Japan is one of the most fascinating countries in the world. With a unique way of life that you simply will not find anywhere else on the planet, this is one of those places that sticks in your mind long after you leave.
From eating at robot restaurants to getting a mermaid manicure to wandering through the cherry blossoms, there is a surprise around every corner in Japan. The Land of the Rising Sun is a dynamic mix of modern and tradition that will absolutely fascinate you.
Ready to say konnichiwa? Here are my top ten tips for your first trip to Japan!
Try All the Foods
You guys are always asking me which country has the best food in the world. While I have sampled some amazing dishes around the globe, few places can compete with Japan.
From the best sushi restaurants in Tokyo to the culinary delights of 7-Eleven (seriously!) you will find on every corner, every meal is an experience in Japan.
One of the key things I learned while traveling around Japan is that oftentimes the best food comes from the least expected spots.
Forget about white tablecloths and famous chefs! If you are looking for good sushi, look for the tiny spots that barely give you room to squeeze into your chair.
For a fun and quick treat, grab sushi from one of the bullet train platforms.
Served up by a robot, it’s a bit below Japanese standards but just as good as you would find in a decent Western sushi spot. Before you go, check out a few essential Japanese foods you must try on your trip (and they’re not what you’re thinking!).
Hold on to Your Garbage
While you will find vending machines, eating on the street is fairly rare and so are public garbage cans.
If you find yourself accumulating trash on the go, hold onto it. It is actually quite common for women to carry little plastic bags in their purse to collect the little bits of trash they end up with as they go throughout the day.
The cities of Japan are very clean and it is something they pride themselves on. Do your part by hanging onto your stuff until you can properly dispose of it.
Learn About the Culture
I would highly recommend going on a tour with a local to take a deeper dive into the culture and customs.
It will much SUCH a difference in your overall experience and make everything along the way more meaningful. The language barrier often makes it hard to appreciate everything going on around you so local info goes a long way.
When you are on tour with a local, ask him or her about the surgical mask phenomenon that you will notice as soon as you hit the streets.
Before you go, do remember that some things are quite different.
For example, tattoos are not the norm there. While it’s okay to show them on the streets if you don’t mind a bit of attention, some onsens (Japanese hot springs) require them to be covered.
And come ready the fanciest toilets of your life! Almost all of them have different functions from seat heating to ambient noise for privacy and water and air sprays. It’s definitely a bit weird at first but you will come to appreciate them.
Before you go, read my full guide to Japan so get a better idea of what to expect across the board.
Use the Local Transportation
Public transport is easy, cheap, and actually pretty fun. I actually find local transportation to be one of the best ways to get to know a place and its people better.
Every major city in Japan has a subway system and it will be a key part of your trip. For longer distances, the bullet train is the best way to get around. While it can be kind of confusing when you’re first trying to figure it out, it’s worth it!
Finding a Place to Stay
Think small! Everything in Japan is going to be smaller than you’d expect. From cars to restaurants to hotels, the Japanese have jammed a lot onto a little island—so don’t expect oversized places.
If you’re considering an apartment stay, know that Airbnb is highly restricted in Japan. All hosts are required to be licensed and it’s likely to get stricter so check for the most up-to-date laws before you book.
Hotels are generally a good option and, since they’re all going to be pretty tiny, pod hotels can be a fun and novel alternative.
The weather is Japan varies quite a bit depending on the season. In the winter, the north and central part of the country gets very cold and, especially in the mountainous areas, snowy.
Fun Fact: Did you know that the northern point of Japan is just 30 miles from Russia? We are talking about a Siberian level of cold!
Meanwhile, in the heart of summer, you will see temps reaching up to 90 degrees F in some spots. And it’s a sticky heat! Much of Japan is quite humid; ultralightweight clothing is best, and plan for mosquitos.
Read my full rundown on the best time to go to Japan to plan what to do when.
While it’s generally not the norm outside of North America, it is actually considered rude in Japan.
No matter how amazing the food or service was, don’t leave cash! The best and most respectful way move is to simply say thanks and compliment the server and/or chef.
In more casual spots, you can ask for the check by simply making an “X” sign with your index fingers (avoid this at fancier eateries though).
Take Off Your Shoes
Many places will request that you leave your shoes at the door. Get in the habit of checking as soon as you walk inside. It’s a major faux pas to come stomping in with dirty shoes.
Pause at the door to have a look around. Are there cubbies with shoes in them? Are there slippers set out?
If you see Western-style tables and chairs, there is a good chance you can wear your shoes in…but if not, assess your surroundings. And, of course, the best clue is to simply look at the feet of those already inside.
A Mix of Old and New
There is a fascinating mix of old and new throughout Japan.
Where the Shinto shrines meet the neon jungle, you will find something oh-so-special. The blend of ultra-traditional and cartoonishly futuristic is what makes Japan a place unlike anywhere else.
Whatever you do, make sure to see both sides of the country.
Go for a Night of Karaoke
Once you are head over heels in love with Japan, you are ready to serenade her. Sing your heart out at and have an amazing night of karaoke.
Head down to the Shinjuku district and into Tokyo’s famous Golden Gai area for a drink to loosen up those vocal cords.
Have you traveled to Japan before?
What tips would you include on this list? Let me know in the comments below!