If you’re preparing for a trip to Japan for the first time, you may have already decided which cities you’d like to visit, started looking into the climate to see what clothes you need to pack, and bought a Japanese phrasebook so you can try communicating in the local tongue when you arrive.
But these are just a few of the things you need to do to be prepared for your first visit to Japan. Read on to learn about what to do before booking your trip, essential Japan airport information, and the best things to do in Japan for first-timers.
Visas for Japan
Before travelling to Japan, the first thing to do is to check if you need a visa to enter the country.
At the moment, there are only around 70 countries whose citizens are able to travel to Japan visa-free for tourism. This list includes the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as most of Europe. Everyone else is currently required to apply for a visa from a Japanese embassy or consulate and receive an approved travel document in advance.
Applicants for a Japanese visa are usually advised to submit their application at least a few weeks before the planned travel dates, to allow for enough processing time. It’s important to first book accommodation and arrange flights to Japan, as this information is requested on the visa form.
Japan trip itinerary planning
When making arrangements for your trip to Japan, you can either choose a package holiday deal or organise your own itinerary. Package holidays often include flights, hotels, activities, and car rental or other transport, and mean that you don’t need to think about the cost of each of these during your trip. This may make it easier for you to enjoy your trip.
If you’d rather plan your own itinerary for a vacation in Japan, you can easily do so using Google and Hyperdia, a useful website that allows you to navigate Japanese train timetables.
If you’re planning to use public transport to get around Japan, a great way to save money is to buy a Japan Rail Pass online in advance, which can be used on most train lines and Shinkansen (bullet trains) around the country. If you’re only planning to use public transportation in one city, consider getting a Suica prepaid smart card once in Japan.
You can book accommodation using websites like Booking.com, or try a capsule hotel or love hotel for a uniquely Japanese experience.
Best places to visit in Japan for first-timers
The best way to plan your itinerary is to think about what you really want to see and do during your stay, and to consider how much time you have. However, if you’re travelling to Japan for the first time, you’ll most likely want to prioritize a visit to the capital, Tokyo. Top things to do in Tokyo include visits to iconic districts like Shibuya and Harajuku, and famous attractions such as Tokyo Tower, the Sky Tree, and the Imperial Palace.
First-time tourists to Tokyo should consider staying in the districts along the JR Yamanote train line, such as Shinjuku, Ginza, or Roppongi, which connects most of the main attractions in the city centre.
If you’re in Japan for more than just a few days, you may want to consider widening your range outside of Tokyo and include a visit to Kyoto, which can easily be reached by Shinkansen bullet train in just over two hours and offers a range of historic temples to explore.
If you have ten days or more, consider visiting some of Japan’s other cities, such as Hiroshima (in the south of the island of Honshu) and Osaka. Osaka is Japan’s second-largest city after Tokyo, and boasts a range of enticing attractions such as Osaka Castle as well as world-famous local cuisine.
Arriving at Japanese airports
Depending on where you’re flying from, you’re likely to arrive into Japan at one of the following five international airports: Kansai or Osaka airports in Osaka, Narita or Haneda airports in Tokyo, and Chūbu Centrair International Airport in Aichi.
Flights to Tokyo arrive in both Haneda and Narita airports. Haneda is the Japanese capital’s main airport, servicing a huge amount of domestic traffic, and is located just 30 minutes from the city centre.
If you’re arriving at Narita Airport, to the east of the city, you’ll still be able to get to Tokyo city centre in less than an hour using the handy Narita Express train.
When arriving at an airport in Japan, you’ll need to pass through Japanese customs to gain entry to the country. Make sure you don’t have any of the restricted items for Japan in your luggage to avoid any delays to entry, which include certain foods, illegal drugs, counterfeit items or money, weapons, pornography, or products made from endangered animals.
Money and budget
While you’ll be able to pay by credit card for many purchases, including at most hotels, it’s important to have some cash as well, as some local stores don’t accept cards. Either exchange some money before you leave home, or use your debit card to withdraw Japanese yen from an ATM once you’re already in Japan.
For a low-budget trip, expect to spend 3,500 – 7,800 yen per person per day, and 8,800 – 18,500 yen on a medium-sized budget.
High season in Japan is during the southern hemisphere summer: November to January, so that’s when prices will be at their most expensive. The cheapest time to fly to Japan tends to be in April when you’ll also be able to enjoy the spectacular cherry blossom festivals across the country.
Japan is an amazing place! After all this preparation, make sure to enjoy yourself during your stay.