The Ultimate Japan Travel Guide that You Need for your First Time

Japan is one of the world’s most beautiful countries. It’s a timeless country that respects the past while growing rapidly in technology advancement. While Japan is extremely modern to most people, there are still plenty of opportunities to be exposed by its interesting and traditional culture. We will cover all of them in this Japan travel guide.

From exploring Japan’s delicious, rich food culture to exploring around the majestic shrines and temples, there are tons of things to do in Japan, and they’ll take you forever to finish exploring all of them.

If you dreamed of traveling to Japan and are planning to make a trip to the “land of rising sun”, this travel guide will get you prepared with the information that you need to know now!

We’re also throwing in some budget tips for you to save money!

Japan Ultimate Guide’s Content

You will find the content covered below are the common questions asked. Click on each the link to jump to the specific section!

Or read it all so you’ll be 100 percent fit to visit Japan!

Interesting Fun Facts About Japan

Kyoto, Japan Alleys - Japan Guide

Did you know? Japan Edition

  1. Japan is a land of islands that consists of 6,852 islands. There are approximately 400 of these islands are inhabited.
  2. Japanese trains the world’s most punctual train. It holds the record of an average delay of only 18 seconds!
  3. Japan has the most vending machines in the country with approximately 5.6 million vending machines! It offers everything you ever need from snacks, sodas, sex toys, and even live crabs! If you ever find yourself hungry and lost, there’s always a vending machine nearby to the rescue.
  4. The four largest islands are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu.
  5. Anime – which is Animated Japanese films and television shows, comprises a total of 60% of the world’s animation-based entertainment. Due to its success in Japan, there are approximately 130 voice-acting schools in the country.
  6. The Japanese language orders sentence structures differently than the English language does.
    For example, the English language uses a ‘subject-verb-object’ structure (e.g. I eat noodles), whereas Japanese uses subject-object-verb (example: I noodles eat).

Top Cities to Visit on your First Time in Japan

Japan Cities Guide Shibuya Crossing

Japan is a fun country to visit. It has a long list of places to explore, full of history and an abundant cultural heritage. Temples and shrines fill its streets, while its cities shine brightly with neon lights, and ancient imperial palaces stand firmly against time.

Nevertheless, if this is your first time visiting Japan, these are the cities that are recommended because they are good to start off if you’re unsure of where to visit.

Plus, they are easy to access.

Especially when you have the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass), it makes your life easier when traveling between cities in Japan.

Tokyo

The capital city of Japan, Tokyo was ranked as the most populous metropolitan area in the world in 2014. Straight out from a sci-fi film, this bustling city is a mix of ultramodern and traditional, filled with bright colors neon-lights at night. Despite of its modern architecture and technology, remnants of historic buildings and streets still remain. You might even find yourself wandering in traditional Japanese theatre, old-style bars and food stands.

Whether it is strolling among the festivals, mesmerizing cherry blossom blooms or just shopping around enormous malls –– It’d take a lifetime to see everything that Tokyo has to offer.

Kyoto

Yasaka Pagoda and Sannen Zaka Street with cherry blossom in the Morning, Kyoto, Japan Ultimate Guide

Filled with history, classical shrines and temples, stunning architecture, beautiful gardens, traditional wooden houses and imperial palaces. This city would be one that should have in their itineraries if they are visiting Japan.

Also, Kyoto offers plenty of activities for kids. Your kids will definitely love Kyoto!

Hakone

Hakone is known for its hot springs (onsen) resorts, natural beauty and the iconic view of the famous Mount Fuji. At the footsteps of Mount Fuji, Hakone is a peaceful, relaxing retreat where you can have hot springs baths, sleep in a ryokan, wake up early the next day and marvel at the breath-taking view of Mount Fuji.

Osaka

It is a huge port city and business center. It’s recognized for its nightlife, modern architecture and delicious street food. You will also find the famous historical landmark, Osaka Castle in the middle of the cityscape. The castle is surrounded by a moat and a park with cherry blossom trees.

Nara

Located less than an hour from Kyoto and Osaka, suitable for a day trip. In the past, Nara was the first permanent capital of Japan. Because of that, you will find some of Japan’s largest ancient temples lying around. It is also popular for its natural beauty and abundance of wild deer roaming around in Nara Park.

Top Places to Visit on your First Time in Japan

Mt. Fuji with Chureito Pagoda in autumn, Fujiyoshida, Japan Guide

Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji is the tallest mountain in Japan. It is also one of Japan’s most famous attraction and worshipped as a sacred mountain. It’s going to be a breath-taking sight in the early morning or late evening.

Check out this post on the best places to view Mount Fuji.

Arashiyama

Arashiyama is situated in the far edge west of Kyoto, at the base of the Arashiyama Mountains (a.k.a “Storm Mountains”). It is filled with temples and shrines, but the main tourist attraction is the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Talk about Instagrammable!

arashiyama Bamboo Forest of Kyoto - Japan Ultimate Guide

Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine

The path from the mountain base up till the shrine itself has thousands of  Torii gates or known as “Orange Gates” to tourists. It is one of Japan’s most visited attraction site. Although it takes 2 hours of light hiking, it’s worth breaking a sweat.

Shibuya Crossing

It’s given the name of “busiest intersection in the world”. Hundreds of people or up to three thousands at peak hours crossing the street at one go. Not sure if it’s a thing for you, but crossing the street is quite an experience I would say.

City Street At Dusk - Japan Ultimate Guide

Sensō-ji

It is Tokyo’s oldest temple. And it is said to be the most widely visited spiritual site in the world. Due to the high amount of tourist visiting every day, you will find the surrounding area has many traditional shops, selling a variety of local delicacy.

Osaka castle

One of Japan’s most famous castle. You will find an informative museum inside about the castle’s history. It is surrounded by gates, turrets, sturdy stone walls, moats and secondary citadels. There is a lawn garden with 600 cherry trees, a tea house and spectacular views of the castle tower from below.

The Kiso Valley

Within the area consists of many best-preserved towns, and photography enthusiasts love these places. A little preparation is required when visiting The Kiso Valley. This area is more remote and not as convenient as the big cities.

Advice: Bring more cash, Learn the lingo, and Plan your trip.

Akihabara

It is a central district of Tokyo popular for its various electronics stores. Akihabara recently has become recognized as the hub for Japan’s otaku fan (hardcore anime fan) as many anime and manga shops are now spread across the district’s electronics stores. If you’re an anime fan, then you definitely have to drop by here!

Nara Deer Park

You can feed the deer with crackers that are for sale on site. It houses 1200 deer and it is also a symbol of the city. Most of the deer are surprisingly tamed, some will bow to ask to be fed.

Experience the Japan Festivals

Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata Festival - top japanese festival

Who doesn’t love festivals?

Lucky for you, Japan festivals (matsuri) are celebrated throughout the entire year so it’s easy to participate in one when you’re visiting.

Whether it is to celebrate the shrine’s deity, historical, or seasonal event, most festivals are held annually and some even spans over several days.

The festival highlights often feature processions of the local shrine’s kami (Shinto deity) being carried through the streets, floats with elaborate decorations (dashi), vibrant music and dancing, and participants dressed in colorful traditional clothes.

What’s more?

Festivals are one of the best places to taste the unique flavors of seasonal Japanese foods and snacks!

Whether it is a meditative festival or one that is energetic, Japanese festivals are rich in tradition. A definite eye-opening (and mind-blowing) opportunity to experience living a day like a local Japanese.

We actually wrote a post on the top Japanese Festivals that we recommend.

Unique Experiences in Japan

Experiences that make you go “SUGEHHHHH!!!”

One of the many reasons Japan is such a wonderful place to visit is there are so many unique experiences that can only be had in this country. Here are just a few of the things that are quintessentially “Japanese”.

Snow monkey Macaque in hot spring - Japan Guide
  1. Soak in an Onsen

    Onsen, known as hot springs, are popular in Japan. They are separated according to gender whereas some are private. Take a dip in your birthday suit and relax away!

  2. Jigokudani Snow Monkeys

    Are you a nature lover? How about seeing monkeys soaking themselves in hot spring? Located a few miles away from Nagano, The Jijokudani Monkey Park features local macaques monkeys soaking in spring-fed hot tub and playing in the snow. It is a 850meter tall valley in the cold northern district.

  3. Stay at a Ryokan

    Ryokan are Japanese style inns that are commonly found throughout Japan, especially in hot spring resorts. The inn incorporates much of Japanese lifestyle and hospitality whcih includes tatami floors, futon beds, Japanese style baths and local cuisines. As the Ryokan offers the experience Japanese living, it is popular among both the Japanese and foreign tourists.

  4. Sleep in a Temple

    Go on a spiritual retreat to refresh your mind, body, and soul by staying in a temple. Whether to deepen an understanding of religion or your inner self, temple stays are unique beyond compare.

  5. Go Geisha hunting

    When in the historical city of Kyoto, try catching a glimpse of geishas. If you’re lucky, you can even get a far away picture of them.

  6. See the fish auction each morning

    This one is for the sushi lovers. Head over to Tsukiji Fish Market at 3 a.m. and watch as the fishermen come into port and sell their fish. There are plenty of sushi restaurants nearby so pick one and feast on the freshest sushi ever. Oishii!

  7. Watch a Sumo Wrestling match

    Yes, Sumo Wrestling is still a popular sport in Japan. A total of six matches are held annually. Three matches are held in Tokyo (January, May, and Sepetember) and one each in Osaka (March), Nagoya (July) and Fukuoka (November). Who’s up for some sake and sumo wrestling?

  8. Drive like Super Mario

    Japan has a knack for creating unique activities, and Go Kart is one of them. With a valid Japanese or international driving license, you are eligible to drive through the busy streets of Akihabara, Shibuya, and around Tokyo Tower just like the video game, Mario Kart! Dress up in character costumes and race away with an exhilarating rush. It’s not every day you get to race as a video game character!

Kart driving at tokyo streets - Japan Ultimate Guide
  1. Take a Purikura

    Purikura is a photo booth machine that takes photos as stickers with functions of adding effects or graffiti to it. Some purikura even lets you send your photos through email so you can upload them on your social media! If you feel taking your purikura game to the next level, why not take pictures in cosplay costumes? Some game centres rent out costumes and wigs for you to put on that makes your purikura experience a memorable one.

  2. Cherry Blossoms Watching

    Cherry blossoms are iconic in Japan. If you’re visiting between the end of March to April, flower viewing (hanami) under the trees is definitely a beautiful experience. The usual way of hanami is eating and drinking with friends while watching the flowers together.

    Oh, you’re not sure what hanami means? Head over to our post, Hanami 101: Guide to Viewing Cherry Blossom in Japan to learn more about it!

Kyoto in Spring - Japan Ultimate Guide
  1. Wear a Kimono

    The kimono is Japan’s traditional clothing. There are many stores, especially in Kyoto, where you can rent to wear a kimono while sightseeing. Think about the Instagramable pictures you’ll take! If you’re a fan of it, there are also stores to purchase them.

  2. BE A NINJA!!!

    Ninjas are not limited to history or in blockbuster movies when you’re in “Ninja no Mori Akame Sijuhachitaki” in Mie prefecture. This place offers you an experience to train and dress like a ninja. Who’s up for some ninja training?

  3. Experince Sado (Tea Ceremony)

    Sado, which means tea ceremony, is one of Japan’s traditions. The act of making tea is usually done in a solemn atmosphere. As the sado ceremony is a cultural Japanese activity, visitors will find it a deep and artistic experience in enjoying tea and embracing the Japanese traditions.

Top 10 Food to Try in Japan

Bowl of hot beef ramen - Japan Guide

Click here for the detailed version of the top 10 food you need to try in Japan (with pretty pictures!).

  1. Ramen

    What can I say? I’m a ramen fan myself, that’s why this is my top 1. Almost every corner of the street, you’ll find Ramen everywhere throughout Japan. It originally came from China, a wheat noodle soup dish. Currently, it’s one of Japan’s most popular and cheapest dishes.

    Ramen restaurants or also known as ramen-ya are in Japan serves all kinds of variation of ramen with flavors that you will find very interesting!

  2. Takoyaki

    In English –– “octopus balls”, this famous Japanese snack is made of batter stuffed with octopus, then covered with flavorful sauces, pickled ginger and green onions. You’ll notice these in markets and street food stands very often. Give it a try, you won’t regret it!

  3. Okonomiyaki

    Okonomiyaki is a must when it comes to Japanese street food. It consists of batter and cabbage base, sometimes with meat and yam or seafood and cheese. There seems to be different versions around, it is also said that the original version came from Osaka. This variety this Japanese pizza (or pancake?) is as its name “Okonomi” meaning “to one ‘s liking” and “yaki” meaning “grilled”.

  4. Sushi

    Wait, did I just state the obvious? Anyways, this has to be on the list. For those who don’t know what is a Sushi, it is raw fish or other seafood packed together with rice and seaweeds into wonderful, delicious pieces. It’s a common food in Japan too. You definitely need to try the ones near the fish markets in Tokyo!

  5. Soba

    It is brown or green colored noodles made from buckwheat flour. Soba noodles are served in various hot and cold food, sometimes with soup and sometimes without. They are very easy to find across Japan and comes in many variations. The most basic Soba is the Mori Soba –– boiled, cold Soba noodles served with Tsuyu (a soy based dipping sauce). There is also Green Tea Soba (Matcha Soba) made of buckwheat flour mixed with green tea powder.

  6. Unagi

    Unagi is freshwater eels, often served with tare sauce and rice. We know some of you will probably freak out to even try it. But you’d be glad if you did try at least once. We would even come back for more. One whole bite of the unagi and it will melt in your mouth!

  1. Tempura

    Seafood and vegetables dipped in batter and fried in oil. You probably find tempura normally served in a set that comes with rice and other side dishes in restaurants.

  2. Udon

    These thick white noodles know as Udon is served in Udon restaurants or Udon-ya. They are thicker and chewier than Ramen. It has the soup version and without. It is often served either hot or cold, comes with meat, vegetables and eggs.

  3. Yakiniku

    With a griddle in the center of the table, diners cook their slices of meat and vegetables on it. This would be the Japanese version barbecue. Beef, chicken, pork, seafood and variety of other food are readily available for you, however, people tend to go for the beef items most of the time.

  4. Gyoza

    Gyoza is steamed dumplings that you will find at street stalls at train stations and across Japan. The dumplings’ filling consists of pork, beef or chicken with vegetables and beans sometimes.

Language in Japan & Useful Japanese Words

Kyoto Japan - Fushimi Taisha-Inari Shrine - Japan Guide

Debunking Japanese Language Barrier Myths

If you’re worried about the language barrier when traveling in Japan, then great news for you!

When traveling to Japan, it is not necessary for you to learn the Japanese language, either written or spoken. Contrary to common myths, most Japanese do speak at least some form of basic English. English signages are also common, especially in tourist attractions and train stations.

Although it is not always the case in restaurants to have English menus; however, pictures are often included where you can point and order. In some instances, communicating in sign language is proven to be effective.

Japanese Dictionary for Travel Dummies

Although it isn’t necessary to learn these terms to have a fun time in Japan, it can be quite exciting to communicate with the locals there with their language.

Also, learning one or two phrases can help you to endear the Japanese locals you meet there. Most Japanese are appreciative of visitors when they take the extra effort to learn one or two key phrases.

And who doesn’t love hearing the encouragements of oohs and aahs from the locals when you’ve finally mastered a phrase?

English:  “Yes , No”
Japanese:  “Hai , iie”

Saying yes can also mean ‘I understand’.

English:  “Thank you”
Japanese:  “arigatou gozaimasu”

Considering politeness is a key part of Japanese culture, you’ll be using this phrase a lot in Japan. For a more casual tone, you can simply say arigatou, which is also perfectly fine.

English:  “Hello”
Japanese:  “Konnichiwa”

This is a simpler greeting word that can be used throughout the day. There also other words for the respective time of the day such as good morning (ohayou gozaimasu) and good evening (konbanwa).

English:  “Excuse Me”
Japanese:  “Sumimasen”

Just like thank you (arigatou gozaimasu), you’ll be using this phrase in many situations as well. This can be used either in apologizing or getting someone’s attention (for example, getting a waiter’s attention).

English:  “May I have _________, please ?”
Japanese:  “____ o Kudasai.”

Kudasai means please, or please give me. This phrase is commonly used when requesting an item, such as when in a restaurant or stores. Fill in the blanks is the beginning, for example, mizu (water) to request for water.

English:  “How much is it?”
Japanese:  “ikura desu ka?”

Ikura means how much. You may also say kore wa ikura desu ka which means ‘how much is this?’ If you know the name of the product in Japanese, the phrase would go as (Product name) wa ikura desu ka.

English:  “Where is the______ ?”
Japanese:  “__ wa doko desu ka?”

Perfect use when feeling lost and asking for directions. Even though you may not understand the answer, you’ll most likely still be pointed to the right direction, or even better, they will take you to the exact location.

English:  “I’d like to go ______ .”
Japanese:  “_____ e ikitai desu”

Ikitai means want to go. You can use this phrase when telling a taxi driver where you want to go.

English:  “Do you have wi-fi?”
Japanese:  “Wi-fi arimasuka?”

This is great when in need of connecting to Wifi, especially in a foreign country. You may ask a restaurant or storekeeper and they will answer you with the Wi-fi password if applicable. Most train stations in Japan are equipped with free Wi-fi service. Arimasuka means do you have. For this phrase, you may replace the word Wi-fi with other objects as well.

English:  “I’m fine now.”
Japanese:  “Daijoubu Desu”

Daijoubu means you are fine, or it is okay. This phrase is used when politely declining an offer or saying no. For example, when a waiter offers to pour more water. When asking a question, add ‘ka’ at the end of the phrase, which goes daijoubu desu ka?

Manners & Customs in Japans

Japanese Etiquettes You Should Know

tourist wearing kimono, the national tradition costume of Japan walking at Sensoji temple the famous temple in Tokyo, Japan Guide

Do’s and Dont’s of Japan

  1. Do not smoke in public on the street.

    It is prohibited to smoke in public areas except when in designated smoking areas. Violators of this rule will receive a fine if caught.

  2. If you must pick up the phone in public transports, please whisper.

    When travelling in public transportation, it is best to avoid speaking on mobile phones.

  3. There is no custom of leaving tips in Japan.

    Knowing that they have done their best is their greatest reward. Hence, saying ‘arigato’ before leaving is sufficient.

  4. There is no culture of bargaining in Japan.

    However, there are some exceptions in flea markets where it is acceptable to politely request for lower offers.

  5. Wipe your hands before eating when in restaurants.

    For clean habits, remember to always use the provided oshibori (wet towel) to wipe your hands before eating. These are usually provided in restaurants and eateries. However, do not use them to wipe your face or use it as a napkin throughout the meal as it is considered rude.

  6. ‘itadakimasu!’

    Saying ‘itadakimasu ’ before eating your meals will always leave a good impression to the locals and show your appreciation. When in doubt, faintly mumble ‘eat a duck if he must’!

  7. Do not eat while walking unless in the park or at the market.

    It is considered rude to do so even if it is just a snack. If you must, there are many corners on streets that provides bench seats to sit and eat. If you don’t see any bin, you may return the rubbish to the shopkeeper.

  8. Cross your index fingers when asking for bill.

    When getting the bill for a meal, simply make a small cross with your index (pointer) fingers so the server can see it. In some parts of Japan, cash is the preferred currency.

  9. Slurp when it’s delicious!

    Making slurping sounds indicates that you are enjoying your meal and having a good time. Try this when you’re enjoying your favourite bowl of ramen!

  10. Mind your Chopsticks.

    Chopsticks are the main cutlery in Japan. Do not use them to point, poke, or wave them around. When not eating, you may place them together neatly on the side of your bowl or on the provide ‘rest’. Do not place them standing upright in dishes or have items passed between them as this is only seen in funerals.

  11. Remove your shoes when necessary.

    Be mindful that in Japanese Japanese homes, certain temple precincts and more traditional restaurants and businesses you are required to remove your shoes before entering. Be sure to wear clean, hole-free socks! Don’t worry, your shoes are safe as theft is rare.

  12. Taxi automated doors

    When traveling in taxis, sit in the back unless there is no room. The back doors will open automatically so don’t touch the door handles.

  13. Bow on greetings

    It is a traditional custom to gently bow on greeting. It is polite to return the gesture by mirroring the bow with the approximate angle and hands by your sides. Overdoing the bow may be seen as an insult so it is best to mirror as close as possible.

  14. Cover up

    Be respectful when visiting sacred sites, temples and shrines by covering up with modest clothing. Remember to avoid flash photography and refrain from speaking loudly.

Top Places to Visit on your First Time in Japan

Giant torii gate outside Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine in Kyoto, Japan Guide

What is the Best Time to Visit Japan

You would most likely wonder which time of the year is most suitable for traveling to Japan. The great thing about Japan is every season is an excellent time to travel there. We will briefly learn what to anticipate in all season so that you may plan ahead your itinerary.

SPRING (March – May)

  • Cherry blossoms viewing
  • Festivals, festivals, and more festivals!
  • Comfortable temperatures and friendly weather

SUMMER (June – August)

  • Summer festivals, concerts, sumo tournaments and impressive fireworks
  • Mount Fuji opened
  • Try special food that only appears in Summer festivals
  • Hot temperatures, humid weather, rainy period

FALL (September – November)

  • Autumn leaves cover the landscape with all kinds of colors, particularly during October.
  • Autumn festivals, sports tournaments and concerts.
  • Pleasant temperatures

WINTER (December – February)

  • Cold temperatures, suitable for visiting hot springs (onsens)
  • Impressive view of villages or small towns covered in snow
  • Skiing
  • Fewer crowds

 

For more information on Japan’s weather, you may visit this website.

You Should Know This Before Booking a Japan Trip

The hot season where everyone loves to visit Japan is during Spring. Few main reasons are the pleasant temperatures, cherry blossoms season and friendly weather.

That’s not it.

Be aware of the Golden Week –– a combination of four national holidays within a span of seven days.

You might think, “Why is this important to you?”

Well, This would be a great season for the locals to be traveling around the country. The accommodation and tours will be booked in advance and travel spots will be slightly more crowded.

Just keep this in mind when you’re planning.

Golden Week in Japan 2019 : April 27 – May 6
Golden Week in Japan 2020 : April 29 – May 6

This website has the latest information about Golden Week in Japan.

Japan’s Currency

japan currency - japan ultimate guide

The Yen

The yen is Japan’s currency, meaning “circle” in Japanese. The Yen has four denominations of bills while its coins have six denominations.

Bills consist of 10,000 yen, 5,000 yen, 2,000 yen and 1,000 yen
Coins consist of 500 yen, 100 yen, 50 yen, 10 yen, 5 yen and 1 yen

All bills and coins come in different sizes and with larger amounts come in larger sizes.

Credit Cards or Cash?

Major credit cards will typically be accepted at big hotel chains, nice restaurants or shops in large cities, but you’ll want to have cash on hand to use in small restaurants, markets or in more rural towns. There are still many places where credit cards are not accepted, so it is a good idea not to rely on your plastic alone.

Credit cards are usually accepted in large hotels, fancy restaurants or stores in the urban cities. Still, you need to have cash with you at all times. Small restaurants, markets or food stands only accepts cash.

Oh, by the way, if you’re planning to visit towns that are more rural, definitely bring more cash!

In general, credit cards are still not accepted in many places, so it’s a sound idea not to rely solely on your card alone.

Do I need to prepare cash beforehand?

This comes down to personal preference. We don’t.

If the idea of arriving at a new country without cash on hand scares you, then ignore this section and grab some Yen at your home bank before visiting Japan.

When landing in a new country, you could always easily find ATMs in airports. You can then get cash from the ATM machines.

But why use the ATM?

That’s because they have the original (and best) exchange rate, rather than going to a currency exchange counters. We all know that the currency exchange counters are a rip-off, so you can just ignore them.

Other than the airport, ATMs are normally spotted in 7-Eleven or train stations. You could also find them in Family Mart which is a Japanese convenience store franchise chain. Most large Japanese cities have Family Marts.

Tip: Grab some cash when you are about to head to rural areas in Japan. Thank me later.

Only fancy credit cards?

If you’re a heavy credit card user, here are a few tips.

It’s a good idea to inform your bank beforehand that you will be traveling. This will ensure that your transactions made overseas will not be declined.

Bring with you more than one credit card. And keep them in two separate places. One in your wallet, and the other one in your bag or something. In the event that one doesn’t work or got stolen, you still have a backup.

We found out that Charles Schwab offers unlimited ATM fee rebates worldwide. You will never have to worry about any overseas transaction fees ever again. Also, withdrawing money from any ATM in the world without having to pay any kind of fees whatsoever, and just pay market exchange rates.

Average cost to visit Japan

Here’s a glimpse of how much it is to visit Japan. These are just average costs, some may sometimes find themselves paying lesser, some may pay much more. The costs will be based on the city Tokyo since it is one of the most visited cities. The costs of flights are not included as it varies depending on where you are flying from.

Kabukicho district - Japan Guide

Accommodation

Mega Saver Traveler: 2,800 – 3,300 yen for dormitory or bunk bed (around $25 – $30 USD)
Flexi Budget Traveler: 4,400 – 11,000 yen for low-cost hotel room or private room in a guesthouse (around $40 – $100 USD)
Big Spenders: 12,000 – 40,000 yen for a luxurious hotel or ryokan ($110 – $365 USD)

Food

A meal at a average restaurant: 1000 – 3000 yen (around $9 – $27 USD)
A bowl of Ramen / Soba / Udon: 500 – 1000 yen at a restaurant ($4.5 – $9 USD)
Sushi lunch sets: 1600+ yen (around $14.5 or more)

Transportation

Subway pass (Daily): 800 yen per person ($7.50 USD)
One-way train from Tokyo to Kyoto: 13,080 yen ($120 USD) –– get a Japan Rail Pass if you travel often by train. This will save you a lot of money!

Okay, so how much do you need for a week in Japan?

Averagely, $700 per person. Most of your costs will be focused on accommodations and transportations.

This article from borders of adventure provides an even detailed breakdown of traveling in Japan.

Money Saving Tips in Japan

Late night japan - japan guide

Get a JR Pass

If you are planning to travel to multiple destinations in the country frequently, it would be best to get a JR Pass. Bullet trains in Japan can be quite costly as it can go up to hundreds of dollars for a one-way fare.

By obtaining a JR Pass, it offers you unlimited train travel and it will definitely save you money. However, you can only reserve and purchase the pass in your own country prior to coming as it is not available to be purchased once you have arrived in Japan.

We actually wrote a short guide on traveling with the JR Pass.

Shop at 100 Yen ($1 USD) stores

If your friends and colleagues know that you’re traveling to Japan, they probably are bugging you to get them souvenirs. For budget travelers who want to save money, the 100 Yen store is a great place for getting souvenirs without burning a hole in your wallet.

I’m serious. They sell nearly everything and your friends won’t even know if it costs just 100 yen!

You can find many 100 Yen shops in Japan that offer groceries, set meals, water, toiletries, and household items. Store names vary differently by region. Hence it is best to ask you hotel reception for the nearest located shop.

You’ll both save money and experience the Japan version of a dollar store!

Eat at Japanese fast food restaurants

Of course, fast food is not the healthiest option, but Japanese fast food restaurants are way healthier than any western fast food restaurants.

They serve really delicious, genuine Japanese food that is both mouth-watering and very cheap which is exactly what we need.

Japanese fast food restaurants are usually easy to spot, so you don’t have to worry about where to find them. Some cheap fast food examples are the beef bowl (gyu-don), soba or udon noodles, Japanese curry and 100yen sushi.

How To Get Around in Japan

Japanese Shinkansen high speed train Komachi japan guide

Japan by Train

Traveling by train is the most efficient transportation on the four main islands, which are Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku, and Hokkaido. They are punctual on their schedules, dependable, and cleanliness is kept. In most cases, train stations and long-disntance trains offer ekiben. These are lunch boxes served with specialties of the region you are travelling through.

Travel Service Centres at major JR stations in Japan offers information on the JR trains, fares, and schedules. For personal consulting on routes and sightseeing, it is best to seek consultancy at the JR East Travel Service Centres in Tokyo Station. In addition, they also provide conveniences such as free Wi-Fi and currency exchange.

Japan by Bus

Travelling by bus is both a low-cost alternative to trains and can easily access areas that are not served by rail, especially for more remote areas and many of Japan’s islands. There are also dedicated sightseeing buses which provide a great way to enjoy Japan’s beautiful sceneries. When travelling between major cities, it is much more affordable to travel on long-distance buses rather than trains. These buses have upgraded luxurious features, which includes reclining seats for overnight trips and salons.

Japan by Ferry

Ferries are a common transportation means when travelling to Japan’s many islands, especially Japan’s four major islands. This includes those that connect Matsuyama on Shikoku with Oita on Kyushu. Long distance ferries are also more affordable and relaxing in comparison to planes. For example, boats that travel from Tokyo, Osaka and Kagoshima to Okinawa’s main island. However, information in english such as ferry routes, schedule, and fares is limited.

Do I need Travel Insurance?

While it’s not required, it is a tiny price to pay knowing you will be covered in case of an emergency or if anything is stolen.

  • World Nomads – probably offers the most complete coverage, covers extreme sports as well.
  • Allianz Global Assistance travel insurance – reasonable price and great customer support.

Do I need a Tourist Visa to visit Japan?

tourist visa - Japan Guide

From July 2017, there are 68 countries where their citizens are entitled to “visa exemption arrangement” when entering Japan. However, the duration which you can stay in Japan varies from country to country.

Citizens from English countries (United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc) will be able to get visa exemption with a period of stay for 90 days. Some countries get tourist visa of 30 days, and some get 15 days. You will enter Japan as ‘temporary visitor’ and are not allowed to work there.

So make sure to check whether you need a visa and how long can you stay in Japan before visiting. You may visit the website here for the list of countries to check for visa exemption and other additional information.

Japan also requires all foreign tourists to carry their passports with them all the time.

Should I get a power converter?

The standard voltage in Japan is 100 V with power sockets of type A and B. These types are the same as in North America, except the voltage is lower.

If you’re like me who can’t live without their phones and laptops, then you will definitely need a Power Converter!

Power Plug type A and type B
Image credits: world-power-plugs.com

If you can’t tell whether you need one, then this website here will be a great help. Simply select your current country and if you need a converter or an adapter for your visit to Japan, it will tell you.

We recommend this all-in-one converter-adapter that works in any country. This means you only need one item no matter where your travels take you!

This all-in-one converter/adapter works in every country and saves you the hassle of thinking which adapter to use. You just one of these babies wherever you travel!

Do I need mobile phone services in Japan?

Shinbashi-dori Street view of Gion, Japan Ultimate Guide

If you want a mobile phone service with a data plan so that you have access to the Internet all the time, you can buy a Japanese SIM. Do check if your phone is able to accept Foreign Sim Cards.

This post here gives a good breakdown on how to get a SIM card in Japan.

WiFi is common and can be found pretty much everywhere –– hotels, cafes, coffee shops and restaurants across Japan. I’ll say you don’t really need to get a SIM card when your there. Just connect with to the WiFi and you’re ready to talk to anybody back home through Skype or Facebook Messenger.

Made a local friend? Want to keep in touch? Hint: The locals tend to use Whatsapp as their messaging app.

Anyways, If do not want a Japanese SIM card, try renting a pocket WiFi device. It’s like bringing a portable hotspot so that you can look for directions, restaurants or public transports’ schedules. Also, its speed definitely beats the SIM card drastically and supports multiple devices.

I’ll go for the pocket WiFi, just because I can’t live without WiFi.

Apps that You’ll Need in Japan

Google Translate

Totally love this app! What can I say? It’s Google.

You can speak in English to Google Translate and it will translate out loud into the desired language. Works just like a real translator, not in person, but in your phone.

Did you also know that you can take a picture of characters you don’t understand with Google Translate and it will translate for you. However, it will not be 100% accurate all the time.

Google Maps

Old-school yet surprisingly detailed! Even during rush hours, it provides clear instructions. It shows the best routes for the metro and trains. Without the app, it would be chaos, considering Japan’s complex railway and transports.

Hyperdia

A very essential and easy-to-use app for planning your public transports in Japan. It shows detailed timetables, trip duration, distance and prices. This will help you to solve all your complicated transport problems. Thank me later.

Whatever the timetable says, you better be there right before the time. Transportation in Japan is DAMN punctual.

Information that the app will provide

  • The Price (Japan Rail Pass holders ride all JR trains for free)
  • The name of your train
  • The departing hours
  • The departure and arrival track number
  • The journey duration
  • The number of transfer you need to take
  • The distance in KM (kilometers)

TripAdvisor

Now that we have covered everything about how to get you to move around in Japan, let’s talk about food, hotels and attractions. One of the well-known app used by travelers everywhere in the world. Select your favorite food, price range, personal interests and you’re ready to explore!

Tripadvisor is an app that provides information that includes :

  • Things to do
  • Hotels
  • Restaurants
  • Destination guides
  • Flights
  • Forums

I certainly find that the review section is the most helpful. These reviews are mostly written by travelers like you and I. The information you gathered will surely come in handy when visiting your destination.

GuruNavi Restaurant Guide

Gurunavi is an excellent iOS and Android restaurant-finder app. It allows you to choose your district and the area you are in. Choose what you want to eat, whether you want Menus with English, or restaurants that have English-speaking staffs.

Once you have selected the features that you desire, the app displays the restaurants search results by cuisine (Sushi, Yakiniku, Dining Bars, etc).

Useful features includes:

  • Find places with English Menu
  • Find places with English-speaking Staff
  • Non-smoking restaurant
  • Places with Free-WiFi
  • All-you-can-eat
  • All-you-can-drink

Japan Travel Guide Apps

This is not a specific app. I’m saying there are a few free Japan Travel Guide Apps that can be easily downloaded in the App Store or Play Store. They are helpful and informative at times. In fact, I’m told that some of them can be used offline.

Bathrooms in Japan

Toilet with electronic seat automatic flush, japan style toilet bowl, Japan Ultimate Guide

Bathroom Expectations Uncovered

Knowing the bathroom conditions when first time visiting a country is one of the top travelling priorities. So let’s set these bathroom expectations!

The good news, bathrooms in Japan are more than nice – they are luxurious. In cities, you will usually find restrooms with built-in hot water bidet and toilet seat heaters (super useful during winter).

Some of them even have sound generators that play music or rainforest sounds to mask excretion sounds.

Talk about it being handy!

However, in some train stations or in more rural parts of the country, squat toilets are still often used, although its dwindling numbers in recent years.

Essential Things for your Trip to Japan

Preparation travel suitcase at home - Japan Guide

A little bit of research on Japan will make a big difference, as well as packing the obvious things you need, such as passports, clothes and plane tickets. Fortunately, we have collected a list of items that experienced travelers recommend to aid you on your trip!

Below is a list of items you’ll want to make sure to include them for your trip to Japan.

  • Universal Travel Adapter and Power Bank

    Regardless of any other electrical goods that you may want to use, an adapter is really an important item that allows you to plug into Japanese power outlets and keep them fully charged.
    When you use the internet and apps on your mobile phone, its battery will run out really fast. So it’s also best to have a power bank with you just in case.

  • Cash & Credit card

    Again we emphasize to keep some cash with you because you may find a lot of smaller restaurants or rural places may not accept cards. However, larger bills when dining in big cities or high-end restaurants generally accept credit cards. It is wise to have a good balance between both as you also do not want to carry too much cash.

  • Camera

    Japan is a beautiful country and full of unique cultures and surprises everywhere. You’ll want to capture all of these moments when you’re there!

  • Japan Rail Pass

    Japan Rail Pass is one of the country’s most cost-effective and time-efficient ways to travel. Before you arrive in Japan, you have to buy the pass. You can buy a Japan Rail Pass at certain stations in Japan, but they are more expensive than buying online before you arrive. Purchasing in advance really make your journey easier if you want to visit several places in the country.

    Read our guide to traveling around Japan with the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass).

  • Spacious Backpack

    Japan is full of quirky souvenirs, traditional crafts, yummy sweets and more. Better make some space in your backpack if you want to bring anything home. We recommend that you get a spacious backpack so you won’t worry about space management all the time.

  • Right Footwear

    You’ll probably take off your shoes when you go to a traditional Japanese restaurant. You’ll also take them off when you stay at a ryokan or visit a temple. In Japan, you’ll find many other occasions where instead of wearing shoes with laces, it’s more convenient to wear shoes that you can easily slip on or off.

  • GoPro

    Capture and document your trip. You won’t regret it. These babies are light and easy to carry around. And waterproof.

  • Packing Cubes

    Organizing your backpack or luggage is a must for every traveler!

  • Microfiber Towel

    Fast drying towel suitable for long travels or if you’re moving around real quick. They dry up fast and you can stuff them back into your bag in no time!

  • Right Clothes

    This is no brainer! But I am still going to mention it. Check the weather beforehand so you’ll know what to wear or pack for your trip. The Japan National Tourism Organization is a good place to check on the temperature and weather forecast.

Best Hotel Booking Sites for Japan

Booking

This site by far offers the best price when it comes to booking hotels. They have a guest review tab that shows all the comments from verified guests. We found that generally a score of 8.0 or above is a good hotel to go to.

Agoda

Look up this site if you’re traveling in Asia. It specializes in Asia where it can find some great discount hotel deals and hotels that aren’t listed in any other sites.

Tripadvisor

It may not provide deals that are as good as the other sites, but it is king when it comes to hotel reviews.

HotelsCombined

This site seems to be highly recommended by other travelers. Although we haven’t tried it personally, they are said to have good customer services. Still, always read the reviews!

Airbnb

A taste of staying in the local neighborhood is the best experience that one can have when traveling. Most of the time, it is cheaper compared to hotels. Though sometimes you may need to travel more to your destination.

Souvenir Ideas in Japan

Japanese Sweets

If you don’t know what to get for friends and family, just grab some random Japanese sweets from the convenient stores. They’re full of fun surprises and flavors. You may also get the traditional sweets –– wagashi, beautifully sculpted with ingredients like bean paste and sweet potato. Usually served together with green tea. Other choices such as Collon (small cream filled biscuits) or Pocky (chocolate sticks) are good too. Kids love these!

Tokyo, Japan Ultimate Guide -Different japanese sweets - Japan Ultimate Guide

Omamori

Japanese amulets (or charms or talismans) usually sold at temples, shrines and religious sites. The amulet wrapping is usually made of silk, inside are prayers written on either paper or pieces of wood which are said to provide good luck to the bearer. It is sometimes used to ward off bad luck too. You can tie them on bags, hang one on cellphone straps or place on in your car.

Sake

It’s a Japanese alcoholic drink made from fermenting rice. Since different regions have different types of rice and different quality of water, each region has its own unique local sake. Bring some home to drink with your friend! Let them have a taste of Japan’s sake!

If you’re interested in learning more about sake, check out our sake beginner’s guide!

Japanese Silk Fan

It can be difficult to pick one with many beautiful designs to choose from! It is a traditional hand fan called ‘Sensu’. Various sensu with different colors and patterns are available. Why not find your favorite one and take her home?

Yukata

Yukata is the summer season’s traditional casual clothing. It’s like a kimono, but easier to put on. Get one home to show it to your friends and families or as a gift for your loved ones. You can find them in at any yukata or kimono stores for about 10,000 yen.

Ceramic Tea Set

The basic tea set comes with a Japanese teapot mainly used for brewing green tea and a few traditional teacups. Nothing beats a good sip of hot green tea back home.

Japanese Green Tea

It’s a handy souvenir and also a great gift. Green tea is Japan’s most popular drink. It is easy to serve and has many researched positive health effects. Green tea leaves and tea bags can be found in the supermarket for a couple of hundred yen. For serious green tea drinker, you can drop by Ippodo Tea Co.

Chopsticks

I get what your thinking. I’m not talking about those wooden chopsticks that you break into half before slurping into your noodle in a Ramen shop. I’m talking about beautiful decorated chopsticks that are sold particularly in shops. Occasionally, you may find shops that engrave your name on your chopstick, and they come with a casing too.

Wind Chimes

The tinkling sound of a wind chime is soothing to the ears when the summer wind blows. Why not hang one in your home too? They’re probably costs around 1,000 yen.

Instant Ramen

Can’t get enough of Ramen? Buy some instant ramen and bring them home, you can also get some for your friends. There are the cup version and packet version at the convenience store at about 100 yen.

Unique Kit Kats

Japanese Kit Kats are all weird with unique flavors. Chessecake flavor, Green tea, Rum and raisin, wasabi, sweet potato, sakura and more. They are great gifts and can be found easily at airports.

You’re Ready Now For Japan

For many first time visitors, you may be intimidated by Japan’s price tags or worried about the language barriers. Still, there are a bunch of ways to make your trip cheaper and with lots of fun.

Japan is one of the world’s most popular and tourist-friendly countries, so muster your courage to talk to the locals, they won’t bite. In fact, sometimes you will even find out some of the hidden gems of Japan just around the corner.

I would love to hear from you if you have any insightful experience in Japan! Comment below now and share us your story!

Japan beautiful landscape Mountain Fuji.Tomai expressway and Suruga bay with mountain fuji at Shizuoka.Mt fuji and the city around kawaguchi lake, Japan Ultimate Guide
5 Comments
  • Lily Thomas
    Posted at 13:18h, 27 January Reply

    I’m planning a trip to Japan with my husband this coming August! Thanks for the informative guide 🙂

    • Grace and Zhen
      Posted at 12:51h, 31 March Reply

      Glad that we’re able to help!

  • Ben Arms
    Posted at 13:34h, 08 February Reply

    Thanks for the tips Grace!

    • Grace and Zhen
      Posted at 13:44h, 25 February Reply

      You’re Welcome!

  • Derrick Frost
    Posted at 13:27h, 25 February Reply

    I was in the Fuji Mountain. It’s definitely one of the best places I’ve ever been to!

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