Japan Travel Tips
Dubbed “the best country in the world,” Japan should be at the top of your Asia bucket list for countless reasons — captivating Japanese culture, retro-futuristic big cities, and unmatched outdoor escapes are just a few. With so many great sightseeing spots to hit, it can be puzzling to know where (and how) to take your first steps. Worry not; here we are with a travel guide for first-time visitors. With our 10 Japan travel tips below, your first trip to J-land will be as easy as using chopsticks. 😉
We easily connect people with trusted photographers for fun photo shoots and have captured over three million memories worldwide. The magic of Flytographer is both the experience and the photos. Explore the city with a fun, talented photographer and get wall-worthy photos to relive your trip, forever. Today, we asked our local photographers to share their top 10 tips when travelling to Japan. 🇯🇵
- Best time of year to go: Cherry blossoms, Maple foliage, Sandy beaches.
- Japan itinerary tips: Kiso Valley mountains, Osaka street food, Hiroshima reinvention.
- Food and drink tips: Hole-in-the-wall restaurants, Retro cafes, food tours.
- Accommodations to book: Ryokans, Capsule rooms, five-star resorts.
- Budgeting tips: Convenience stores, cash, discounted experiences.
- Public transportation tips: Metro IC cards, Rail pass, Bus.
- Internet access tips: Pocket wifi, SIM cards, Internet cafes.
- Language tips: Konnichiwa, Arigatou gozaimasu, Sayonara.
- Packing tips: Pack light, comfortable, and leave space for souvenirs.
- Photo tips: Ask for permission, capture the beauty, hire a professional.
1. Best Time of Year to Go
Visiting Japan is a delight all year round. Still, some seasons are more popular than others.
March to May, for Sakura Blossoms
Spring in Japan is synonymous with the cherry blossoms. Brace yourself for a true natural extravaganza in different shades of pink that transform the scenery. Typically, the peak season in major tourist spots like Tokyo and Kyoto is from the end of March to early May. 🌸
Mid-September to November, for Fall Colours
During autumn, the country’s pristine landscapes and parks become a breathtaking spectacle — imagine Shinto shrines and Zen gardens framed by vibrant Japanese maple and ginkgo foliage. The optimal leaf-peeping season varies slightly throughout the country; it starts in mid-September in Hokkaido, while in Tokyo and Kyoto, the best viewing time is usually from mid-October to late November. 🍁
Summers in Japan are hot and humid, but they also have highlights, like exploring the beaches of Okinawa or the flower fields in Hokkaido. Winters are perfect for visiting Hokkaido, which becomes a winter wonderland, or many superb ski destinations spread across the country. ⛷️
Heads-up: May through October is also typhoon season, so keep that in mind.
2. Japan Itinerary Ideas
🗼Tokyo: Tokyo is a planet all its own, where futuristic neighbourhoods like Shibuya sit next to Zen gardens and vintage districts that seem frozen in time. An abundance of museums and art galleries will delight history and art lovers, and night owls will find their crowd, whether in themed cafes, tumbledown alleyways, or trendy cocktail bars. One can spend years exploring the Japanese capital and still discover new hidden gems. Tokyo’s dynamic character will steal your heart.
🎎 Kyoto: Kyoto invites you to immerse yourself in its ancient splendour. With countless well-preserved temples, wooden townhouses, and immaculately designed Zen rock gardens, Kyoto is a living canvas of Japanese culture — and don’t be surprised if you chance upon an elegant geisha gracefully crossing the street; in Kyoto, geisha culture still thrives, serving as a reminder that beauty and grace are integral parts of life.
🏯 Osaka: Known as “Japan’s Kitchen,” Osaka is replete with izakayas serving a medley of mouthwatering Japanese food. That’s not all — the city’s streets are a wonderland where vintage neon signs hang right above shrines adorned with glowing paper lamps. Osaka’s castle stands tall on the horizon, and if you’re in the mood for some theme park fun, you can head to Universal Studios Japan. Moreover, Osaka serves as an excellent base to explore the rest of Kansai, including Kyoto and Nara.
⛰ Kiso Valley: Running along the central Alps, the Kiso Valley is a bit of an off-the-beaten-track choice. It feels like a world frozen in time, replete with towering mountains, lush forests, winding rivers, and well-preserved ancient towns. Throughout the region, there are also plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking, river rafting, and even skiing.
🌋 Mt. Fuji: Mt. Fuji, Japan’s highest mountain, is a perfectly shaped active volcano that has been worshiped for thousands of years. Nothing compares to seeing it right in front of you. For this, you can head to Fujigoko, on the northern foot of the mountain, or Hakone, a famed hot spring resort town. Not close enough for you? You can also climb Japan’s ultimate icon in July and August.
⛩️ Hiroshima: Hiroshima is known for its tragic past but also its story of perseverance and reinvention. Forever marked as the place where the first atomic bomb was dropped, the city is a space of remembrance, especially around the memorial park that commemorates the victims of the bomb. Over time, a bustling city sprawled around it with wonderful shops, restaurants, and museums. Moreover, Miyajima Island, where an iconic torii gate stands in the middle of the water, is an easy day trip from the city centre.
3. Food and Drink Tips
Japanese food is one of the top reasons you should go to Japan, and it’s not all about sushi and ramen (although they are big hits). Here are some Japan travel tips for you to make the most of your culinary experience:
It’s always fun checking the small hole-in-the-wall ramen and soba joints for an authentic Japanese meal. That’s where people often have their lunch breaks from work. In many of these places, you get to sit at a counter facing the kitchen, seeing all the magic happening in front of you. 🍜
Why not book a food tour? Shinjuku Life After 5, for instance, will take you to izakayas and other local bars for delicious sake. 🍶 You can also find bar-hopping tours online, which include visits to Shinjuku’s famed Golden Gai. For food tours all over Japan, head to Arigato Travel.
Sushi is very important in Japanese culture. Visitors to Japan love taking sushi-making classes, and they are often surprised at the complexity involved in cutting fish and placing it on top of rice. If you want to get straight to business, try a conveyor belt sushi place, where you can pick sushi from a revolving belt right in front of you. 🍣
Retro cafes are a common sight in big cities. It’s easy to recognize these charming old-fashioned establishments for their distinctive appearance and the fake food art they display in their windows instead of a menu. Order a cream soda or a black coffee, and don’t forget the custard pudding to fully enjoy the time travel experience! 🍮
Hidden in Plain Sight
In Japan, many restaurants, bars, and cafes “hide” inside tall buildings. If you see a list of establishments displayed in front of a certain building, don’t be afraid to take the elevator up and take a peek inside. From intimate wine and sake bars to live music venues, chances are you’ll find a local gem. 👍
4. Accommodations to Book
From capsule rooms to five-star resorts, Japan offers accommodations for travellers on any budget. One of the top Japan travel tips for first-timers is to stay like a local.
Stay in a Ryokan and Experience Onsen Culture
Ryokans are traditional Japanese inns or guesthouses that focus on relaxation and feature tatami mat rooms. They offer all-inclusive services with traditional kimonos, slippers, and even a Kaiseki meal, a multi-course Japanese dinner. 🍱
Many ryokans feature onsens in their facilities or have some nearby. Essentially, onsens are hot-spring baths traditional to Japan and a unique experience for anyone visiting the country. If you visit (and you should) Kawaguchiko, a Japanese resort town full of onsens, Konansou Ryokan features breathtaking views of Japan’s iconic Mount Fuji.
Whatever place you book, chances are you’ll have a pleasant surprise: the toilets are wonderful! No joke, they are high-tech gadgets with heated seats and built-in bidet functions — some even play music for ultimate privacy. 🚽
5. Budgeting Tips
A trip to Japan doesn’t need to drain your wallet. There are many ways you can enjoy the Land of the Rising Sun on a budget. Just be clever and follow these Japan travel tips about budgeting below:
Get a Meal from a Convenience Store
You’ll find convenience stores everywhere in Japan, the most famous of which are Family Mart, Lawson, and 7-Eleven. Known as konbinis, they are actually attractions stocked with a mind-blowing variety of bento meals and snacks (both Western and Japanese) that are budget-friendly and delicious. 😋
Always Carry Cash with You
In Japan, cash is king. Many places don’t accept credit cards, so always make sure you have cash with you. 💴 You’ll find ATMs at almost every konbini. With some coins in hand, you can try something from the amazing vending machines that are everywhere — in Japan, you can even buy a pizza or a ramen bowl from a vending machine on the street! 😯
Book Transportation and Sightseeing Experiences on Klook
This easy-to-use platform will be your best friend when you travel to Japan. Klook is a great way to discover and book tours at discounted rates as well as read reviews of people’s experiences.
6. Public Transportation Tips
Japan is well-connected, with several transportation options for in-city, regional, and long-distance travel. Here are some tips for you:
Metro IC Cards
Especially in Tokyo, getting an IC card is a great idea. These prepaid cards will make your life easier while exploring the massive Japanese capital, saving you time and money. The two main prepaid cards available are Pasmo and Suica.
Japan Rail Pass
The Japan Rail (JR) Pass allows you to ride JR trains all over Japan as much as you want, including the Shinkansen, the iconic Japanese bullet train. 🚄 Passes are available for 7, 14, and 21 days, allowing unlimited travel within the chosen duration. The JR pass is ideal for both long-distance and day trips, and if you have limited time in Japan, this is a great travel option, though it’s not the most budget-friendly choice.
If you’re on a budget and have a little extra time, buses are another excellent travel option. Service is comfortable, clean, efficient, and remarkably punctual. Willer Express is one of the most comfortable bus companies, but if you wish to explore other options, go to Kosoku Bus. 🚌
7. Internet Access Tips
Travelling without the internet nowadays is a daring quest, especially in a country where Google Maps and Google Translate are lifesavers! Here are two of the best options to stay connected:
Pocket Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi routers are convenient options. You can find them for rental upon arrival at the Narita and Haneda airports as well as most major airports across the country.
SIM Cards and eSIM Cards
Many SIM card options are available, and you can choose from various plans based on duration and the amount of data you’ll need. eSIMs, such as from Airalo, are also an option and often a more affordable one, allowing you to handle everything online and top up easily when needed.
8. Language Tips
If your Japanese hasn’t quite taken flight yet, you’ll encounter a language barrier. That’s when Google Translate comes in to save the day, and you can even use the built-in camera mode to translate signs and menus that have no English at all. 📱
Still, Japanese people appreciate when visitors learn some basic Japanese words and phrases:
- Konnichiwa: “Hello”
- Konbanwa: “Good evening”
- Hai: “Yes”
- Kudasai: “Please”
- Arigatou gozaimasu: This is a more respectable way of saying “Thank you.” You can save “arigatou” for closer friends.
- Sumimasen: “Excuse me” or “I’m sorry”
- Sayonara: Used as a final “goodbye” when you will not see the person again.
9. Packing Tips
For packing, Japan travel tip number one is to travel light. Unless you stay in premium hotels or pay for expensive taxis, you’ll be the one carrying your luggage everywhere. Smaller luggage pieces also mean you can store them in lockers you’ll find in train stations and airports whenever needed. 🧳
As a rule of thumb, pack comfortable shoes (and hiking boots if you plan to explore nature), lots of casual clothes, and a fancier option if you plan to hit the town.
For shoes, it’s a good idea to pick ones that are easy to slip on and off, since many places require you to remove them before walking in. 👟 Oh, and if you can, leave some free space in your suitcase — Japan is a shopping wonderland.
10. Photo Tips
Japan is a temptation for pics everywhere. 📸 Still, be mindful of what, when, and who you photograph. To be respectful, keep the following in mind:
- In religious sites and museums, look for signs to double-check if photography is allowed.
- In the streets, avoid obstructing passageways and photographing people directly.
- If you must, ask permission before photographing someone in a traditional or unusual costume. However, Japanese people usually frown upon such photographs.
- Geishas don’t appreciate being photographed, so that’s a no-no! Appreciate them from a distance, and their beauty and grace will surely stay in your memory forever.
Connect with a Professional Photographer
With so much happening, it can sometimes be challenging to take your own pics, so why not hire a professional photographer? That’s another way to discover Japan travel tips, hidden gems and details with someone who’s a local and knows their city like the palm of their hand. 👍
Capturing Memories in Japan
Our local Flytographers in Japan can certainly help with this last tip and make your experience even more memorable. To be fair, this list of Japan travel tips could go on for days, but we don’t want to spoil the fun of uncovering new things for yourself.
So, that’s all from us (for now). Sayonara! 👋
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