With its ancient temple and holy shrines along with sandy beaches and some of the best national parks and skiing destinations, Japan is a country where you’ll want to travel to more than once. Not only is it home to such beautiful tourist attractions but it is also a traditional place that follows strict etiquette, especially when you’re a first-time visitor.
First thing first, please make sure to educate yourself in regards to the Japanese visa requirements. Some passport holders can enter Japan for up to 90 days for visiting purposes. This is what we did as well, although sometimes you can extend your visa for another 90 days.
Apart from the visa requirements, it's necessary to understand a few things you will only find in Japan. Not only this is a unique country, with incredible customs, but also a fantastic travel destination with so many things to do. You will be spoiled for choice.
We visited Japan so many times already, so here's what you need to know when planning your own travels.
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Japan is not a cashless country
I know it may seem surprising, especially given how futuristic Japan is. But in reality, expect to pay by cash for many services. Some restaurants won't accept cards, so be prepared to pay in cash. Tipping is not necessary but when possible, try to leave the exact amount on your receipt.
You can find ATMs that accept foreign cards, but make sure to check if you need to pay any transaction fees. You can use any 7/11 for their ATMs and use your Visa or MasterCard. Make sure to check with your bank in regards to their own fees. Ideally, you will use a travel debit or credit card.
Public transport is incredible
If you’re a first-time traveller to Japan, you can get overwhelmed to check out the frequency of train and metro stations in this country. Can you believe that there are 150 lines and 2000 stations of underground and overground rail lines in Tokyo itself? We even wrote about the Tokyo Metro here to make it easier for you to understand how to use the underground.
It's imperative that you get an IC card the moment you get to Japan. They are very useful cards which you can return to the offices before you leave the country. They hold a small deposit and they are reachable. Basically, they work the same way as Oyster Card in the UK. You can use them in some shops as well, so they are essential if you want to save time. Besides, they will save you from carrying a lot of cash with you.
Where to stay in Japan
Choosing a smart location for staying in Japan can save you hours in moving from place A to place B. For example, in Tokyo, it is always a good bet to stay anywhere near the circular JR Yamamoto Line as it is easily possible to get to any area of the city too fast. Shinjuku and Shibuya are two of the most famous areas to stay in and you’ll have enough to eat, see and do. Tokyo Station and Ginza are too convenient in regards to transport but they don’t have that fun factor. Check the full article on where to stay in Tokyo here.
Travelling to Kyoto? We've got you covered as well. While Kyoto still has an underground, it's nowhere near as complex as Tokyo. There are many locations to stay in Kyoto and one of our favourites was near the Shijo Dori street where you can sample a lot of incredible Japanese food.
Want to go to Osaka? We have an extensive guide to show you where to stay in Osaka. Although you will want to consider the touristic zones as they are closest to the best food areas in the city.
Buying a JR Pass is a great decision
Want to see all the beautiful attractions in Japan? Then you will want to buy a JR Pass. For a fixed fee you can travel as much as you want, using the Shinkansen. For example, we went from Tokyo to Kyoto, we also visited Osaka, Nara, and the Snow Monkeys near Nagano. We also travelled to other cities for day trips.
We went to Uji from Kyoto to see where matcha tea was first created. We also took the Shinkansen from Osaka to Hiroshima to see the main attractions. If you love the cherry blossom season, we recommend checking out the Yoshino area, in the mountains.
You can't always see Mount Fuji
I know you want to see the gorgeous Mount Fuji, after all, we tend to associate Japan with its beauty right? Well, Mount Fuji is more elusive than you think. Even though you can get a quick train from Tokyo to Fuji, you need some luck to be able to see it. It's often hidden in the clouds and it's rare to be able to see its peak. If you are lucky, there are places in Tokyo you can see it from, which I think it's pretty special.
Generally speaking, it's good to allocate a couple of days when the weather is sunny and clear to go photograph the mountain. During the summer, you can also hike Mount Fuji as many locals love to do.
Here's a surprise tip: nobody tells you that Japan is one of the best countries to visit! You will have so much fun, you won't want to ever leave. It's fun, exciting and home to the best food in the world. Besides, you will want to shop all the kawaii items and bring home a massive suitcase full of Japanese souvenirs. Are you ready to travel to Japan? Let us know in the comments section below.