Japan Travel Tips: Expert Advice for an Amazing Trip

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Thanks to our years of experience planning Japan trips, we have gathered a wealth of invaluable knowledge and essential travel tips. Whether you are a first-time visitor or planning a return trip, these Japan travel tips will help you prepare for your adventure and make the most of your time in the country.

We have compiled a comprehensive article featuring 39 of our best pieces of Japan travel advice. If you have the time and interest, we hope you’ll read all the way through. But if you have a specific topic in mind, you can refer to the table of contents below and skip ahead to the sections that are most relevant to you.

Japan Travel Tips: Table of Contents

  • Planning Your Trip to Japan
  • Pre-Departure: Preparing for Your Visit to Japan
  • You’ve Arrived: Tips for Your Time in Japan
  • Japanese Etiquette Tips
  • Eating and Drinking in Japan

We hope that these tips will help you in planning your Japan adventure!

Planning Your Trip to Japan

First things first: if you’re in the early planning stages, this section will guide you in deciding when to visit, where to go, and what to do during your Japan adventure!

1. Decide When to Visit Japan

Japan is truly a year-round destination, with each season offering its own highlights. From cherry blossoms in spring and festivals in summer, to the vibrant foliage of autumn and the thrilling skiing opportunities in winter, there is something for everyone at any time of the year.

The best time to visit Japan depends on your preferences for weather, crowds, and the experiences you desire. It’s important to plan and pack accordingly, considering the differences in temperature across the country.

2. Where to Go: Japan’s Best Destinations

Japan offers a remarkable number of destinations, each with its own unique charm and attractions. To make the most of your trip, we recommend sorting out your itinerary well in advance. Accommodation and event tickets tend to sell out quickly, especially during peak travel seasons, so planning ahead will save you from disappointment.

If you’re in need of inspiration, check out our sample itineraries for two weeks in Japan and explore the unique and immersive experiences they offer.

3. Unique Japanese Experiences

Visiting Japan presents an opportunity to enjoy a variety of unique and memorable experiences. While it may be impossible to fit everything into a single trip, we have highlighted some of our top recommended experiences in this section. For even more ideas, check out our article on 25 Japan experiences to add to your bucket list.

4. Venture Outside the Big Cities

While Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka are amazing places to visit, Japan has much more to offer beyond these bustling metropolises. To gain a deeper understanding of the country, we encourage you to explore the more off-the-beaten-path destinations. Head north to the wilds of Hokkaido, visit the peaceful villages of Shikoku, or discover the achingly beautiful islands of Okinawa. By venturing outside the big cities, you not only escape the crowds but also get a glimpse of the most authentic and memorable parts of Japanese culture.

5. Spend a Night in a Ryokan

Immerse yourself in Japanese hospitality by staying a night or two in a traditional ryokan. These Japanese-style inns offer a unique experience that sets them apart from regular hotels. Located mostly in the countryside, they provide the perfect opportunity to unwind, rejuvenate, and enjoy the best of Japanese culture. With their minimalist tatami mat rooms, yukata robes, kaiseki meals, onsen baths, and futon bedding, staying in a ryokan is an experience like no other.

6. Discover True Relaxation at an Onsen

Japanese onsen (hot springs) resorts offer the ultimate luxury and relaxation. Whether you choose a historic indoor bath or a remote outdoor setting surrounded by breathtaking natural scenery, onsen provide an authentic cultural experience found nowhere else. Before entering the onsen itself, it’s important to wash yourself thoroughly to keep the water clean. Keep towels and clothing out of the water, and if you’re not used to high temperatures, be mindful of how long you stay in the hot water. If you’re uncomfortable being naked in front of others, consider renting a private onsen or look for ryokan with attached private baths.

7. Stay in a Buddhist Temple

For a unique escape from everyday life, consider a spiritual retreat at a Buddhist temple. Staying at a shukubo (temple lodging) allows you to experience Buddhist practices firsthand, such as early morning prayers, meditation classes, and traditional vegetarian cuisine. One of the best places to immerse yourself in temple life is on Mount Koya, home to over 100 Buddhist temples and the otherworldly Okunoin Cemetery.

8. Attend a Matsuri (Festival)

Japan’s matsuri (festivals) are truly spectacular, showcasing the country’s rich traditions, colors, and energy. Attending a festival during your trip will be an unforgettable experience, offering a chance to try authentic street food, witness unique traditions, and immerse yourself in an important part of Japanese life. Festivals take place throughout the year, so regardless of your travel dates, there’s likely to be a festival happening somewhere in the country. Check out our list of Japan’s best festivals to get started.

9. Cheer at a Ball Game or Sumo Tournament

To gain an insight into a different side of Japanese culture, consider attending a sporting event such as baseball or sumo, even if you’re not a sports fan. Sumo tournaments are all-day events steeped in ancient tradition, and they take place six times a year. If you can’t make it to a tournament, there are also sumo exhibitions and morning practices that offer a glimpse into this fascinating world. Baseball, with its enthusiastic fans and unique celebrations, provides a lively and enjoyable experience for visitors. Games take place several days a week during the season, and tickets can be purchased online, at the stadium, or from convenience stores.

10. Take a Walk in the Woods

With approximately 68% of the country covered in forests and 73% dominated by mountains, Japan offers ample opportunities to escape the noise and lights of the city and immerse yourself in nature. Hiking is a popular pastime for people of all ages, and scenic trails can be found in many cities. From challenging mountain peaks to stunning riverside walks, Japan’s natural beauty awaits. Aside from experiencing the tranquility and beauty of nature, hiking is also a great way to burn off the calories from all the delicious food you’ll be enjoying during your trip.

Pre-Departure: Preparing for Your Visit to Japan

Now that you have an idea of what to expect during your trip, it’s time to prepare for your adventure. Here are some key things to consider before you leave home, from passports and visas to packing advice and more.

11. Check Passports and Visas

Ensuring your passport is up-to-date and has at least six months’ validity from the end of your visit is crucial for any overseas travel. Furthermore, having two to four blank visa pages is recommended. While many visitors to Japan do not require a tourist visa for stays of up to 90 days, it’s always wise to check with the Japanese Embassy for the most up-to-date information before your trip. Additionally, comprehensive travel insurance is highly recommended to cover any unexpected situations that may arise.

12. Learn Some Key Japanese Phrases

While it’s entirely possible to travel around Japan without knowing the language, learning a few key phrases can greatly enhance your overall travel experience. Japanese people appreciate tourists who make an effort to learn some basic phrases, even if they are not fluent. Consider downloading a Japanese phrasebook or using language apps to familiarize yourself with essential words and expressions.

13. Decide Whether to Buy a Japan Rail Pass

If you plan on making multiple long-distance train journeys during your trip, the Japan Rail Pass may save you money on travel. This discounted train pass offers unlimited travel on most JR trains, including the famous shinkansen (bullet train), for periods of 7, 14, or 21 consecutive days. However, depending on your itinerary and preferences, it may not always be the most cost-effective option. Take the time to consider your travel plans and refer to our guide to the Japan Rail Pass for assistance in making the right decision.

14. Travel with Plenty of Yen

Despite its hi-tech reputation, Japan remains a largely cash-oriented society. Many smaller establishments, including bars, markets, and local restaurants, only accept cash payments, particularly in rural areas. It’s recommended to carry more cash than you might be accustomed to, as relying solely on cards can be challenging in certain situations. You can exchange currency in your home country before your departure or upon arrival in Japan. Additionally, many convenience stores and ATMs now accept international cards for cash withdrawal. Inform your bank and credit/debit card provider of your travel plans to ensure seamless card usage abroad. If you’re unsure about how much yen to bring, our article “Is Japan expensive?” provides a helpful guide.

15. Pack Light

Navigating Japan is much easier when you have a small, easily portable bag or suitcase. Trains and other forms of public transportation often have limited space for luggage, and stations can be crowded, making it difficult to maneuver with large bags. Limit yourself to a backpack or a small rolling suitcase whenever possible, and leave room for souvenirs, as Japan offers a wide array of unique items.

16. Remember the Essentials!

In addition to the usual travel essentials such as passports, money, and appropriate clothing, there are a few items that may come in handy during your trip to Japan. Some public restrooms may not provide soap, hand towels, or dryers, so carrying a small towel and hand sanitizer can be useful. Japanese electrical outlets are usually 2-pronged “Type A” (100 Volt, 50-60 Hz), so make sure to bring an appropriate travel adapter if your devices have a different plug style. Bringing small gifts from your home country is also a thoughtful gesture when meeting guides or other people during your travels in Japan.

17. Rent Pocket Wi-Fi

To stay connected and make your trip go smoothly, we highly recommend renting a pocket Wi-Fi device. These small, mobile hotspots allow you to connect to the internet from your devices anywhere in the country. Ordering a pocket Wi-Fi in advance and having it ready for pickup at the airport or your first hotel is the most convenient option. Many rental companies also offer Japanese mobile phones or SIM cards for existing unlocked phones, which can be cost-effective for local calls. Certain apps, such as Google Translate, dictionary apps, and Hyperdia for train routes and timetables, can greatly enhance your travel experience, so be sure to download them before your trip.

18. Download Some Useful Apps

Make the most of your pocket Wi-Fi by using useful apps to navigate Japan and enhance your travel experience. Google Translate can help you overcome language barriers, Japanese-English dictionary apps are handy for quick word lookups, and Hyperdia enables you to search Japanese train routes and timetables in English. Google Maps is invaluable for navigating Japan’s streets, especially when finding specific addresses, and there are many other apps available for different purposes.

You’ve Arrived: Tips for Your Time in Japan

Now that you’ve made it to Japan, here are some tips to keep in mind during your stay. These travel hacks and insider advice will help ensure your trip goes as smoothly as possible.

19. Get an IC Card

An IC card is a convenient credit-card-sized pass that allows you to pay fares on various public transport networks with a simple tap. Similar to London’s Oyster card or New York City’s MetroCard, an IC card makes it easy to navigate public transportation without having to worry about purchasing individual tickets. It can also be used to make purchases at convenience stores and vending machines. The best part is that IC cards purchased in one city can be used in another, offering convenience and flexibility.

20. Forward or Store Your Luggage

If you have packed more than you can comfortably carry, consider using a luggage forwarding service. These services allow you to ship your bags separately to your next destination, saving you from the hassle of lugging them around. Your bags will be waiting for you when you arrive at your chosen destination. Alternatively, if you only need temporary storage, Japan has coin lockers available at train stations and shopping malls, providing safe and affordable options for storing your belongings during sightseeing.

21. Take Advantage of Conbini (Convenience Stores)

Convenience stores, known as conbini in Japan, are a lifesaver for travelers and locals alike. They offer a wide range of services and products, making them incredibly convenient. You can find ATMs to withdraw cash using your credit or debit card, purchase event tickets, arrange luggage forwarding, and buy food, drinks, and snacks at reasonable prices. Some convenience stores even offer services like paying for domestic flights and bus tickets. With their ubiquity, you’ll find a conbini on almost every corner.

22. Take Your Litter Home

In Japan, finding public trash bins can be surprisingly challenging. While some places, such as convenience stores and train stations, have bins available, there are limited options on the streets. It’s recommended to bring a small bag or reusable tote to store your trash until you find a suitable disposal point. This practice not only helps keep the streets clean but also aligns with Japan’s efforts to reduce waste. Additionally, bringing your own bag to grocery stores can save you money, as some supermarkets charge for grocery bags.

23. Avoid Crowds by Timing Your Sightseeing Right

Popular tourist spots in Japan can get crowded, particularly during peak travel seasons. To avoid the largest crowds, consider visiting these places early in the morning or late in the evening. You can still enjoy the stunning sights without the overwhelming crowds. Not only will you have a more peaceful experience, but you’ll also have better opportunities for taking photos and fully immersing yourself in the beauty of your surroundings.

Japanese Etiquette Tips

While Japanese people don’t expect travelers to be experts in their customs, a little effort in understanding and respecting their etiquette goes a long way. Here are some essential etiquette pointers to keep in mind during your trip:

24. Think Before You Tip

Tipping is not customary in Japan, so don’t be surprised if your tip is refused. Instead of leaving a monetary tip, consider bringing a small gift from your home country as an expression of appreciation. If you feel strongly about offering a tip, be sure to follow Japan’s tipping etiquette to avoid any awkwardness.

25. Take Off Your Shoes

Respecting the custom of taking off your shoes before entering certain places is important in Japanese culture. When visiting homes, ryokan, traditional restaurants, and areas with tatami matting, it is customary to remove your shoes. Wearing shoes that are easy to slip on and off will make this process more convenient. Some establishments provide indoor slippers for guests, while others may require you to wear socks to protect the tatami mats. Pay attention to the presence of shoe storage shelves and laid-out slippers as indicators of when to remove your shoes.

26. Watch Out for Bathroom Slippers

In certain places, such as homes and ryokan, you may encounter bathroom slippers. When entering the bathroom, it’s essential to leave your regular slippers outside and switch to the bathroom slippers. These slippers should only be worn in the bathroom, and it’s important to change back into your regular slippers upon leaving. Forgetting to switch back can result in some friendly laughter from the locals.

27. Familiarize Yourself with the Toilet Buttons!

Japan is renowned for its high-tech toilets, complete with various buttons and functions. While some controls may be labeled in English, many are labeled only in Japanese. Familiarize yourself with the icons and functions or search for sample images online if you’re unsure. The toilet experience can be a unique cultural encounter in Japan, so don’t be afraid to explore the different features.

28. Taxi Doors

Taxis in Japan have automatic doors that open and close automatically. When hailing a taxi, the rear door will open for you to enter, and it will close automatically once you’re inside. This small yet efficient feature showcases Japan’s commitment to technology and convenience.

29. To Bow or Not to Bow

Bowing is a common custom in Japan and is used in various situations, such as greeting, thanking, and apologizing. While it’s not expected for foreigners to bow, making a slight bow can be a respectful gesture. Japanese people understand that bowing may not be common in other cultures, so if you’re more comfortable with a handshake, it’s likely to be accepted as well.

30. Smoking in Japan

Smoking regulations in Japan differ from those in other countries. While many traditional restaurants and bars still permit smoking indoors, an increasing number of establishments are becoming smoke-free. If you’re a smoker, be mindful of smoking areas and designated spots, and avoid smoking in busy public areas. Non-smokers should be aware that there are still places where smoking is allowed, but with the growing trend toward smoke-free establishments, finding non-smoking options is becoming easier.

31. Cover Your Tattoos

Although attitudes are changing, there is still a strong association between tattoos and organized crime in Japan. As a result, some public facilities, such as gyms, swimming pools, and onsen (hot spring baths), may prohibit individuals with visible tattoos from entering. If your tattoos are large or cannot be easily covered, it’s best to check in advance or search for tattoo-friendly establishments. Many places now offer private onsen or cater to tattooed visitors, particularly those looking to attract overseas travelers.

32. Be Respectful on Public Transport

Politeness is highly valued in Japanese society, and this is particularly evident on public transportation. When using public transport, it’s considered impolite to talk on your phone. If you need to make or answer a call, you can do so in the small compartments between train carriages. Queuing in designated areas on train platforms is also important, and letting people exit the train before boarding is common courtesy. Finally, feel free to enjoy the train journey and take advantage of the comforts it offers, such as reclining seats and delicious bento box lunches.

33. Use the Money Tray

When making a purchase in Japan, instead of handing cash or card directly to the cashier, it’s customary to place your payment in the money tray provided. This practice ensures cleanliness and avoids direct contact. The cashier will typically place your change in the tray after completing the transaction. Similarly, when exchanging money, it’s common to use an envelope and both hands to pass the cash.

Japan Travel Tips: Eating and Drinking

Japan is renowned for its diverse and delicious cuisine. Here are some tips to help you fully appreciate and enjoy the culinary delights that Japan has to offer during your trip.

34. Try All the Food!

Japan is a food lover’s paradise, with a multitude of dishes to try. From high-end kaiseki meals and izakaya gastropubs to well-known classics like sushi and ramen, there’s something for everyone. Don’t miss out on lesser-known delicacies like soba (buckwheat noodles) and karaage (fried chicken). Each region in Japan has its own local specialties, so if your itinerary includes multiple destinations, be sure to explore the unique foods that each place has to offer.

35. Brush Up on Your Chopstick Etiquette

Using chopsticks is a common practice in Japan, and it’s helpful to be familiar with chopstick etiquette. Avoid pointing your chopsticks at others, waving them in the air, or using them to spear food. Additionally, it’s considered inappropriate to stick chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice or pass food from chopsticks to chopsticks. When serving yourself from a communal dish, use the opposite end of your chopsticks (the end that doesn’t touch your mouth) to serve yourself. If you’re not confident in using chopsticks, don’t worry! You can always ask for a knife and fork.

36. Plan Ahead if You Have Dietary Requirements

Traveling in Japan with dietary restrictions is possible with careful planning. While Japan may not be as accustomed to accommodating dietary requirements as some other countries, conveying your specific dietary needs and giving advance notice to restaurants or ryokans can help them make suitable arrangements. Learning some key Japanese vocabulary related to allergies and dietary restrictions can be helpful when communicating your needs. Extensive research and seeking advice online can provide valuable information and recommendations for travelers with dietary requirements in Japan.

37. Go Sake Tasting

No visit to Japan is complete without trying sake, the country’s famous rice wine. Sake tasting experiences and brewery tours are available for those interested in delving deeper into the world of sake. Remember to use the word “nihonshu” when ordering, as “sake” in Japanese refers to all alcoholic drinks. If you’re drinking with a group, it is customary to fill each other’s glasses rather than your own. For a different experience, consider exploring Japan’s whisky industry, which is gaining international acclaim. Many whisky distilleries offer tours and tastings, and specialty whisky bars can be found throughout the country.

38. Attend a Tea Ceremony

Immerse yourself in Japan’s tea culture by participating in a traditional tea ceremony. These ceremonies, often conducted using matcha (powdered green tea), provide an opportunity to learn about Japanese tea preparation and etiquette. Tea ceremonies offer a break from the fast-paced world and allow you to enjoy authentic Japanese hospitality. When attending a tea ceremony, wear comfortable clothes and socks, as you will likely be seated on tatami mats and need to remove your shoes.

39. Don’t Restrict Yourself to Just Matcha!

While matcha is the most famous Japanese tea, there are many other varieties to explore. From sencha and gyokuro to hojicha and genmaicha, Japan offers a wide range of teas for every taste. Tea houses and plantations provide the perfect opportunity to try different teas and learn about their unique characteristics. Bringing tea leaves back home can also serve as a wonderful souvenir and reminder of your time in Japan. If tea isn’t your preference, Japan’s specialty coffee scene is booming, offering a diverse range of coffee experiences to satisfy any coffee lover.

Looking for More Authentic Japanese Experiences?

We hope these Japan travel tips have been helpful in planning and preparing for your trip. If you’re interested in a completely customized trip, our team at Boutique Japan specializes in crafting personalized itineraries for travelers seeking unique and authentic experiences in Japan. Our expertise and attention to detail ensure that your trip will be extraordinary and tailored to your preferences.

If you would like to learn more about working with us, please explore our trip planning process. We would be thrilled to assist you in creating an unforgettable journey through Japan.

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