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A first-timer's guide to Japan

If you're planning a trip to Japan, check out our top tips and advice for first-time visitors. From tranquil temples to manga overload (with plenty of history and cuisine in between) there's something for everyone in this show-stopping country.
Author: Aimee White - SEO Copywriter at Explore Worldwide
Date Published: 15 May 2024

What to expect on a Japan package tour

​In search of Japan holiday ideas? We've got you covered. Our Japan holiday packages see you take in a blend of old and new, from admiring Buddhist temples to riding high-speed bullet trains, with all the convenience and zero hassle. 

Small group tours to Japan don't just cover the best sights, but allow you to get beneath the surface of Japanese culture. Our affordable Japan tours use local tour leaders who are all handpicked and trained by us. They'll handle all the details - from navigating the language barrier to authentic recommendations - to make your journey as smooth as possible. 

Is Japan expensive?

Japan is more expensive than other east Asian destinations, with prices similar to the likes of Australia. That said, it's not as expensive as you may think, as the price of things in Japan varies. 

An average meal cost in Japan is around ¥1,500 for lunch and ¥3,000-4,000 for dinner. The cost of accommodation in Japan ranges: ¥3,000-5,000 for budget-friendly hostels, ¥15,000 for hotels and ¥20,000 for a stay in a traditional ryokan.

Of course, if you're planning a luxury trip to Japan then you'll need to set your budgets higher. But with the Japanese Yen currently at its lowest in 34 years, there's never been a better (or cheaper) time to travel to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

How long do you need in Japan?

With so much to see and do, planning a trip to Japan can feel daunting. A two-week trip to Japan is an average amount of time to spend, as you can take in multiple cities, including several Tokyo day excursions. If you're looking for a Japan itinerary for 14 days that covers the highlights and beyond, check out our Simply Japan tour.

A seven-day Japan tour will give you enough time to see the main sights; travel by bullet train to visit a few key destinations. Our seven-night Japan tour takes in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.

How much money to bring to Japan depends on how long you stay for. Consider what types of activities and experiences you're most interested in. Japan is made up of over 14,000 islands, so research (and be realistic with) your transport options, too. Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima and Kyoto are all on the largest island of Honshu, for example.

4 Biggest Seasonal Festivals

Our ultimate Japan trip advice? Attend a festival to really get beneath the surface of the country and immerse yourself in local culture: 

Spring: The best month to see cherry blossoms in Japan is between late March to April. There are endless places across the country to enjoy sakura (cherry blossom), but some of the prettiest spots include Hirosaki Castle Park in Aomori Prefecture, Ueno Park in Tokyo and the Philosopher's Walk in Kyoto.

Summer: One of Japan's most famous festivals, Gion Matsuri dominates Kyoto in July. Revellers flock to the city centre to watch the parades and join the street parties. Its main parade, Yamaboko Junko, takes place on one day in July, and is so spectacular that it's UNESCO listed. 

Autumn: Taking place in southern Osaka Prefecture, Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri is one of the biggest and best autumn festivals in Japan. Danjiris (carved wooden structures) are paraded through the frenetic streets, with each float representing each town in Kishiwada. This lively festival takes place in mid-September and isn't to be missed.

Winter: Located in the far north of Japan, Sapporo Snow Festival is spread across three sites in the city. Each site displays huge snow sculptures and impressive ice carvings, as well as the chance to go snow rafting, plus ice bars and food courts. This free festival takes place in early February every year.

7 popular attractions in Japan

Whether it's your first time in Japan or you're a return visitor, here are some of Japan's top attractions:

Mount Fuji: Visit Hakone National Park for a spectacular view of Mount Fuji.

Senso-ji Temple, Tokyo: Explore the oldest temple in the city, complete with fierce statues.

Instant Ramen Museum, Osaka: Create your own cup noodle at this quirky museum.

Omichi Fish Market, Kanazawa: Wander around the stalls selling fresh fish and crab, and try chirashi-zushi.

Peace Park and Peace Museum, Hiroshima: Learn about how Hiroshima was rebuilt and is now considered a symbol of peace.

Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto: Walk through row-upon-row of red torii gates.

Jigokudani Onsen, Nagano: Watch adorable snow monkeys bathing in the hot springs.
Discover more Japan highlights

A traditional Japan experience

As you tour through Japan, tap into the country's traditional side with a range of quintessential experiences. Visit a traditional teahouse to learn about the significance of Japanese tea ceremonies, followed by a peaceful stroll around beautifully landscaped Japanese garden. Continue the chilled-out theme by simmering in an onsen; these natural hot springs are dotted across the country.

Sumo wrestling is Japan's most popular traditional sport, and watching a live match is an unforgettable spectacle. The best place to watch sumo wrestling in Japan is at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo. Afterwards, stop off at an izakaya, a type of bar-meets-pub where you can embrace a lively atmosphere.

Hunker down for the night at a ryokan. These Japanese-style inns feature authentic tatami rooms and futon beds, and vary from small family-run establishments to hotel-like complexes with multiple rooms.
Book our Japanese cycling tour

The modern Japan experience

Visitors to Japan can easily tap into Japan's ultra-modern side. Check into Henn na Hotel; this robot hotel in Japan is in the Ginza district of Tokyo. It's fully staffed by AI robots, including humans and dinosaurs.

Japan is also home to some of the quirkiest vending machines in the world, stocking everything from soft drinks and beer to bananas and live crab...

Travel around Japan by shinkansen; these high-speed bullet trains travel up to 320km/h (200 mph). There's multiple routes to choose from, such as the shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka, and the Osaka to Hiroshima shinkansen - plus an adorable Hello Kitty shinkansen, too.

If you're planning your Japan holiday itinerary, spend a couple of days at Universal Studios Osaka. Mad about manga? Don't miss Kyoto International Manga Museum; this top Japan attraction has multiple floors lined with the much-loved comics. 

Japan: Top tips for solo travellers

At Explore, our affordable Japan tours specialise in seeing the highlights and getting off the beaten track, which is best with a tour guide. But if you're travelling independently, check out our tips and advice for solo travellers in Japan:

Crime and safety: Japan is one of the safest countries in the world. With low crime rates, most solo travellers feel safe in Japan. As with any new destination, always pay attention to your surroundings and stay vigilant.

Accommodation: Capsule hotels are pod-like bunkbeds which provide affordable privacy. One of the best (and most convenient) is Nine Hours Capsule Hotel, located inside Narita Airport. There's also plenty of sociable hostels that organise group activities and offer shared and private rooms.

Restaurants: Many establishments have single-seat or single-booth dining options. It's common to order your meal from a machine, hand the ticket to the chef before enjoying your meal in uninterrupted bliss. 

If you're looking to travel solo, our Japan holidays are the perfect place to start. Meet like-minded people and fellow independent travellers on our small group tours, while we take care of all the arrangements.

We think you'll love: Bonding over sushi, sake and sweets

Japan: Top tips for senior travellers

An abundance of historic sites, tranquil gardens and once-in-a-lifetime experiences: Japan is an excellent destination for older travellers. Here are our tips and advice:

Discounts: Older travellers (over 65s or 70s) can enjoy free admission or discounts to many attractions in Japan, as well as discounted domestic airfares. Just remember to bring your passport with you to claim.

Time: The distance between train and metro platforms can be huge (and busy), especially in Tokyo; allow enough time to navigate it. For shorter distances, you may be better off taking a taxi or walking instead. Travel in high-speed comfort on the shinkansen to see more of the country. 

Accessibility: Japan can be a very accessible country, with many wheelchair-friendly spaces. However, some busier cities and rural areas may not be as well set up than others, so research before you travel. It's standard practice for people to give up their seats on public transport for older people in Japan. 

Almost all of our Japan holiday tours have a moderate trip pace, combining exciting travel experiences with plenty of time to unwind. With all of the plans already seen to, you can sit back, relax, and make the most of your time in Japan.

We think you'll love: Exploring Kyoto's Buddhist temples

Japan: Top tips for travelling with kids

Thanks to its mix of conventional and unconventional attractions, Japan is one of the best countries for family travel. Japan family holiday packages offer a plethora of activities and experiences suitable for all ages. Here are our tips for travelling as a family in Japan:

Entertainment: Immerse yourself at the Ghibli Museum, spend a wild couple of days at theme parks and embrace the birthplace of Nintendo, Hello Kitty, manga and anime with a host of entertainment options to suit kids and big kids alike.

Outdoor places: Japan's natural attractions offer the perfect blend of play and rest. Kids can feed the wild deer in Nara, wander through the magical Arashiyama Bamboo Forest and learn about a key part of Japanese history at Koka Ninja Village. 

Food: Order individual or shared dishes from restaurants. There's plenty of global places for a taste of back home, too. There are thousands of convenience stores (konbini), which are great places to pick up fun snacks and easy-to-cook meals if you're after a night in. Remember that eating in public places is a big no-no in Japan!

Travelling during the school holidays isn't an issue, as Japan is a year-round destination. Some months are busier than others - especially between March and May during cherry blossom season. Japan sees fewer crowds between June and August when the climate is hotter and wetter, while you can expect crisper, cold days between December and February.

We think you'll love: Treating the family to an Asia trip of a lifetime

Find out more

Do you have more questions about Japan? Whether you want to find more information about the best time to go to Japan, where to visit or browse our wide range of Japan tours, we're always here to help.

Click here to read more frequently asked questions and helpful advice.

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