Guest Post: A Guide To Japan For First-Timers

About the Author
Caroline is a long term expat and traveler who has lived in many locations across the world including Japan. Although she has a day job, writing about her international experiences is her passion. Traveling from a young age with her family, Caroline’s goal is to see as much of the world as possible and soak up as much culture as she can!
Contact Caroline at securethoughtscaroline@gmail.com

If Japan hasn’t already made it onto your travel bucket-list, get ready to add it! Whether you work in the tech industry or are an explorer, this island nation has plenty of things for you to see and do. Somewhere between the historical sights, the sweeping landscapes, and the modern skyscrapers, you’ll find yourself absolutely enchanted by this country. It’s impossible to list everything about Japan in one guide, but here, we hope to give you some ideas about what the country has to offer.

Visas and Regulations

If you are from many Western countries—including the US, Canada, and the EU countries—you do not need to apply for a visa prior to your trip and instead will be granted permission to stay in Japan for 90 days upon arrival into the country. As part of immigration entry procedures, you will be fingerprinted and have your photo taken. Don’t let this alarm you; it’s standard procedure here!

Also important to know is that you are required to carry your passport with you at all times while you are in Japan. You might be subject to a random passport check at any time, and if you don’t have your passport on you, you will be detained and could even be fined.

Budgeting for Your Trip

Japan has a reputation for being an expensive place to visit—and Tokyo is known to be one of the most expensive cities in the world for tourists. A meal in a cheaper restaurant will cost around $7, and you’re looking at about $15 a night on accommodation in a hostel—and hotels will be much more expensive, of course. Fortunately, there are many free activities around the country that can alleviate the cost of sightseeing. However, figuring out your budget is crucial to ensuring you enjoy your time in Japan and see all the things you really want to see.

Prior to my time in Japan, I knew I was going to need to budget carefully, so I frantically scoured the internet for advice in this area. I found a lot of sites recommending I set up an Excel spreadsheet, but I’ve never really been one for Excel and anyway, I wanted something that would be convenient for me. Then I realized that, of course, there’s an app for that. Or a couple hundred of them, actually. Which app is best for you is a matter of personal choice, but I went with the TripBoss suite so I could keep all my travel information together in one place.

Domestic Transportation

Japan Trains

If you plan to travel around Japan during your time there, you will need to decide how you wish to do this. Of course, renting a car is an option, but can be expensive. Why not relax and enjoy the scenery while someone else does the driving? You might look into getting a rail pass, which will give you access to the extensive network of trains linking different places around Japan. Or look into budget airlines like Air Asia or Jetstar Japan.

If you’re travelling with a smartphone, there are some great apps out there to help you figure out transit times and train routes, such as the free Navitime Japan app. Bonus: this app can also help you find free Wi-Fi hotspots around Japan. (Remember that you will probably want to set up a VPN to protect your personal information prior to connecting to the Wi-Fi abroad, though!)

Deciding When to Go

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Depending on your job, you may not have much choice for when you go to Japan, but if you have options, you should consider them carefully. Believe it or not, there are approximately 200,000 festivals held every year in Japan according to some estimates! Try to hit at least one of the festivals–these will offer you a better sense of Japanese culture and traditions than you could likely get otherwise. Visit in the spring when the cherry blossoms bloom, or visit Kyoto in July for the Gion Matsuri Festival, or visit in winter for the Sapporo Winter Festival. But whenever you come, you’ll likely find some sort of event that’s happening!

Cities to Visit

Sakae, Nagoya

 

During your time in Japan, you don’t want to miss a visit to Tokyo. This city has a very modern feel and is home to many electronics showrooms like the Sony Showroom or the Panasonic Showroom where you can check out some current and upcoming products. But you can also explore the more traditional side of Japan at the Japan Traditional Craft Center, or by visiting the Sensoji Temple (Buddhist) or the Shinto Meiji Jengu Shrine (Shinto).

If you’re really interested in the more traditional aspects of the culture, you’ll want to visit Kyoto. Once the capital of Japan, this city is home to a set of imperial palaces and villas, which you can visit for free if you’ve filled out an application with the Kyoto Imperial Household Agency Office. Also of interest are the city’s three Geisha districts, where Geishas stroll along the streets on their way to entertain patrons. For an excellent view of the city, head up to Kiyomizu-dera Temple–you can also shop for souvenirs and food at the nearby open-air pavilions.

If you have time, head to Hiroshima, site of the horrific 1945 atom bomb attack. Don’t expect the city to still be leveled, though—it’s come a long way in the past half-century! Here, you can see the Peace Memorial Park and Museum and the Flame of Peace, contemplate the atrocities that occurred here, and pay your respects.

Outdoor Activities
Japan - Mount Fuji

The cities of Japan are great, but they aren’t all that the country has to offer—not by a long shot! If you’re feeling a bit sick of the metropolises and are looking for something to do outdoors, head to Mt Fuji, which you’ve likely seen in plenty of pictures. The official climbing season is during July and August, but you can also travel around the surrounding area and find the best place to view the volcano without climbing it. During the winter, visit Nagano, host of the 1998 Winter Olympics, for some fantastic skiing and snowboarding.

Conclusion

Japan is a wonderful country, full of curious juxtapositions of the old and the new. It starts in Tokyo, with its modern skyscrapers and electronics headquarters next to temples and markets, and spreads across the whole of this fascinating country. I certainly enjoyed my time there, and you definitely will as well! You’ve never visited a city as fun and entertaining as Tokyo—but make sure you get out and explore beyond the cities, from festivals to history to landscapes, Japan definitely has it all.

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