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Japan Travel Tips: What You Need To Know For Your Trip

Knowing useful Japan travel tips will make your trip smooth and memorable for all the right reasons. From learning key phrases, navigating public transportation, understanding Japanese etiquette and more, these tips will help you explore Japan in the most natural way possible.

As someone who was born in Tokyo, is half Japanese, and lived in Japan for several years, I want to share my best advice for how to have an incredible trip to Japan. Japan is one of the safest and most accessible countries in the world to visit, but knowing these tips from a local will help you enjoy the most of your visit.

In this guide, I’ll share the most essential Japan travel tips that you need to know.

Ready to start planning your trip? Take a look at my 14 day Japan itinerary for inspiration.

What essential Japan travel tips do you need to know before your trip?

Learn basic Japanese words and phrases

You certainly don’t need to be fluent in Japanese to have an amazing trip to Japan, but knowing a few essential words and phrases will be useful.

I have a full guide about the most essential phrases for your trip to Japan, but if I had to pick just 4 to recommend that you memorize, they would be:

"It's alright / no problem" in Japanese is "Daijoubu desu"

Screenshot the phrases above for easy offline access later!


Tip: Say “kanpai!” (乾杯) when you toast glasses. The word essentially means “cheers” or “bottoms up”.

Withdraw cash

Japan is a very cash-heavy society and you will always have the opportunity to use cash (and sometimes not have another option). I generally recommend withdrawing at least ¥30,000 per person per week of travel.

You can find thousands of international ATMs in Japan, including at:

  1. Haneda International Airport

  2. Narita International Airport

  3. Osaka International Airport

  4. Convenience stores (like 7-Eleven, Family Mart, Lawson)

  5. Major department stores

  6. Major Japanese bank branches (like Shinsei Bank and Aeon Bank)

  7. Post offices

Before using your debit or credit card abroad to withdraw cash, remember to:

  1. Make sure your card can be used abroad

  2. Notify your bank of your travel plans

  3. Memorize your 4 digit pin code

  4. Understand what fees or withdrawal limitations apply to using your card abroad (many credit cards in particular have high fees for cash advances)

Tip I suggest using a coin purse while you are in Japan if your wallet doesn’t already have a coin compartment. You can buy coin purses inexpensively in Japan at ¥100 stores (equivalent of dollar stores) or department stores.

Get an IC Card

IC Card charge station at a train station in Tokyo

IC Card charge machines at a train station

Suica card

A Suica card


An IC Card is a prepaid, rechargeable transportation card that can be used for most of the trains, subways, and buses in major cities across Japan. Unless you plan to hire a car or walk for your entire trip (which, for the vast majority of visitors won’t be the case), I strongly suggest getting an IC Card.

Suica and Pasmo are the two leading IC Card brands. You can use either the mobile app or physical versions of the card (you can purchase the physical card at most train stations for around ¥500).

You can add more money to the IC Card via Apple Pay or at a charge machine at a train station (annoyingly, since August 2022, foreign Visa and Mastercards aren’t compatible with refilling the Pasmo or Suica cards through Apple Pay). The charge machines are pink and separate from the green ticket machines – you cannot recharge the cards through the ticket machines. Insert or scan your phone/physical card in the charge machine then add the amount of cash you’d like to refill the card with. Foreign credit cards won’t work at the charge machines to refill your IC Card, so you must use cash.

Decide if you want the Japan Rail Pass

The Japan Rail Pass is a special transportation ticket available only for foreign tourists to Japan. With this pass, you may be able to save money using railways, buses, and even ferry boats.

Generally, the Japan Rail Pass is only economically worth it if you plan to visit more than two or three cities in the country. Note that while many Shinkansen and rapid express lines are covered by the Japan Rail Pass, the Nozomi and Mizuho Shinkansens one of several that are excluded.

In order to find out if the Japan Rail Pass makes sense for your trip, I suggest using Google Maps between the long-distance routes you plan to take, add up the estimated fares, and see if it is less than the Japan Rail Pass package (compare the Japan Rail Pass prices on Klook).

If you decide to use the Japan Rail Pass, buy it in advance of arriving in Japan. The pass is more expensive if you purchase it in the country.

Bring a camera

View of blue skies over Kyoto through the interior of a temple at Kiyomizu-dera

Two of my favorite iPhone photos I took in Kyoto


Hopefully, visiting Japan will be one of the most memorable trips of your life and one that you will want to document! In addition to typical tourist photos, Japan is an incredible place for amateur and professional photographers.

Of course, you can take awesome photos of your trip with your phone’s camera, but if you have a nice camera, bring it! (If you need an idea of what camera to buy, I have the FujiFilm X-S10, although many of my travel photos I also just take with my iPhone 12.)

Pack the essentials

In my detailed packing guide for Japan, I outline exactly what you should or should not bring and wear in Japan. Most importantly, you must bring things such as your passport, a visa if required for your country of origin, travel insurance, comfortable walking shoes, and weather-appropriate clothing.

If you visit Japan between October and April, I suggest packing layers so that you can remove or add clothing as necessary since the temperature fluctuates considerably throughout the day.

Book special restaurant reservations in advance

One of the best things about Japan is that you can confidently walk into pretty much any restaurant and expect a delicious meal. However, if you’re hoping to visit popular or specific restaurants, book ahead.

High-end omakase (set course) sushi restaurants typically only have 6-12 seats and can book up weeks, if not months, in advance. I like to use Omakase, a reservation booking website that specializes in difficult-to-reserve restaurants. Through this website, I easily booked seats at some of the most regarded sushi restaurants in Tokyo. I like that the website clearly shows how much the meal will cost and allows you to make a reservation without needing to speak Japanese.

Nowadays, many restaurants in Japan are integrated with Reserve With Google or another reservations platform, so it’s often possible to make a reservation online (and avoid speaking Japanese if you’re unable to).

If you’d like specific restaurant suggestions, check out my Tokyo restaurant guide map.

Use Google Maps

I use Google Maps almost daily when in Japan because its integration with the public transportation system in Japan is excellent. Through Google Maps, you can see exactly which train or bus lines to take, station exits to use, and even train car to get on for the most expeditious journey.

Purchase Pocket WiFi or a SIM card

Unless you have an international phone plan, it will be easier to navigate Japan with access to Internet either via a pocket WiFi or SIM card. Particularly to use Google Maps, I find traveling around Japan much easier with Internet access.

Here are some options for pocket WiFi devices. You can also purchase and pick up SIM cards at the international Japanese airports or buy ahead online.

Know basic etiquette do’s and don’ts

In order to be a polite traveler, it’s good to be aware of basic etiquette behaviors. Japanese people have a reputation around the world for having an incredibly polite culture, so do your best to follow these simple do’s and don’ts:

Take travel insurance

Travel insurance is always a good idea when abroad, particularly for long trips. You never know what can happen and it’s one of those things you don’t need until you suddenly really do. One inexpensive option for travel insurance is EKTA (prices start as low as $0.99 / day).

Consider the best time of year to visit Japan

Seasons

Japan has pretty great weather year-round, but my least favorite season is the summer. From June to August, most of Japan is uncomfortably hot and humid with parts of the country getting hit with heavy rain during typhoon season. If you plan a trip during the summer, I recommend heading to the mountains or further north to Hokkaido to get a bit of a cooler breeze.

However, from September to May, Japan is absolutely lovely in terms of climate.

Deer standing in front of bright red leaves in Nara, Japan

The changing colors of the leaves make autumn in Japan my favorite season.


Autumn is my favorite time of year in Japan because of the kōyo (autumnal color change of leaves). The fall temperatures are very mild and it’s the season when all I want to do in Japan is be outdoors. Hiking is particularly excellent during the fall.

Winter in Japan offers world-class skiing and snowboarding in the mountains. Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto receive little to no snowfall and generally have clear, sunny skies. However, if you’re looking for a beach getaway, note that the Izu Islands and Okinawa Islands aren’t south enough to have comfortably tropical weather until around April.

Sakura blossoms and Mount Fuji in the distance

Spring in Japan is famous for its sakura blossoms


Spring is one of the most popular seasons to visit the country because of Japan’s famous sakura (cherry tree) blossoms. Peak sakura blooms usually occur in the Tokyo area around mid-March to early April.

Holidays

Most of Japan remains open during the Christmas holidays. Christmas is celebrated primarily as a commercial holiday in Japan, so you’ll find almost all restaurants and shops open if you visit Japan in the end of December. However, the same cannot be said for the New Year. New Year’s is one of the biggest holidays in Japan and many businesses close from January 1 until at least January 3.

Golden Week is a period between the end of April and early May when four national holidays fall within seven days. Many Japanese travel domestically and internationally during this week, so if you plan to visit Japan at this time, book your hotel and restaurant reservations further out in advance than usual. Flight and hotel prices may also be more expensive during this week.

Every 5-6 years, several national holidays fall during the same week at the end of September during a period called Silver Week. Similar to Golden Week, many Japanese travel during Silver Week so it can be an expensive and in-demand time to travel to and throughout Japan. The next Silver Week is at the end of September 2026.

Japanese School Breaks

Japanese schools have three semesters with vacation periods in between. For most students, the vacation schedule is roughly as follows: summer break is from the second half of July through the end of August; winter break is from around Christmas through the first week of January; spring break is from the last week of March through the first week of April.

You may want to consider avoiding travel to common kids’ destinations (such as DisneyLand or Universal Studios Japan) during these school breaks to avoid extra crowds.

Get Goshuin at temples and shrines

A Goshuin paper from the temple at Kamakura Daibutsu

A Goshuin from a temple


“Goshuin” are large stamps handwritten by monks that you can purchase for a few hundred yen at most temples or shrines in Japan. Goshuin are either pasted into or directly drawn on special accordian-style books called “Goshuincho”. You can buy Goshuincho at most temples and shrines as well.

Goshuincho booklet

I bought my Goshuincho at Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto.


Each Goshuin is full of special symbols with meanings that represent the temple or shrine from which it was obtained. I highly recommend getting a Goshuincho when you visit Japan and purchasing a Goshuin whenever you visit a temple or shrine. A Goshuin stamp usually costs between ¥300-¥500.

My Goshuincho book is one of my most treasured and unique souvenirs from my travels in Japan because there is no one else with one exactly like mine!

Buy tickets in advance to popular activities

I strongly suggest buying tickets to popular activities in advance to save yourself time and money. Some common activities in Japan that you should purchase tickets ahead of time for include:

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