Travelling to Japan for the First Time: Tips for Easy Travel

If you're set to visit Japan for the first time then you must be eager to see for yourself what makes the country special. Is it the Japanese culture? What about Japanese cuisine? Are the major cities as good as advertised, or is everything secondary to the hot springs? Will the kids enjoy it, too?


On a good day, a trip to Japan is more than just a unique experience. It's a series of unforgettable stops, especially if it's your first go around. But ultimately, those are experiences you'll discover along the way. In the meantime, let's focus on some of the things to consider during your first trip to Japan.


If you are traveling internationally to Japan with your baby for the first time, read here on how to travel with a baby on the plane.

Planning to take a stroller with you? Read here to find out more about flying with a stroller.

 Traveling to Japan for the First Time_Historic Shrine in Kyoto

Utilise Japan Explorer Pass

Visiting Japan is like an annual tradition for many tourists. In fact, it's one of the most visited destinations in the world, with a record high of 31 million visitors pre-pandemic, and bouncing back with over 25 million in 2023.


With that said, most visitors, including first time travelers have learned one way or another that exploring the country doesn't have to be an expensive affair. For starters, you can save a lot of Japanese Yen (local currency) by simply getting yourself a Japan Explorer Pass via the Japanese Airlines (JAL).


There are 25 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Japan including the Himeji Castle and the Shirakami-Sanchi mountain range. When exploring these historical sites and natural wonders, Japan Explorer Pass can help you save significant travel expenses.


This special tourist pass provides affordable rates for flights across JAL's domestic network of over 30 cities. For example, a 1-hour 15-minute flight from Tokyo to Osaka will only set us back $76.70 with JAL, which is cheaper than taking a $156 2-hour bullet train.


The fares are subject to change, but you'll constantly find cheap domestic airfares that are $100 one-way.


We prefer flying over the train because moving around the subway and the train system with our little ones and luggage can get tricky. It's often more convenient to fly then take the airport limousine bus, which normally has access to the best lodging options near Japan's major airports and business centres.

 Traveling to Japan for the First Time_Juniko Pond in Shirakami-Sanchi

Japan Rail Pass May Be Beneficial Depending on Your Japan Trip Itinerary

If you're making your first Japan trip, another thing to look into is the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass).


For the most part, Japan is connected by its major train stations. So, if you wish to move around efficiently, there is no better way than to use the country's world-class bullet trains. Thus, we recommend getting yourself a JR Pass, which provides you with unlimited travel through the entire national JR network for 7 days.


If you plan to make several trips using JR trains during your stay, you’ll start saving money at some point during your trip. Otherwise, it's not necessary.

 Traveling to Japan for the First Time_Shibuya Japan

Be Prepared to Queue for Restaurants Wherever You Go

Japan is known for many themed, small restaurants that are worth checking out. However, these shops are often very busy. So, don't be surprised if you'll have to queue for at least 30 minutes if you want to get a seat.


Also, some of these Japanese restaurants might prohibit suitcases or strollers in their premise due to the limited space they have. So, make sure to do your research and plan accordingly.


Finally, getting around, in general, is much better if you can learn a few basic phrases that locals use for common transactions and interactions.


Have Google Translate On Your Phone

Japanese can be shy when speaking with foreigners, and language barrier can occasionally pose a challenge, but the locals will try their best to help when you make an effort yourself. On your part, we recommend installing Google Translate text or speech from your devices and then using it if the conversation stalls.


The locals are quite familiar with live conversation translators, so they are likely to respond positively. But do try to learn a few basic phrases to get through simple interactions, or so you can politely ask for help when needed.


Another cool thing about the Translate app is that you can use it to translate images using Google Lens.  The translation accuracy is based on the clarity of the text, which is suitable for signs, menu and some documents.


If you're using an Android device, Google Assistant also has an interpreter mode that covers many foreign languages, including Japanese.

Traveling to Japan for the First Time_Himeji Castle in Osaka 

Choose Accommodation Within Walking Distance of Airport Limousine Bus Stops

If you are with kids, then you'll have a finer stay if you choose accommodations that have easy access to an airport limousine bus stop.


Once you hop on the limousine bus, your luggage is safely stored away, whereas taking the subway or train means you have to actively look after your luggage at all times. Not only that, the subway and train tend to get busy and crowded, leaving you and the kids standing or stale for an extended period.


For our recent day trip, we stayed at Hilton Osaka with this setup in mind. Aside from having a smooth entry and exit point, the hotel's centralised location offered easy access to the city's bustling business and shopping district, as well as major local train operators.


To plan in advance, you can check the locations of airport limousine bus stops here.

 Traveling to Japan for the First Time_Shinkansen or Bullet Train in Japan

Travelling to Japan for the First Time FAQ:

Is Japan Good for First Time Travelers?

Yes! Japan is an exciting and safe destination for first-time travelers. The country boasts plenty of iconic places to visit and the culture itself is an attraction of its own. For a convenient stay, you may choose between international hotels or traditional Japanese inns (Ryokan), depending on the level of immersion you wish to have during your visit.


What to Do When You First Get to Japan?

We’ve found ATM exchange rates to be better than money exchangers, so we recommend doing this upon arrival to keep your travels fluid from this point forward. Once you've settled down a bit, don't hesitate to sample the local cuisine—there's nothing like it!


Japan has so much to offer but here are some places to consider to get you started:

Osaka – known for its amazing street food and robust shopping district. Osaka also offers an excellent showcase of Japan's heritage and modern architecture.


Tokyo – the city is a melting pot of what Japan has to offer in terms of pop culture, fashion and modern living. You'll also enjoy its diverse neighbourhood and harmonious balance between Japan's rich culture from the past and present.


Kyoto – arguably the best place to experience the best of what traditional Japan has to offer including stunning Buddhist temples, sublime Zen gardens and Shinto shrines. It's a welcoming place to visit any time of the year.


Hakone – offers some the most breathtaking views to the iconic Mt. Fuji. You can also arrange a day trip to Owakudani, Hakone's active volcanic zone and then wind down in any of the town's many diverse hot springs offerings.


What Do I Need to Know Before Traveling to Japan?

Get your passports ready and Japan visa, if you're not visiting from one of the countries with visa-free privileges.


If your phone is compatible, set up your eSIM like Airalo to ensure that you have online access as soon as you arrive and throughout your stay. eSIM is the convenient option for travellers since the data plan can be downloaded digitally.


If you're going with kids, organise your stuff with a nice diaper bag. For us, we rely on TernX's carry on travel kit. Whether we're travelling light or fully geared for our little one, we found the TernX diaper bag backpack to be most accommodating and comfortable. Plus, it looks more casual and stylish than most diaper bags!


Summary on Travelling to Japan for the First Time

Japan is one of the most exciting and uplifting family-friendly destinations in Asia thanks to its rich cultural heritage, diverse landscape, modern facilities and efficient public transportation system. There is also a level of customer service and professionalism unique to Japan, which is especially pronounced during your visit to local shops and in the hospitality sector.


Overall, we implore you to make a solid checklist to not get overwhelmed with the things you can do and places you can visit during your stay. And if you're planning to visit more than a handful of locations, don't forget that there is potential to reduce your expenses by getting a Japan Explorer Pass or JR Pass; depending on how you prefer to travel domestically.


Meanwhile, for tips on where to stay in Osaka or Odawara, check out our respective reviews of both Hilton hotels.



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