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Japan for first timers – 25 useful tips

Japan, a wonderful country that may seem enticing and intimidating at the same time. It took us a while to get there, but after just a few hours in Tokyo, we knew we would be back. And we ended up going there 4 times within 1.5 years.

I wish I’d known some things before our first visit. It would have made travelling easier and even more enjoyable but it doesn’t mean discovering them ourselves wasn’t fun.

If you’re planning to visit Japan for the first time, here are our 25 useful tips & things to know.


1. Convenience stores are really convenient

FamilyMart, 7-Eleven, Circle K, Lawson and Daily Yamazaki stores (the konbinis) are everywhere and offer lots of useful products and services. Hot meals, sushi, alcohol, ice cream, bathroom essentials, ATMs, coffee – you can get there almost anything you may need on a trip. Most have also a small area with a kettle, microwave and bar-style seating space. Payment by credit card, cash or IC (Suica or similar) card.

2. Look up

Restaurants, shops and cafes may not be on the street level – buildings in Japan are often very narrow but tall. Look up to see what’s on higher floors or find a building directory near the main entrance.

3. Go to the basement

Big department stores and shopping malls usually hide a real foodie paradise in the basement. Bento boxes, sweet treats, sushi, teas, fruits, hams and cheeses plus sometimes a few restaurants. Last hour before closing they mark down bento boxes and you can get a good dinner for 50% or less.

4. Trains are ALWAYS on time

No matter if you need to catch a local train or a shinkansen, you need to remember they will be on time. When we were using our JR Pass for the first time, I had to remind myself that when the ticket says “15:24” it will be exactly that time. Not (how I’m used to in Australia or Poland) “sometime around 15.24”. It’s good to remember this when you have the last train to catch or need to be at the airport at a certain time.

Japan for first timers – 25 useful tips

5. Toilets are amazing

They clean themselves, clean your butt and private parts, have warmed seats and flushing sound to cover your sounds. Widely available, not just at home or fancy hotel – even public toilets in the most shabby-looking place. They are possibly the best thing ever. One day I’ll bring one with me as a souvenir.

6. No bins in sight

If you like to eat and drink on the go or have a takeaway coffee be ready to carry your trash. There are no bins on the streets. It’s a good idea to keep a plastic bag in your backpack to use as a trash bag and dispose of it at your hotel. Bigger convenience stores have bins outside, next to the entrance.

7. Cash?

Always carry some cash, especially if you’re outside of big cities, where card payments may not be widely accepted. But even in Tokyo, you may have to pay for dinner with cash. We usually carry‎