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Home | Elegant Traveller | A First-time Visitor's Guide to Japan

Elegant Traveller

A First-time Visitor's Guide to Japan

schedule10 Minute Read

Karl Page

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Discover some of the most important things to consider and know, from where to travel to how to get around...

Japan is a popular travel destination and for good reason, with amazing traditions and a culture that feels so far removed from the everyday norms people are used to in Western society, it offers a completely unique and enchanting experience.

If you've booked your first luxury holiday to Japan (or are looking for the push to do so), we've put together some of the most important tips for first-timers to consider when they head east. Read on to discover how to make the most out of your trip.

Travel Off of The Beaten Path

Japan is most known for neon-lit cities and metropolises where old meets new, however, there is plenty to see outside of these places. Although making sure you see the key cities like Tokyo and Kyoto will be rewarding, don't be caught in the trap of thinking that's all this island nation has to offer.

Stephanie is a traveller who documents her journeys on her site Poppin' Smoke and who also lived in the Japanese city of Fukuoka for over two years. She offered this as her top tip: "Many first-time visitors to Japan follow a variation of the same itinerary. They visit Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and possibly Nara. While it's understandable that first-timers don't want to miss the most well-known sites, they're missing something else: the experience of the 'real Japan'."
If you do want to take in both major cities and the more natural, less-travelled parts of Japan, then why not try one of our luxury Japan tours? The planning is all taken care of, and our extensive itineraries mean that you can see both sides of this fascinating country. Discover our Japan tour holidays below:

Sunset at Kiyomizu-dera Temple and cherry blossom season (Sakura) on spring time in Kyoto, Japan
Sunset at Kiyomizu-dera Temple and cherry blossom season (Sakura) on spring time in Kyoto, Japan

Be Aware of Local Customs and Culture

The culture and customs in Japan are very different from those in Western society, and it's wise to get some awareness of them before you go to make your trip run smoother, especially if you aren't planning on a tour and instead are going on a self-guided trip.

Have Somewhere to Put Your Rubbish

Japan is known for its cleanliness, but you might find there are fewer places to put your rubbish than you might imagine. Nele, a travel blogger at The Navigatio who has spent plenty of time in Japan, offers her suggestion: "Even though Japanese streets are spotless, you won't find many public bins to use. It's best to bring a little plastic bag with you during the day to put any trash in. You can then later throw it out when you get back to your hotel."

You Don't Need to Tip

Tipping is customary to show gratitude for a job well done, and in some countries like the USA, it's frowned on not to tip so it's only natural you'd expect to tip whilst in Japan, however, you shouldn't. Nele explains: "One Japanese custom to be aware of before your trip is that you don't tip at restaurants. While leaving a tip is seen as a reward for good service in most Western countries, it's seen as an insult in Japan. It's like saying "you probably don't get paid enough working here, so here's some extra". Save yourself the cash and simply pay the exact number on the bill."

Make The Most of The Railways

Those that have already done some digging into Japan will know that their railway system is often regarded as the best in the world and using it to help your travels along the way can be a great experience.
If you are planning on travelling around Japan on the railway (including the bullet train) then a Japan Rail Pass (often abbreviated to JRP) is the way to go. Available to those travelling to the country, it allows you to take as many journeys as you need throughout its duration and can be booked from one week to three weeks."
Nele tells us more: "The passes are quite pricey, but so is train travel in Japan. While it depends on your planned itinerary, you could be saving a lot of money using one of these passes instead of buying individual train tickets. Especially if you're planning to visit cities that require you to take long train journeys (Tokyo to Kyoto and back, for example), it could be worth it. There are some Japan Rail Pass calculators online where you can fill out your trip to see if you'd be saving money."

Lotte from Phenomenal Globe has travelled the country extensively and also recommends getting a rail pass, telling us "while a Japan Rail Pass isn't cheap, it's a bargain compared to the regular prices of the bullet train and exclusively available for tourists."

Get A Travel Card

The Japan Rail Pass is great for travelling between cities, but what if you just want to navigate the city you're in? That's where a travel card can be useful, Nele explains: "Instead of having to buy individual tickets, you can use a travel card instead. You simply top these up with money (which can be done at any station) and use it to tap in and out when using the train or metro. The system will then automatically take the amount of money required for your trip. These passes have different names depending on where you buy them (Suica, Pasmo or Icoco), but they're essentially the same thing. You can also use them all across the country, no matter whether you have a Suica, Pasmo or Icoco card!"

Equip Yourself with The Latest Tech

Get Pocket Wi-Fi

Although you'll likely have internet access at your hotel, it can cost a lot in oversea fees to use the internet on your phone whilst exploring, and whether you need directions or a quick translation, it can slow you down if you have a poor connection.
However, Nele explains that in Japan, there is a simple way around this for visitors: "Order Pocket Wi-Fi before your trip. It's a portable device, smaller than your wallet, which allows you to connect up to 10 gadgets to the internet. You simply charge it at your hotel at night and pop it in your bag during the day.
"You can order them online before your trip, pick them up at the airport when you arrive, and simply post them back at any post-box in Japan when you're done."

Use A Translator App

The Japanese language is very different from English and uses an entirely different alphabet, so it's not something that's easy to learn before your trip or to try and translate from context. This is why, making sure you have a translator app to hand can make your trip a lot easier and mean you don't need to stay to the tourist hot spots to ensure you can find English-catering places to eat, drink and explore.
Lotte spoke about this with us: "Not all Japanese people can speak English or are comfortable doing so. The Google Translate app can be very helpful, also when ordering food in small restaurants that may not have an English menu. Make sure to download Japanese to your phone so you can also use the app when you're offline."

Tips for first-time visitors to Japan:

Miyajima, Hiroshima, Japan at the floating gate of Itsukushima Shrine
Miyajima, Hiroshima, Japan at the floating gate of Itsukushima Shrine
  • Travel off of the beaten path
  • Be aware of local customs and culture
  • Make the most of the railways
  • Equip yourself with the latest tech
Japan is a truly enchanting country and one that many people find themselves unable to visit only once, always leaving you wanting to go back for more. And, with these tips, you can make your first trip there one that goes by with ease, allowing you to see the best of what the country has to offer. Tempted by a trip? Explore the luxury hotels in Japan you can visit now.

We have a wealth of travel articles on our luxury travel blog just waiting to be taken in, so if you want more great guides on everything from luxury hotels in Greece to ski holiday destinations, be sure to take a look?

Karl Page

Digital Experience Manager

With a genuine love for all things travel, I love exploring new destinations and discovering something new, gaining a wealth of experience in luxury holidays along the way.

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