Going to Japan for the first time? Not quite sure what you need to keep track of? So I have collected a few tips for your first trip to Japan. In this guide I have included all the low practical information about visas, types of hotel, vaccinations, good manners, safety and much more. You will also find a few phrases that are good to know for your trip in Japan.
Brief about traveling in Japan
Before we get started, I want to tell you a little bit about Japan. It is an island kingdom with about 3,000 islands, the largest of which are Honshū (the main island), Kyūshū, Shikoku and Hokkaido. The land area is larger than Norway and has approx. 73% mountains and houses approx. 126 million people in the habitable areas, which are mainly in the big cities. Because of Japan's size, the climate can vary slightly depending on where you are, but you can easily travel all year round in Japan, and each season has its own charm.
The climate is slightly different from here at home, because the summers are hot and very humid. On the other hand, you can experience cozy Japanese summer festivals with food stalls, bon odori dancing and fireworks in the summer. The winters, on the other hand, are cold just like at home, but most Japanese homes are not insulated in the same way as in Denmark, and it therefore feels extra cold. In winter there are beautiful Christmas lights and holidays such as setsubun , where you throw small beans at trolls, oni .
In relation to the landscape and nature, however, spring and autumn are the most beautiful seasons in Japan, and many tourists come to Japan to experience the cherry blossoms in April or to see the beautiful momiji , autumn colours, in November. In the country where old meets new, you get a huge experience all year round, and you can pretty much pack the clothes you would have worn at home.
What should you remember for your trip?
Before you travel to Japan, it's good to have paperwork, vaccinations, transport, WiFi and hotel under control. It should be said that in this blog post no account has been taken of any corona regulations, so I would always recommend first reading more on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' website and possibly contact the Japanese embassy in Denmark if you are in doubt. Well, now for what it's all about - Japan!
1. Passport and plane ticket
You must of course keep track of your passport , so you are sure that it will not expire while you are in Japan. It MUST apply for the entire period you are away.
Next, you must have bought a plane ticket . I usually buy a return ticket about 6 months before planned departure. You can usually get a reasonably good price on sites like Momondo if you are in good time. There are various airlines that fly from Copenhagen to Tokyo, and if you fly from Billund or other Danish airports, you may experience a slightly longer journey time. That's why I usually go from Jutland to Copenhagen approx. one day before my journey starts.
Personally, I love traveling with Turkish Airlines and Emirates from Copenhagen. There is good service and not the worst airplane food in my eyes. It doesn't matter to me to stopover for a few hours in Istanbul, but it's entirely up to you how you prefer to fly. I also know several people who like to fly with Finnair, and here there is a short stopover in Helsinki. If you are willing to pay a little extra, you can fly directly to Japan with SAS. This is clearly the fastest and most comfortable route.
If you start your trip out in Tōkyō, you can choose to fly to Haneda and Narita airports . Haneda is clearly the closest to central Tōkyō and has a fantastic airport with activities and Instagram-friendly photo spots. It is also often a bit more expensive to fly to.
Narita is a little further out in the country near the village of Narita, and it takes a little over an hour to get into Tōkyō depending on which train you take there. Narita is actually a really cozy little town with souvenir shops and the beautiful temple Naritasan Shinshōji, and it is recommended to spend the night in one of the city's hotels if you have to get up early and catch a flight home.
In Japan, of course, there are also various diseases, and there are a few vaccines that are good to follow up on before your trip. I have tried to boil down what the Statens Serum Institut (SSI) recommends to the following recommendation:
- Tetanus and diphtheria when traveling for less than 1 week (short business trips)
- Tetanus, diphtheria, hepatitis B and Japanese meningitis from 1 week onwards
As standard, most Danes are vaccinated against tetanus and diphtheria approx. every 10 years, but it is good to follow up on them with your doctor, in relation to when you were last stung.
Hepatitis B and Japanese meningitis can be vaccinated against by a doctor at e.g. a travel clinic. In my first three trips I hadn't gotten these two and I was perfectly fine even though I was out in the country in the mountains. However, I would recommend prioritizing them in your budget - especially if you are someone who worries about illness - so you can enjoy your holiday without worries. Even though Japanese meningitis is a bit expensive. Even if you get this vaccine, it's still a good idea to protect yourself from mosquitoes on the trip. You can buy mosquito spray over the counter at Japanese pharmacies everywhere.
In relation to COVID-19 , as it stands right now, everyone must present a negative test result upon entry into Japan. You can follow the situation with entry and vaccine passports on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website here .
It is not necessary to buy a visa to enter Japan if you are just a tourist visiting for up to 90 days. For all trips over 90 days, however, you must stop by the Japanese Embassy. Be sure to leave early in case they are busy so you can get your visa before travel. If you are in Japan for up to 90 days, just show up for your scheduled flight.
When you're in the air, the flight attendants hand out two little formulas to fill out. You will be given two forms : 1) an immigration form and 2) a customs declaration. It is very straightforward to fill in the small notes, and if you make a mistake, you can get a new note. However, you must remember to keep track of a few things such as the address of your first accommodation, so it is good to have the papers printed out or to have taken a screenshot of this on your phone. If you do not have time to fill in the forms on the plane, there is also the option of filling them in at the airport on arrival. So don't panic if you're one of the lucky ones who can sleep most of the flight away :-)
When you enter the airport, you must hand in the form and declaration, and you will receive a "landing permission" and a fine stamp. You will also be asked about your errand in Japan, to which you of course just have to answer that you are coming as a tourist (if that is the case). The whole thing is actually very straightforward, but good to know beforehand.
4. Japan Rail Pass
Before you have packed your suitcase and are on your way, I would recommend taking a closer look at a so-called Japan Rail Pass. It is a train pass produced by the Japan Railways Group, which allows you to travel on some high-speed trains ( shinkansen ), alm. trains, subways, ferries and buses owned by the JR Group. The pass does NOT give free access to privately owned train lines and subway companies, but only JR lines, which is the nationwide, state-owned transport company. There is a list of all transport covered by the pass on their website here . So you can get really many places in Japan with just the passport.
The pass can be purchased for 7, 14 or 21 days and can be purchased in general. version or in green version, which is a bit more fancy. It costs a little for a JRP, but if you want to travel all over Japan with the shinkansen , you save money on a few trips with the shinkansen . And it is SO much more comfortable to go from Tōkyō to Kyōto in a few hours on the shinkansen than on a night bus overnight (been there, done that).
JRP must be purchased from home before departure. As far as I remember, I got mine sent by post, and it can be bought from various providers online here in Denmark.
In Japan, many people get around by train or subway, and this is the primary choice of transport here. You can also rent a car, but here you need to be aware of the fact that Japan has tolls, as well as the validity of your driver's license. Remember to order an international driving license at Borgerservice if you want to drive in Japan. It probably only costs about DKK 25.
5. Travel card
When you arrive jetlagged in Japan and have found your suitcase on the baggage belt, I recommend that you go to the airport train station and get a travel card made. With a travel card, you save money compared to buying a paper ticket every time you go by train.
The card can be made at ticket machines at most major stations. At some stations there is also a helpful member of staff, but you can use the English instructions on the screen to make your own card. It costs ¥500 (approx. DKK 28) as a deposit, which you can get back when you travel back home, but I think it's a nice souvenir to take home. And then you can use it again the next time you are in Japan.
The card works just like a Danish travel card, which is topped up and beeped out and in on departure and arrival. Take good care of your card, because if you lose the card, you also lose the entire amount on the card. To look after your card, there are nice card holders with e.g. Pokemon, Hello Kitty and much more. These can be bought, among other things, in the Japanese retail chain Don Quijote.
There are various travel card providers around Japan, but in Tōkyō Suica and Pasmo are the most used travel cards. In Ōsaka, Icoca is the leading provider, but the cards have in common that they can be used all over the country. A travel card is therefore a must have when traveling in Japan. And even then it can be used in most konbini kiosks . Super smart!
6. Security and culture shock
In this section we will talk about general safety in Japan, English, the chance of earthquakes, jet lag and culture shock. Japan is generally a very safe country to travel in. In my solo travels as a woman around the country, I have never experienced unpleasant behavior from strangers. Of course, just like in Denmark, there is always a chance that something could happen, but Japan is generally very safe. This may be due to the harsh penalties. In metropolitan areas, there are also women-only train compartments, so don't get into one as a man if you want to avoid the stares of the women.
You may also already know that there are frequent earthquakes in Japan - in fact, every day. It's about. 1,500 earthquakes annually, but they are rarely as devastating as the Tōhoku earthquake of 2011. Personally, I have only experienced earthquakes that I could feel three times in my travels and stays. If something should happen anyway, remember to seek shelter and cover your head, open the door and don't go outside, follow the locals and get away from coasts. It might sound a little dramatic, but there is only a small chance of a major earthquake during your stay, so don't let fear stop you from having a lot of amazing experiences in this beautiful country! Modern Japanese houses are also built to withstand earthquakes, so it is generally safe.
When I'm in Japan, I ALWAYS get jet lag , traveling from west to east, and I'm usually totally overtired. Take a refreshing shower and try to keep yourself awake by going sightseeing on the day you arrive. You probably shouldn't challenge fate and drink an energy drink like I did on my first trip, but get out and explore Japan so you'll naturally be tired by evening.
In addition to jet lag, it is very normal to be overwhelmed by the different Japanese culture and to experience culture shock . Maybe you will be overwhelmed by high-tech toilets, neon signs and the advertisements everywhere, the " irasshaimasee" of the shop assistants, different food and the straight lines of the escalators. I actually also usually get a bit of culture shock when I come back to Denmark, because I've gotten used to Japan. Fortunately, this is completely normal.
As Danes, we are used to being able to get by in many places in the world with our English . The Japanese are one of the most hospitable and helpful people I've ever met, and although they are incredibly eager to help, many do not have a high level of English. They are happy to help in the best possible way with signs, images and translation machines, so often you find out anyway. With the preparations for the Olympics in Japan, Tōkyō has also become much more tourist-friendly, with English and international signs, so you can find your way around. It will probably be more of a challenge in the countryside, but don't let that stop you from traveling around! :-)
So where should you live in Japan? I get that question quite often, but it all depends on budget and preferences. Here are 5 good accommodation options:
- Hostel/guesthouse is fine if you are a young backpacker who is not bothered by noise and can sleep almost anywhere. I myself have used these two a lot on my travels, but next time it will probably be over for me. But hey, you can live as cheaply as for a flat 50s per night in dormitories found on Hostelworld.com. So there really is money to be saved here if you can sleep anywhere.
- Holiday rentals such as Airbnb offers the opportunity to have more privacy than in a hostel at good prices. Remember to look at the host's reviews, comments etc. before you book.
- Home stay is a super cozy way to get to know Japanese culture better. There are many websites out there where you can find families for home stay, and in some places you can pay with labor for a roof over your head. Definitely something I would like to try again myself.
- Capsule hotel is a fun way to stay in a hotel, where you live in small individual boxes with mattresses. It doesn't sound so nice, but they are said to be very comfortable to sleep in - and so it's a fun and unique experience. It costs from around ¥2,500 to ¥ 6,000 (approx. DKK 150-350) per night, and many of the corridors in the hotels are divided into men and women.
- Hotel, yes we know that. It works pretty much like in Denmark, but try to see if you can find a room in one of the many themed hotels in Japan such as Keio Plaza Hotel Tama (Hello Kitty themed), Henn na Hotel (robot themed) or Hotel Gracery Shinjuku (Godzilla theme). In any case, it will be an experience!
- A ryokan is a traditional Japanese hotel where rooms often have tatami floors, communal baths and kaiseki dinners. Get an authentic Japanese experience in Japanese slippers and yukata (a kind of thin kimono). A stay often costs between ¥15,000 and ¥25,000 (approx. DKK 850-1,500) per person. night, but I recommend that you at least try it one night during your trip.
These are the most popular and normal types of accommodation when traveling in Japan. What type of accommodation do you prefer when you are travelling?
Many places in Japan have free WiFi hotspots - especially in Tōkyō. At larger train stations there is always WiFi at e.g. Starbucks, 7-Eleven, Family Mart, McDonald's and Don Quijote, so you are never far from the nearest WiFi in the big cities. In this way, Japan is very tourist friendly. In my opinion, the WiFi at Starbucks is always good, and you can just refuel with a cup of coffee in the meantime. And don't worry - it's not as expensive as in Denmark. If you need to have access to WiFi quickly, I recommend going for one of these places. Virtually all hotels also have free WiFi, which is often best in the lobby.
If you don't want to be without WiFi constantly, you can buy a mini pocket WiFi router or prepaid SIM cards at the airport. It can also be bought cheaper from electronics giants such as BIG CAM, which can be found in all major cities.
Remember to have your mobile on airplane mode from the moment you leave Danish soil if you want to use WiFi and not have a huge phone bill. You can easily connect to WiFi even if you have your phone on airplane mode.
9. Navigation and maps
When you have to navigate around Japan, it is very good to keep in mind that there are no street names like here at home. Therefore, I would recommend going after marking destinations with pins on Google Maps or Apple's Maps.
Use Google Maps to research travel plans, times, prices, etc. In addition to being very up-to-date with regard to public transport, Google Maps is also good for finding your way around the city. Even without internet, you can use GPS tracking on the map and follow points you have previously marked with pins.
On many trips in Japan, I have also used the website and app Hyperdia , which I have been introduced to by Japanese friends. In my eyes, it is good for train and bus journeys, if you e.g. must change transport en route. The design is, as on many Japanese websites, not as user-friendly with a nice design, but the app is still super good in my eyes.
10. Remember cash
Japan is still a little behind in the use of VISA and electronic payment cards in general. You can gradually use your payment card in most places in the big cities, but if you go out into the countryside, inaka , then cash is still necessary.
Although I've carried around a fortune in cash on some trips - which I don't recommend - it's a good idea to have cash on you. You can withdraw money from konbini machines, such as at e.g. 7-Eleven, so just raise a good chunk of money at a time. You often get around DKK 30 withdrawn from the ATM every time you withdraw.
If you want to bring some money from home, you can order Japanese yen from your bank. It takes about one or two weeks for most banks to get them home, so remember to order well in advance.
11. Japanese manners
I could write a book on this topic in itself, because in Japan it is good style to be polite and maintain harmony and the good mood. In public, one does not immediately show one's feelings, but maintains the facade on the outside. This has, among other things, to do with the strong Japanese team spirit and the importance of community.
In the following, there are a few things about good Japanese manners and consideration, which are good to remember for your first trip to Japan:
- Do not eat or drink while walking
- Take off your shoes in the genkan (entrance area of a house)
- Take your trash home with you (there aren't many public trash cans in Japan)
- Do not be loud or talk on the phone on the train
- Don't tip in restaurants and bars - it's rude
- Do not stick your chopsticks into the bowl (this is done in connection with Japanese funeral rituals)
- Do not let your chopsticks touch shared plates or other people's chopsticks
- Do not rub chopsticks against each other
- Don't blow your nose in public - if you really have to, it's actually better to cough and sneeze
- Use a mask if you have a cold (we're getting used to it)
If you should forget to follow one of these rules, many Japanese are lenient because you are not Japanese. So screw it up. But still try to see if you can avoid these things :-)
12. Japanese phrases
Last but not least, I have a few Japanese phrases that are good to remember. The Japanese will appreciate it very much and tell you that you are almost fluent in Japanese if you know these ;-)
- Konnichi wa : Good day
- Konban wa : Good evening
- Oyasumi nasai : Good night
- Arigatō : Thank you
- Sumi masen : Excuse me or excuse me (if you bump into someone)
- Onegai Shimasu : Please
- Hai and iie : Yes and no
Such! Now you will soon be ready for a trip to the kingdom of the sun. We hope you have a fantastic trip, and remember to leave room in your suitcase for souvenirs. Perhaps you can find beautiful ceramics or beautiful ukiyoe pictures from different regions of Japan.
Please also have some Danish souvenirs in the form of e.g. snacks for helpful Japanese people or friends. In Japan, there is a culture of giving small souvenirs to colleagues, family and friends when you have been abroad or in other Japanese prefectures. They will love a small bag of Danish sweets, but be careful with the licorice - few people like it ;-)
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to write them in the comments section. Mata no !
Also read: The ultimate guide to Tōkyō .