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Essential Tips for First-Time Travelers to Japan with the Japan Traveller Guide

Travelling to Japan for the first time is an exhilarating experience, blending ancient traditions with cutting-edge modernity. With the Japan Traveller Guide, you can make the most of your journey by being well-prepared. Here’s your comprehensive guide to ensure a smooth and memorable trip to the Land of the Rising Sun

Plan Your Itinerary Wisely

Japan offers a plethora of attractions, from bustling cities to serene countryside. Popular destinations include:


A vibrant metropolis with attractions like Shibuya Crossing, Akihabara, and the historic Asakusa Temple. Tokyo is a city that never sleeps, with endless options for shopping, dining, and entertainment. Don’t miss out on visiting iconic places like the Meiji Shrine, Tokyo Tower, and the futuristic Odaiba district. For a taste of traditional Japan, explore the historic neighbourhood of Yanaka, known for its old temples and quaint streets.


Known for its classical Buddhist temples, as well as gardens, imperial palaces, Shinto shrines, and traditional wooden houses. Kyoto is the cultural heart of Japan, where you can experience the beauty of Zen gardens, participate in a traditional tea ceremony, and stroll through the famous Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Visit the stunning Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) and Fushimi Inari Taisha with its thousands of red torii gates. Kyoto’s Gion district offers a chance to glimpse geisha culture.


Famous for its modern architecture, nightlife, and hearty street food. Osaka is Japan’s kitchen, renowned for dishes like takoyaki (octopus balls) and okonomiyaki (savory pancakes). The city’s vibrant atmosphere is infectious, especially in areas like Dotonbori, known for its neon lights and lively entertainment. Explore Osaka Castle and the Umeda Sky Building for panoramic views. Universal Studios Japan is also a must-visit for theme park enthusiasts.


Offers beautiful landscapes, hot springs, and excellent skiing in winter. Hokkaido is a nature lover’s paradise, with stunning national parks like Shiretoko and Daisetsuzan. In winter, the region transforms into a winter wonderland, perfect for skiing and snowboarding in Niseko. Don’t miss the Sapporo Snow Festival, where intricate ice sculptures line the streets. In summer, fields of lavender bloom in Furano, creating picturesque scenery.


Known for its tropical climate, beautiful beaches, and distinct culture. Okinawa is a perfect getaway for those seeking sun, sea, and sand. The island’s unique Ryukyu heritage is evident in its music, dance, and cuisine. Visit Shuri Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and explore the vibrant Makishi Public Market. Okinawa is also famous for its coral reefs, making it a fantastic destination for snorkelling and diving.

Learn Basic Japanese Phrases

While many Japanese people speak some English, especially in major cities, knowing a few basic phrases can enhance your travel experience. Here are a few essentials:

Hello, Konnichiwa (こんにちは) – Use this greeting anytime throughout the day.

Thank you: Arigatou gozaimasu (ありがとうございます) – A polite way to express gratitude.

Excuse me / I’m sorry: Sumimasen (すみません) – Useful for getting someone’s attention or apologising.

Yes: Hai (はい) – A simple affirmation that’s easy to remember.

No: Iie (いいえ) – Politely decline or refuse.

Do you speak English?: Eigo o hanashimasu ka? (英語を話しますか?) – This question can help you find English speakers.

Learning these phrases can help break the ice and show respect for the local culture. Even a small effort to speak Japanese is usually appreciated by locals.

Understand Japan’s Etiquette and Customs

Japan is a country with rich cultural traditions, and respecting these customs will make your trip smoother:


A common greeting and a way to show respect. Bowing is used in various situations, from greeting someone to expressing thanks or apologising. The depth and duration of the bow can indicate the level of respect, with deeper bows showing greater reverence.


Always remove your shoes when entering someone’s home or certain traditional accommodations, such as ryokan or some temples. It’s a sign of respect and cleanliness. Indoor slippers are often provided, but you should also bring a pair of clean socks, as bare feet might not be appropriate in all situations.

Public Transport

Keep your phone on silent and avoid loud conversations. Public transport in Japan is known for its efficiency and quietness. Offering your seat to the elderly, disabled, or pregnant women is a common courtesy. In crowded trains, be mindful of personal space and avoid making eye contact, which can be seen as intrusive.


Tipping is not customary in Japan and can even be considered rude. Excellent service is already included in the price, and attempting to tip can cause confusion. Instead, a sincere thank you (arigatou gozaimasu) is the best way to show appreciation.

Get a Japan Rail Pass

If you plan on travelling between cities, the Japan Rail Pass is a cost-effective way to get around. It offers unlimited travel on JR trains, including the Shinkansen (bullet train). The pass must be purchased before arriving in Japan. Depending on your travel plans, you can choose between 7, 14, or 21-day passes. The convenience and savings it offers, especially for long-distance travel, are unparalleled.

Stay Connected

Rent a portable Wi-Fi device or get a local SIM card upon arrival. This will help you navigate, translate, and stay in touch with friends and family. Portable Wi-Fi devices can be rented at the airport or ordered online before your trip. Having reliable internet access is essential for using navigation apps, translating signs, and finding local recommendations.

Sample Japanese Cuisine

Japan is a culinary paradise. Be sure to try:

Sushi: Fresh and delicious, available everywhere, from high-end restaurants to conveyor belt sushi bars.

Ramen: Each region has its own variation, but all are delicious.

Tempura: Lightly battered and deep-fried seafood and vegetables.

Okonomiyaki: A savory pancake, popular in Osaka and Hiroshima.

Sweets: Try traditional sweets like mochi and dango.

Visit During a Festival

Japan hosts numerous festivals throughout the year, each offering a unique cultural experience. Some popular ones include:

Cherry Blossom Festival (Hanami): Held in spring, when cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

Gion Matsuri: A month-long festival in Kyoto with parades, traditional music, and dance.

Sapporo Snow Festival: Showcases stunning ice and snow sculptures in Hokkaido.

Respect Nature and Temples

Japan’s natural beauty and temples are not only tourist attractions but also places of worship and tranquillity. Always be respectful, follow the rules, and avoid disrupting the peaceful environment. When visiting temples and shrines, observe local customs, such as washing your hands and mouth at the purification fountain and bowing before entering the main hall. Stay on designated paths and refrain from loud conversations.

Use Cash

While credit cards are becoming more widely accepted, Japan is still very much a cash-based society. Always carry some cash, especially when visiting rural areas or small establishments. ATMs that accept international cards can be found in convenience stores like 7-Eleven and FamilyMart. It’s also a good idea to have smaller denominations for vending machines, public transportation, and small purchases.

Prepare for Seasonal Weather

Japan experiences four distinct seasons:

Spring (March to May): Mild temperatures, ideal for cherry blossom viewing.

Summer (June to August): Hot and humid, but great for festivals and beaches.

Autumn (September to November): Cool and comfortable, with beautiful autumn foliage.

Winter (December to February): Cold, especially in northern regions, perfect for winter sports.


Travelling to Japan is a unique and enriching experience. By planning ahead and respecting local customs, you’ll be able to fully immerse yourself in the culture and beauty of this incredible country. Use the Japan Traveller Guide to make your first visit smooth, enjoyable, and unforgettable. Safe travels!

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