So far, I’ve stayed 6 weeks in Japan as a digital nomad. I went to Tokyo in 2022, then Osaka in 2023. I’ve explored famous areas, stayed at numerous hotels, worked in cafes, met locals, joined gyms, and tried a bunch of new food.
In this post, I’ll share 11 tips from my digital nomad experience in Japan. With these tips, you can skip right to all the best stuff I discovered, while avoiding my mistakes. So, let’s dive in!
1. Book Your Hotel or Airbnb Far in Advance
My style of travel is usually pretty spontaneous. I don’t typically have my hotels or Airbnbs booked far in advance. And usually in Southeast Asia, that’s not a problem. But in Japan, this approach has not worked well for me.
It seems there has been an undersupply of hotels in both Osaka and Tokyo in recent years. Whenever I’ve waited until the last few days to book my stay, I had almost no options left on popular sites like Airbnb, Booking.com, and Agoda.
In those cases, any remaining options would have highly inflated prices, as well. Even the capsule hotels were charging $90+ USD per night in some cases.
This may be a temporary issue as Japan reopens after the pandemic. But even 8 months after individual tourists were allowed to enter, in May 2023, I was still running into this issue.
So, my advice is to pre-book your housing or hotel far in advance when coming to Japan. When I’ve looked on Airbnb several months in advance, prices and availability have been noticeably better (if still pricy compared to SE Asia).
2. Try Out a Capsule Hotel
Japan is famous for its capsule hotels, and I’d recommend trying at least one. Really, it’s similar to staying in a hostel dormitory with bunk beds—but you’ve got the privacy of being in a capsule with a curtain that closes.
My favorite capsule hotel in Japan so far was Ninjas & Geishas Capsule Hotel in Osaka. Here’s why it was so good:
- The design is clean and modern, with a beautiful shared lounge you can use at any time of day or night.
- You can sleep in later than other capsule hotels because the pod cleaning doesn’t start until after 11:00 am. (Many other capsule hotels wake you up with announcements to leave at 10 am or earlier.)
- Most nights, the capsules don’t get hot (unlike some other places).
- It’s right next to the Awaji train station, so you can get downtown easily.
- It’s right above a Family Mart, so snacks are right downstairs.
- The lounge has a microwave and sink for basic food prep.
- The price was lower than any of the Tokyo capsule hotels I stayed at.
- It’s not very packed—especially during weekdays.
In Tokyo, I tried four different capsule hotels. The best of those was Commun Shibuya. Here’s what I liked about it:
- The pods were bigger and cooler than at most other capsule hotels.
- You’re allowed to eat in your capsule.
- Great location in Shibuya.
- It has a public co-working space on the bottom level, which also has a microwave, coffee, and more. (But you have to pay extra to use this space—there’s no free lounge.)
The other capsule hotels I tried in Tokyo were doc-C Ebisu, Nine Hours Ningyocho, and Tabist Hiromas Hotel Kotobuki. All of them were decent, but not as nice as Commun Shibuya for me personally.
3. Eat Cheaply From Convenience Stores
If you regularly ate meals from 7-Eleven in America, your health would quickly be on a downward trajectory. But in Japan, it’s a different story.
You can get relatively healthy, ready-to-eat meals there, for quite cheap.
This also applies to the other chains, Family Mart and Lawson. These “conbinis” are everywhere, and many locals use them as places to buy breakfast, lunch, or even dinner.
Personally as a vegetarian, I often get inari sushi from these convenience stores.
Sometimes I’d also get edamame, or I’d grab cartons of soymilk to mix with the protein powder I travel with.
I even found some more unique vegetarian convenience foods, like “Tofu Bars”—but I wouldn’t enthusiastically recommend them.
You can also find Japanese curries, sushi, onigiri, noodles, and more. Usually there is a place where you can also sit and eat the food, if you like.
4. Master the Trains
Some people may feel daunted by the train systems in Japan, especially Tokyo. But I don’t think it’s too bad. Especially if you’ve used the subway in other big cities like New York—it’s similar. You just need to follow the signs to find the right train.
I’d always use Google Maps to figure out the best route. Then you just need to find the train it recommended to you. The train lines have different colors, so that makes it pretty easy to find the right trains, even in big stations.
Other than the train line, you also need to pay close attention to the destination, which tells you the direction of the train. And pay attention to whether you’re getting on an “Express” train or not. Sometimes, that’s important.
One big advantage of Japan’s train system is that everything generally runs on time. So if Google Maps says your train will leave from Platform 3 at 7:21pm, you can probably trust that.
To pay for the train, you’ll typically want to put some money on a card. In Tokyo, the one I got was called Suica. In Osaka, it was called Icoca. They worked the same. You can also use these cards to spend money at convenience stores, so that’s nice.
You can buy these cards (and reload them) at any train station, just like you would buy tickets at most subway stations across the world. So, it’s not that hard, really.
5. Explore Japan on Foot
Both times I stayed in Japan, I averaged well over 10,000 steps of walking per day. Most parts of Tokyo and Osaka are very safe to walk around, and you’ll feel that. So you can basically walk for miles, observing the sights of Japan.
In Osaka, I did hear about some “dangerous areas” to avoid, although I’m forgetting their names now.
But you can walk around many famous areas like Akihabara (or Den Den Town in Osaka), Shibuya, and Shinjuku. You can walk around big parks like Yoyogi Park, Ueno Park, or Osaka Castle Park. Or even explore peaceful residential areas.
Overall, Japan is a great country to go on long walks. Between the trains and long walks, I didn’t even pay for one taxi ride in Japan (yet).
6. Work Online in Starbucks (and Other Cafes)
Personally, I haven’t joined any co-working spaces in Japan. So when I did my work online, I mostly just worked in my hotel room (or lounge of my capsule hotel), or in cafes. And I’d say the experience was good in the cafes.
Japan has Starbucks all over the place. Some locations are quite busy, but not all of them are. The wifi has not failed me in any of Japan’s Starbucks.
Some other cafe chains are also pretty good for working online. In Osaka, I worked in a place called Tully’s Coffee a few times. It was enjoyable.
Once I did a video call from the eating area in a Family Mart convenience store. So really, there are plenty of places you can work online in Japan. Internet speeds are not perfect everywhere, but they’re generally good.
7. Visit This Chain Restaurant
Some may find this tip underwhelming. But personally, when I’m in Japan, I love eating at CoCo Ichibanya.
It’s a chain of Japanese curry houses, and you can find them in other countries, too—but I think they’re best in Japan.
A few things I love about CoCo Ichibanya in Japan:
- There are tons of locations everywhere.
- They have a soy meat patty for plant-based protein.
- You can specify the amount of rice with your order, and you can save money by getting less rice.
- You have your own pitcher of water, so it’s easy and convenient to refill as much as you want.
- It’s pretty cheap—under $10 for most of the curry meals. (My order with two soy meat patties was usually 969 JPY.)
8. Meet Locals via Language Exchange
Many westerners say it’s hard for them to make friends with Japanese people in Japan. But if you’re learning their language and you’re willing to help them learn English in return, it’s actually pretty easy to meet a lot of locals.
Personally, I found that language exchange was a fun way to quickly meet people in Japan. I lost track of the exact number, but I think I met at least 5 or 10 people this way.
I used the HelloTalk app to find Japanese people nearby trying to learn English. Then we would plan a day to meet up, and typically walk around and chat in a mix of English and Japanese for a couple of hours.
One thing to note: Many people essentially use HelloTalk as a dating app (and I’ve heard this applies to other language exchange apps, too).
Even when the stated purpose of the meeting was language exchange, I often felt a date-like vibe if I was meeting with a woman. One woman even told me that she’s looking for a western boyfriend to improve her English.
So, just be aware some people will have those intentions.
9. Try Out These Japanese Sweets
Because of my plant-based diet, I didn’t try a lot of the famous meals of Japan, which often contain meat. But I did enjoy many unique Japanese sweets.
For example, take a look at this (above) “Ichigo sando” (strawberry sandwich). I’ve rarely ever seen these outside of Japan, but they are easy to find in Japan, and quite fun and delicious. (Other fruits are sometimes used, as well.)
Another one I love (below): Taiyaki. This old Japanese snack is shaped like a fish and can have various fillings. If you eat the head first, it’s supposed to make you smarter, but if you eat the feet first, it makes you faster and more athletic.
And lastly, daifuku. The most famous kind of “daifuku” is with a strrawberry in the middle and mochi around the outside. But you can get daifuku made with many different fruits.
Personally, I loved the apple daifuku I had in Osaka. Meanwhile, the mandarin orange daifuku I had in Shinjuku was not very good. But if it’s your first time, you can never go wrong with strawberry.
One “sweet” that I did not really like: Mitarashii dango. Not that yummy, honestly.
10. Witness the Toilet Technology
This one is not really a “tip,” but just something I want to rave about for a minute. The toilets in Japan are incredible. They have so much technology I haven’t seen anywhere else.
Not only do they have the standard bidet options to spray and pulse water on your behind… They also have really comfortable heated seats. And many of Japan’s toilets even have music or sound effects.
I guess the point of the sound effects is for privacy (?). If you play the sound effects, then other people in the bathroom can’t hear your bodily sounds as much. Or is it because the water sound effects will help you urinate?
I also saw this toilet design a few times (below). The water refilling the tank also lets you wash your hands right there. Mind blowing, right?
Just be sure to fully appreciate the futuristic toilet technology while you’re in Japan, ok?
11. Download Google Translate (for Camera Mode)
Most digital nomads visiting Japan do not speak Japanese. And while there is plenty of English to get around the major cities, you may have moments where it’d be really nice to be able to read Japanese.
And this is where Google Translate—particularly its camera mode—is a life-saver. If you’ve never used it before, you can literally just point your phone’s camera at Japanese language, and it will show a (sloppy) English translation on your screen.
Despite the often inaccurate, garbled translations, the technology is still mind-blowing to me. And it’s a life saver sometimes.
Even having studied Japanese for a few years, I got massive value from Google Translate’s camera mode in Japan. The main thing I use it is for food packages. If I want to read the ingredients, it’s usually good for that.
Ok, that’s all. I hope my tips were helpful. Enjoy your time in Japan.