15 Japan Travel tips to know before you go

cute statues of 3 baby monks partially covered with moss depicting ""see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil".

Japan is unique from the rest of the world. Good preparation is the key to enjoying and not getting overwhelmed in the land of sunrise. Here are 15 Tips you should know before you travel to Japan to have a wonderful experience.

Index

  1. Japan Currency
  2. Card payment
  3. Cost of living for Tourists
  4. Cellular Network and Wifi
  5. Type of Power sockets
  6. Public Hygiene and Toilets
  7. Roads and Public Transport
  8. APPS to be downloaded
  9. Food and Beverages
  10. Alcohol and Smoking
  11. People and Language
  12. Safety & Scams
  13. What to see in Japan and when
  14. Tipping Culture.
  15. Bonus tip – Japanese manners

1. What is Japan’s main currency?

Japan 1000yen note

Yen is Japan’s currency. Paper currency is used for 1000/5000/10000. The rest, like 1/5/10/50/100/500 yen, come in coins. Apart from local city buses, you can get change for bigger currency everywhere else.

Where can I exchange dollars for yen?

currency exchange office at Haneda airport

Japan Travel tip on currency exchange -USD gets a better rate than Euros in Japan.

Getting yens at the airport exchange office is better than using smart exchange machines in the cities. I got 136 yen for 1 USD at the Haneda airport exchange office. While a smart exchange machine in Hiroshima gave me 120 yen for a dollar.

2. Does Japan prefer cash or card?

indian lady holding unique Japanese candies and snacks at a retro video game shop in Akihabara.

I read everywhere that Japan is mostly a cash-based country. But in 2022, I felt Visa / Master cards and cash were equally accepted everywhere. As a foreigner using prepaid IC cards like Suica is best. Read more on how to get these cards here.

3. Is Japan cheap for tourists?

Japan is expensive for tourists. The amount we spent for 19 days in Japan in the off-season is enough for Thailand 2 month’s comfortable vacation.

Why is Japan so expensive?

Japan’s public transport is the best but expensive. It becomes economical if only you know how to use it cleverly. Read here to know more about it.

  • A regular-size Latte at the 7/11 shop cost 160 yen (96 INR = 1.5 USD).
  • The city’s accommodations are expensive because they have land constraints. For example, a budget business hotel room of size 3mx3m with an attached toilet for two cost you 8000 yen (4500 INR= 55USD)/ night. 
a black car taxi ON ROAD LINED WITH yellow autmn leaves and an ancient pillar at Tokyo

Japan Travel tip on using a taxi- It is a total rip-off! They charge you around 2000 yen for 2km.

How expensive is it to go to Japan?

It cost nearly 35000 yen/day/for two people in December 2023. If you choose to go to Japan in the peak tourist season of Sakura, you will pay double the amount we paid in December.

series of saffron coloured entrance tori and a man standing in between at Kyoyo,Japan

This includes

One month Tourist Visa fees | 18-night stays at budget business hotels | Breakfast and coffee at 7/11 | Lunch and dinners at delicious local food joints/street food | Luggage forward services | 100% public transport using trains/buses | 7-day JR Pass. | One day Universal studio | all experiences like Sumo stable, Tuna auction and entry fees to attractions.

This excludes – International flights to and fro | Shopping | 2 SIM Cards

Check here to learn how we travelled in Japan on this budget.

Japan Travel Tips on saving money – Use capsule hotels if you are a solo traveller.

4. What is the best SIM card to use in Japan?

Japanese school girls wearing checkered skirt and jackets taking selfie at Tokyo

I recommend buying a SIM card over pocket wifi rental. So that you can have an actual Japanese number that allows you to make local calls. We paid 7500 yen for one 31 days of unlimited Mobal SIM. You must pre-book the sim and collect it once in Japan at specific locations mentioned on their website. Or get it shipped to your home if you place the order early.

A simple activation process by activating the QR Code, SIM was ready to use within 30 minutes. The network coverage was excellent throughout.

How do I get free wifi in Japan?

Japanese wearing mask and walking on the street lined with trees full of saffron coloured autumn leaves

Japan Travel Tips on getting wifi – Some temples also give free wifi!

Most public transport, including buses and bullet trains, are supposed to provide you with free wifi. Except for once, we got wifi on all our shinkansen rides. Bus wifi never worked. 99% of the local restaurants we went to had free wifi, and the strength was decent. Accommodation wifi was efficient everywhere.

5. Are Japan and the US power plugs the same?

US and Japan plug types are similar. So Indians need to carry a travel adapter.

6. Is Japan one of the cleanest countries?

Japanese woman cycling with her white Shiba breed dog at a park in Osaka early in the morning.

Japan is the cleanest nation I have ever visited. You hardly find dustbins, yet no thrash anywhere. Of course, people go shopping often, and there are hundreds of street food carts. Still, you find no trace of thrash on the streets. Smokers don’t throw cigarette buds. Sakae and beer tins directly go to the bin and never on the floor.

Why are Japanese people so clean?

Cleanliness is part of their history and religion, Zen Buddhism. Then why other Buddhist countries aren’t clean like Japan?

It’s because of their indigenous religion, Shinto, which greatly influences the culture. In Shintoism, to be clean is to be pure. During our walking tour in Tokyo, we learned that Japanese students clean their classrooms and bathrooms for 15 minutes at the day’s end. So cleanliness is taught as part of their culture and Japanese are obsessed with it.

Are toilets in Japan clean?

Toilet inside bullet train with commode, baby station, small sink

One of the hundred best things about Japan is its toilet. I never found even a single dirty public bathroom.

Why are Japanese toilets so good?

Buttons for Japan toilet
  • There are plenty of public toilets everywhere, free of cost, unlike in Belgium.
  • Japanese wipe toilet seats after use with tissue paper and sanitiser! So the busiest toilets also remain cleanest and smell fresh.
  • In winter, cold toilet seats are buzz killers. But most toilet seats in Japan are heated.
  • They use bidet – fixtures that use water to clean your butt once your job is done. Plus, you have buttons to control the pressure and temperature of it!
  • Some extra-ordinary toilet comes with a music option and a butt dryer! After you use the bidet, press the dryer button. Hot-air blows and dries your butt completely.

Is Japanese tap water okay to drink?

Yes. And you must do so. A 250ML of bottled water costs 100-130 yen. So make sure to have a reusable bottle and fill it before you leave your room.

7. Is public transport in Japan good?

green colour train running beside the road lined  with pacific ocean at Kamakura in Japan

Undoubtedly, I will claim Japan’s public transport as the best in the world. I was awed by Austria by public transport. But Japan’s public transport accuracy, connectivity, cleanliness and comfort are unbeatable even with its high population density.

Why is Japan’s public transportation so good?

Japanese man wearing traditional hat with his hand-pulled rickshaw

Japan Travel tips on experiences – Rickshaws are common near historical attractions.

  • Japan is subjected to natural calamities like earthquakes and tsunamis often. So internet and electricity connectivity in remote areas is essential, and how they have achieved it is unbelievable. This also helps the smooth running of public transport super efficiently.
  • Secondly, commuters can download useful apps that make the complex network of trains, stations and different operators easier to understand.
  • Lastly, the Japanese are respectful towards what they have, and they know its value. So they use their buses and trains responsibly.

Is it advisable to drive in Japan?

Japan drives on the left lane, like India and England. The road condition is excellent. As expected, the Japanese follow traffic rules 99% – We saw cars jumping the signals at night, though. Car parking by the roadside is banned in Japan. So the narrow roads work like magic for them.

blue car crossing railway tracks in town centre at Kamakura

It is expensive to rent a car, and there is a high shortage of parking areas, especially in busy cities like Tokyo and Nagoya. Moreover, the International driving licence issued by your home country requires an additional certification from Japan. So when you have the world’s best public transportation, why do you want to think of driving?

What type of public transport does Japan have?

green bus moving in small town surrounded by trees and mountains in Japan

Remote villages depend on buses, while cities have metros and trams in addition to the buses. However, the king of all is the Shinkansen, AKA bullet trains that connect two cities or towns that travel at the speed of 300 – 500km/hr.

What pass should I get in Japan?

thomas and friends themed train in Japan

Japan Travel Tips on using trains – Many themed trains run regularly like any normal train!

You must know that around 140+ different private companies run trains in Japan along with Japan government. There are both public-owned and privately owned-buses. So there is no such pass that is “Fit for all public transport in Japan.” (Not even JR Pass). Read here to know why.

passenger holding japan rail pass exchange order.

What buses are used in Japan?

City buses usually have more single seats than double. You must get into the bus at the middle door and get off at the front door. Because you pay the driver while you get off, not when you get in.

Japan’s highway buses are best for commuting 100-300km distances. They are comfortable and many of these night journey buses have toilet ensuites! During peak season, pre-booking them online is a must.

How many international airports does Japan have?

Japan has 4 international airports – Haneda in Tokyo, Narita – 65km from Tokyo, Kansai near Osaka and Chubu near Nagoya. There are many more domestic airports.

Japan Travel Tips on domestic flying – You won’t need domestic air transfers in Japan because a bullet train connects almost all of japan at the same cost as airfares

.Perhaps you will use a domestic flight if only you are flying from a southernmost part like Okinawa to the northernmost Hokkaido.

Can I ride a bicycle in Japan?

Yes! Japanese love cycling, one of their main modes of personal transportation. Pedestrians and cyclers share the same path. But don’t worry, the paths are wider, and cyclers are patient. They don’t ring bells at you or curse pedestrians like Germans do.

8. What apps do I need to travel to Japan?

VPN is not necessary for Japan. The apps you must download for travelling in Japan are-

  • Jorudan Travel – A must-have and most useful Transit planner that shows you subway/metro/train/bus or bullet train.
  • Google lens – Translate signboards at historical places and menus at local food joints.
  • Google translator – Especially when you want to ask for pure vegetarian food.
  • Google maps 
  • Grab and Didi – The taxi apps ( Taking a cab should be your Zth opinion – they are crazy expensive)
  • Social media apps
Tokyo JR station vaulted entrance on a busy sidewalk lined with trees full of yellow autmn leaves

9. What kind of food do they eat in Japan?

Japan was once a vegetarian country in 540 AD when a Zen Buddhist saint promoted it vastly. But now they love meat with either rice or noodles. Rice is part of breakfast and lunch too.

Which meat is mostly eaten in Japan?

  • Fish – Usually raw or steamed
  • Other seafood like Octopus and eel – are steamed and fried.
  • Pork – grilled
  • Beef – grilled
  • Chicken – deep fried usually.
  • Lizards / Insects like grasshoppers – We never dared to enter any restaurant that serves insects. These food joints are everywhere, especially in Osaka.

Is it easy to get vegetarian food in Japan?

It is not a “Mission Impossible” but demands great effort to find Japanese vegetarian food. Most vegetarian Ramen you find (even at 7/11) has fish-based soup. Fruits are crazy expensive – One Japanese apple cost around 300 yen (180 INR)

Read more on how to survive as a vegetarian in Japan here.

What do Japanese drink with meals?

Japanese love coffee for breakfast. Their drip coffee is famous, but it isn’t available everywhere. Most cafes sell Latte, and Cappuccino is available in only a few places. Iced coffee is common – even when the temperature is below 0*C

Matcha- a healthy green tea served with meals in traditional restaurants unlimited. They usually keep a pot of it so that you can pour it yourself whenever and how much ever you need.

10. Can you drink alcohol anywhere in Japan?

We found no signboards saying “No drinking alcohol here” except near temples. But you don’t see Japanese drinking in public. People sit with open containers only in parks.

What is Japan’s main drink?

Nihonshu, AKA Sake ( “sake” is also the general Japanese term for alcohol), brewed from rice, is perhaps one of the best alcohol I have ever had. It is smooth and makes you feel lighter. They serve you Sake like Tequila shots. You can consume it either warm or cold – We tried both, and we recommend colder Sake.

Japanese whiskeys are world famous – They compete against some of the world’s best scotches now. However, Suntory distillery’s Hibeke is what we loved most.

What is the most popular beer in Japan?

  • Sapporo – best
  • Suntory – good
  • Kirin – Not my favourite.

Is it legal to smoke in public in Japan?

It is hard to find smoking zones in any Japanese cities. Many cities prohibit smoking on the streets in busy districts except in designated smoking areas. Smoking is also prohibited on the platforms of most major railway stations except in appointed smoking rooms. Shockingly, shinkansen have one small enclosed space in one of their compartments as a smoking zone.

Indoor smoking is totally prohibited. Therefore, most accommodations are non-smoking rooms, with one small room designated as a smoking zone.

11. Are Japanese people nice to tourists?

Apart from Japan and Iran, nowhere else we felt so welcomed and loved by locals. It isn’t just shopkeepers and cafe owners who are nice to you. When a local see your confused face with the Tokyo Metro map, at least one of them will take you to the right platform and wait until your train comes even though they are rushing to get to work.

Their manners are something the whole world should learn. They are considerate of others in public places. Help comes to you before you ask for it in Japan.

Led by a Japanese woman to our platform in Tokyo!

Not even once were we judged for not knowing how to use chopsticks or not speaking Japanese. Of course, the Japanese may put up a serious face. But as a stranger, when you approach them, a broad cute smile appears first, then a bow saying “hello” or “Konichiwa”.

What’s the main religion in Japan?

woman in purple dress and grey shawl praying at a Buddhist temple with folded hands and insense stick on a sunny day in Kamakura, Japan

Japan’s indigenous religion is Shinto, which coexists with various sects of Buddhism and Christianity. As a first-timer in Japan, you may find Shinto and Buddhist temples similar. The easiest way to differentiate them is to see if a temple has a “Tori gate”,-  A traditional Japanese gate, usually saffron or maroon in colour is found only at Shinto shrine.

beautiful saffron leaves on trees hiding orange colour tori gate of shinto temple,

How is religion viewed in Japan?

The number of temples makes you wonder if they are orthodox. However, I learned that the Japanese are pretty chilled about religion! Though Shinto is their way of life, the Christmas spirit was high.

There was no dress code to enter any temple. Japanese wore short skirts and could enter the temple without worry, unlike most other countries’ religious regulations.

That doesn’t mean they forget their tradition. Japanese love to wear their kimonos and walk around in cities like Kyoto. They appreciate it when foreign tourists embrace their culture. It is just that they don’t impose their ideologies on others.

Is English widely spoken in Japan?

Tourist information centres will always have at least one person who can speak English. Signboards are displayed both in Japanese and English – So it is possible to travel in Japan without knowing the language.

Does it mean English is popular in Japan?

Yes and no, both!
The billboards in Shinjuku made us assume Japanese speak fluent English. So we began to approach people in our usual English. Slowly, we realised our pronunciation and speed needed to be clarified to Japanese people.

Japanese read English better than they speak. Most of the time, when I used google translate, the Japanese read what was written in English and understood everything we wanted to convey. So when you speak slowly and add some basic Japanese words, people will help you happily.

For example – If you want to know how to catch a bus to Arashiyama, say, “Tasuketekudasai (Can you help me please)- bus to Arashiyama?” – They even take you to the right platform and even tell you the departing time.

12. Is Japan a safe tourist destination?

Japan is the safest nation we have ever been to We were never carefree as much as we were here than anywhere else. The crime rate is low, and there are hardly any incidents where tourists are mugged or mistreated. The streets are well-lit even at night. As drinking and smoking are not allowed in public, you don’t find drunkards on the roads. On weekends, you may find some drunk people in areas like Shinjuku. Still, they are up to themselves and never bother tourists.

Is pickpocketing common n Japan?

Nope! You can hardly lose anything in Japan! I ran to catch the bus at Nagano station and unknowingly dropped my wallet. As I ran, I heard footsteps of another person running behind me, only to give my dropped purse back.

Common tourist scam in Japan

Apart from some weird-themed cafes like “Maid Cafe” and overpriced restaurants, we never encountered any particular scam in Japan. You can be carefree in Japan and enjoy your time fully without worrying if anyone will cheat. Beware of your belongings and use common sense not to fall for “save orphans” or “sign this petition to save the earth”; you need not worry about anything while in Japan.

13. What is the best month to visit Japan?

  • March-first week of May – This is when Sakura flowers bloom, and Japan looks like a paradise from another planet. Great weather and awesome blooms make it a tourist’s favourite time and the most expensive period to visit Japan.
  • September to November – Not too cold and definitely not hot. Plus, you are rewarded with a kaleidoscopic view of autumn leaves during the “Not too pricey, yet not affordable” period.

What is Japan like in December?

If you are a budget traveller like us who wants to experience Japan when it is less crowded at an affordable price and get the most out of everything, visit Japan between the 1st-3rd week of December. Pack well and wear layers – You can wander in Japan’s winter, witnessing the Christmas vibe, winter illumination and some autumn colours! Plus, Japan’s official statistics show a 77% chance of clearly seeing Mount Fuji in December.

What should I do on my first trip to Japan?

Japan is small in terms of size. India is nine times bigger than Japan. But don’t let the size fool you! Because there are way too many things in Japan for tourists to experience and see.

Cultural festivals and celebrations, ancient Sumo and samurai tradition, Nightlife, theme parks, mountains, lakes, hiking trails, gastronomy, historical temples, towns by the canalside – the list goes on. Make sure you craft the itinerary to have bits of different kinds of experiences. Go beyond Kyoto, Tokyo and Osaka to places like Hokkaido, Nagano and Hiroshima.

How many days to spend in Japan?

At Universal Studio Japan

Spending 19 days wasn’t enough for us. So, bare minimum, spend 15 days in Japan to hit the famous places.

14. Are you supposed to tip in Japan?

Never tip anyone in Japan – They consider it rude. Most Japanese restaurants require customers to pay for their meals at the front register rather than leave money with the waiter or waitress.

15. Travel tips exclusive to Japan.

What are common customs in Japan?

Japanese follow many rules and customs, which are easy and good to follow as a tourist. 

  • Japanese never skip a line even if they are in a hurry – Whether it is a toilet or a famous cafe. So learn to wait patiently in the q.
  • Stay on the left side of the escalator and give way to the passengers who wish to walk faster on the escalator.
  • Bowing is the actual way of greeting. It isn’t that they deny handshakes. But the Japanese prefer it to be bowing.
  • Don’t eat while walking. Japanese find it unclean to walk while eating as the food droppings dirty the floors.
  • Keep your bags in the given basket or a counter at the restaurant. Don’t fling it on the chair’s backrest or the table.
  • Remove your shoes wherever there are Tatami mats.
  • Slurp your noodles shamelessly – It is a way of telling the world that you love your noodles.
  • Use both hands to take and give anything.
  • Don’t hand over money to the shopkeeper’s hand. Place it on the tray kept on the cash counter and collect your change from the same.
  • Japanese are super punctual. Even if you have reserved a bus or tour seat, they don’t wait for you for two minutes. It is always good to be at least 10 minutes early.
  • Japanese don’t talk on public transport. Even if they do, it is very soft. So keep your voice at the lowest when you speak, especially in trains/metros.
  • The bus driver says “arigato gozaimasu” (which means thank you with respect) to every passenger who gets off the bus. So, it is good to reply with the same phrase out of respect.

Smile, ask for help, initiate to speak and appreciate if you like someone’s bag/outfit or food. Show your love, and you will be showered with love from the Japanese – Because they are one of the warmest people on earth!

Found our Japan Travel Tips helpful? Let us know in the comment section below.

Published by Sahana Kulur

Traveller | Blogger | Architecture and history

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