Visit Japan: A Practical Guide For First Time Visitors

Even if you’ve never had the chance to visit Japan before, I’m almost positive you would have at least seen or read something about the place. Am I right? You’ve probably seen the bright lights and incredible atmosphere of Tokyo. You may even be dying to visit the two Disney parks and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. But do you know the best way to travel from city to city? Or the correct side to stand on an elevator? Because oddly enough, Japan has some pretty fierce elevator etiquette going on.

My partner Russell and I visited Japan for the entire month of March this year. We did a ton of research beforehand, building our list of places we want to see, and learning the basics of public transport. Given the fact that Japan was the first non-western country that I’ve ever been to, it was tough to figure some things out. But we got there in the end! We put the knowledge we learned before the trip together with tips we learned along the way and it proved to be quite a success. We did have some minor missteps though. Small things like catching the wrong train and communication barrier issues with hotel reception staff. But generally speaking, our trip was fairly issue-free!

So, I decided to create a list. Here I’ll be sharing everything I can think of, that you’ll need to know to prepare for a Japanese adventure. Some things may seem small, but trust me, it will help!

10 things you should know about the amazing Japan, before your first visit! Click To Tweet

Visit Japan: A Practical Guide for First Time Visitors

1. The train system is impeccable

I have never before experienced a public transport system that runs so seamlessly. From the comfort, to the fact that every single train is precisely on time, was impressive. The navigation signage that’s up around the train stations, are surprisingly easy to read. Everything is in English as well as Japanese, so even if you don’t read or speak any Japanese, you’ll still be able to navigate your way around the country pretty easily. Google Maps will be your best friend when it comes to train and Subway travel. The map will give you the exact route you’ll need to get where you’re going.

Most of Japan’s bigger and more commonly used train stations can be pretty huge and difficult to navigate. But if you’re ever stuck, just ask! Everyone in Japan is more than happy to help, and will do their best no matter how little they understand English. So don’t be afraid to speak up! 

Visit Japan: A Practical Guide For First Time Visitors

Click here to read more about Japan’s transport and navigating your way around the country! Trust me, it’s a lot easier than it looks.

2. Purchase a bus ticket if you’re traveling from Haneda Airport to Tokyo

We arrived in Japan on a freezing cold, 1 degree celsius morning. It was around 6am, and we were tired, jet-lagged and hungry. The first thing we had to do upon arriving in Japan, was find where we had to go to purchase a bus ticket. If it weren’t for the fact that we researched this before we arrived, we would have been totally confused! We were traveling from Haneda Airport to Yokohama, but since most people will more than likely be heading to Tokyo, here’s how to do it!

Unless you’ve visited Japan before, the craziness of absolutely everywhere you go throughout the country, will probably be quite a shock. The best way to avoid having to deal with this, is to catch a bus from the airport directly to Tokyo Station, as opposed to having to find your own way there straight after getting off the plane.

Here are some quick facts about the Airport Limousine Bus:

  • An adult one-way fare costs 930 yen (less than $10). A child’s one-way fare costs 470 yen (less than $6).
  • The bus departs from Passenger Terminal 1 at Haneda Airport
  • There’s also a night bus option, for 1,860 yen for adults (less than $25) and 930 yen for the kids (less than $10). This only applies to scheduled trips to and from Haneda Airport between midnight and 5am.
  • The bus ride takes between 30 and 45 minutes, which will vary depending on weather and traffic conditions.
  • The Airport Limousine Bus runs fairly frequently, with a new one arriving roughly every 45 minutes.
  • You can purchase a bus ticket from a few places: the arrival lobby, the information desk or a touchscreen ticket machines located near baggage claim.

3. Download language translation and navigation apps to your phone

These apps are generally the most helpful when you can use them offline. Download maps for the towns or cities you’re visiting while in Japan. Then save them to your documents, and you’ll always have them, even if you don’t have access to the internet! There are a lot of apps out these days (for both Apple and Android) that provide offline use, so experiment and test a few out! You’ll definitely be thankful for offline apps when you visit Japan. 

Google translation and navigation apps that work offline, are a great way to stay on track… Click To Tweet

4. Japan has a great range of food options – there’s something for everyone!

I’m a pretty picky eater, and don’t really like to stray from the foods I know I like. So Japan wasn’t about the food for me. I was surprised at the huge range of food choices I found, though. I was expecting Japan to be filled with mostly Japanese and Asian food. Well, I was wrong! You’ll find a McDonalds on almost every corner. Subway is pretty common in Japan too, and their subs are a million times better than any I’ve eaten in Australia! There’s also a cheap – but delicious – Italian Restaurant chain called Saizeriya. They have a ton of locations throughout Japan, which can be easily found on Google Maps. It’s a great place to stop for a cheap but filling meal. Most meals cost under $10, including your unlimited refill beverage. Definitely check this place out for a budget meal!

Visit Japan: A Practical Guide For First Time Visitors

Huge curly fries from Dotonbori Street in Osaka!

Visit Japan: A Practical Guide For First Time Visitors

A lobster roll from Luke’s Lobster in Dotonbori Street, Osaka.

If you’re planning to visit Japan for the food, don’t worry, you won’t be disappointed. No matter where you turn, there’s something for everyone. You’re surrounded by Japanese food culture almost everywhere you go. Japan really is a foodie’s heaven!

5. Make sure to stand on the correct side of the elevator

Japan is such an incredible country in so many ways. Everything has a system in place to make everyday life run smoothly. This doesn’t stop at elevators! If you’re using an elevator, you are to stand on one side, leaving the other free for people who choose to walk up or down. Most cities around Japan, you stand on the left and leave the right side free. For some reason, in Osaka, it’s the opposite! This little unspoken rule proved to be quite handy a few times, having to rush and catch a train.

6. Hotel rooms will be small

Don’t be that person writing a review about a hotel and complaining about the size. Especially when it comes to Japan. Everything in Japan is small. There are so many people, crammed into such small cities, it’s inevitable that everything will be as small as comfortably possible. They are also built for smaller people, meaning everything will be smaller than most visitors to Japan are used to!

If you’re looking for a unique, private and cheap accomodation option, look into a capsule hotel. It’s literally just as it sounds: you sleep in a capsule over night. Although it may sound like fun, if you have any issues with claustrophobia, I’d give the capsule hotel a miss.

7. Japan is still very much a cash-oriented country

Although advanced when it comes to technology, Japan isn’t big on credit cards. There are a ton of places that are cash-only, most restaurants don’t even accept payment on card. So it’s best to bring along as much cash that you feel is safe, then keep the rest on a savings or travel card. Reliable ATM’s can be found at 7/11 convenience stores around the country, and they’re everywhere. Just be aware of the currency conversion and any ATM fees when withdrawing money. If possible, I would suggest using a travel card over your credit or savings card. Some travel cards allow you to convert money on that card, directly to the currency you’ll need. That way, you won’t need to worry about knowing the conversion rates throughout your trip, because your money will already be in the currency you need. All you’ve got to do is withdraw it!

8. Don’t just stay in Tokyo. Explore more of Japan!

When we were planning our trip, we knew we wanted to spend the longest amount of time in Tokyo. But that didn’t mean we wanted to miss out on seeing more of Japan. So this is what our itinerary looked like: Yokohama (2 days), Osaka (7 days), Hiroshima (2 days), Nagoya (2 days), Nagano (3 days) and Tokyo (12 days).

Visit Japan: A Practical Guide For First Time Visitors

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – incredible Hogwarts Castle!

  • Yokohama was our first stop, which was a good introduction to being in Japan. There weren’t any big, loud, confusing cities to manoeuvre. Everything was easily accessible.
  • Osaka was next, where we visited Universal Studios, and I lived my dream of being in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
  • Throughout our stay in Osaka, we took a few day trips out to Kyoto. Kyoto is still very much an historic town. There are an endless amount of beautiful scenes to enjoy, as well as the amazing Bamboo Forest and Fushimi Inari Temple.
  • From Osaka we traveled to my favourite city in Japan – Hiroshima. Such a peaceful city, filled with relaxing places to spend the morning or afternoon.
  • Nagoya wasn’t my favourite city that we visited. But that’s partly due to our poor planning. Nothing was open the day we visited, it was pretty horrible weather, and I was comparing it to Hiroshima.
  • Nagano will forever be a memorable experience, as it’s where I saw snow for the first time! We caught a bus from Nagana Station, up to the Hakuba Ski Resort. For under $5, we were lucky enough to have the best views in Hakuba. The 1998 Winter Olympics Jumping Stadium. Read about that awesome experience here!
  • Tokyo was last on our itinerary, and with so much to see and do, we stayed in Shinjuku for 12 days! You can read about our epic Tokyo adventure here.
Explore more of Japan than just Tokyo. Visit cities like Hiroshima and Osaka to fully… Click To Tweet
Visit Japan: A Practical Guide For First Time Visitors

Fushimi Inari Temple in Kyoto!

9. Look out for great deals on flights and accomodation

There are two sides to Japan: 1) the budget friendly, cheap but still delicious food and cute Japanese souvenirs side and 2) the high end, expensive 5 star restaurants and top-notch hotels. Personally, I’m all about budget friendly. As long as I’m comfortable, safe and relatively close to convenient transport, that’s all that matters. Russell and I don’t have any desire to stay at hostels, but we do look for cheap, budget friendly hotels in nice areas. HotelQuickly have some pretty good deals on, generally being cheaper than average. Find some awesome hotels here!

Flights can be a bit harder to score a deal, but it is possible! If you’re traveling to Tokyo from the east coast of Australia, you can generally score a deal with Virgin Airlines when you book early, from $600 per person. The earlier you book, the more you save. So start planning your Japanese adventure!

10. Alcohol is wonderfully cheap (in some places)

I come from Australia. Where alcohol is taxed so ridiculously high, that the price of getting drunk is rising and people aren’t happy. In Japan, Russell was buying bottles of whisky for under $20. I was enjoying $4 bottles of wine, and wondering why Australian’s get so ripped off.

There are some exceptions to the cheap alcohol rule, however. I’m sure you’ve read about Golden Gai. The super popular, tiny, somewhat hidden street of extremely small bars. Just big enough to fit a handful of people, all drinking their way to forgetting about the $10 entrance fee they just paid. It might have been because it was the end of our trip, and both Russell and I were pretty broke. Or maybe we just enjoyed drinking in our hotel room, then exploring the streets of Japan, picking up $3 bottles of scotch and premix Smirnoff along the way.

Visit Japan: A Practical Guide For First Time Visitors

You can purchase alcohol in any convenience store in Japan. They sell everything from wine to spirits, and of course premix bottles to take on the go!

There you have it. The 10 things I found the most useful or interesting about Japan! Have you had the chance to visit Japan? What was your favourite thing about the country? Tell me in the comments below!

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Visit Japan: A Practical Guide For First Time Visitors

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