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Our Top Five Japan Travel Tips

From the serene temples of Kyoto to the bustling streets of Tokyo, Japan offers a mesmerizing blend of ancient culture and modern marvels that captivates every traveler. However, navigating the intricacies of Japanese culture and ensuring a seamless experience can seem daunting to even the most seasoned globetrotter.

In this blog post, we'll provide you with five essential Japan travel tips to make the most of your Japanese adventure. Whether you're a first-timer or a seasoned visitor, our Japan travel tips will help you traverse this captivating country with confidence. From cultural etiquette to hidden gems, get ready to unlock the secrets of Japan and embark on a journey that will leave a lasting impression.

So, gear up for an unforgettable adventure as we dive into the Land of the Rising Sun, revealing our top five Japan travel tips for a seamless and fulfilling travel experience. Let's explore this fascinating destination together, one tip at a time. Japan awaits – are you ready? 

#1 Our Top Japan Travel Tips: Cash is King

Everything you need to know about cash, ATMs, and IC cards in Japan

Coming in at number one on our list of Japan Travel Tips is cash is king. Japan, despite its reputation for being one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, still relies very heavily on cash. While one might expect credit cards to be ubiquitous, they are not as widely accepted as one would anticipate which is why we rank this as number one on our list of Japan travel tips. Even in a society where cutting-edge technology is integrated into daily life, traditional values and practices persist. A wide range of businesses, from local stores to bars and restaurants, continue to favor cash payments. This reliance on physical currency reflects deeper cultural attitudes towards money and trust. When visiting Japan, it's wise to carry ample cash for transactions, as credit cards may not always be accepted. These insights are invaluable Japan travel tips for navigating the nuances of visiting Japan.

We always advise getting cash in the country you are traveling to from ATMs as they offer the most favorable exchange rates. However, for foreigners exploring Japan, it is crucial to note that not all ATMs accommodate foreign-issued debit or credit cards, including those from the United States. Our top Japan travel tips is here to help advise visitors to plan ahead and locate international-friendly ATMs. We found success using 7-Bank ATMs throughout Japan (often times located in 7-Eleven convenience stores, but they also have standalone ATMs in train stations and airports).

In Japan, IC cards offer a convenient and versatile way to pay for various goods and services. These cards, such as Suica or Pasmo, are commonly used for public transportation but can also be utilized for purchases at convenience stores, vending machines, and even some restaurants. Interestingly, while some establishments may claim to be cash-only, they often accept IC card payments, providing a workaround for those without physical currency. For travelers, having an IC card on hand not only simplifies transactions but also offers flexibility in navigating Japan's payment landscape. To be fully prepared for your trip to Japan, we suggest acquiring an IC card prior to your arrival to streamline your purchasing experience and ensure smooth travels throughout the country.

7 Bank ATM

#2 Our Top Japan Travel Tips: Explore Beyond the Golden Route

Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka make up Japan's Golden Route, but there is much to explore outside of these three cities. 

Japan is home to a treasure trove of diverse attractions waiting to be explored. Beyond the well-trodden paths of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka—undeniably captivating in their own right—there are a myriad of other enchanting destinations to explore. Nara, with its serene deer-filled parks and ancient temples, offers a tranquil escape, while Himeji boasts the majestic Himeji Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site and a testament to Japan's rich history. For breathtaking natural beauty, Mt. Fuji stands tall as an iconic symbol, providing a picturesque backdrop for explorations around the Fuji Five Lakes region. Venture further to Niigata, where scenic landscapes and world-class skiing meet traditional sake breweries, showcasing a different facet of Japanese culture. These destinations offer a more immersive experience into the country's rich landscape. That is why, coming in at number two on our list of Japan travel tips, we recommend visiting the lesser-known gems of Japan, allowing for a deeper connection with Japan's history, nature, and local traditions.

Himeji Castle

#3 Our Top Japan Travel Tips: Respect & Etiquette  

We're not talking about the song by Aretha Franklin!

Respect and proper etiquette hold immense importance in Japanese culture, shaping interactions and social dynamics. (This is so important and vital to Japanese culture that we could have easily ranked it number one on our list of Japan travel tips!) Central to this ethos is the concept of "wa," or harmony, which emphasizes maintaining peaceful coexistence and mutual respect in society. From bowing as a sign of greeting and gratitude to removing shoes before entering homes and certain establishments, Japanese etiquette reflects a deep reverence for tradition and mindfulness of others.

Travelers visiting Japan should familiarize themselves, at a minimum, with these following customs to navigate social situations with respect.

  • Bowing is a customary gesture, with the depth of the bow indicating the level of formality. Bowing is a customary gesture in Japanese social settings, observed in convenience stores, shops, restaurants, and hotels. When uncertain of the proper greeting, a subtle nod of the head suffices when meeting someone in Japan. Additionally, it is customary to bow before entering temples and shrines as a sign of respect.
  • Take off your shoes before stepping into someone's home, a traditional ryokan (Japanese inn), or any indoor space like temples and traditional tea houses. Look out for signs that signal the need to remove your footwear for a more respectful entrance.

  • Refrain from blowing your nose in public, as it is culturally deemed as inappropriate and unsanitary. If needed, discreetly use a tissue and step aside to a more private setting.
  • Avoid engaging in phone conversations in public spaces, particularly on public transportation like trains and buses. Set your phone to silent mode or vibrate, and if you must make or receive a call, relocate to the designated area between train cars for discreet communication. Show respect to fellow passengers by maintaining a hushed tone while on public transit. If you wish to converse with a travel companion, do so in a hushed tone.

  • Mastering simple Japanese phrases and expressions of gratitude like "arigatou gozaimasu" (thank you very much) enhances interactions.

Additionally, observing chopstick etiquette, such as not pointing them at others or sticking them upright in food, is essential. By embracing and honoring Japanese etiquette, travelers can forge meaningful connections and enrich their experiences in this captivating country.

More information about Japanese etiquette can be found in our Japan Travel Guide

#4 Our Top Japan Travel Tips: Expect Crowds

Did you know that Tokyo has a population roughly the same size as Canada? Yes, the entire country of Canada.

Ranked at number four on our list of essential Japan travel tips is the need to brace yourself for bustling crowds and long lines pretty much everywhere. Navigating the crowds in Japan requires strategic planning. Traveling outside of peak tourist seasons, particularly in winter, can help avoid the tourist rush. We also recommend that you be mindful of rush hours on public transportation, opting to use it at off-peak times. Rush hours in Japan typically run from 7:00-9:00 AM and 5:00-7:00 PM, especially on weekdays.

While lines at restaurants may suggest popularity, it is essential to remember that Japanese locals often wait patiently in orderly lines. Do not assume a line guarantees quality; research beforehand. Cutting lines is also highly frowned upon and considered disrespectful. Adhering to local etiquette ensures a smoother and more culturally respectful experience (see our notes on etiquette and respect in the above section in on our Japan travel tips list).

To make the most of your visit to Japan, it is highly recommended to book popular experiences such as Shibuya Sky and the various TeamLab attractions well in advance. These sought-after attractions tend to draw large crowds, and securing your tickets early ensures that you won't miss out on these unforgettable experiences. Whether you're admiring the breathtaking views from Shibuya Sky or immersing yourself in the innovative digital art installations at TeamLab, booking ahead guarantees a seamless and enjoyable visit without the worry of long lines or sold-out tickets. So be sure to plan ahead and secure your spot for these must-see attractions to enhance your journey through Japan.

#5 Our Top Japan Travel Tips: Food

American Japanese Food ≠ Authentic Japanese Food 

Last, but not least, on our list of our top five Japan travel tips is regarding food. Do not expect the Japanese food you eat in the United States to be the same as Japanese food in Japan. While both are great, there are some things to expect when it comes to authentic Japanese food in Japan.

  • Freshness & Seasonality: Authentic Japanese cuisine emphasizes the use of fresh, seasonal ingredients sourced locally. In many traditional sushi restaurants in Japan, there's a dining style called "omakase," which translates to "I'll leave it up to you" in Japanese. With omakase, diners entrust the chef to create a customized dining experience based on the freshest ingredients available and the chef's expertise. This option allows the chef to showcase their skills and creativity, presenting a curated selection of sushi pieces. Omakase dining is highly regarded for its personalized touch, offering a unique and memorable culinary journey for sushi enthusiasts.
  • Variety Beyond Sushi: While sushi is iconic, Japanese cuisine offers a diverse range of dishes. From the beloved noodle soup of ramen to the delicate art of tempura, each dish showcases unique flavors and textures. Grilled skewered chicken, known as yakitori, tantalizes taste buds with its simplicity, while okonomiyaki presents a savory pancake bursting with ingredients like pork belly and seafood. Soba and udon noodles provide comfort in hot or cold forms, while Japanese street food stalls add to the experience with quick bites like takoyaki and yakisoba. With such a vast array of options, Japanese cuisine promises a journey for food enthusiasts beyond the realm of sushi.
  • Small Portions, Big Flavors: Japanese meals typically consist of small portions with a focus on presentation and a variety of flavors. It's about savoring each bite rather than consuming large quantities. 

There are also some general differences regarding sushi that we want to take the time to cover in our Japan Travel Tips. In Japan, traditional sushi is often served as a small mound of vinegared rice topped with fresh (raw) fish, sometimes wrapped in seaweed and other times not. Unlike the elaborate sushi rolls commonly found in the United States, Japan focuses more on simplicity. However, some restaurants may offer "international rolls," which can include favorites like the California roll.

Sushi Ginza

Last, but not least, we want to address in our Japan Travel Tips the fake food and photos of food you will see at restaurants all through Japan. In Japan, the art of creating hyper-realistic fake food, known as "sampuru," is extremely popular. These meticulously crafted replicas are often displayed outside restaurants or in restaurant windows to entice customers by accurately portraying menu items, helping overcome language barriers and offering a visual menu guide. In the absence of fake food, you will encounter photos of food on menus. This, again, is to help portray menu items accurately so you know what you are ordering and can expect to receive. While we would normally advise our fellow Jetsetters to stay away from restaurants with photos on the menu, in this instance, it is perfectly normally and commonplace in Japan. 

Food Display_Tsukiji Outer Market

Japan Travel Tips: Summary

In conclusion, we hope these top five Japan travel tips will serve as a valuable resource for anyone planning a trip to this enchanting country. By being prepared with enough cash, knowing where to find international-friendly ATMs, exploring beyond the popular tourist destinations, respecting local customs and etiquette, bracing for crowds, and indulging in the diverse and authentic flavors of Japanese cuisine, travelers can truly immerse themselves in the rich culture and beauty that Japan has to offer. So pack your bags, embark on your adventure, and make the most of your time exploring the Land of the Rising Sun. Safe travels!

Looking for more information about traveling to Japan? Check out our comprehensive Japan Travel Guide

Have you visited Japan? We would love to hear from you!