Clever Travel Tips Japan

Japan is unique. An island nation, it was cut off from any foreign interactions for centuries and has developed a very specific culture. Today, these ancient traditions seamlessly blend with cutting-edge technology.

It is a mesmerizing destination for travelers, but it is so different from anywhere else that it can seem a little bit daunting, especially for those who have not been before. This should not put you off going. It is a very rewarding place and most people I know who have been once choose to go back again and again. If Japan is on your itinerary, here are a few clever travel tips which should help your trip go more smoothly.

1. Remember Local Customs

As mentioned, Japan is unique. But being aware of a few customs can help you blend in and avoid unintentional rudeness or stress. For example, always remove your shoes when entering someone’s home or a traditional inn, and remember to be quiet and respectful in temples and shrines. If you have a meeting or appointment with someone do not be late.

Pro Tip:

When using public transportation, keep your voice down and set your phone to silent mode. Eating while walking is generally considered impolite, so finish your food before moving on.

2. Use Public Transportation Efficiently

On the topic of public transport, Japan’s is the best in the world. The Shinkansen (bullet train) network connects major cities and delays average less than a minute per year. Local trains, subways, and buses serve urban and rural areas well. Purchase a Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) if you plan to travel extensively by train.

Pro Tip:

Download apps like Hyperdia or Japan Transit Planner for real-time train schedules and route planning. These apps can be invaluable for navigating the complex train system.

3. Stay in Different Types of Accommodations

Japan offers a wide range of accommodations, from luxury hotels to budget hostels, traditional ryokan inns, and capsule hotels. Staying in different types of accommodations can enrich your experience and give you a taste of various aspects of Japanese culture.

Pro Tip:

For an authentic experience, spend at least one night in a ryokan, where you can enjoy traditional Japanese hospitality, futon bedding, and kaiseki (multi-course) meals.

4. Explore Regional Cuisines

Japanese cuisine is incredibly diverse, with each region offering its own specialties. From sushi and ramen to takoyaki and okonomiyaki, there’s a world of flavors to discover. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try new dishes.

Pro Tip:

Visit local markets like Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo or Nishiki Market in Kyoto to sample a variety of local foods. Many restaurants also offer affordable lunch sets that provide a great way to try different dishes.

5. Take Advantage of Convenience Stores

Convenience stores (konbini) in Japan are unlike those in other countries. Stores like 7-Eleven, FamilyMart, and Lawson offer a wide range of high-quality food, drinks, and essential items. They are perfect for quick meals, snacks, and even some travel necessities.

Pro Tip:

Try the onigiri (rice balls), bento boxes, and various ready-to-eat meals available at convenience stores. They are delicious, affordable, and a true taste of everyday Japanese cuisine.

6. Make Use of Luggage Services

Traveling with heavy luggage can be cumbersome, especially when navigating crowded trains and buses. Japan offers convenient luggage forwarding services (takuhaibin) that allow you to send your bags ahead to your next destination.

Pro Tip:

Use these services to travel light, especially when moving between cities. Many hotels can arrange for your luggage to be forwarded to your next accommodation.

7. Plan Your Itinerary Wisely

Japan has a lot to offer, so planning your itinerary is crucial. Prioritize your must-see destinations and group them by region to maximize your time. For example, spend a few days exploring Tokyo, then head to Kyoto and Nara for a taste of traditional Japan, and consider perhaps even Hiroshima or Hokkaido.

If you have more time, you might want to consider visiting less crowded places like Takayama, Kanazawa, or the island of Shikoku to experience a different side of Japan.

Pro Tip:

Many attractions in Japan have peak seasons, such as cherry blossom season in spring or autumn foliage. Plan your trip around these times for the most picturesque experiences, but book accommodations well in advance as these periods are very popular.

8. Embrace the Seasons

Japan is a country with distinct seasons, each offering its own unique charm. Cherry blossom season in spring and the vibrant foliage in autumn are particularly popular times to visit. Winter offers fantastic skiing in regions like Hokkaido, while summer brings festivals and fireworks.

Pro Tip:

Plan your activities around the season you visit. For example, enjoy outdoor hot springs (onsen) in the winter or participate in traditional summer festivals for an unforgettable cultural experience.

9. Visit and Respect Nature and Heritage Sites

Japan is home to many beautiful natural and heritage sites, including UNESCO World Heritage Sites. When visiting these places, always follow local guidelines and show respect for the environment and cultural heritage.

Pro Tip:

Carry a reusable water bottle and shopping bag to reduce waste. Japan is very clean, and there are few public trash cans, so take your trash with you and dispose of it properly.

10. Be Prepared for Cash Transactions

While credit cards are becoming more widely accepted in Japan, many smaller shops, restaurants, and rural areas still prefer cash. It’s always a good idea to carry some yen with you.

Pro Tip:

ATMs at convenience stores, such as 7-Eleven and FamilyMart, typically accept international cards and are available 24/7. Withdraw enough cash to cover your daily expenses.

11. Respect Bathing Etiquette

If you visit an onsen (hot spring) or public bath, familiarize yourself with Japanese bathing etiquette. Thoroughly wash and rinse your body before entering the communal bath, and avoid taking photos in bathing areas.

Pro Tip:

Tattoos are still somewhat taboo in Japan and may not be allowed in some onsen. Check the rules beforehand or seek out tattoo-friendly baths if needed.

12. Take Advantage of Tax-Free Shopping

As a tourist, you can enjoy tax-free shopping on certain items at participating stores. Look for stores displaying the “Tax-Free” logo and bring your passport with you when shopping.

Pro Tip:

Tax-free benefits typically apply to purchases over a certain amount, and items must be for personal use only. Be sure to understand the rules and regulations to make the most of these savings.

13. Explore Japan’s Unique Cafes

Japan is famous for its themed cafes, ranging from cat cafes to robot cafes. These unique establishments offer fun and memorable experiences that you won’t find anywhere else.

Pro Tip:

Popular themed cafes can get crowded, especially on weekends. Make a reservation in advance if possible to secure your spot and avoid long waits.

14. Understand Tipping Culture

Tipping is not customary in Japan and can even be considered rude in some situations. Instead, show your appreciation through polite behavior and verbal thanks.

Pro Tip:

If you receive exceptional service and really wish to show your gratitude, consider giving a small gift or souvenir from your home country instead of a monetary tip.

15. Stay Safe and Respectful

Japan is one of the safest countries in the world, but it’s still important to stay aware of your surroundings and follow local laws and customs. Respect personal space, avoid speaking loudly in public places, and dispose of trash properly.

Pro Tip:

If you need assistance, don’t hesitate to ask. Many Japanese people are happy to help, and you can often find English-speaking staff at major train stations and tourist information centers.


Visiting Japan is an unforgettable experience, offering a unique blend of ancient traditions and modern marvels. By planning ahead, respecting local customs, and embracing the country’s rich culture, Japan can be one of the most rewarding countries in the world to visit. Whether you’re exploring bustling cities, serene temples, or breathtaking natural landscapes, Japan is sure to leave a lasting impression. Enjoy your travels and immerse yourself in all that Japan has to offer.

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