Before you catch your flight to Japan it is good to consider 2 very important things, ordering a Japan Rail Pass for train travel, and pocket WiFi in advance.
Because once you've entered Japan it isn't possible to buy a JR Rail Pass, and there can be a waiting list for pocket WiFi. So check out my tips and tricks below to be sure you can travel affordable and comfortable by train and use Google (Maps) in the middle of the streets.
Japan Rail Pass
Important things to know:
Order and pay your Japan Rail Pass before you head to Japan, because it is not possible to buy this pass in Japan.
With this pass you can use all JR trains and busses including the shinkansen (bullet train), except the Nozomi and Mizuho bullet trains.
Pick up your pass, with the voucher you've received at home, at many large train stations including Narita and Kansai airport.
You can use the JR Rail Pass as well at the Tokyo JR Yamanote Line and Osaka Loop Line.
Always check the train number on the outside of the train before you get in (especially on smaller stations were there is no signage). We once got on the wrong train and realized it at the moment the doors closed.... So we made a nice detour :)
Some train routes pass Mount Fuji. When you reserve a train ticket in advance, ask the cashier to book a seat on ‘Mount Fuji side’ to have nice views (and keep fingers crossed it won't be cloudy).
The first train compartments are for reserved seats, the compartments on the back of the train are for non-reserved seats.
Make sure to be on time and wait in line to have the most chance to get a seat when you didn't pre-book.
I took this picture (from a riding shinkansen at full speed) of our view at Mount Fuji during our train ride from Kyoto to Tokyo:
It is great to have pocket WiFi in Japan! So when you meet lovely new people on the train for example, it's really nice to connect immediately and see they have tagged you on Instagram! :)
Besides that it's of course very useful to be able to reach that restaurant you've read about, to find back your hotel at night or to Google your next destination whenever and wherever you want to. Because there is not much public WiFi and it ain't always easy to find an address in Japan, so it is great to be able to check Google Maps when standing in the middle of the streets.
With the pocket WiFi portable device you can go online anywhere and anytime you want.
There are several providers so it is good to do some research (we had good experience with CDJapan Rental)
For a small extra fee we've got ours delivered at our hotel. You can decide to pick it up at the airport on arrival, but be aware that you have to go to the post office at the Departures (!) hall.
Together with the pocket WiFi and charger, you will receive a stamped envelope which you can use to send the package back at the end of your trip.
A Shinkansen passing the train station of Kobe:
JR Train from Nara to Osaka:
Boomerang video of our view over Mount Fuji from the Shinkansen (from Kyoto to Tokyo):