Insider tips for Japan
Japan is everything you can imagine, and more – rich culture, profound history, natural beauty, epic shopping, unforgettable cuisine, gracious hospitality... But to experience its true grandeur, there are some essentials to master before you go.
Spring (Mar-May) and autumn (Sep-Nov) are the best time to visit. Other seasons are a mixed bag of unpredictable weather and peak tourist periods, especially around holidays.
If you’re travelling around the country, buy a Japan Railways (JR) Rail Pass before you leave home. Also, check out our transportation tips.
Before you go, book accommodation to ensure best prices and avoid on-the-ground hunting for a bed. Best bets for most authentic experiences are ryokan (traditional wooden lodgings) or minshuku (simpler ryokan, sometimes rooms in private homes).
Learn a few basic words in Japanese. While you won’t master the tongue, showing the effort will be much appreciated.
Don’t leave home without slip-on shoes, holeless socks (you’ll have your shoes off a lot), trinkets from home to give as gifts, an open-minded appetite and your new Japan Rail Pass.
Eating is half the fun of travel in Japan. Be adventurous! Vegetarians who eat fish will be fine; those who don’t will find more options in the big cities than in the countryside. Many temples, such as Kōya-san in Kansai, serve Buddhist vegan cuisine. Note that most miso-shiru is made with fish.
Tipping is not practised in Japan; tea is free of charge.
When visiting an onsen (Japanese hot spring), find a place to wash, or at least rinse, before entering the tubs.
Japan may appear to be a land of gluttony but you don't have to contribute significantly: make a lighter impact by minimising packaging (Fukuro wa iranai desu: 'I don’t need a bag'), carrying your own reusable chopsticks, eating locally, avoiding endangered fish, staying in green establishments or taking the shinkansen (bullet train), etc.
Japan is also a land of long-steeped tradition and etiquette. Pick up some dos and dont's, or just do as the locals do.
Although pricey, Japan doesn’t have to be expensive – indeed, it can be cheaper than travelling in other parts of the world if you're careful.
Extend your stay and your experience by working or studying in Japan.