What are the Most Essential Tips and Guidance for First-Time Visitors to Japan?

What are the Most Essential Tips and Guidance for First-Time Visitors to Japan?

Japan welcomed over 28 million visitors from other countries in 2019. An increasing number of people wish to experience its rich culture and diverse array of activities.

As tourism grows, many people coming for the first time want to unlock the mysteries of the “Land of the Rising Sun.” This guide gives tips and ideas for etiquette, transportation, cities, eating, and more. It will help you plan a great first visit.

Why Visit Japan?

Japan offers a wealth of experiences, from serene temples and zen gardens to vibrant neon-lit cities. However, to make the most of your visit, careful preparation is essential.

This guide will help you respectfully navigate etiquette, transportation, food, and cities as a first-timer. Through effective planning, you can ensure that your introduction to this captivating yet intricate country is a memorable one.

Understanding Japanese Cultural Etiquette and Customs

While Japan’s beauty and variety are exciting, understanding its rich culture of manners and customs is vital for a thoughtful trip. Certain rules around being polite, giving gifts, and behaving uphold Japan’s complex social fabric.

Bowing is common, with deeper bows showing more respect. Greet new people with a casual nod, but bow deeply when entering holy places or thanking someone. Exchanging omiyage, or small gifts, is also standard.

It’s customary to bring omiyage, or small gifts when visiting a Japanese home after a trip. Use extra polite language or “keigo” when talking to elders or bosses. Mastering some Keigo basics helps avoid mistakes.

Taking off shoes before entering homes or holy sites is another key custom. Also avoid too much public affection, loudness, or focus on personal wants over group harmony. Following these rules shows you care and understand.

Navigating Transportation Efficiently in Cities

Now that you know cultural rules, let’s cover the practical stuff for your journey. Figuring out Japan’s very efficient transportation and crowded cities is vital for smooth traveling.

The bullet train or “Shinkansen” is world-famous. It goes 200 miles per hour! You can zoom from Tokyo to Osaka in 2 1⁄2 hours. Buy your ticket and get to the platform early – trains leave instantly. Subways are great ways to get around cities. Stations have gates you pass through using prepaid IC travel cards.

Booking a guided tour is a hassle-free way to maximize your time exploring famous sites, from Tokyo’s neon cityscapes to Kyoto’s serene temples and beyond.

Reputable Japanese tours offer customizable private and group tour packages that hit top destinations and hidden gems across this fascinating country, ensuring you delve deep into both culture and natural landscapes on an unforgettable Japan trip.

While exploring cities, opt for reloadable Suica or Pasmo cards to use on buses and subways. These cards can also be used at vending machines, eliminating the need to fumble with change. Subway systems have English signs, and locals will happily help confused tourists. Taxis are ubiquitous but expensive, so take trains or bikes when possible.

Cities Worth Visiting in Japan

  1. Tokyo

The vibrant capital of Tokyo is a must-visit tourist spot where you can experience modern Japanese culture. Stroll the enormous city to see the Tokyo Skytree tower overlooking it all, scramble across the famous Shibuya scramble crossing, go shopping and people-watching in wild Harajuku, and explore dazzling neon-lit entertainment areas.

Amidst the modern attractions, allocate time to explore Tokyo’s historic temples and shrines. Consider indulging in the diverse culinary offerings at izakaya taverns for a relaxed atmosphere or savoring extravagant sushi feasts.

  1. Kyoto

Kyoto provides old-world serenity with its countless heritage religious sites and peaceful gardens contrasted against modern Japan. Traverse verdant bamboo forests, stop to see the iconic red Shinto gates marking sacred spaces, and tour the Golden Pavilion shining over its lake.

People can spot locals wearing elegant kimonos as they join in cultural activities like tea ceremonies. At night, get your fill of hot and crispy yakitori chicken skewers available from crowded food carts and restaurants across the city.

  1. Mount Fuji

Majestic Mount Fuji, Japan’s highest peak, stands as the nation’s most iconic natural wonder, inviting admiration and exploration. Ensure you don warm jackets before embarking on a trail that ascends through the clouds, ultimately leading to the summit of this active volcano, where you can witness unforgettable sunrise views.

If not hiking to the top, picnic spots abound at the mountain’s base as well for relaxing under perfect views. Stop at hot spring resort towns nearby afterward to soak any sore muscles.

  1. Hiroshima

The city of Hiroshima today stands as a modern, rejuvenated city that movingly pays tribute to its haunting past destruction from 1945’s atomic bombing with numerous memorials and museums. Visit the Peace Memorial Park and Memorial Museum along with the haunting Atomic Bomb Dome ruins shell that serves as a skeletal reminder visible across the now thriving city.

Travelers often fold paper cranes at these sites in solidarity, hoping for peace. The local cuisine specialty, savory Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki pancakes cooked right at your table, proves however that life does indeed carry deliciously on.

  1. Okinawa Islands

The tropical Okinawa Islands allow immersion into beach life with a unique local flare far removed from Japan’s main islands. Visitors flock to Okinawa for its fringing coral reefs ripe for snorkeling, powdery sandy coastlines for pure relaxation, dense mangrove forests to kayak through, and chances to swim with sea turtles in the blue waters.

When taking a break from the beaches, learn about Okinawa’s past royal castles, quaint village life, and sacred shrines. Foodies will love the islands’ pineapple harvests, fresh sushi options, pork dishes, and signature soba noodles.

Savoring Japan’s Diverse and Delectable Cuisine 

As you explore Japan’s urban landscapes, tantalizing culinary experiences beckon. From trains to temples, let’s savor the diverse world of Japanese cuisine. With over 200,000 restaurants ranging from street eats to Michelin stars, Japan is a foodie haven.

At sushi joints, only dip fish-side down into soy sauce to preserve the rice. Don’t rub chopsticks together, as it implies the establishment is cheap. Food replicas, known as ‘sampuru,’ displayed outside restaurants, assist you in ordering visually enticing dishes.

For delicious on-the-go bites, try takoyaki (octopus fritters), taiyaki (fish-shaped cakes), and countless other street foods. In izakaya taverns, press buttons on vending machines to order before sitting. Just point and smile if you can’t decipher the menu. Japan’s culinary diversity never fails to astound even the most seasoned food enthusiasts.

Trip Planning Tips and Accommodation Ideas

To create your ideal introductory adventure, meticulous trip planning is crucial. Begin by identifying your interests, researching accommodation options, and crafting an itinerary that combines must-see attractions with unique discoveries. 

For a fascinating overview, first-timers should visit Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. Then extend to lesser-known locales like Hiroshima, Kanazawa, and Matsumoto depending on your passions. Visit in spring for cherry blossoms or in autumn for fall foliage.

Accommodations range from ryokans (traditional inns) and hotels to Japanese guesthouses and homestays. Ryokans offer cultural immersion via tatami rooms, public baths, and kaiseki dining. Capsule hotels and hostels cater to budget travelers. Reserving 6-8 weeks in advance provides access to a wider range of choices.

Let Your Japanese Adventure Begin!  

Armed with cultural insights, transportation expertise, and a culinary adventure, you are well-prepared for an extraordinary introduction to Japan. Follow this guide to assist in crafting an enriching, customized trip.

Maintain flexibility, embrace newfound experiences, and immerse yourself in this captivating culture. We wish you a wonderful first visit to the “Land of the Rising Sun!”


What is the best way to exchange money in Japan?

The easiest way to exchange money in Japan is to withdraw Japanese yen from ATMs at 7-Eleven convenience stores, post offices, or international airports after arriving. ATMs have English options and provide the best exchange rates. 

How essential is it to speak Japanese?

You can get by only speaking English, as signs/menus often have English and Japanese people are helpful. But learning key phrases shows respect. Know “sumimasen” (excuse me), “arigato” (thank you), and “onaka suita” (I’m hungry).


Is it easy to stay connected via phone/internet?

Yes – Japan has widespread, excellent WiFi coverage. Buy a pocket WiFi router or SIM card to stay connected anywhere. Make sure your phone has roaming enabled before leaving home.

Are credit cards widely accepted in Japan?

Credit cards are accepted at most major retail stores, hotels, and restaurants in larger cities, but smaller shops and restaurants may only take cash. Always carry some cash, but you can rely on cards frequently.

How do I ride Japan’s train/subway systems?  

Purchase either a reloadable IC card like Suica or Pasmo to tap on/off trains and subways or single-ride tickets from ticket machines. Train signage is English, and station staff help lost tourists. Google Maps provides accurate transit directions.