Things to know before traveling to Japan for the first time…

Traveling to Japan for the first time can be an exciting and enriching experience. Japan is an exceptional destination for tourists, families, business travelers and students. From amazing displays of natural beauty (think cherry blossoms and bamboo forests!)to unique cultural and historical monuments, to one of the most unique languages and cultures on the planet, Japan is a must see for traveling enthusiasts!

Japan has many bustling cities with incredible technology, impressive infrastructure, world class food and entertainment.  And there are also stunningly beautiful rural areas that have a slower and more peaceful way of life where you get a unique glimpse of Japanese traditions and culture. There are a broad spectrum of experiences and adventures to be had while visiting the remarkable country of Japan and if you plan your trip right you can get a taste of all Japan has to offer.  

Like any big travel adventure, taking the time to prepare and organize your trip will be worth your while and make your travels much more enjoyable. Japan is not an easy country to get to so making sure you make the most out of your time there will be well worth your while!

After traveling to Japan we believe it is one country that requires a bit more consideration and research in order to understand and enrich your travel experience in this unique destination. 

Japan often gets talked about as a country strict with procedures and rules, and while that is certainly true with respects to many parts of this remarkable culture, we found it to be full of some of the most welcoming people who were willing to share their knowledge, tradition and experiences with us.

After traveling as a family to Japan many times we have put together a list of tips and tricks to help you plan your ideal trip to Japan and get the most out of your time there.  

We have also put together the perfect packing list to ensure you have everything you need to ensure a smooth and incredible trip.  

So let’s take a look at some important and helpful pointers on traveling to Japan for the first time…

  1. Entry Requirements: Entering Japan is usually straightforward assuming you have an up to date passport.  Ensure you have a valid passport that is good for the length of your stay, as well as a return ticket.  Japan will turn you away if your passports expires during your visit and will not let you enter the country. We suggest making sure your passport has six months remaining from the date of your entry.  In most cases you can stay in Japan for up to 90 days without a visa. There are currently no COVID-19-related entry requirements, such as testing or quarantine regulations. 

  2. Language: Learning a few basics of the Japanese language is not only fun as it allows you to get a glimpse of this unique culture and language, but it will also enhance and enrich your experience.  While English is widely spoken in most tourist areas and major cities, learning a few basic Japanese phrases can be helpful and appreciated by locals.  This is perhaps one of the most important steps to do to prepare before you travel to Japan. While most people are patient with the language differences, many locals value tourists showing regard for their customs and language. This is particularly true in rural areas where English is not widely spoken. We met the most charming locals in the more rural areas and they were delighted when we had a few basic phrases down in order to interact with greater ease. 

    Additionally it is one of the more unique languages to learn so trying to pick up a few phrases is an enlightening experiences when it comes to language and phonics! Consider downloading a translation app or carrying a phrasebook to facilitate the process.  After traveling the world we always make sure to learn the most common phrases in every new country we travel to.  Our absolute favorite language lesson app is this one from Babbel. And while it is not inexpensive, the subscription is good for a lifetime and it is fantastic for learning conversational Japanese in a short amount of time.  We also always keep this book on us while traveling which is super easy to use and full of common phrases.  Learning a few key phrases is key and trust us when we say it will really improve your travel experience to Japan! 

  3. Transportation: Japan has an extensive and efficient public transportation system, including trains, subways, and buses. Using the public transportation is also our favorite way to travel as you get a glimpse at life as a local.  Be sure to purchase a Japan Rail Pass if you plan to travel between cities by train, as it can offer significant cost savings for tourists.  We can’t recommend this enough!  This is critical as it is also one of the best ways to see the country and understand the culture. Sitting on the trains is a fun and relaxing way to see how locals go about their lives in Japan, be it traveling to the office or taking their kids to school. We love watching all the kids pile on the train after school eating their traditional Japanese snacks and laughing. It is a great way to get a more intimate look at what life is really like in Japan.

  4. Cash vs. Cards: While credit and debit cards are widely accepted in urban areas, it’s a good idea to carry cash, especially in rural areas or when visiting smaller shops and restaurants. Japan is still largely a cash-based society, and not all establishments accept cards. So be sure to have at least some cash on you at all times.  Yes sure to hang on to a few coins or bills before you depart as it makes for a fun souvenir.  

  5. Etiquette and Customs: Japan is full of tradition customs and there are strict rules around etiquette.  Don’t be intimidated, but rather familiarize yourself with some of the customs to show respect for the local culture. For example, bowing is a common greeting, and it’s customary to remove your shoes before entering someone’s home or certain establishments like temples and traditional ryokan inns.  Additionally things like talking loudly or on a cell phone in pubic are frowned upon.  If you are ever in doubt be sure to just to what the locals do and you will be fine.  

  6. Local Cuisine: Japanese cuisine is diverse and delicious, ranging from sushi and ramen to tempura and yakitori. If you are an adventurous eater Japan is an exciting place to try new foods.  In many restaurants tables are low to the ground and you sit on cushions. Wet towels (oshibori) are provided at most restaurant to clean your hands before eating and be sure to respect this custom. And remember to slurp your noodles—it’s considered a compliment to the chef!

  7. Accommodation: Japan offers a variety of accommodation options, including hotels, ryokan (traditional inns), capsule hotels, and guesthouses. A ryokan is a type of traditional Japanese inn that often features tatami-matted rooms, communal baths, and other public areas where visitors may wear nemaki.  The owners are normally very friendly at these establishments and speak a bit of English as they are used to dealing with foreigners.  Be sure to Book your accommodation in advance, especially during peak travel seasons, and consider staying in a ryokan for a unique cultural experience.  This is one of our favorite Ryokans located just outside Osaka.  We highly recommend staying here if you are in the area.  

  8. Technology and Connectivity: Japan is well known for its advanced technology, so be sure to take advantage of amenities like high-speed internet and convenient smartphone apps for navigation, translation, and transportation. International mobile phones and tablet devices can certainly be used in Japan, but to make local calls or have phone service while traveling, especially if you plan to be in Japan for an extended period of time you might eat to consider renting a mobile phone. When using your own phone in Japan, your mobile provider may charge excessive roaming or other fees so be sure to check with them before you leave on your trip. Renting a mobile phone provides convenience and allows you to make local calls with no extra or roaming charges. Wi-Fi device or getting a SIM card can help you stay connected during your trip as well.  But don’t make the mistake of waiting to figure this out once you arrive and be sure to sort out your plan with your carrier before you leave. 

  9. Safety and Cleanliness: Japan is known for its low crime rate and clean streets. It’s very refreshing to see how orderly and clean the common community spaces and streets are kept.  And I love how safe it feels there.  We walk around very late at night with kids and feel abundantly safe.  However, when traveling anywhere it is still essential to take precautions like you would in any other country. Keep your belongings secure and be aware of your surroundings.  Check out our post on the ideal neck wallet for an easy solution to keeping your passport and cash safe.  

  10. Explore Beyond the Cities: While Japan’s cities are bustling and vibrant and something you should defiantly check out, don’t miss the opportunity to explore Japans natural beauty and rural areas. Visiting off the beaten track areas allows you to see  picturesque landscapes, historic temples, and tranquil countryside which allow you to gain a deeper understanding of Japan’s rich cultural heritage.  We usually suggest one or two nights in the big cities and then heading to the smaller villages and towns as soon as you can.  

    Here are two of our favorite off the beaten path places to stay in Japan….

    Kumano Winery Guest House: This is much more than an accommodation…this is an experience.  Set in a stunning location, with an amazing family as hosts you will experience Japan in a very authentic way while staying in this picturesque setting.  

    Onyado Yuinoshou is another one of our favorite locations set in a charming village close to Shiroyama Tenbōdai and Wada Ke.  They have mineral baths and beautiful hikes in the authentic and one of a kind location.  

By keeping these tips in mind, you’re sure to have a memorable and rewarding experience in Japan. Enjoy your travels!

 

Travel Essentials for Your Trip to Japan…

Traveling to Japan requires packing a bit differently than you may normally pack for a trip abroad.  

So we have put together a compressive checklist of what to pack on your first trip to Japan. 

Here is a list of the essential items you must have at all time.

  • Passport (make sure it has 6 months or more left before it expires!)

  • Visa : Depending on your length of stay you may or may not need a visa. Check with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

  • Customs Forms properly filled out

  • Airlines tickets both on your phone and a paper copy

  • Verification of hotel reservations

  • Transportation information and tickets including any reservations

  • Identification such as drivers license or other ID

  • Credit cards, cash, traveler’s checks, and other currency

  • Travel Insurance: We highly suggest getting insurance for travel in the event of any unforeseen events.

  • Guide Books or Maps. We love lonely planets

  • Translation guide and/or travel apps on your smartphone

Luggage and Bags

  • Checked suitcase: If you can get away with a carryon bag we highly suggest it. Traveling light and keeping your suitcase with you on the plane keeps things simple and reduces the chances of your luggage getting damaged or lost. However if you need a large suitcase that you will check be sure to buy a durable hard case suitcase that is easy to roll through the airport and through the streets.

  • Smaller carry-on luggage: For smaller carry ons it is important to have a hard shelled durable case that fits the size requirements for carryons. You also want to make sure it is easy to roll as well with sturdy wheels. There are also carry-ons that have built in water bottle holders.

  • Purse, backpack, or day bag: We highly suggest taking only one of these and combing the contents of your purse and daybed into one easy to use pack. You can use a backpack or crossbody bag to keep your valuables in as well as use for day trips while traveling. Purses can be cumbersome and are easier for thieves and pickpockets to gain access.

  • packing Cubes: We have become big fans of packing cubes over the years. These cubes help keep items organized and simplified in your suitcase.

  • Laptop bag or briefcase: if you have to bring a laptop we suggest using the backpack or day bag mentioned above to take along your computer. You want to limit yourself to two bags maximum for ease of travel and keeping thins simple.

  • ID tags for all your bags, with your name, home address, and hotel address listed. We also highlyrecmmend the Apple Air Tags. You can buy a four pack for under $80 which allows you to track your entire families luggage throughout your trip and offers peace of mind. These have come in so handy for us and have helped us locate our luggage on several occasions.

Clothing

Pack as sparingly as possible – about a week’s worth of clothes should suffice for trips lasting a week or more – and re-wear items of clothing when you can. Most of the populated areas and cities in Japan have laundry service in hotels or coin-operated laundry in town that tourists can use.

Bring layers so you can always add or subtract clothes to be comfortable if the weather shifts.  Japanese style is modern, but there is an element of modesty in public life that is not always present in the U.S. or Europe. Avoid highly revealing clothing.

  • Undergarments x 8

  • Socks x 8

  • T-shirts

  • Sturdy pair of walking shoes

  • Dress shoes

  • Jacket

  • Glasses/sunglasses

  • Jeans, khakis, or light pants x 2

  • Shorts or a light dress or skirt x 2

  • Long-sleeve and short-sleeve shirts x 7

  • Pajamas or sleepwear

  • Formal/business wear

  • Mittens, scarf, hat (if visiting in winter or colder destinations)

  • Jewelry as desired/required by the type of trip – avoid bringing if you can

  • A hat or visor for when it’s sunny

  • Swimwear

Toiletries and Personal Care

Pack toiletries in your checked baggage to comply with airline regulations. Don’t sweat toiletries too much – they are easy to pick up at convenience stores or hotels.

  • Toothbrush and toothpaste

  • Dental floss

  • Eye drops

  • Contact lens solution/contacts/glasses

  • Comb/brush

  • Nail clipper/file/tweezers kit

  • Razor(s) and shaving needs

  • Cosmetics

  • Feminine care needs

  • Cologne/perfume

  • Creams and ointments you might need

  • Hair ties, bobby pins, or headbands

Medical and First Aid

You can easily purchase key first-aid items at convenience stores in Japan. However, basic wound-care items are always good to have with you while you travel. Check to make sure your prescription and over-the-counter medications are permitted in Japan and carry them with you.

  • Bandages, gauze, and wound-care items

  • Over-the-counter medications like painkillers, cough medicine, motion sickness pills, and vitamins

  • Prescription medications – you may have to pre-certify the medication a month or more before your travel

  • Any medical equipment or devices you may require (g., hearing aids)

  • Copy of your medical history and medication information, either on your smartphone app or on a sheet of paper in your wallet/purse in case of emergency

  • Emergency contact information

Electronics

Bring your smartphone and associated chargers, plugs, and gadgets for your trip to Japan, and keep in mind whether you’ll want to access them during the flight.

  • Smartphone and charger

  • Portable music player

  • Headphones

  • Portable power bank

  • International adapter(s) for plug-in devices (Japan uses the 100V standard vs. the U.S. 120V standard, though the plugs look similar and many devices will work without issue)

  • SIM card(s) to use your smartphone for calling and data while traveling (check with your wireless provider and plan)

  • Camera and accessories

  • Laptop/tablet/e-reader/other computer devices and associated cords, adapters, and accessories

Miscellaneous

Pack a few of these extra items to have with you “just in case.”

  • Stain remover pen

  • Wrinkle release spray for clothes

  • Portable sewing kit

  • Glasses repair kit

  • Tissues

  • Pens and paper/notebook

  • Deck of playing cards

  • Spare batteries for electronics

Travel Items for Plane/Other Transit

The flight to Japan from the U.S. and Europe can be long. Consider packing the following items to help with the plane ride and other long travel times once you land.

  • Earplugs or noise-canceling headphones

  • Sleep mask

  • Antibacterial wipes and/or hand sanitizer

  • Travel/neck pillow

  • Sleeping pills or motion sickness pills

  • Updated airline apps

  • Updated media content on your devices

  • Book(s)/magazines/reading material or e-reader and associated cords

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