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First time in Japan

All you need to know

Part 1

Let's start with the basics

In the first section of this page, we’ll walk you through when to visit, what rail pass to use, hotels to look for, internet connection and much more. Already know the basics? Jump down to Step 2 and have a look at attractions, temples, areas and cities we really recommend to visit. Our staff and team have all been in Japan multiple times and collected a great list of things to do during your first visit.

beautiful tempel

When to visit Japan?

Japan is very crowded during Sakura Season (cherry blossom season) and the Golden Week. These are seasons where the locals tend to travel a lot as well, causing trains to be overbooked while both flights and hotels becomes more expensive.

Instead, travel during the spring, both May and June are fantastic months to visit Japan during. Another great season is October and November, just after the rainy season. Everything is still green and the weather is great.

July and August is super hot, especially if you stay in a big city like Tokyo with no wind due to the large buildings.

japan rail pass card

Find the correct rail pass

Did you know that Japan have a couple of different train passes, allowing you unlimited access to Shinkansen bullet trains, express trains, local trains and even some ferrys? 

The most common one to use is the nation wide Japan Rail Pass, but there are also passes for specific regions and cities, called Regional Pass. If you plan to stay longer times in certain areas, you can save a lot of money getting a Regional Pass instead of a normal JR Pass.

ryokan room

Hotels near a station

This may come across as an odd thing to think about while in an advance and well coevered country like Japan, but what people forget is how big the cities actually are. Save time by finding a hotel near a JR station or a Metro Station and save yourself up to 20-30 minutes of walking to your nearest station in some extreme cases.

Once at a station, regardless of station you will be connected in Japan’s train and metro network allowing you to get from A to B to C with ease and without delays.

Dotonbori woman on her phone

Rent a pocket WiFi router

Access to high speed internet in Japan isn’t as easy as you may think. Most restaurants, shopping malls and stores have indeed free WiFi, but it’s really slow and limited to how long you can use it. On top of that, most require you to sign up and create an account before you can use their access points, followed by newsletters for weeks afterwards. we have all fallen for that before. 

Instead, rent a portable pocket WiFi router and use it as an access point for the entire family. Getting a sim card is limited to once device, while a portable router can be accessed and shared by multiple devices and users. Save time and money and rent a WiFi router before your trip, it can be picked up and left at the airport.

Ninja WiFi is the biggest player in the WiFi game, and provide all our customers a discount. Read more on how to redeem your discount.

ramen chef

Tipping in Japan

Forget the tipping! In Japan, excellent service is the norm, and staff are paid a fair wage. Leaving money can actually be seen as rude. Relax, enjoy the great hospitality, and focus on how to say “thank you” (arigatou gozaimasu).

There are a few rare exceptions: high-end ryokans (inns) might have envelopes for housekeeping, and an exceptional private guide might be tipped discreetly in an envelope. But for most situations, a simple thank you is all you need.

japanese woman

Respect the Japanese culture

The locals in Japan are known to be polite, quiet, clean and helpfull. keep in mind that you’re a guest in their country, please adapt and respect their way of living. Don’t throw your gum or trash on the street, don’t tip in restaurants, don’t talk on the phone or loud at all while on the trains or metro, don’t joke on the cost of someone else and most important – stay in line and don’t push yourself in queues.

Apart from these things, which already should be common sense for everyone, you’re free to visit this amazing and fantastic country.

posing entrance restaurant

Expect to be rejected

While uncommon, there have been cases of clubs and restaurants refusing entry to foreigners (gaijin) in Japan. This practice is frowned upon and less prevalent than before, but it’s good to be aware.

Here’s the good news: Most places welcome everyone! Popular tourist areas and international chains are unlikely to have issues. If you’re unsure, look for signs in English or dress codes posted outside.

If you do encounter rejection, remember it likely reflects limited capacity, a language barrier or private events, not you personally. Stay polite and try another spot, there are plenty of resturants to visit.

food street

Tax-free shopping in Japan

Save some yen! Japan offers tax-free shopping for tourists on most purchases. Look for the red and white “Tax Free Shop” sign. Score deals on clothes, electronics, and even souvenirs! makre sure to bring your passports, it’s a requirement.

But there’s a catch: you need to spend at least 5,000 yen (around $45 USD) at one store, on items in the same category, general goods or consumables. Don’t worry, most stores will tell you what qualifies. Finally, the tax refund happens at the airport, so keep your receipts!

subway train

Timetables

Getting around by just reading signs is far too extreme for first time visitors. Insteda, we strongly recommend downloading Navitime and Google maps, two great tools to get around in Japan and will show you both timetables and routes.

Navitime is an extra recommended tool if you travel with a Japan Rail Pass, as it offeres the a filter to only display routes covered by your Japan Rail Pass. This filter works for all Regional Passes as well!

tokyo neon signs

Japan is safe to visit

Safe travels! Japan boasts a very low crime rate, but a few precautions keep your trip worry-free. Be aware of your surroundings, especially at night in popular party areas such as Shinjuku.

Japan is prone to earthquakes, so it’s smart to know your evacuation route from your accommodation. Consider downloading a translation app to bridge any language gaps. Finally, for peace of mind, get travel insurance, especially if you’re planning adventures.

amusement park

Amusement parks in Japan

Thrill rides or adorable characters? Japan’s amusement parks cater to all! Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea offer classic Disney magic. Adrenaline seekers flock to Fuji-Q Highland for record-breaking coasters. Universal Studios brings Hollywood to life, while Sanrio Puroland is a Hello Kitty haven.

For unique experiences, explore Ghibli Park’s whimsical worlds or venture into the ninja past at Edo Wonderland. With a mix of familiar favorites and quirky delights, Japan’s amusement parks guarantee a fun-filled day.

Part 2

Our favourite places in Japan

Welcome to the Land of the Rising Sun! From neon-lit metropolises to serene mountain retreats, Japan offers something for every traveler. Dive into ancient temples and bustling markets, savor delectable cuisine, and experience exceptional hospitality. Whether you seek cultural immersion, outdoor thrills, or pure relaxation, our guide unveils Japan’s hidden gems and must-see sights. Let’s help you craft your unforgettable adventure!

akihabara street

Akihabara

Akihabara, also known as Akiba, is a district in Tokyo that seamlessly blends electronics and otaku culture. Once a haven for bargain hunters seeking household appliances, it’s now a paradise for anime, manga, and video game enthusiasts. Towering buildings overflow with figurines, collectibles, and the latest gaming consoles.

Cute maids or characters from your favorite shows might greet you at themed cafes, while neon signs and towering displays create a uniquely electric atmosphere. Whether you’re a techie or an otaku, Akihabara offers an unforgettable experience.

osaka castle sakura

Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle, a majestic symbol of power, rises from the heart of Osaka. This iconic landmark, built in the 16th century, boasts grand architecture and a rich history. Wander through its many floors filled with exhibits that detail the life of warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the castle’s founder. Ascend to the top keep for panoramic views of the city.

To truly elevate your experience, head to the nearby Blue Birds Rooftop Terrace. Perched atop a modern building near the castle grounds, this open-air terrace offers a unique perspective. Savor a delicious Japanese-style barbecue or refreshing drink while taking in the stunning vista of Osaka Castle bathed in sunlight or illuminated against the night sky.

nara park deer

Nara Park

Nara Park is a giant park in Nara, Japan. The coolest thing about the park is the friendly deer! Hundreds of them roam freely, and you can even buy special crackers to feed them. But be careful, they can get a little pushy sometimes…

Inside the park, you’ll also find amazing temples, like Todaiji Temple, which has a giant bronze statue of Buddha inside. It’s one of the biggest Buddha statues in the whole world! So, Nara Park is a great place to see cute animals, beautiful buildings, and relax in nature all at the same time.

tokyo skytree

Tokyo Skytree

Tokyo Skytree is Tokyo’s champion skyscraper, reaching a whopping 634 meters high! Imagine stacking 4 Empire State Buildings – that’s almost how tall it is.

But this giant isn’t just for show. You can zoom up inside to special areas called decks. From there, the entire city of Tokyo unfurls beneath you like a giant, colorful map. Buildings turn into tiny blocks, and parks become green patches. It’s an amazing view, perfect for capturing photos and memories of your trip to Tokyo!

victoria shibuya sky

Shibuya Sky

Not to be outdone by the Skytree, Shibuya Sky offers another incredible view of Tokyo, but with a twist! Located on the top floor of the Shibuya Scramble Square building, Shibuya Sky is an open-air deck. That means you can feel the fresh air and soak up the city vibes while gazing at the amazing panorama.

Unlike Skytree’s enclosed decks, Shibuya Sky lets you experience the city’s energy firsthand. It’s a great choice if you want a more open and exciting way to see the Tokyo skyline.

Nintendo world park

Super Nintendo World

Calling all Super Mario fans! Super Nintendo World is a real-life theme park where you can step into your favorite video game. It’s like jumping through the warp pipe and into the Mushroom Kingdom! Race through Koopa’s Castle on a high-speed Mario Kart ride, collect coins and battle Bowser Jr. Explore Peach’s castle, jump on bouncy Goombas, and meet all your favorite characters.

Whether you’re a kid or just young at heart, Super Nintendo World in Osaka lets you unleash your inner gamer and have a blast in a world filled with familiar sights and sounds.

orange pillar gates

Fushimi Inari-taisha

Fushimi Inari-taisha is a famous Shinto shrine in Kyoto, Japan. It’s known for its thousands of bright orange torii gates, those traditional Japanese archways. They wind up a mountain path, creating a long, magical tunnel. Fushimi Inari-taisha is dedicated to Inari, the god of rice and business.

Foxes are Inari’s messengers, so you’ll see lots of fox statues around the shrine. It’s a beautiful and spiritual place, perfect for a walk and soaking up some Japanese culture.

senso-ji temple

Sensō-ji

Dive into Tokyo’s ancient side at Sensō-ji, the city’s oldest temple. This Buddhist beauty boasts over 1,400 years of history! As you approach, you’ll pass through the iconic Kaminarimon Gate, a giant red landmark guarded by statues. The main temple building awaits, surrounded by bustling Nakamise-dori, a street packed with shops selling traditional Japanese souvenirs, food, and crafts. While exploring, remember it’s a place of worship, so be respectful. Sensō-ji offers a glimpse into Japan’s rich past and a vibrant cultural experience.

Philosopher’s Path

Philosopher’s Path

Kyoto’s Philosopher’s Path is a peaceful stroll along a canal lined with cherry blossom trees. Imagine a scenic walkway beside calm water, framed by beautiful blooms in spring. Named after a famous philosopher who used to walk here, it’s a path that invites reflection and relaxation.

The path stretches for about two kilometers, taking you past temples and shrines. It’s a great way to escape the city bustle and enjoy the beauty of nature. Whether you’re a history buff seeking temples or just someone who appreciates a lovely walk, Philosopher’s Path offers a charming Kyoto experience.

overview old tempel

Kiyomizudera

Kiyomizudera, meaning “Pure Water Temple,” is a stunning Buddhist temple perched on a Kyoto hillside. Founded over 1250 years ago, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must-see in Kyoto. The main hall boasts a large wooden stage that juts out dramatically, offering incredible views of the city below.

The temple’s name comes from a nearby waterfall known for its pure water. Inside, you can find statues and shrines dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist deity of compassion. Whether you’re seeking spiritual connection, breathtaking views, or a piece of Japanese history, Kiyomizudera offers an unforgettable experience.

ramen museum

Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum

Love ramen? Slurp your way to happiness at the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum! This unique museum isn’t just about exhibits. It’s a ramen theme park with nine restaurants under one roof! Each features a different regional ramen style, so you can taste ramen varieties from all over Japan without leaving the building.

Wander a recreated Tokyo street from 1958, the year instant noodles took off in Japan. Grab a seat at a restaurant and savor a steaming bowl of Kyushu’s rich pork broth ramen or Hokkaido’s flavorful miso ramen. It’s a delicious journey through the world of ramen, perfect for foodies and ramen enthusiasts alike!

golden temple

Kinkakuji

Kinkakuji, also known as the Golden Pavilion, is a dazzling landmark in Kyoto. This Zen temple features a three-story structure covered in shimmering gold leaf. It reflects beautifully in the surrounding pond, creating a picture-perfect scene.

Originally built in the 14th century as a retirement villa, it became a Zen temple after the owner’s death. The top two floors are adorned with gold, while the bottom floor reflects the surrounding beauty in its walls. Kinkakuji is a stunning example of Japanese architecture and a must-see for any visitor to Kyoto.

Dotonbori at night

Dōtonbori

Osaka’s Dotonbori district is a dazzling assault on the senses! Think Blade Runner meets a food festival. Towering buildings explode with neon signs, while mouthwatering smells fill the air.

Craving octopus balls or sizzling okonomiyaki? Dotonbori’s street vendors have you covered. Don’t forget to snap a pic with the iconic Glico Running Man sign, a neon landmark that’s become Osaka’s mascot.

Dotonbori isn’t just about food. Catch a Kabuki play, a traditional Japanese theatrical experience, or belt out some karaoke tunes. With its electric energy and endless entertainment, Dotonbori is a must for any Osaka adventure!

woman food street

Shinsekai

Dive into Osaka’s retro heart at Shinsekai, meaning “New World.” Built in the early 1900s, it was modeled after New York and Paris. Though timeworn, Shinsekai’s charm lies in its unique atmosphere.

The iconic Tsutenkaku Tower, a red and white Eiffel Tower lookalike, stands tall at its center. Neon signs blaze across buildings, and narrow alleys called “yokocho” are crammed with cheap eats and lively bars. Sample kushikatsu (skewered and fried food) or indulge in a local beer.

Shinsekai might not be fancy, but it’s a fascinating glimpse into Osaka’s past and a great place to experience the city’s down-to-earth, energetic vibe.

miyajima island

Miyajima

Hiroshima’s Miyajima Island, also known as “Shrine Island,” is a must-visit. Picture a colossal orange gate seemingly floating on the water – that’s Itsukushima Shrine, a UNESCO treasure. Lush forests teeming with friendly deer offer a serene escape. Hike Mount Misen for breathtaking views or savor the island’s famed oysters – a perfect escape near Hiroshima.

bomb dome

Atomic Bomb Dome

Hiroshima’s Atomic Bomb Dome isn’t just a sight, it’s a powerful reminder of peace. This skeletal structure, once a bustling exhibition hall, stands as a stark testament to the war’s devastation. Explore the surrounding Peace Memorial Park, a serene space dedicated to reflection and hope. While the experience is somber, it fosters a deeper understanding of peace and the importance of non-proliferation.

Snow festival sculpture

Sapporo Snow Festival

Witness winter magic at the Sapporo Snow Festival, a dazzling spectacle held annually in February. Odori Park transforms into a wonderland of towering snow and ice sculptures. Marvel at intricate creations depicting everything from fairy tales to international landmarks, all illuminated with vibrant lights. Bundle up, grab a hot beverage, and lose yourself in the frosty beauty of this must-see winter festival.

cable car

Shin-Kobe Ropeway

Ascend to scenic vistas with the Shin-Kobe Ropeway, a relaxing aerial lift climbing the slopes of Mount Rokko in Kobe. This convenient and scenic journey whisks you away from bustling Shin-Kobe Station, offering breathtaking views of the city and the surrounding harbor. Glide past lush greenery and enjoy a glimpse of Nunobiki Waterfall as you reach the top station.

The bright red cabins, a recent upgrade, add a touch of vibrancy to the ride. At the summit, explore the delightful Nunobiki Herb Gardens, a haven of fragrant blooms, or embark on hiking trails leading deeper into the mountain. The Shin-Kobe Ropeway offers a picturesque gateway to the natural beauty above Kobe.

arashiyama groove

Arashiyama

Step back in time in Arashiyama, Kyoto’s enchanting bamboo grove district. Towering stalks of bamboo create a magical tunnel, their leaves rustling softly in the breeze. Sunlight filters through the canopy, casting dappled light on the serene path. Immerse yourself in the tranquility and capture the ethereal beauty in photos.

Beyond the bamboo grove, Arashiyama offers a wealth of experiences. Explore the serene Tenryuji Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its stunning gardens. Stroll along the picturesque Hozugawa River on a traditional wooden boat, or visit the charming shops lining the streets, browsing for local crafts and souvenirs. Arashiyama is a captivating escape into Kyoto’s natural and cultural heritage.

team labs

teamLab Planets

Dive into a world of wonder at teamLab Planets, an interactive digital art museum in Tokyo. Here, reality dissolves as you wander through rooms filled with ethereal light projections. Imagine wading through a koi pond with projected fish swirling around your ankles, or feeling weightless as you float amongst a sea of flickering stars.

TeamLab Planets is a multi-sensory experience designed to blur the lines between art and audience. Prepare to be captivated by the ever-changing, immersive digital landscapes.

Explore more

Enjoy our travel guides

Continue reading, Japan has lots to offer! Don’t miss out on our top pick of restaurants, parks, temples and amusement parks across Japan. Our travel guides are easy to read and focus on short text for each location for an easy overview instead of a full A4 of non-relevant information no one cares about. Explore Kyoto, Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe, Nara, Hirshima, Nagoya and many more fantastic cities with the help of our free travel guide.

Shinkansen tickets

Planning tips

Reserve your seats: Especially during peak seasons, reserving seats in advance is highly recommended.

Factor in travel time: While the Hello Kitty Shinkansen is slower than express trains, the extra stops allow for more sightseeing opportunities.

Embrace the Cuteness! This train is all about Hello Kitty fun. Relax, take photos, and enjoy the unique experience.