12 Tips for First-time Travellers to Japan
Japan: a stunning blend of the ancient and the ultra-modern, a place where tradition meets technology.
Venturing to the Land of the Rising Sun for the first time can be as exhilarating as it is nerve-wracking. Trying to figure out announcements in an unfamiliar language and signs in a different alphabet, navigating the sprawling Tokyo metropolis, or simply ordering a bowl of ramen can be enough to make your head spin.
But fret not! With our handy guide and Click and Trip by your side, your first-time journey to Japan will be memorable for all the right reasons.
Master Basic Japan Etiquette
Japan’s traditions are not just age-old customs; they’re reflections of a culture that thrives on harmony, respect, and a profound sense of community.
Learn How to Greet the Japanese Way
Bowing is perhaps the most recognised aspect of Japanese etiquette. It’s more than just a nod of the head; it signifies gratitude, respect, and humility. The deeper the bow, the deeper the respect.
While foreigners aren’t expected to know the intricacies of bowing, a simple nod or a slight bow is always appreciated.
Shoes off, please!
Wearing shoes indoors is a big no-no. Whether it’s someone’s home, certain traditional accommodations like ryokan, or even some restaurants, you’ll find a designated area at the entrance to leave your shoes.
When visiting temples or shrines, watch for signs or observe what others are doing. Often, slippers will be provided for indoor use, but it’s essential to remember never to wear toilet or bathroom slippers anywhere else.
Be aware of Temple Etiquette
Temples and shrines are sacred spaces. When entering, you may notice a water basin — this is for purification. You can use the ladles provided to rinse your hands and mouth.
If you wish to pay your respects at a temple, toss a coin into the offering box, ring the bell if available, and place your hands in prayer position before bowing deeply twice.
While it’s usually okay to take photographs on the grounds of a temple, this may be forbidden inside the buildings.
Most Japanese temples don’t have a dress code, but you should dress conservatively and respectfully.
Using chopsticks in Japan comes with its own set of dos and don’ts. Never stick them upright into a bowl of rice, as it resembles a funeral ritual.
Also, avoid pointing with or passing food directly from one set of chopsticks to another, as it resembles another funeral custom. Instead, place food onto the plate first.
Travel in Japan, with its sprawling urban areas, unspoiled countryside, and countless islands, might seem daunting. But thanks to its impeccable public transport system and the punctuality and reliability synonymous with Japan, getting around can be a breeze, even for first-timers.
Use the Metro
First Time in Tokyo? Use the Metro! Tokyo’s subway system is extensive but incredibly efficient. Stations now have English signs and instructions on the ticket machines, and many announcements are bilingual.
To make your life even simpler, consider purchasing a Suica or PASMO card. These are rechargeable cards that you can tap to get through the gates, eliminating the need to purchase a ticket for every journey. They’re also accepted on buses and in many shops!
Get a Japan Rail (JR) Pass if Travelling Independently
At Click and Trip, we prioritise offering our travellers a seamless journey across Japan. While the JR Pass is undeniably an invaluable investment for those exploring multiple cities — offering unlimited access to JR trains, including many Shinkansen (bullet trains), available in 7, 14, or 21-day options, and exclusively purchasable by foreign visitors outside of Japan — with our expertly curated itineraries, our travellers can rest easy. We’ve teamed up with trusted local suppliers to secure the best local rail rates, ensuring our guests experience the beauty of Japan without the logistics hassle. So, while the JR Pass is a noteworthy tip, with Click and Trip, it’s one less thing you need to consider.
Make use of Taxis
While taxis in Japan are more expensive than other modes of transport, they offer impeccable service. Drivers are courteous, and cars are well-maintained. If you’re travelling in a group or need to get somewhere quickly, especially during the off-hours of public transport, taxis are a viable option.
Walk, Explore, Immerse
Sometimes, the best way to experience a place is on foot. Especially in areas rich in history and culture, walking allows you to absorb every detail, from the architecture to the tiny alleyway eateries.
Install Navigation Apps
Having Google Maps, NAVITIME Japan, or Hyperdia on your smartphone can make navigating Japan much easier. These apps provide directions for walking, trains, buses, and even driving. Couple this with a translation app, and you’re good to go!
Dive Deep into Japanese Culture
Participate in a traditional tea ceremony, experience the ancient art of kabuki theatre, or witness the cherry blossoms in full bloom. Embracing Japanese culture makes your trip infinitely more enriching.
Try a Traditional Japanese Inn
For a different experience from the usual hotels, opt for a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. With tatami-matted rooms, communal baths (onsen), and traditional kaiseki meals, it’s an experience that feels like stepping back into old Japan.
Experience Festivals and Celebrations
Every season in Japan brings a host of festivals or matsuri. From the vibrant Tanabata Festival to the solemn Obon Festival honouring the spirits of ancestors, participating in or even just observing these celebrations can provide a genuine understanding of local traditions and beliefs. Sometimes, the best way to experience a place is on foot. Especially in areas rich in history and culture, walking allows you to absorb every detail, from the architecture to the tiny alleyway eateries.
Engage and Interact
While not everyone speaks fluent English, the Japanese are always willing to help. Learn a few essential phrases — a simple “arigatou” (thank you) can go a long way. These personal interactions often lead to the most profound cultural insights and lasting memories. And with Click and Trip’s local guides, language barriers are effortlessly bridged.
Why Choose Click and Trip for your First Trip to Japan
Travelling to Japan for the first time is thrilling but can also be overwhelming. At Click and Trip, we understand that, and that’s why our Japan trips are designed to offer first-timers a seamless and memorable experience.
With everything taken care of, from accommodation to transport and daily itineraries, all you need to do is immerse yourself in the beauty of Japan.
Moreover, with access to a local guide, not only do you get to see Japan through a local’s eyes, but you also get insider tips and stories that you won’t find in any guidebook. Let us be your compass and navigate the intricacies of Japanese culture with ease. Get in touch today for a chat about planning one of our private guided holidays.