Essential Japan Travel Tips (Complete With Helpful Trip Planning Lists)

temple

Photo courtesy of Marc Veraart.

Planning a trip to Japan? Read on for essential travel tips, packing lists, must-try foods and not-to-miss cultural experiences.

Japan Travel Tips

1. Japan is a large country with many different climates. For example, if you’re going to Okinawa it’s likely to be warmer than Tokyo. Keep this in mind when packing, and check the forecast before you go.

2. Pack light, especially if you’ll be using the trains. There isn’t always a lot of space for baggage.

3. Between the many cultural attractions, wild street fashions and beautiful gardens you’ll take a lot of photos. Make sure to bring a camera with battery and backup memory card, and/or have a place to store photos online like SmugMug, PhotoShelter or Dropbox.

4. For temples, shrines and communal baths there is a certain etiquette that must be followed. Your best bet is to watch what the locals are doing and follow along.

5. You can leave most of your toiletries at home, as Japanese hotels provide shampoo, conditioner, soap, razors, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, towel, shower cap and many times even a robe, slippers and pants.

6. If you plan on purchasing clothing or shoes in Japan, keep in mind larger and taller individuals may have trouble finding their size.

7. When eating rice, never place chopsticks sticking up in the food, as this is how rice is traditionally served to the dead.

8. In cities like Tokyo and Kyoto the metro is an easy and inexpensive way to get around.

9. For those planning to travel around the country extensively, a Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) can help you save money by allowing unlimited rail rides for a certain period of time, depending which pass you choose. Or, if you have extra time to spare, the bus takes longer but is much more economical.

10. Remove your shoes whenever entering a home, temple, guest house or anywhere else you see shoes lined up by the door. If you don’t, it is disrespectful.

11. Show gratitude when someone shows you kindness. Having good manners is essential when visiting Japan.

12. Be mindful of your volume in public. Japanese people tend to speak quietly and politely. Try to do the same.

13. Don’t blow your nose in public. In Japan, this is seen as rude.

sushi

Sushi. Photo courtesy of Rita.Yang.

Must Try Food & Drink In Japan

  • Sake
  • Matcha Japanese Green Tea
  • Sashimi and sushi
  • Ramen
  • Miso Soup
  • Japanese Curry
  • Tempura (deep-fried seafood and vegetables)
  • Okonomiyaki (savory Japanese pancake with vegetables and meat/seafood mixed in)
  • Donburi (meat and rice bowl)
  • Yakitori (BBQ chicken skewers featuring many parts of the chicken)
  • Gyoza (Potstickers stuffed with vegetables and pork)
  • Mochi (Japanese rice cake, often used in desserts)
camera

Camera. Photo courtesy of Paul Reynolds.

Japan Packing List

  • Camera (with battery and extra memory card)
  • Pocket dictionary-
  • Smartwool (or other wicking) shirt
  • Light roll up rain jacket
  • Umbrella
  • Comfortable walking shoes you can easily slip off for temple visits
  • Medications
  • Scarf, hat, gloves
  • Sunscreen
  • Extra socks (for temple visits)
  • Tailored pants and dress shirt
  • Jacket (even in summer, as AC can be strong)
  • Conservative clothing for temples and shrines
  • Clothing you can layer to match the temperature
onsen

Onsen. Photo courtesy of Ryan McBride.

Japan Cultural Experiences

  • Japanese tea ceremony
  • Sumo wrestling
  • Have a craft cocktail (Tokyo)
  • See A Geisha Show (Kyoto)
  • Learn the art of calligraphy
  • Learn the art of flower arrangement
  • Savor sushi at a seafood market
  • Learn karate (Okinawa)
  • Drink craft beer
  • Visit a Buddhist Temple
  • Soak at a sento or onsen
  • Say a prayer at a Shinto Shrine
  • Sample some sake
  • Hear a sanshin concert (or other traditional music form)
  • See a Kabuki performance
  • See a Bunraku puppet show
  • Center yourself with Zen Meditation
  • Peruse a pottery studio

Have something to add? Please share in the comments below.

3 Comments

  1. Awesome lists – especially for food and drink. I’m happy to say I’ve tried and loved it all – although mochi was a bit too sticky for my liking.

    I’ve got two foods to add:

    1) Takoyaki. A staple Osaka street food, they’re like a cross between a chicken ball and calamari – essentially breaded octopus balls. Delicious!

    2) Taiyaki. A fish-shaped waffle cake filled with red bean paste. It might sound weird, but we eat vanilla bean flavoured things, right? The red adzuki bean is sweet and similar to chocolate in some ways, I’ve found.

    1. @Candice: So timely you should post this. I’m actually back in Japan now and JUST had Taiyaki yesterday. Yum! I’m going on a hunt tomorrow for the Takoyaki you speak of. Sounds delicious. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

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