15 Must-Know Essential Japan Travel Tips & Advice for First-Time Travelers

Japan Travel Tips and Advice

Embarking on a journey to Japan for the very first time is an exciting and enriching experience. To ensure that your adventure is nothing short of amazing, we’ve curated a list of essential travel tips and advice. From cultural nuances to practical insights, these invaluable pointers will help you navigate Japan’s vibrant landscape with confidence and ease. Get ready to make the most of your debut adventure in this beautiful country!

Do you know of any other useful tips that should be added to the list? Please let us know!

1. Flying to Tokyo? Haneda Airport is closer to Tokyo than Narita Airport

Haneda Airport takes a definitive lead over Narita Airport in terms of proximity to Tokyo. Narita is positioned in Chiba prefecture and is 70 km east of Tokyo whereas Haneda is only 19 km south of the capital. From Haneda, there are multiple ways you can access Tokyo central areas such as:

Tokyo Monorail, which takes you to Hamamatsucho Station, where you can easily transfer to other JR lines or the Yamanote Line for central Tokyo destinations like Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Tokyo Station.

Keikyu Line: Another train option is the Keikyu Line, which connects Haneda Airport to various stations in central Tokyo, including Shinagawa and Asakusa. Transfers are possible to other subway lines at these stations.

Limousine Bus: Limousine buses offer a comfortable option, especially if you have a lot of luggage. They run between Haneda Airport and major hotels and stations in Tokyo, including Tokyo Station, Shinjuku Station, and Shibuya.

2. Get a eSIM or Portal WiFi for convenience

When planning your visit to Japan, consider enhancing your connectivity and convenience by opting for either an eSIM or a Portal WiFi device. An eSIM provides the flexibility of activating a local data plan on your existing smartphone, eliminating the need for a physical SIM card. This allows you to stay connected seamlessly, access maps, translation apps, and stay in touch with family and friends. On the other hand, a Portal WiFi device offers portable, high-speed internet connectivity for multiple devices, making it an excellent choice if you’re traveling with a group or need connectivity on various devices.

3. Spring and Autumn are highly recommended times to visit

Both spring and autumn are highly recommended times to visit Japan, each offering its own unique and captivating experiences.

Spring (March to May): Spring is famous for the mesmerizing cherry blossoms, or “sakura,” which blanket the country in delicate shades of pink and white. The cherry blossom season typically occurs from late March to early April, attracting tourists from all over the world. Parks, gardens, and historic sites become enchanting spectacles as locals and visitors gather to enjoy hanami (flower-viewing) picnics under the blooming trees. The weather is generally pleasant during spring, making it an ideal time for outdoor activities and exploring Japan’s cultural heritage.

Autumn (September to November): Autumn, with its vibrant foliage, is another splendid time to experience Japan’s natural beauty. The autumn foliage, known as “koyo,” transforms the landscapes into a tapestry of red, orange, and gold hues. This season typically peaks from October to November, and popular spots like Kyoto, Nikko, and the Japanese Alps offer breathtaking views. The weather remains comfortable, making it an excellent time for hiking, visiting temples, and taking leisurely strolls through picturesque towns.

4. Decide whether to buy JR Pass or not based on your travel plan

The Japan Rail Pass, often abbreviated as JR Pass, is a special type of ticket available to foreign tourists that allows unlimited travel on Japan Railways (JR) trains and some affiliated transportation systems for a designated period. It provides travelers with cost-effective and convenient access to Japan’s extensive and efficient railway network, which includes shinkansen (bullet trains), regional trains, and local trains.

7 Day pass costs $215USD (as of August 2023). If you are staying in Tokyo only for example, it could be a wise decision not to purchase JR Pass as you cannot use it to ride Subways. Instead we recommend Suica card so you pay per usage. Also note that if you’re travelling with 3-4 people, sometimes grabbing a taxi can be time and cost effective than getting on a train or a subway.

5. Arrived hotel early with luggage before check-in? Just request to leave your bags at the counter

Most Japanese hotels typically have a check-in time that starts after 2pm, and a checkout time of 10 or 11am. When traveling from one city to another, you might find yourself arriving at your new destination prior to the designated check-in time. This situation might make you feel like you have to carry your heavy luggage around or consider paying for coin lockers to temporarily store your belongings.

However, there’s no need to worry. Should you carry your luggage to the hotel reception, they will usually accommodate your request to store it until check-in time, relieving you of unnecessary stress.

6. Pack light, Coin laundry is available

Whether you are staying at a hotel, hostel or ryokan, you’ll likely discover a convenient coin laundry right on the premises.

Expect costs ranging from 500 to 1000 yen per wash, with each cycle lasting approximately an hour, plus an hour for dry.

Certain establishments offer exclusive female-only laundry machines, ensuring both security and peace of mind.

7. Have a Tattoo? Some onsens are ok to enter

Curious about enjoying an onsen experience with a tattoo?

Traditionally, people with tattoos were often banned from onsens due to the historical association of tattoos with the yakuza, Japan’s organized crime syndicates.

The landscape is changing, and many onsens are becoming more inclusive. Some onsens now allow individuals with tattoos, especially in private or in-room settings. These secluded onsen options provide a welcoming environment for tattooed visitors to indulge in the soothing waters while respecting both tradition and personal expression.

It’s always a good idea to check with the specific onsen before planning your visit, as policies may vary and it’s best to be informed beforehand.

8. Traveling with a lot of luggage? Avoid peak hours and you’ll be fine on public transport

Japan’s public transport system is renowned for its efficiency, but during rush hours, trains and buses can get quite crowded. To ensure a smooth journey, plan your travel around the less busy times, typically outside of early mornings and late afternoons when commuters fill the transit networks.

Bullet trains in Japan typically feature overhead compartments where passengers can store their luggage conveniently during their journey. Transport operating from major airports such as limousine buses and airport express trains have luggage storage compartments.

9. Remember the rules for Priority Seats and Female Only Train carriage

Priority seats are provided on trains to cater to individuals with specific needs, such as the elderly, pregnant women, people with disabilities, and those with young children. These seats are meant to be given up to those who require them, fostering a considerate and inclusive environment.

Additionally, some train services in Japan offer “female-only” cars during certain hours of the day. These cars are designed to provide a safer and more comfortable environment for female passengers, particularly during crowded peak hours. Female passengers can choose to board these designated cars to have a more relaxed and secure journey.

10. There aren’t many public rubbish bins

In Japan, you’ll notice that there aren’t many trash bins in public spaces such as streets, underground passages, and parks. This practice is rooted in the country’s strong emphasis on cleanliness and personal responsibility for waste disposal.

A common practice in Japan is for customers to return their trash, especially from takeout meals, to the shop where they made their purchase. For instance, if you buy takoyaki (octopus ball) from a takeout shop, you can enjoy your meal right in front of the store and then return the paper plate back to the shop.

Rubbish bins are more commonly found in places like convenience stores, train stations, and major tourist attractions.

11. Escalator – do I stay on the left hand side or right hand side?

The general rule for standing on escalators in Japan is to stay on one side, leaving the other side open for people who want to walk up or down the escalator.

In most areas, you stand on the left-hand side. However, in cities like Osaka, you stand on the right-hand side. It’s important to note that customs can vary within different cities and regions, so it’s a good idea to observe the local behavior and signage when using escalators.

12. Theme parks? Even though it’s busy year-round, avoid Japanese school holiday seasons

The theme parks experience a notable surge in visitor numbers during periods like Christmas break, holiday weekends, and school holidays. The summer school holiday in Japan occurs in August, and this period tends to be very crowded. Additionally, the busiest time for Disneyland is said to be from mid-March to the end of March, as this coincides with the end of the school calendar in Japan.

13. Enjoy Tax-Free shopping for some savings

Foreign visitors who are temporarily in Japan with a short-term visa, such as a tourist visa, are generally eligible for tax-free shopping. There’s typically a minimum purchase amount to be eligible for tax-free shopping. This amount can vary depending on the store and the region, but it’s often around 5,000 JPY or more per transaction.

Not all stores offer tax-free shopping, and those that do will display a “Tax-Free Shop” sign. Look for stores that are part of the tax-free shopping program.

Shoppers need to provide their passport and fill out necessary paperwork at the store. The store staff will process the tax exemption, and the shopper won’t have to pay the consumption tax at the time of purchase.

15. Many shops are open from 10am or 11am. Not 9am.

In Japan, it’s common for many shops to open later in the morning, typically around 10 am or 11 am, as opposed to the earlier opening times you might find in some other countries. This timing can vary depending on the type of store, its location, and local customs.

Department stores such as Isetan and Daimaru, as well as stores such as Bic Camera or ABC Mart are open from 10am. Anime specialty store – Animate opens at 11am.

15. Convenience stores are everywhere (We really mean… everywhere)

In Japan, the phenomenon of convenience stores reaches an entirely new level. When we say they are everywhere, we mean it quite literally.

Their shelves are stocked with an impressive variety of goods, spanning from fresh meals and snacks to household essentials, offering unmatched convenience and accessibility.