runs like clockwork: Trains are on time, public telephones work, and the service -- whether in hotels, restaurants, or department stores -- ranks among the best in the world. I know if I get truly lost, someone will help me and will probably even go out of his or her way to do so. Japanese are honest and extremely helpful toward foreign visitors. Indeed, it's the people themselves who make traveling in Japan such a delight.
This section will help you with the what, when, where, and how of travel to Japan -- from what documents you need (only passports for most nationalities) to how to get around easily and economically (you'll want to purchase a Japan Rail Pass before going to Japan).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.