Planning the trip of a lifetime to the land of the rising sun, where ancient traditions meet modern technology? Japan is a captivating destination that promises a unique blend of culture, natural beauty and fascinating history. As a first-time visitor, you’re about to embark on a journey to Japan that will leave you with memories that last a lifetime.

In this guide, uncover the very best Japan travel tips ahead of your tour of Japan. Prepare to experience the captivating beauty of cherry blossoms in spring, the bustling energy of Tokyo’s streets, the serenity of Kyoto’s temples, and the taste of authentic sushi.

What to Know When Travelling to Japan for the First Time

Japan is a country that is renowned for its safety, making it a great destination for first-time visitors. However, Japanese culture is truly unique and there are a few things you should know ahead of your visit.

Etiquette to Know When Visiting Japan

Sushi Japanese Chopsticks

Japanese culture places a strong emphasis on manners and etiquette. It is important to show respect to others, particularly when visiting temples, shrines, and other cultural sites.

  • When do I need to take my shoes off? – When entering temples, shrines and other traditional buildings, it’s customary to take your shoes off and sometimes wear slippers provided by the host. Some traditional restaurants in Japan might also require you to take your shoes off. Our tour guides will inform you of any shoe etiquette before visiting places of worship or traditional buildings.
  • Should I tip? – Tipping is not a common practice in Japan and can actually be considered rude in certain situations. This includes in restaurants and when taking a taxi. Service charges are included in the price of goods and services, so there’s no need to worry about tipping during your trip to Japan. Instead, you can simply say a polite thank you.
  • Public transport etiquette explained – When using public transport in Japan, it’s important to understand there are certain rules of etiquette. First things first, make sure you always stand to the right on the escalators to allow people to pass in a hurry. You should avoid talking on your phone, eating or drinking. Much like at home, it’s also polite to offer your seat to the elderly, pregnant women and disabled passengers.
  • What is chopstick etiquette? – Chopstick etiquette is taken seriously in Japan. There are certain rules to follow when eating with chopsticks. For example, never pass food around using chopsticks and avoid using your chopsticks to point.
  • Do I need to wear a face mask? – Wearing face masks was common practice in Japan before the pandemic. It’s polite to wear a mask if you have a cold or are feeling unwell, so you’ll likely see lots of locals in masks during your trip. However, there are no requirements to wear a face mask at present.

You can learn more about etiquette in our Ultimate Guide to Japan. And should you have any questions during your trip, our Tour Managers will be happy to help you get acquainted with any local customs.

Can I Visit Japan Without Knowing Japanese?

Young Japenese Girls Laughing

Many travellers are intimidated by the idea of visiting Japan without knowing the language, but the truth is, it’s entirely possible to enjoy a wonderful trip without being fluent in Japanese.

Japan uses a different alphabet called Kanji, which can seem a little intimidating for first-time visitors. However, many signs (especially in tourist areas) are also written in Roman letters, making it much easier to navigate.

If you’d like to learn a few basic phrases ahead of your trip, here are some essentials:

  • Hello/Goodbye – Konnichiwa (kon-nee-chee-wah)
  • Thank you – Arigato (ah-ree-gah-toh)
  • Yes – Hai (high)
  • No – Iie (ee-yeh)
  • Excuse me – Sumimasen (soo-me-mah-sen)
  • Please – Onegaishimasu (oh-neh-guy-shee-mah-sue)
  • Good Morning – Ohayō Gozaimasu (Oh-ha-yo goh-zah-ee-mahs)
  • Good Evening – Konbanwa (kohn-bahn-wah)

One of the best ways to navigate the language barrier is by travelling with a guide, such as a Distant Journeys expert. Our friendly Tour Guides will be able to assist you with communication and help you make the most of your Very Best of Japan Tour.
Temple Japan

Do I Need Cash in Japan?

It is possible to get by without cash in Japan, but there are still instances where cash is preferred or required. We recommend carrying a small amount of cash just in case. If you’d like to withdraw cash in Japan, there are plenty of cash machines that accept international cards.

Advice on Travelling in Japan

Whether you’re exploring the bustling streets of Tokyo, taking in the sights of Kyoto, or venturing into the Japanese countryside, Japan has one of the best public transport networks in the world.

Their train network is one the best ways to travel around, with the iconic bullet train (Shinkansen) connecting major cities. During our Very Best of Japan Tour, we ride the iconic bullet train between Kyoto and Hiroshima.

Buses can be taken to visit smaller towns and rural areas, while taxis are a convenient and affordable way to get around in larger cities.

What to Pack for Japan

When travelling to Japan, it is important to pack a few key items that can enhance your experience and make your trip a comfortable one.

  • Masks – We recommend packing a few masks should you choose to wear them in public spaces.
  • Hand sanitiser – Japan is an incredibly hygienic place to visit but carrying a small bottle of hand sanitiser is always a good idea to help prevent the spread of germs.
  • A small bag for rubbish – In Japan, it is customary to take your own rubbish with you if a bin isn’t provided. You might wish to carry a small bag to tidy any rubbish away, but make sure you never litter.
  • Local SIM card – A local SIM could help you save money if you’re travelling for a long period of time, but check with your UK carrier first.

The Best Itinerary for a First Time Visit to Japan

Japan Fan Geisha

If you’re planning your first visit to Japan, there’s no better way to experience the best of this fascinating country than with Distant Journeys. Our carefully crafted itineraries give you the chance to see all the best places in Japan, with the perfect blend of ancient and modern attractions.

Some of the key destinations you can expect to visit with us include:

  • Kyoto – This ancient city is the cultural heart of Japan and is famous for its temples, shrines, and traditional teahouses. With Distant Journeys, you could visit the iconic Kinkaku-ji Temple and the stunning Fushimi Inari Shrine, a beautiful site with thousands of Torii Gates.
  • Osaka – Known for its food and shopping, Osaka is a vibrant city with a unique character. Here we pay a visit to Himeji Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was completed in the 1400s. We’ll also visit the historic city of Nara from Osaka, stopping by the impressive Todaiji Temple.
  • Tokyo – The capital of Japan and one of the largest cities in the world, Tokyo is a city that has to be seen to be believed. From the futuristic architecture of Shinjuku to the historic temples of Asakusa, Tokyo has so much to offer first-time visitors.

We’ll also pay a visit to Mount Fuji, Lake Yamanaka, Hiroshima and Miyajima Island. Discover more about our 20-day Very Best of Japan Tour.

Discover The Land of the Rising Sun with Distant Journeys

Japan Shibuya Crossing
Japan is a truly unique destination with a rich history and diverse culture. From the vibrant cities of Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto, to the stunning natural beauty of Mount Fuji, there is something for everyone in this fascinating country.

At Distant Journeys, we can’t wait for you to join us on a journey through Japan. Our expertly crafted itineraries will provide you with many unforgettable experiences and memories that will last a lifetime. Explore our Japan Tours to get started.