KEY TRAVEL TIPS FOR YOUR VACATION TO JAPAN
Japanese culture is exotic and vibrant.
In Japan, everything just works.
It is the land of convenience, of delicious food, and diverse neighborhoods.
The people are warm and very respectful.
And they also really know how to party!
A trip to Japan means you will get to experience the fastest, sleekest, and most efficient trains.
The architecture is superb, and the young people are fashionable and trendy.
And you will never want for entertainment while you are here.
So, get planning!
Here are the best travel tips for Japan.
How to Prepare for a Trip to Japan
Booking your flight is easy when you do it online.
For accommodations, you have many options – from opulent chain hotels in the cities to quaint Airbnb stays.
But for something really different, consider staying in a capsule hotel.
These are tiny rooms that are not much more than a chamber, roughly the size of a single bed.
It has sufficient room for the guest to crawl in and sit up on the bed, and is great for budget-minded travelers who just need a place to lay their head at night.
Read up on several travel guides (including this one!) to get a feel for the country and where you plan to go.
For a well-rounded trip, it’s best to spend at least a couple of weeks to see Japan’s magnificent cities and also the beautiful countryside.
Have your travel documents updated and ready.
For U.S. citizens, you will only need your current passport to get in and out of the country.
Make a color copy as backup; just keep those and your original passport separate from each other.
Take a pocket WiFi device with you – a wireless modem for travelers on the go, that can connect up to five of your devices.
Free WiFi in Japan is limited, and having a pocket unit with you is essential when trying to navigate the streets of Tokyo.
Lastly, you will be on a long flight.
Don’t forget to bring healthy snacks such as trail mix, granola bars, etc.
Read our post on how to survive a long-haul flight.
Eating and Drinking in Japan
Japanese cuisine is something to truly savor.
And it’s not all about sushi – there is so much to delight the palette, from the best seafood on the planet, to delectable noodle dishes, to Kobe beef.
Not to mention the delicious national drink – sake.
The beer and whiskey are very good, as well.
The food can be described as minimalist – but never simple.
Sort of like Japan itself.
There is an etiquette to follow, however.
For starters, if you’re in a rush, don’t grab something to eat and walk down the street while you’re eating; it’s considered rude.
Meals are meant to be savored in a sit-down setting.
For a reasonably priced, filling meal for lunch, many Japanese restaurants will have teishoku, which is the lunch special of the day.
It will usually contain a mixture of different vegetables, meat and seafood.
It is very tasty, and usually comes with miso soup and rice.
When you sit down at a restaurant, you will be offered a towel with which to wipe your hands and mouth, and to clean up any spills.
The Japanese people are very neat!
Always clean up after yourself.
Another important piece of etiquette is to not start eating until everyone at your table has received their food.
Convenience stores are all over cities, and are not only good for picking up last-minute items, but you can also get a cheap and healthy meal for the equivalent of USD 5.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner can be had in Japan’s convenience stores when you want something quick and easy.
How to Get Around Japan
Trains are a big deal all over the country.
It is a convenient and fast way to get from one area to another.
If you are staying in a large city, such as Osaka or Tokyo, their subway system is a wonderful way to get around.
It is very affordable and their electronic ticket system has English menu options.
If you will be exploring areas outside of Tokyo, consider purchasing the Japan Rail Pass.
For about $270, you can get this pass for 7 days, and it will allow you access to any JR line in the country, including a few high-speed trains, call shinkansen.
Take the bullet train from Tokyo station.
Train stations are all over the place, and are very well maintained.
One thing to remember: Google Maps is your friend!
You will find this is one of the most reliable ways to navigate your way around the country.
Japan is largely a cash-based society.
And while credit cards are widely accepted, having plenty of cash on hand is preferable, as many restaurants and shops are not equipped to take credit cards.
Many everyday items are anywhere between 1 to 50 yen, so it is recommended to get a coin purse, as you will be fishing for your coins often.
Going to Tokyo
Going to Tokyo?
Then, you are in for a treat!
Tokyo is a very large, cosmopolitan city and there is a lot of ground to cover!
Of all of the major cities in Japan, Tokyo takes the cake.
That said, the best neighborhoods in Tokyo are some of the most colourful and unique.
When deciding where to stay in Tokyo, it’s a good idea to take into account all of the places you’ll be visiting and choose areas near those places.
This decision depends on your budget, type of visit, and personal preference.
Tokyo should be considered not just a big city, but a collection of different neighborhoods, each with their own unique contribution.
To truly be in the center of things, Shinjuku should be one of your first stops after you arrive in Tokyo.
With incredible city views and wonderous nightlife, Shinjuku certainly gets a lot of attention with tourists.
Shinjuku also has the busiest train station in the world.
In fact, Shinjuku station sees around 3.5 million passengers a day!
This is the area of Japan where young people rule, and love to express themselves by dressing up in fantastic costumes – it really is one of the more colourful areas of Tokyo.
Explore the great variety of shops, depaato (department store) and great food.
For great views of the city, head up the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.
When you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city into wide open, greener spaces, come to the Okutama District.
This the west side of Tokyo, which caters to hikers and nature lovers.
Wonderfully picturesque and green, one can hike, go whitewater rafting, and even soak in a hot spring.
There are even options for camping!
And yes, even the elusive Asian black bear can be found here, in Tokyo city limits.
Some hikers like to wear bear bells, to help ward off the bears.
But not to worry, the bears are not a threat to visitors.
This is a completely different side of the city and further away from city center, yet definitely worth checking out.
For tourists seeking a party atmosphere in Tokyo, Shibuya is the place to be.
This is a great option for night owl tourists, and it can be said there are similarities between Shinjuku and Shibuya.
For example, both are vibrant neighborhoods where the younger generation come to play, and both are considered to be the “heartbeat” of Tokyo, but I suppose it just depends on which neighborhood you prefer!
Either way, Shibuya is the place to discover great fashion, great nightlife, and perhaps a bit of Japanese madness.
Here is where you can witness the famed Shibuya crossing, the busiest in the world.
Neon colors and funky shops abound, and you will find many shops catering to fans of Japanese pop (J-pop) and anime.
While Tokyo is undoubtedly a foodie destination, it is the Asakusa area where you will find the highest concentration of best places to eat in Tokyo.
Restaurants to satisfy any palette and any budget can be found here.
With Tokyo’s high food standards, you cannot really get a bad meal no matter where you go.
If you try anything, it should be the soba and tempura – two traditional Japanese dishes that will surprise and delight your taste buds.
And for those with more conscientious food requirements, one can find all manner of vegetarian, vegan and halal restaurants in this district.
Marunouchi/Tokyo Station Neighborhood
This is the heart of Tokyo’s financial district, and with the recent renovation of the Tokyo Station, it is now more than simply something to pass through – but a destination unto itself.
It is one of the best areas to stay for tourists in Tokyo, and is the perfect home base for day trips outside the city.
Tokyo Station is located in Chiyoda, which is actually a city within the city of Tokyo!
The station is so large, it is divided into two parts.
Be sure to visit Black Fence Alley, where you will find some of the best street food in the city.
Authentic Japanese style merges with gourmet design.
Then check out Gransta Mall, where designer brands can be found, and there is also a food section with some pretty impressive fresh offerings.
Ginza Shopping District
Home to most of the high-end fashion and dining spots, Ginza holds many of Tokyo’s most coveted addresses.
Top luxury brands all have a storefront here, as well as Japanese luxury brands you may have never heard of.
If your tastes run more upscale, you will no doubt find your next big purchase here.
Even better, on the weekends, the main street Chuo Dori is closed to vehicles and becomes a pedestrian heaven.
Along with the high-end shopping comes the expensive restaurants, with some of the best sushi on the planet.
And when the sun goes down, most of the shops remain open, with fantastic light shows to bring in the shoppers.
When you have shopped ‘til you’ve dropped, get a drink and take your pick of some nightlife in the varied bars around the area.
If you will be staying for longer than a few days, it is always a good idea to choose 2 or 3 of these districts to stay in, so that you will be able to get a good feel for the varied neighborhoods of Tokyo and savor them fully.
Whichever ones you choose, you are sure to have one of the most enjoyable trips, and no doubt have some favorites to visit again when you come back to Tokyo.
Common Questions Asked When Planning a Trip to Japan
- Stuck on where to go? Ask yourself: do you want to try incredible food? Are you interested in history? Are you up for lots of leisurely walking? Then go to Tokyo, Osaka, Sapporo, Fukuoka, Nagoya or Kyoto. If it’s great scenery, or world class skiing you’re looking for, stick to the countryside and the ski resorts.
- Will you be traveling between major cities? For example, Kyoto and Tokyo are very far from each other. Consider taking the train and allow one day to get from one destination to another, as well as checking out and in of accommodations.
- What time of year would you like to go? Spring is very popular, as the cherry blossoms take over the scenery. As with many destinations, summer is the high season, so consider the more mild-weather shoulder seasons of spring and autumn. But if you are a skier, then, of course, go in winter.
No matter how you slice it, Japan is an incredible destination.
As long as you plan carefully, you will have the time of your life!
Do you have any travel tips for Japan that I didn’t mention? If you do, comment below!
If you are looking for a step-by-step guide to help you plan your trip to Japan, check out The Ultimate Guide to Trip Planning.
If you are still feeling overwhelmed, or simply do not have the time to plan your trip to Japan, why not let us help you? We will create the perfect bespoke itinerary just for you!