Top Tips for First-Timers in Japan

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If you're planning to visit Japan for the first time and don't know what to do, this article will help you by telling you every important thing you need to know before visiting Japan.
- Get Yourself Either A JR Pass Or IC Card (Suica) 

I cannot stress enough how important this one actually is. It may seem like a minor thing to be worrying about when planning your trip, but these two passes will save you so much hassle and money in the long-run.
If you’re planning on exploring outside of Tokyo then you’re almost certainly going to want to order a JR pass. It’s a form of rail card exclusive to tourists, and allows you to use all of the JR line trains, including the monorail from Haneda airport, the Hikari shinkansen (bullet train) and various buses throughout Tokyo.

At around ¥30,200 for just 7 days, the pass may seem like an unnecessary investment, but considering a one-way ticket to Kyoto via the bullet train works out at around ¥14,300, it’s certainly worth getting if you’re planning on doing some exploring.

You can purchase your JR Pass voucher and find out more information about the pass at
An IC card is slightly different, but just as convenient. If you’ve ever ventured to busy London, then you’re probably familiar with the Oyster card – Suica is the Japanese equivalent.

You purchase the card from one of the ticket vending machines located inside the train stations, which are a breeze to use as they have an English option with easy-to-follow instructions. You load the card up with ¥2000 which includes an obligatory ¥500 deposit that you can claim back at the end of your trip when you return your card or you can get your name printed on it and keep it as a little souvenir! It’s also a good idea to keep hold of the card if you plan on returning to Japan at any point in the future, as it’s valid for 10 years after purchase.

After that, you’re good to go! You just tap your card onto the IC reader when you pass through any ticket gate. The cost of your trip will be deducted automatically when you complete your journey. If you run out of funds, just head back to the ticket machine and top up your card with any amount between ¥500 – ¥20,000. (Keep in mind that the trains in Japan are relatively cheap with the exception of the shinkansen so you don’t need to fret too much about splurging on travel costs.)

The Suica card can also be used to pay for drinks at most vending machines and you can use it in select arcades.

- Purchase Pocket Wifi
This one is probably on-par with a rail card in terms of importance. Don’t fall into the trap of believing your phone company when they tell you they can offer you a great mobile roaming data plan. They’re probably lying, and nothing will ever be as good as Japan’s pocket wifi.

Pocket wifi costs around ¥8,400 for two weeks, which will get you 187 Mbps, up to 10 hours battery life and 100% population coverage. In simple words it means you can access all the apps you’d normally use at home, plus the ones you’re definitely going to need during your trip.

It’s honestly a lifesaver. And if you’re trying to plan your holiday on a budget, you can connect up to 10 devices to one pocket wifi, so you and whoever you’re travelling with can always split the costs!

Remember, like with the JR Pass, you’ll need to order your pocket wifi beforeyou go to Japan, as the company will deliver it to either the airport, your hotel, or local post office in time for your arrival.
You can read more about pocket wifi and place your order at

- Download Apps Specifically For Your Trip

Some recommended useful apps for your Japan trip are listen below:

1. Google Translate – This one speaks for itself really. You can download the Japanese language pack before your trip so that it’s available to use offline, which also comes with the photo feature, where you can snap a photo of any Japanese text (be that a menu, food label, road sign, train timetable) and it will instantly convert it to English for you. It does, however, translate the text directly, which means some interpretation is often involved, but it’s so helpful and actually pretty fun to use!
2. Hyperpedia – This is basically a journey planner app that can help you find trains that are valid with your JR Pass. It’s free to use for 30 days, so make sure you download it just before your trip, so that your trial doesn’t expire too soon. You simply type in your departing and arrival stations, the time of your journey and you’ll get a list of all your different travel options, including any changes you may have to make, and what platforms you need to leave from. You have nothing to fear from Japanese train travel if you have this app!
3. Currency Converter – There are loads of free currency converter apps available, so it’s definitely worth downloading one! The exchange rate in Japan works out at about 75p to ¥100, but it’s often confusing trying to work it out for more expensive purchases, so having a converter handy just makes things so much easier!
4. Whatsapp – Its a great app to have while you’re abroad as it only uses wifi connection, so you’ll avoid any unwanted roaming charges (top tip: switch your phone to airplane mode while you’re in Japan and rely solely on your wifi connection, so that you don’t accidentally access any of your mobile data.) It’s a great way to keep in touch with the people you’re travelling with, and with friends and family back home. You can use it to send text messages, photos, videos and even to make calls, so it’s super handy!
- Try To Plan Out Your Days

There’s honestly so much to see and do in Japan that you’re not going to want to waste a single day. Planning your days as much as you can is really important because it will make your trip run so much smoother, and allow you to fit in as much as you possibly can.

The best way to do this is with a Google spreadsheet, that way, you and your friends can all access it and add things to it as you go along.

Of course plans may change once you actually get to Japan, but this way you’ll always have an itinerary to refer back to so that you can check-off your must-see’s and must-do’s as you go along.

- Take As Much Spending Money As You Possibly Can

Japan is not necessarily an expensive country, but it’s certainly not a cheap one either.

Working on a budget during your holiday is always a smart idea, but you’re not going to want to miss out on any of the amazing experiences (most of them food-related) that come with visiting somewhere like Japan. For instance, if you hope to visit some of the themed restaurants – such as the Robot Restaurant or the Kawaii Monster Cafe – bear in mind that they often come with a entry fee attached. It’s little things like this that are going to eat into your spending (although not massively), so just try not to underestimate how much you’re actually going to need – especially if you’re planning on doing some serious shopping too!

If you have a credit card, take that with you in case of emergencies, but remember that Japan is a cash society, so you’re not going to want to rely on it too much. If you don’t have a credit card, take your debit card as a last resort, as most convenience stores have ATMs that accept Visa, so that you’re able to withdraw any extra cash you may need. It’s not the end of the world if you have to use it – you will get charged by your bank, but it will only be a minor amount.

- Try Everything!

This one doesn’t just apply to food! Don’t be afraid to truly immerse yourself in the vibrant culture of Japan. Scour the back streets for tiny local restaurants, go to a maid or a cat cafe, explore the crazy, vibrant metropolis of Shinjuku at night, take a bunch of Purikura with your friends, visit a shrine or a temple and pray there, just do and see as much as you possibly can.

Also, learn a few Japanese phrases and try to use them while you’re out and about. There’s nothing to be embarrassed or worried about – everybody I spoke to was so sweet and impressed that we’d even bothered to learn any kind of Japanese! Not only is it polite, but it’s also really fun and fulfilling! Here’s a few phrases/words that will help you on your way:

Konnichiwa – Hello
Sayonara - Bye
Arigato gozaimasu – Thank you
Sumimasen – Excuse me or Sorry
Hai or Un – Yes
Iie or Uun – No
Douzo - Go ahead or After you
Sou - Right
Soujanai - Not right or Incorrect
Wakatta - I understand
Wakaranai - I don't understand

So that’s it! Those are my top tips for visiting Japan for the first time. I hope that they were helpful and informative, and if you are planning on visiting Japan any time soon, I hope that I’ve answered at least some of the questions you may have had. Thank you so much for checking out this article, I had so much fun writing it!


Lucy Gomes