Travel Advice

Send Luggage Ahead

Japan has an extremely efficient courier system, called Takkyubin (宅急便) that will deliver suitcases, ski equipment and parcels almost anywhere in Japan within 24 hours for around ¥2,000 yen per item. We advise sending your ski equipment and possibly all of your luggage ahead to avoid bringing it on the trains. All of the major courier services (Black Cat, YouPack, etc.) have counters at international airports throughout Japan. After exiting the baggage claim and customs area, just find an information desk and they will help you find the nearest courier service counter. The hotel will keep the luggage for you where you will receive it upon arrival. Have your hotel address and the amount of money you need in Japanese yen handy. Note: If you plan to ski/snowboard the following day, your luggage will not arrive on time.

Get a JR Pass

Japan’s railway system – while convenient, fast, on time and one of the most efficient in the world – is not cheap. A round-trip ticket from Narita International Airport to Nagano Station will cost over ¥20,000 yen per person. If you are traveling around Japan prior to or after visiting Shiga Kogen, we recommend purchasing a JR Pass. This gives you unlimited access to JR Line (government owned) trains in Japan for a 1-3 week period, depending on the JR Pass you choose for ¥30,000 to ¥60,000 yen per person. You must purchase the JR Pass within your home country. This process, in which they send a physical document to your home address, can take up to 2 weeks so plan ahead. In addition, if you lose your JR Pass you cannot receive another. Upon arrival in Japan or at any major train station, the JR Pass document can be redeemed for your physical JR Pass. Please see the JR Pass website http://www.japanrailpass.net/en/ for more information. Go to the ticket sales counter at any train station to make reserved seat reservations.

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Go to a Local Tourism Office for Information & Resources

For information in English on local activities, resources, hotels, events, transportation etc. go to a local tourism office. These can be found at or around most train stations, bus stops or in the city centers. Most hotels, guesthouses and hostels also speak English and can provide helpful information, even if you are not staying there. For more information on events in the Shiga Kogen area, please see our Events page.

Types of Accommodation

Hotels, Guesthouses, Hostels, Backpackers: These are the same as in other countries.

Ryokans 旅館: This is a traditional Japanese inn, typically of higher quality than a minshuku and more expensive. Most ryokans have tatami floors, futon mattresses and shared bathing facilities without en suite bathrooms. More modern ryokans, however, do have en suite bathing and toilet facilities. Most ryokans also provide breakfast and dinner included in the listed price.

Minshuku 民宿: This is also a traditional Japanese inn, typically of a lower quality than a ryokan. One of the main differences is that you must make up your own futon mattress. This can be found in the closet. Most minshuku also entail tatami floors and shared bathing facilities. Minshuku sometimes serve dinner and breakfast upon request.

Business Hotel ビジネスホテル: Business hotels provide strictly utilitarian services and supply affordable rooms to mostly traveling Japanese businessmen. Business hotels are typically cheaper than regular hotels – Do not expect any frills but instead a “mattress on the firm side”. Please note that you may need to request a non-smoking room in business hotels.

Capsule Hotels カプセルホテル: Capsule hotels evolved to serve Japanese businessmen (salarymen) who missed the last train home and needed to crash somewhere. Capsule hotels provide tiny places to sleep but have surprising numbers of amenities including shared shower facilities, towels, a personal TV, power outlets, headphones and toiletries. When up for a challenge or in a pinch we recommend trying one sometime – not for more than one night though.

Net Cafes ネットカフェ: Net cafes cater instead to Japan’s large Otaku (geek) population. They provide places to sleep for varying lengths of time in several forms (desk chairs, lounge chairs, private rooms, double rooms etc.) in addition to an array of manga comics, simple food, internet and TV. They also have shared shower facilities. Net cafes are also useful in a pinch or simply for the unique Japanese experience but again, probably not for any significant length of time.

Japanese Restaurant Types

Japanese Fast Food: Japanese fast food restaurants offer surprisingly cheap, high quality and, well fast, food typically involving fare like gyudon (beef bowls) curry rice and ramen. More often than not you must purchase a meal ticket at the entrance, presenting this to the person behind the counter who will then prepare your meal. The trick is the meal ticket machines have pictures but not always English…

Teishoku 定食: Teishoku restaurants offer a range of set main courses that come with rice and miso soup, along with other standard fare like pickles, salad or tofu. Teishoku restaurants are a great deal, we highly recommend giving them a go.

Izakaya 居酒屋: Izakayas are pubs/bars that also offer a wide variety of local food. One might translate them as “gastro pub”. Innumerable Izakaya cover the depth and breadth of Japan. They are undoubtedly the best place to obtain the real Japan experience. Be warned, however, that English menus can be few and far between, especially when visiting off the beaten track places. Sometimes Izakayas also have a cover charge or table charge call otoshi (お通し).

Ramen ラーメン: Ramen could almost be considered a national pastime, with different regions of Japan famous for different varieties. The main broth ingredients are tonkotsu 豚骨 (pork bone) shokyu 醤油 (soy sauce), miso 味噌 and shio 塩 salt. although many variations exist. Feel free to slurp those noodles heartily. Similar, yet different from ramen are udon and soba. Udon is a thicker wheat noodle while soba is a buckwheat noodle, eaten warm or cold and famous in Nagano Prefecture.

Kaitenzushi 回転寿し: This is sometimes called “sushi train” because it involves some version of sushi plates on conveyor belts available for anyone to take. For better sushi, however, use the touch screen menu to order freshly made plates ordered straight the kitchen. The plates will come around on the conveyor belt or on the “bullet train” straight to the table. At the end, the bill is calculated on the number of plates of each color consumed.

Kaiseki 会席: Kaiseki are multi-course meals typically found at ryokans or when entertaining guests. They can be very pricey but provide a chance to try Japanese delicacies not often found on the menu.

Wifi

Wifi in Japan is difficult to find, even in coffee shops. More hotels and ryokans (Japanese Inns) are offering it (our partner hotels do), but if you’re outside the hotel, it is not readily available. The pocket wifi device is a good solution. You can easily use this device from anywhere with cell service (almost anywhere in Japan) to connect your laptop, smart phone, or tablet to the internet. It is necessary to order your pocket wifi in advance. PuPuru is a well-known and reliable option, and you can even add a Japanese cell phone to this order as this is often less expensive than using your phone from home with an expensive roaming plan.

If you do not have an international phone plan and choose not to rent a pocket wifi, there are a few places that have access to wifi. All 7-11s in Japan have free wifi access for a limited amount of time per sign-in (5-10 minutes). In addition, larger train stations typically have wifi access, although they require you to sign up with your e-mail address. Local cafes sometimes have wifi, while all Starbucks have wifi access.

Bring Cash

Japan, despite being one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, is still a cash society. Many restaurants and stores, particularly in the countryside, do not accept credit cards. Our partner hotels do accept credit cards. We advise bringing cash to exchange at the airport upon arrival. If you need more cash, the ATM machines at all post offices and 7-11s in Japan accept international debit or credit cards.

Laundry/Hand Washing

Many hotels/ryokans in Japan do not provide access to laundry facilities. There are often coin operated laundry facilities close by, however that have washers and dryers. Your hotel/ryokan will be more than willing to provide directions to the nearest laundry facility.

Though Japan is extremely clean, free public restrooms do not typically have soap or towels to dry your hands. Restrooms in hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions, convenience stores etc. have soap and dryers. Most Japanese people carry a small hand towel or handkerchief with them and we recommend you do the same. It is also convenient to carry a small hand towel, soap or hand sanitizer bottle with you for public restrooms. Otherwise, just wash your hands with water and wait until an opportune time when you have a better hand washing facility.

Rubbish/Garbage

There are very few trash cans/rubbish bins in public areas in Japan, even though Japan is extremely clean and free of rubbish on the streets. Japanese believe that the rubbish you create is your own responsibility and you should take care of disposing of it. There are trash cans/rubbish bins in train stations (only within the ticket booth), on trains, in convenience stores, in restaurants and in hotels. Please keep rubbish with you until you see one of these and dispose of it there. Do not use the can/bottle recycle bins next to vending machines for the disposal of regular rubbish as these are for recycling purposes only.

Dietary Restrictions & Food Allergies

Please notify all accommodation in Japan of dietary restrictions or allergies you have. Vegan and gluten free options are challenging to provide in Japan because most things have soy sauce (containing gluten) and fish broth (dashi). While we may be able to provide alternative options, please bring some food of your own to make sure you have something to eat. Most other dietary restrictions can be easily managed.

Medication & Hospitals

Bring all medication you normally use with you. Although pharmacies/chemists are common throughout Japan, they do not usually speak English and all labeling of medicines are in Japanese. Seasonal allergies affect many Japanese, particularly during the Spring and Autumn. Bring antihistamines or seasonal allergy medication if you are prone to seasonal allergies. Shiga Kogen is a high altitude ski resort (up to 2300 meters). If you are prone to altitude sickness, bring altitude sickness medication and drink plenty of water. Bring your EpiPen if you normally carry one.

Japanese hospitals typically do not take international insurance unless you have travel insurance that covers you in Japan. You will most likely be required to pay all expenses up front, then deal directly with the insurance provider in your home country. While in Shiga Kogen, we will help you communicate with doctors in the case of a hospital visit.

Onsen Hot Springs

Onsens (Hot Springs) are a quintessential part of Japanese culture. We encourage you to try them. Etiquette for the baths is as follows:

  • Enter your gender’s side of the bath. Blue for men, red for women is almost universally true. The entrance will often say men and women in English (男 and 女 respectively in Japanese).
  • You have entered the changing area. Remove all clothing and accessories and place them in a basket around you. No swimsuits or any other clothing is allowed.
  • Enter the sliding doors into the bathing area. Sit on a stool and shower off completely (soap, shampoo, conditioner). You may want to use the small towel provided as a washcloth.
  • Once you have completely washed, enter the bath/s, which are just for soaking.
  • Dry off as much as you can with your washcloth, then go back into the changing area to retrieve your bath towel. It is perfectly acceptable at this point to put on your Yukata and go to dinner in it.

Japanese Etiquette
  • Remove your shoes when stepping onto a tatami mat
  • When entering a toilet, there are usually toilet slippers. Put these on when entering the toilet, then remove them when exiting.
  • Do not stick your chopsticks straight up into a bowl of rice. This is a Buddhist funeral rite
  • Do not pass food from chopstick to chopstick. This is also a Buddhist funeral rite
  • You can put on your Yukata (bathrobe) after your bath and wear it around the hotel or to dinner. The left side should go over the right side, then tie the belt around your waist.
Survival Japanese
  • Hello Konnichiwa こんにちは
  • Good Morning. Ohayo Gozaimasu おはようございます
  • Good Evening. Konbanwa こんばんは
  • I am American. Watashi wa America Jin Desu 私はアメリカ人です
  • Thank you. Arigato Gozaimasu ありがとうございます
  • I would like. Kudasai 下さい
  • Sayonara さようなら
  • My name is Daniel. Watashi wa Daniel Desu 私はダニエルです
  • Where is the Toilet? Toire wa doko desuka? トイレはどこですか?
  • How much? Ikura Desuka? いくらですか?
  • How are you? Genki Desuka? 元気ですか?
Make Sure You Pick Up a Snow Monkey Town Guide Map When You Arrive!

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