๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต Planning a Trip to Japan: 11 Practical Things To Know

A red temple peeking out of a lush forest of green trees.

Receiving over 25 million tourists last year in 2023, Japan is an incredibly popular destination in East Asia that is known for its natural hot springs, cherry blossoms, and historic temples.

Having spent an amazing two weeks in Japan, I share must-know travel tips that are especially useful for first-time visitors. This includes a hack for finding the best local eats on the island.

Lists By Lukiih is readers-supported. When you buy with my affiliate link, I may earn a small commission. Thanks!

1. Best Places To Visit in Japan

Japan has incredible places to visit ranging from modern cities with high-tech infrastructure to tranquil towns surrounded by mountains and cherry trees.

Below are Japan’s most popular destinations and the top things to see and do in each location.

Best Major Cities in Japan

A first visit to Japan typically includes at least one of these Japanese cities.

These big cities act as great introductions to the country’s culture, food, and attractions, and are good gateways to other areas of the country.

๐Ÿ“ Tokyo (The Capital City)

Tokyo is a bustling metropolis known for its culinary scene, shopping, and modern architecture.

Top attractions in Tokyo include:

  • Shibuya Crossing, one of the world’s busiest pedestrian intersections
  • Senso-ji, the city’s oldest Buddhist temple
  • Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, a park featuring three distinct types of gardens
A lush garden with a small pond and Chinese-style building.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo.

๐Ÿ“ Kyoto (The City of Ten Thousand Shrines)

Kyoto, Japan’s second most popular city, is known for its well-preserved historical sites that mix temples and shrines with modern architecture.

Top attractions in Kyoto include:

  • Kinkaku-ji, a Buddhist temple plated in gold
  • Fushimi Inari Taisha, a Shinto shrine with thousands of torii gates
  • Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, a famous bamboo forest

Being one of the most touristy cities in Japan, Kyoto has popular attractions that get crowded by 9 am. I visited the Bamboo Grove at 7:30 am and Fushimi Inari Taisha at 8:30 am, and both already started having many visitors. This Kyoto tour departs early to minimize crowds.

A view of red shrines overlooking a city.
Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto. (Photo by my sister, Kat.)

๐Ÿ“ Osaka (The Kitchen of Japan)

Osaka is renowned for its street food and nightlife scene.

Top attractions in Osaka include:

  • Dotonbori, an entertainment district known for its neon lights
  • Osaka Aquarium, one of the country’s most impressive aquariums
  • Osaka Castle, which is especially popular during cherry blossom season

If you’re familiar with Japanese cuisine or are adventurous when it comes to food, you can try different food at Osaka’s markets on your own. If you like some guidance, there are plenty of English-speaking guides that offer street food tours.

A busy, commercial street next to a canal.
Dotonbori in Osaka.

๐Ÿ€ My Take on Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka

I visited all three cities during my second trip to Japan and here’s my take on them:

  • Like many others, I enjoyed Kyoto the most because of its distinct and unique traditional atmosphere.
  • Tokyo is worth visiting and offers a plethora of amazing restaurant options, but can feel like another major, commercial city sometimes.
  • I recommend Osaka to foodies and found its aquarium uniquely well-designed, but I didn’t find the city as compelling.

This 10-day Japan itinerary features a visit to Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto as well as off-the-beaten-path adventures.

Other Best Places To Visit in Japan

On top of the three major cities mentioned above, Japan has an endless number of interesting and beautiful places to visit.

๐Ÿ“ Mt. Fuji

Mount Fuji is one of Japan’s most iconic symbols. The Mt. Fuji volcano has the country’s highest peak.

You can hike to the summit or view its symmetrical cone from one of its many surrounding towns.

A woman next to a Shinto shrine above the clouds.
Hiking Mt. Fuji.

๐Ÿ“ Hakone

Hakone is a town surrounded by beautiful nature and renowned for its onsens, which are natural hot springs.

In Japan, a unique onsen experience typically includes a stay at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, that serves kaiseki, a multi-course Japanese meal. Most onsens have a nudity requirement and are gender-separated.

Learn about cultural differences in Japan.

A woman standing on a bridge overlooking a river with trees changing color in the background.
Visiting Hakone.

๐Ÿ“ Kobe

Kobe is the origin city of Kobe beef, a premium, Wagyu beef named after the city.

A less well-known thing about Kobe is that it’s one of the oldest sake-producing areas, so it’s a great place to go on a sake-tasting guided tour.

๐Ÿ“ Sapporo

Sapporo, which is located much further north, is known for its ramen, beer, and winter sports.

Given its location, Sapporo is usually a whole trip in itself and not included in a typical visitor’s first-time trip to Japan.

๐Ÿ“ Nara

Nara is famous for its free-roaming deer in Nara Park. This has made Nara viral on social media, as visitors find the bowing deer adorable.

๐Ÿ“ Hiroshima

Hiroshima is known for its tragic history and commitment to peace. Visitors often visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum.

Thanks to Japan’s advanced train system, which includes high-speed bullet trains, you can get to many of these places and visit them as day trips. For example, you can do a day trip to Hakone from Tokyo, or a day trip to Kobe or Nara from Osaka or Kyoto.

๐Ÿ€ My Take on Mt. Fuji and Other Places

I summited Mt. Fuji, spent two days in Hakone, and went off-the-beaten-path to a few southern Japanese islands. A lot of these places will not be as hectic or touristy as the three major cities mentioned above, so they’re great to sprinkle into your trip for a change of pace and scenery.

Hiking Mt. Fuji was one of my trip’s highlights. The summit is a breathtaking, unique experience where you end up above the clouds.

A set of houses next to a river with a mountain peak in the background.
Mt. Fuji’s peak from a surrounding town.

2. When To Visit Japan

Japan is a popular country to visit year-round, as it offers different experiences each season.

๐ŸŒธ Best Time To Visit Japan

The best and most popular time to visit Japan is during its spring and fall seasons.

  • The spring season, which runs from March to May, has mild weather, averaging 40 to 65 ยฐF. It also coincides with the cherry blossom season, making it the high season to visit Japan.

The cherry blossoms typically bloom in late March to early April. Hanami is the Japanese term for enjoying the beauty of sakura, the cherry blossoms.

  • The autumn season, which runs from September to November, is another popular time to visit. Japan’s trees become vibrant with red and orange leaves and the landscape is simply stunning.

โ˜€๏ธ Japan’s Seasons

Japan has four seasons. Here’s a quick overview of Japan’s distinct seasons:

๐ŸŒธ SpringMar-May40-65 ยฐF
โ˜€๏ธ SummerJun-Aug70-90 ยฐF
๐Ÿ FallSep-Nov50-70 ยฐF
โ„๏ธ WinterDec-Feb30-45 ยฐF
Japan’s Four Seasons

Here are some things to keep in mind about the seasons and climate in Japan:

  • The summer season is more hot and humid than some expect. The summer months are a great time to enjoy many of Japan’s summer festivals and get some of the best deals on accommodation.
  • The early summer months are considered Japan’s rainy season.
  • Typhoon season is at its peak during August and September. If you travel during this time, make sure to keep tabs on any typhoon warnings in the region you’re in.
  • The winter season is considered the low season. Some cities have beautiful snowfalls and you can also get great deals during the winter months.

See what it’s like to travel to Japan in December.

๐Ÿ€ My Experience With Japan’s Weather

I traveled to Japan in September and found it incredibly hot. The cities sometimes felt stifling, but it was cool and cloudy in between sunny days.

I was able to mostly wear shorts and tank tops my entire trip, but keep in mind that most Japanese locals dress conservatively.

See what it’s like to travel to Japan in September.

A woman standing at the top of a hill overlooking water and a Japanese temple.
Wearing summer clothes in September in Japan.

3. How Long To Spend in Japan

Japan is a medium-sized country where visitors typically spend ten to fourteen days traveling.

๐Ÿ—“๏ธ How Many Days Do You Need in Japan?

First-time visitors should spend at least seven to ten days in Japan to visit multiple cities and see the country’s beautiful natural and cultural landscapes.

  • With three to five days in Japan, you will likely spend most of your short trip in a major city, like Tokyo, and have enough time to do a day trip to one of the surrounding areas. For example, this private five-star tour takes you to Hakone and Mt. Fuji on a day trip.
  • With one to two weeks in Japan, you can visit two major regions in Japan, like Tokyo and Kyoto, and visit a few other nearby areas.

Check out how to spend 10 days in Japan.

  • With three weeks or more in Japan, you can go further west or north and travel to less well-known areas, allowing you to experience a more authentic side of the country.

๐Ÿ€ How Long I Stayed in Japan

I spent two weeks in Japan visiting Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, hiking Mt. Fuji, and cycling the Shimanami Kaido, a 37-mile route and one of the best things I did there.

I don’t say this about every travel destination I’ve been to, but I could have easily spent more time in Japan. I would have stayed in Kyoto longer, visited more rural areas, and maybe gone north towards Sapporo.

A view of an empty temple surrounded by trees.
A stop on the Shimanami Kaido.

4. Entry Requirements for Japan

The entry requirement for Japan is straightforward for US citizens.

๐Ÿ›ƒ Japan’s Visa and Passport Requirements

A tourist visa is not required for United States citizens visiting Japan for up to three months.

Also, your US passport must be valid during your Japan trip, but there’s no requirement for it to be valid before or after.

๐Ÿ€ My Experience Entering Japan

Being an American citizen comes with the privilege of holding one of the world’s most powerful passports, so I had no issues flying into Tokyo, Japan.

5. Budgeting and Cash in Japan

Japan is an expensive tourist destination for Asia. However, it can also be visited on a budget as there are a lot of free activities and it’s relatively easy to keep food and transportation costs low.

๐Ÿ’ฐ Expected Budget in Japan

Here’s approximately how much you can expect to spend when visiting Japan:

Travel StyleBudget per Day
Budget Travelers$60
Mid-Range Budget Travelers$120
Expected Daily Budget for Japan

A great way to save in Japan is to shop at convenience stores such as Family Mart, 7-Eleven, and Lawson. They are clean and offer a variety of decent meals for affordable prices (e.g., you can get a rice bowl, ramen, pasta, etc. for less than $3).

A store aisle selling sandwiches and snacks wrapped in seaweed.
Meals at 7-Eleven in Japan.

๐Ÿง Do You Need Cash In Japan?

Credit cards are widely accepted in Japan, but you’ll also find many places that are cash-only, so it’s a good idea to carry some coins and bills at all times.

ATMs are widely available in major commercial areas of Japan, but you might not find them everywhere. I had trouble finding an ATM that took non-Japanese cards on the outskirts of Kyoto.

Coin-operated luggage storage is popular and secure in Japan. As the name implies, only coins are accepted and many of them require exact change.

A set of lockers with the sign that says COIN-LOCKERS.
A coin-operated locker in Tokyo.

๐Ÿ’ต Are US Dollars Accepted in Japan?

Japan’s local currency is the Japanese yen (ๅ††, JPY). The US dollar is not widely accepted, so make sure to exchange currencies.

The exchange rate was $1 USD = 144 JPY at the time of writing.

๐Ÿ€ My Japan Trip’s Budget

I share all my travel expenses in this Japan trip cost breakdown.

I splurged on several occasions (e.g., a one-night stay at a nice ryokan in Kyoto), but I also found that I could easily eat $8 meals and spend a full day exclusively doing free activities. Many of my breakfast meals in Japan cost less than $3 and they were filling.

6. How To Get Around in Japan

You can easily travel around Japan without needing to rent a car.

โœˆ๏ธ Flying Into Japan

Japan has several international airports to fly into and the major ones are:

Narita International AirportChiba
Haneda AirportTokyo
Kansai International AirportOsaka
Japan’s Major International Airports

Once you land in Japan, there are several common ways to get around the country.

๐Ÿš† Best Way To Get Around: Japan’s Trains

Japan’s public transportation is known for its cleanliness, safety, and punctuality. Here are three practical things to know about it:

Tip #1: It’s a vast and efficient network.

Japan’s trains will get you to every place you want to visit, except for remote, rural areas. There are five types of trains varying from local trains to the high-speed bullet trains called shinkansen.

A bullet train can travel up to 200 mph, transporting you long distances in a few hours. If bullet trains existed in the United States, you could get from Boston to New York City in a little over an hour.

Tip #2: Consider getting a PASMO card or JR Pass.

Train ticket prices depend on the distance traveled and must be paid in advance. To make train riding easier, you can consider getting these two types of cards:

  • A PASMO card is a rechargeable IC card (smart card) that you can use to pay for your train ride. Without one, you’ll have to buy a disposable ticket every time you ride the train.
  • Many trains are operated by a company called Japan Rail (JR). A JR Pass gives you unlimited rides on JR trains, including bullet trains, for a set period of time.

The JR Pass is not cheap, but can save you money depending on your Japan itinerary. You’ll need to determine if buying one is worth it, which will highly depend on how often you plan to take the bullet trains.

A ticket that says Japan Rail Pass.
My Japan Rail Pass.

Tip #3: Budget extra time.

Although signage in Japan’s train stations is clear and up-to-date, budget extra time to get to your specific platform for bigger train stations like Shinjuku, Tokyo, and Kyoto. These stations are massive and complex, and will take some time to figure out.

A clean metro station with digital time tables with stores in the background.
A vast train station in Japan.

Google Maps’s train times are accurate, so you can trust the listed times to plan your trip. If you get lost in the massive train stations, the employees at the train counters are experienced in helping lost and confused tourists.

Other Ways to Get Around Japan

Besides the train, here are other ways to get around in Japan.

In general, driving is not recommended in Japan because it’s not economical (e.g., gas prices are high, highways have expensive tolls), traffic can be bad and they drive on the left side of the road. Public transportation is usually the best option in Japan.

๐ŸšŒ Option 1: Public Bus

Buses are an affordable way to get around Japan and will take you to places that trains won’t (e.g., if you want to hike Mount Fuji, you’ll need to take a bus to one of its base stations). Some buses, especially in remote areas, can be difficult to navigate if you don’t speak or read Japanese.

There are some great limousine buses that will take you from Tokyo’s airport into the city center in less than an hour and cost less than $10.

๐Ÿš™ Option 2: Taxi and Uber

Taxis are readily available in Japan, especially in big cities. Licensed taxis are black cars with green license plates.

If you use Uber in Japan, you’ll essentially be hailing a taxi, as it’s illegal for privately owned vehicles to rideshare.

A black car with Japanese characters on it.
A taxi in Japan.

โœˆ๏ธ Option 3: Domestic Flight

Japan has several airports around the country and under a few circumstances, taking a domestic flight is cheaper and faster than taking the train.

๐Ÿšฒ Option 4: Cycling

Japan’s infrastructure is cyclist-friendly. You’ll find many bike-sharing services in major cities.

One of my trip’s highlights was cycling the Shimanami Kaido.

๐Ÿ›ฅ๏ธ Option 5: Ferries

Japan is a country with close to 7,000 islands, so you’ll find that ferries are an affordable way to get to some of them.

๐Ÿ€ How I Got Around Japan

Like many visitors, I primarily relied on Japan’s trains to get around. The trains are extremely pleasant because they’re clean, on time, quiet, and well-maintained. I bought a JR Pass and wished I had also gotten a PASMO card.

Except for taking a domestic flight, I also used all the above methods to get around Japan. Uber in Japan is not as cost-efficient as trains, but they’re sometimes worth it and are pleasant since drivers like to ensure that you’re comfortable. I also cycled for two days and found it to be a great way to experience slower travel in Japan.

A woman biking on a modern-looking bridge.
Cycling in Japan.

7. How To Stay Safe in Japan

Here are safety tips to keep in mind when traveling to Japan.

โš ๏ธ Is Japan Safe to Visit?

Japan is considered an extremely safe country to visit. Violence and even petty theft against tourists are very rare.

Japan not only has a travel advisory level of 1 per the US Department of State, but it is also ranked #9 out of 163 safest countries by the Global Peace Index (for reference, the United States is ranked #131).

๐Ÿบ Common Scams in Japan

Here are common scams to watch out for in Japan:

  • The fake monk scam involves a scammer dressed as a Buddhist monk and asking for donations. Note that real monks in Japan never proactively ask for donations. (This is similar to the disaster relief scam.)
  • The bar rip-off scam usually occurs in entertainment or red-light districts where you’ll order a few drinks and receive an absurdly expensive bill. You can be threatened by the manager if you don’t pay.
  • Since Japan is still a cash-based economy, you can encounter the wrong change scam as a foreigner. The scam involves a vendor giving you the wrong amount of change on purpose and if you notice it, they will insist that they gave you the correct amount.

๐Ÿ’ง Is Tap Water Safe To Drink in Japan?

Tap water in Japan is safe to drink. Hotels, restaurants, and tour operators will often provide bottled water, but if you ask for tap water, they’ll give it to you.

Water fountains are not common, but you might see a few in parks. Instead, Japan is the land of vending machines. You’ll see one in every corner, even in remote areas, and it usually costs less than $1 to buy bottled water, which is about the same price you’ll find in convenience stores.

I brought my reusable water bottle, which I refilled at restaurants, hotels, and vending machines with no issues.

A woman standing in front of a set of vending machines selling bottled drinks.
Vending machines in Japan.

Japan is hot and humid in the summer and beginning of fall. You’ll find several sports drinks (e.g., Aquarius, Pocari Sweat) at vending machines and convenience stores. After trying a few of them, Pocari Sweat is my favorite one since I find it the least sweet and most refreshing.

๐ŸฆŸ Does Japan Have Mosquitoes?

Japan has virus-carrying mosquitoes, especially during the summer and rainy seasons, so make sure to protect yourself as best as you can.

๐Ÿ€ My Safety Tips for Japan

I didnโ€™t have any issues with theft, scams, or violence in Japan. Based on my experience, I recommend these safety tips:

  • Be vigilant of your surroundings. While Japan is very safe, it’s a foreign country with a very high cultural and language barrier, so asking for help can be difficult in certain scenarios.
  • Itโ€™s a good idea to pack insect repellent. I didn’t pack mine and was bitten in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Gotemba, usually in areas near parks and gardens. By the end of my trip, I counted twelve mosquito bites.

Visiting Japan as a solo female traveler is generally safe, but know that the local culture is considerably more traditional in terms of gender norms compared to the United States. While catcalling is rare in Japan, watch out for groping in crowded trains, spiked drinks, and men trying to take upskirt photos.

8. Language Barrier in Japan

Japan’s official language is Japanese.

๐Ÿ—ฃ๏ธ Is English Common in Japan?

Japan is somewhat English-friendly. Roughly a quarter of Japan’s population speaks some basic English, but you’ll find that the rest of the population speaks only Japanese.

Many important signs and some menus in tourist areas will be in English.

Here are some common Japanese words and phrases to know while visiting Japan:

Common Word or PhraseEnglish Translation
Kon’nichiwaA common greeting that means “Hello” or “Good day”
ArigatลgozaimasuPolite way of saying “Thank you”
Sumimasen“Excuse me” or “Sorry”
English Translation for Common Japanese Phrases

Formality and politeness are important parts of Japanese culture. Many tourists will say “arigatล” to locals, which is not the proper way to say thank you. “Arigatล” is informal and should only be said to people you know well.

๐Ÿ€ Traveling Japan With Just English

Although some locals have high English proficiency, I found that most of them tend to use short phrases and hand signals to communicate when speaking in English.

Japan has a high language barrier and it’s less English-friendly than some visitors expect, but you’ll find that using polite hand gestures will get you quite far.

Since Japanese people tend to try their best to be helpful, Google Translate is good enough and many important signs are in English, it wasn’t particularly difficult to navigate Japan with just English. Just don’t expect locals to speak fluent English and be patient when the translation isn’t perfect.

9. Cultural Differences in Japan

Japanese culture entails a level of politeness that will be unfamiliar to most foreigners, especially those from Western countries. In Japan, respect, shame, honor, and modesty are important concepts that influence how people behave and how they treat each other.

๐Ÿ™‡๐Ÿป Proper Etiquette in Japan

Many visitors find Japan’s culture unique. Here are a few cultural norms and Japanese etiquette to keep in mind when visiting:

  • A bow is common when greeting others in Japan. While Japan’s society has nuances around how long or low people should bow, a slight bow is sufficient for visitors.
  • Silence is a signal that you respect others. You’ll notice that a lot of public spaces, even in crowded train stations, are generally quiet. Make sure to not speak too loudly and to be mindful of your volume.
  • Waiting in line in an orderly fashion is another common norm. You’ll find painted lines at train stations showing exactly where people should stand and many restaurant lines will be orderly.

It’s easy to commit a faux pas in Japan. Here are things tourists should avoid doing.

๐Ÿ€ My Experience With Japan’s Culture

I witnessed all the cultural norms listed above and as an American, found them incredible, almost to the point of bewilderment. While I didn’t know all the norms, it was relatively easy to copy the locals.

Other things I noticed about Japan that I found different as an American:

  • Cars often gave the right of way to pedestrians, which confused me as someone who lives in a country where I worry about getting run over if I’m not careful.
  • Pedestrians patiently waited for the street walk signal to change before crossing, even when there was no oncoming traffic.
  • Trash cans are not readily available on streets, but you will find some in train stations and convenience stores. I had to get used to carrying my trash with me sometimes.
Three trash cans with different labels of the type of trash.
Japan’s trash cans often have a sorting system.

10. How To Find Authentic Food in Japan

A highlight of traveling to Japan is the chance to eat Japanese cuisine, which is known for its fresh ingredients and meticulous preparation.

๐Ÿฃ Pro Tip On Finding Authentic Food in Japan

If you’re willing to put in some minimal effort, here’s how to find some of the best authentic food in Japan.

Use a Japanese App to Find Authentic Food

While you can use Google and Tripadvisor reviews to find decent Japanese restaurants, the reality is that many of these are written by tourists, which means that some places are overhyped and not truly authentic.

If you want to know what locals think about a place, use Tabelog, which is the Japanese version of Yelp. The app is only in Japanese (they have an English web version that’s not user-friendly) and you need a Japanese email to log in, so the ratings are largely written by locals.

One of my best Japan travel tips is to use Tabelog.

How To Use Tabelog

Since you can’t download the Tabelog app, here’s an easy three-step hack on how to use Tabelog while searching for a meal online or wandering the streets of Japan:

  • Step 1: Copy the restaurant’s full name from Google Maps. Include both the English and Japanese names if possible.
A restaurant's name highlighted and the word "copy" highlighted.
Step 1: Copy the restaurant’s name on Google Maps.
  • Step 2: Open search, type “tabelog” and paste the restaurant’s name.
The restaurant's name next to the word "tabelog".
Step 2: Paste the restaurant’s name next to the word “Tabelog”.
  • Step 3: Scroll down to check the rating under Tabelog’s website. The Tabelog search result is usually one of the first three search results.
Rating shown below Tabelog's website.
Step 3: Scroll down and see the rating under Tabelog’s website.

How Ratings Work in Tabelog

The most important thing to look for in Tabelog is a restaurant’s overall rating on a 5-point scale. Japanese people review more critically so ratings mean slightly different things.

Tabelog RatingThe Restaurant Is:
3.0 โ€“ 3.5Decent or good. I would eat there unless there are other great alternatives.
3.5 โ€“ 4.0Great. I would definitely eat there.
4.0 โ€“ 5.0Amazing. These are usually high-end restaurants.
Tabelog Rating Scale

๐Ÿ€ My Experience With Tabelog

This hack may sound like a lot of work initially, but it’s worth it and easy once you do it a few times.

By eating almost exclusively at places with 3.3+ ratings, I was able to use Tabelog to find hidden gems that served incredible Japanese food. Here are some examples from my trip:

  • Bakery_bank in Tokyo had a mediocre 4.0 rating on Google when I was researching online, but had a stunningly high 3.6 rating on Tabelog. I immediately went and was amazed by the delicious, unique pastries being served to mostly locals.
  • ็ซ‹ๅ‘‘ ๅฏŒๅฃซๅฑ‹ๆœฌๅบ— is a Tokyo restaurant I happened to walk by that I couldn’t find on the map initially. It had a mediocre 4.1 rating on Google when I visited and a solid 3.45 rating on Tabelog. The food was great and one of the most interesting culinary experiences I had in Japan. I was the only tourist I saw during my one-hour stay there.
  • Conversely, the extremely popular A Happy Pancake has a 4.2 on Google and a 3.2 on Tabelog. I decided that their 1+ hour wait wasn’t worth it and searched for an alternative, which is how I found Iriya Plus Cafe, which had a 4.1 on Google, but a 3.56 on Tabelog. There was no line and the pancakes were delicious.
A stack of fluffy pancakes below whipped cream and berries.
Iriya Plus Cafe’s fluffy pancakes in Tokyo.

Japanese Food To Try

Japanese cuisine is unique and there are endless familiar and unfamiliar foods you can try.

  • Udon is a thick, chewy noodle that can be served in different ways. One of my favorite ways to eat udon is in sukiyaki, a hot pot dish.
A bowl with mushroom, egg, beef, tofu and noodles.
Sukiyaki udon in Tokyo.
  • Tempura is light-battered, deep-fried food and the most common foods are vegetables and shrimp. I had plenty of tempura in the United States, but the ones made in Japan have a crunch I rarely find in my home country.
A tray of food with wide noodles and fried vegetables.
Udon and tempura in Tokyo.
  • Soba is a thin noodle made from buckwheat that’s often served dry and you can dip it in soba sauce. Many affordable, simple restaurants serve soba in Japan.
  • Sushi, raw fish served with rice, is one of Japan’s most well-known dishes. In Japan, you can find incredibly fresh sushi and seafood for cheap.

Izakaya is a type of Japanese bar that also serves delicious small bites and snacks, including sushi. You can find them while walking around Japan’s major cities and you can even go on an izakaya-hopping tour to try different Japanese dishes.

  • Gyudon is a bowl of rice served with beef and onion in a subtly sweet sauce. It’s a nice, hearty meal and you can find decent ones at convenience stores.
  • Matcha is a fine-ground powder of green tea that tastes bitter. It’s extremely popular in Japan and you can find it in many forms: as a drink, ice cream, mochi topping, pastry, and more.
Green tea next to green bean paste on top of mochi balls.
Matcha dessert on mochi in Tokyo.

In Japan, you can eat raw eggs since they’re not contaminated by salmonella. Eating raw eggs was one of the most surprisingly delightful things I ate due to their different taste.

๐Ÿ€ My Experience With Japanese Food

Eating in Japan was one of my greatest pleasures while visiting. Although pricey, I also highly recommend trying a kaiseki at least once. Kaiseki is a multi-course Japanese meal where the food is presented aesthetically on several little dishes. You typically find kaiseki at nicer restaurants, while staying at a ryokan or events with geisha performances.

A woman holding chopsticks with little plates of foot in front of her.
Enjoying a kaiseki at a ryokan.

11. Accommodation Tips in Japan

The accommodations that you find in Japan will likely differ from what you’re used to. Here are some of my accommodation tips after having stayed at eight different places in Japan:

Tip #1: Most hotels will provide toiletries.

Unless you’re staying in a hostel, I’ve seen even budget hotels in Japan provide toothbrushes, toothpaste, face lotion, and more.

A rack with boxes filled with toiletries like toothbrush and face soap.
Free toiletries at a Japanese hotel.

Tip #2: You’ll likely find PJs in hotel rooms.

If you need to pack extremely light, know that many hotels will provide oversized pajamas for free. I liked some of the PJs so much that I even bought a pair from one of the higher-end accommodations I stayed at.

Tip #3: You’ll be expected to take off your shoes.

Many accommodations in Japan are designed so that you’ll be encouraged to leave your outdoor shoes at the door. This is a deep-rooted Japanese tradition and helps keep the space clean, which is important if you’re sitting on the floor or on tatami mats, a type of traditional flooring.

In Kyoto, I stayed at a place that had a step near the door that indicated separation between the outside and inside.

Two Japanese-styled beds on wooden floors.
A tatami room that encourages no shoes.

Ryokans are traditional Japanese inns that provide a unique atmosphere experience and are typically more expensive than a mid-range hotel. A ryokan usually serves kaiseki, a multi-course Japanese meal, for breakfast, dinner, or both.

๐Ÿ€ Accommodations I Stayed at in Japan

I list all the hotels, huts, and ryokans I stayed at in Japan in my trip’s cost breakdown.

Japan Trip Planner 2024

To make your travel preparation easier, download the trip planner below. It has destination-specific travel information, itinerary, map, and packing list.

My trip planners are built on Notion, which I use for all my travel planning. I genuinely love this tool and creating an account is free.

Three Notion template screenshots are shown: travel information, itinerary, and map + packing list templates.
Preview of Japan trip planner.

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