Japan is a popular tourist destination, full of beautiful scenery, delicious food, and a unique culture. Whether you are visiting for a few days or a few weeks, there is plenty to see and experience. Follow local customs and traditions during your visit to Japan so you can be respectful of the locals. You can also use public transit and rail travel to get around easily, and visit unique sites for a great experience. Make sure you plan your visit for the off season and bring cash with you so your trip goes smoothly.
EditMaking Your Trip Easy and Enjoyable
- Visit Japan during the off-season to avoid crowds. Japan will be the most crowded in the spring months for cherry blossom season and hard to travel around during Golden Week, a national holiday that usually occurs from late April to early May. You should also avoid visiting in the summer, as it can be very hot and humid. Instead, visit during the off-season, from late September-early March, to avoid crowds and enjoy good weather.
- If you are planning to do winter sports, you may opt to visit in the winter months so you can have access to good snow.
- Hire a guide service for holy sites or areas. You can arrange guided tours for certain regions or sites before you embark on your trip, or arrange them when you arrive. A guide may be useful for visits to shrines, temples, and holy sites where you may not understand the traditions or customers. Look for free guides run by volunteers at major sites or areas.
- You may also opt for a guide to take you on a food tour in a major city like Tokyo so you know the best spots to visit.
- Bring cash with you. It is common to pay for most items in Japan with cash. Take out Japanese yen before you travel so you have cash on hand. Look for currency exchanges at banks, post offices, or malls to take out cash as needed.
- Carry a decent amount of cash to start, at least 5,000-7,000 yen. A basic meal in Japan can cost between 1,000- 3,000 yen.
- You can use your debit or credit card in major cities if you do not have cash on hand. Make sure your contact your bank and let them know you are traveling to Japan so they do not freeze your account.
- Have a working cell phone. Get a SIM card that works in Japan for your cell phone so you can use it when you travel. Make sure your phone is unlocked so you can put a different SIM card in it. You may load the SIM card with data so you can access maps and browse the internet for information.
- You can also rent a cell phone in Japan for occasional use using your credit card.
- Buy souvenirs to take home before you leave Japan. Japan has many options if you’d like to bring home souvenirs for yourself or loved ones. Look for pretty packaged Japanese sweets or pick up a bottle of Japanese whisky. You can also bring home traditional Japanese tea or sake.
- Carry an updated map or use a map app on your smartphone. It can be tricky to navigate the streets of Tokyo and other major cities in Japan, especially if you are travelling on foot or with public transit. Make it easy by carrying a printed, updated map with you that features street names in Japanese and English. With a data plan, you can also use a map app on your smartphone to help you navigate the area.
- Rent a car if you plan to explore rural areas. Renting a car may be a good idea if you plan to explore regions outside of major cities or if you are traveling with a large group with a lot of luggage. Avoid renting a car if you plan on staying and exploring major cities, as traffic can be bad and the streets can be confusing for non-locals.
- You will need to be 18 years or older and have an International Driving Permit, or a Japanese driver’s license, to rent a car.
- Book the rental car online before you leave for your trip, or look into renting a car once you arrive in a major city for rural travel.
- Use local transit for cheap travel. Take the subway in major cities like Tokyo to save you money and get around fast. Invest in day passes if you plan on taking a few trips on transit per day.
- Most transit maps are easy to navigate and connect you to major areas or sites in the city.
- Try walking to nearby sites or restaurants. Many Japanese people walk the streets to get around. Try walking from your accommodations to a nearby tourist site or area. Walk to and from a restaurant close by. You can also do a walking tour of areas in major cities to get a better sense of the atmosphere and vibe.
- Japan is considered relatively safe, especially for foreigners. You should still be careful not to walk around late at night alone, though.
- Get a rail pass for affordable long distance travel. Travelling around Japan by rail is a popular option, as it allows you to save money and enjoy stunning views from your train window. Look into buying a rail pass that gives you access to specific areas or routes in Japan. Use rail travel when you can to keep your trip cheap and to sneak in some extra sightseeing.
- Buy a rail pass before you land in Japan to ensure you get the best price and do not have to worry about buying it once your arrive.
- Take a long distance bus to travel cheaply to different areas or regions. Buses in Japan are often roomy and comfortable. They are also a lot cheaper than taking a bullet train. Overnight buses are a good option if you want to avoid paying for a hotel for one night and want to explore areas or regions around major cities.
- Look up the bus routes online before you leave so you can plan your bus trip.
- If you have a limited amount of time to spend in Japan, you may opt for a faster option like rail travel.
- Book accommodations in a budget hotel or hostel to save money. Compare rates for hotels online to find one within your budget. Look for hostels online as well and book them in advance. Try to get the hotel or hostel is in a central area, preferably within walking distance to major sites and public transit.
- One night in a hostel can cost 1500-3000 yen per person and one night in a business hotel on the lower end can cost 5000-7000 yen for a single room.
- Keep in mind hotels and hostels in less central areas will be cheaper. A long as the hotel or hostel is close to a transit stop, you should be fine to get around.
- Stay in a capsule hotel if you don’t mind enclosed spaces. Capsule hotels are designed to hold one person at a time and are stacked top of each, creating very close sleeping quarters. They are a fun experience for one night. Go for a non-smoking capsule hotel if you do not like sleeping near cigarette smoke.
- Capsule hotels are also a good option if you miss your train or bus and need somewhere cheap to stay for the night.
- Spend at least one night in a traditional ryokan or guest house. A traditional ryokan, or guest house, has been maintained and preserved to represent traditional Japanese-style lodgings. They are usually made of wood, with Japanese-style rooms and baths. There is also usually a traditional garden by the guest house. Though the rooms may appear bare by Western standards, they are representative of what Japanese lodgings once were.
- You can opt to stay in a more luxurious ryokan if you want rooms that are a bit more modern. They will be more expensive than traditional ryokans, but they are usually located close to a natural hot spring and have stunning views.
EditHaving Unique Experiences
- Go on a food and shopping tour of Tokyo. Tokyo is considered the main hub and metropolis in Japan. Visit traditional tea houses, noodle shops, and hostess bars for a culinary experience. Go to the major shopping centers in Tokyo to find one-of-a-kind fashion, toys, and souvenirs.
- Break up your tour of Tokyo by area, such as Asakusa in the Northeast, the Tsukiji Fish Market in Central Tokyo, the temples and shrines in the West, and Roppongi in the East for shopping and museums. Spend a few days exploring each area, using public transit or a car to visit each section of the city.
- Go skiing or snowboarding in the Japanese Alps. Japan has a stretch of mountains in Central Honshu full of fresh powder for skiing or boarding. It also has stunning views and hot springs. Visit this area for something a bit different, especially if you are an avid winter sports person.
- You can also stay in a mountain resort in this area and do a winter hike.
- Visit Hiroshima for a historic experience. Go to the site of the atomic bombing during WWII to learn more about the tragic event. There is a museum with detailed information about the bombing and tributes to the victims of the attack.
- You can take a 1.5 hour flight from Tokyo to Hiroshima or take the bullet train and get there just as fast.
- For a cheaper option, take an overnight, 13 hour bus ride from Tokyo to Hiroshima.
- Go to Kyoto to see shrines, temples, and gardens. Kyoto is a popular major city that is considered the home of traditional Japan. It contains beautiful gardens and palaces dating back to the Imperial court, as well as traditional shrines and temples.
EditFollowing Local Customs and Traditions
- Give others room in public spaces. Japanese people like to have a lot of room to move around and sit. Try not to crowd too close to others when you are in public spaces like a city street, a subway platform, or a restaurant. Maintain your distance, giving others of space, so you do not appear too aggressive or overbearing.
- Remove your shoes before you step inside someone’s home. It is part of tradition, and good hygiene, to take off your shoes before you step into someone’s home or office. You may get in the habit of wearing socks with your shoes or bringing socks with you so you can keep your feet covered.
- If you forget to remove your shoes, do not fret. Simply apologize and return to the door to remove them.
- Treat holy shrines and areas with respect. Keep your voice low and avoid shouting or yelling when you are at a shrine or holy site. Keep photography to a minimum, especially if there are holy processions going on. Try to maintain a quiet, respectful demeanor, even if you are not religious.
- It may be worthwhile to hire a guide when you visit a holy shrine or site so you can better understand the holy traditions and practices. Look for guides offering tours in the front of the shrine or site.
- Bow when you greet others. It is traditional and respectful in Japan to bow when you say hello or goodbye to someone, when you thank them, and when you congratulate them. Bow from the waist at a 45 degree angle, keeping your back straight and your legs together. Look down when you bow and avoid sticking your butt out. Inhale as you bow, exhale as you hold the bow, and inhale again when you rise up.
- If you are interacting with individuals you know well, such as family or friends, you can nod your head and bow slightly forward with a straight back rather than do a full bow.
- Do not stick your chopsticks in a bowl of rice when you eat. Putting your chopsticks upright in rice is common practice during funeral rites in Japan so do not do this when you are eating in public or around Japanese people. Keep your chopsticks flat on the bowl or resting against your plate.
- You should also not pass food to others with your chopsticks, as this is considered rude.
- If you are not comfortable using chopsticks, you can always request a fork or spoon instead.
- Check the posted rules around tattoos at public baths before you get in. Many public bathing houses and hot springs do not allow people with tattoos to enter. You may need to cover up your tattoos with bandages out of respect for the rules.
- You can also book a private room at a public bath or spa so you do not have to worry about covering up your tattoos.