So, you just booked that once-in-a-lifetime trip to Japan. Congrats! I know that exciting feeling, but, after that dies down, the nerves may begin to set in. My visit to Japan was a bit of a culture shock, and I wish I was more prepared for the experience. The good news is that, just by being here, you are leaps and bounds ahead of where I was. I learned from my “mistakes,” and now I can share my first-hand knowledge with you. Keep reading for my essential tips for visiting Japan!

This free page might contain affiliate links. I’ll receive a small commission when you purchase from my links, at absolutely no cost to you. I appreciate your continued support!

Where is Japan?

Japan is part of East Asia. The islands making up this beautiful country sit east of China and are surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. A whopping total of 14,125 islands make up Japan; the busy capital, Tokyo, is located in the central-east region of the main island Honshu.

Since Japan is an island nation, your journey will probably require at least one flight. There are two major airports in Tokyo: Narita International Airport (NRT) and Tokyo International Airport, Haneda (HND). Where you fly into depends largely on your point of origin.

Map of Japan

Tips for Visiting Japan

1. Cash is King

Despite being a powerhouse for technological advancements, Japan is largely a cash-based society. Many stores do accept credit cards, particularly in Tokyo, but cash is almost always preferred. It is essential to keep enough yen on you, especially if you plan on visiting small towns or local vendors.

Picture of Japanese currency, the Yen, which is necessary to have on you when visiting Japan.

2. Brush Up on Common Phrases

Of all of my tips for visiting Japan, this might be the most important. As English speakers, we often travel with the expectation that we will be understood in foreign countries; however, this should not be the case in Japan. While English has been taught to much of the younger generation, such education was not commonplace among the older folk. During my visit, I ran into countless situations in which I could not be understood; one of these was an emergency! I highly recommend learning as much Japanese as you can before your trip. At the very least, you should try to brush up on the common phrases.

3. Be Aware of Onsen Etiquette

It is hard to turn down a dip in one of Japan’s rejuvenating hot springs; however, if you don’t follow the proper etiquette, you may be turned away. A few of these rules include but are not limited to, washing before entering and only bathing in your gender-designated area. Some onsens will not allow entrance to visitors with tattoos; if you have a large tattoo that cannot be covered by a bandage, you may be out of luck. Be sure to research and follow the guidelines specific to your onsen of choice before entering.

An important tip for visiting Japan is being aware of onsen etiquette. This is a picture of eggs that are cooked in Japan's onsens.

4. Remove Your Shoes

Often, when entering a traditional establishment, temple, or someone’s home, it is not appropriate to wear shoes. I had to remove them many, many times during my visit; one of my hotels even collected our shoes! Luckily, slippers were sometimes provided. This Japanese tradition of cleanliness has ancient roots, so, even if you have brand-new shoes, there’s no getting out of this one!

5. No Tip, No Problem

Many travelers are happy to learn that tipping is not customary in Japan. Rather, the Japanese people prefer you express your gratitude for their service through polite gestures.

6. Public Behavior

Japan is a “quiet” country, as they place importance on politeness and restraint in public settings. Things that you may do every day in your home country, such as talking on the phone on a train, are considered extremely rude in Japan (look up Japanese train etiquette – we are not going to go down that rabbit hole here). To put everything simply, if your conversation is loud enough to be heard by others around you, you are being too loud and may be perceived in a negative light.

7. Choose When to Visit Wisely

Not all trips to Japan are created equal. There are many factors you may wish to take into consideration, such as whether you are traveling during the rainy season, if you’d prefer to see the cherry blossoms bloom, snowfall, or autumn foliage, and whether it is important to avoid large crowds. You are guaranteed a memorable trip no matter when you visit, but the details of the experience are up to you!

Picture of a Japanese castle with cherry blossoms.

8. Be Prepared for an Earthquake

Japan lies at the collision of several tectonic plates. What does that mean? Well, in short, experiencing a significant earthquake while visiting Japan is within the realm of possibilities. The country also has a large number of active volcanos, which contribute to seismic activity. There is a reason why they call this region the Pacific Ring of Fire!

9. Explore Beyond the Big Cities

Tokyo and Kyoto are must-visit destinations, but there is so much more to see beyond the big cities. I visited Hakone, where I marveled at Mount Fuji over Lake Ashi, enjoyed the hot springs, and admired the rolling hills in the Japanese countryside. Both Hokkaido and Okinawa are also popular destinations for those looking for a bit of serenity.

Picture of Lake Ashi and Mount Fuji in the backgound.

10. Consider Staying in a Traditional Inn

I booked both modern and traditional accommodations for my trip to Japan, but the memories of the latter are the only ones I kept. Staying in a traditional inn is the perfect way to totally immerse yourself in Japanese culture. Typically, this requires sleeping on a shikibuton (thin padded mattress on the floor); the mattress is folded up during the day to make space. The experience is certainly not for everyone, but it’s something you can’t do anywhere else!

The picture below is of my room at the Aki Grand Hotel & Spa in Hiroshima, which was not an “inn,” but it offered a traditional experience.

Aki Grand Hotel & Spa room, which offered a traditional Japanese inn experience. A tip for visiting Japan is to book hotels that offer something similar.

Did any of these tips surprise you? Do you have any of your own tips for visiting Japan? Contact me or let me know in the comments below!

Like this post? Pin it for later!

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *