Japan Travel 101: Your first trip in 2023

As with any trip abroad, your first time visiting Japan will be filled with adventure, new experiences, and interesting challenges. But from your first time sleeping on a futon to your first time getting on a night bus to Osaka, there are a few things you need to prepare yourself for.

We’ve already taken a look at how to prepare for post-pandemic travel, but here we will look at some of the basics to keep in mind when planning your first Japan trip.

1. Don’t just stay in Tokyo


This is Japan too! Yuzawa in Niigata, to be precise. Photo: iStock/ lion95

On your first trip to Japan, it can be tempting to set your sights on Tokyo and not aim to explore much further. But if you want to get a real sense of what Japan is like, you’ve got to cast a wider net!

One way to explore without venturing too far out of your comfort zone is to choose a city as a base and find some interesting day trips in the area to experience a bit more culture. For example, while staying in Tokyo, you could travel to areas like Nikko, Chichibu, Kamakura or Kawagoe in a day. These areas give you a taste of life outside the big cities.

You should also consider what kind of holidays you like in general. Many first-time visitors only think of Japan as Tokyo or Kyoto, but there are all kinds of regions to explore. Here is an overview of what activities you can do in other areas:

  • Skiing and snow activities: Hokkaido, Nagano, Niigata
  • Beaches: Okinawa, Kyushu, Chiba
  • Nature trails: Most of Japan!
  • Tradition: Kyoto, Tochigi, Ishikawa
  • City life: Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka, Sapporo

This goes for the seasons too! Japan isn’t just beautiful in cherry blossom season but all year round. There are some particularly gorgeous sights in autumn.

2. Figure out transportation in advance

Once you’ve figured out where you’re going, you should think about how you’ll get there. Don’t make assumptions about how easy it will be to get from A to B!

Deciding your method of transport will depend on where you’re staying and your travel priorities. While you may think that taxis are the easiest option, they can be expensive and are not always easy to find outside big cities.

  • The shinkansen (bullet train) is the most expensive and convenient transportation option. Purchasing a JR Rail Pass is the best way to cut costs if you’re visiting on a temporary tourist visa.
  • Buses and local trains are best for budget travelers but these tend to have the longest travel time so plan accordingly.
  • Car rentals are perfect for those heading into less touristy areas, but costs increase quickly with toll and gas being key factors.
  • Taxis are expensive but come in handy if you’ve missed the last train and aren’t traveling outside city limits.

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