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Visit Japan – First-Time Travellers’ Guide to Japan

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  • Visit Japan and discover the extraordinary history and culture of the Land of the Rising Sun
  • Must-see sights from the Shinto Meiji shrine and Mount Fuji to Kyoto’s stunning Gion district
  • Essential tips to help you make the most of your trip to Japan as the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games approaches

With both the 2019 Rugby World Cup and Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on the horizon, Japan will be making the headlines over the coming year. And amidst all the excitement, you may find yourself for the first time considering a holiday to Japan.

Japan is an extraordinary destination with a unique history and culture, and escorted tours are an easy way to immerse yourself in the Japanese way of life. Don’t worry about language barriers or etiquette differences in the Land of the Rising Sun; people are welcoming, respectful and will do their utmost to make your Japan visit a trip of a lifetime.

visit japan shibuya shopping district tokyo

Visiting Japan for the first time: what you need to know

Visit Japan and you’re embarking on an adventure like no other. It’s a distinguished country, a destination where you’ll encounter cultural differences, a few which on first glance may appear quite quirky. For that reason, and because it’s imperative to be a considerate traveller, here’s what you need to know before you go.

When visiting Japan for the first time, you quickly notice that the Japanese people are warm, friendly and extremely polite and respectful, even to ‘strange’ tourists. They treat everyone with high regard and good manners are a must. Follow their example and be aware that some Western customs may be seen as an insult – leaving a tip in a restaurant is considered rude! Smile when greeting others, don’t point – the Japanese will indicate directions with an open hand – and certainly don’t eat or smoke in the streets.

Be on your best behaviour at dinner times, too. While Japanese cuisine such as soba, ramen and sashimi are culinary delights, watch your chopstick manners. Always place your chopsticks on the hashioki rest, don’t cross them on a plate or rub them together, and never stand chopsticks upright in your rice bowl – this only happens at funerals. However, please slurp away while enjoying noodles. It’s the ultimate compliment to the chef.

visit japan japanese chopsticks

As for what to wear on Japan tours, locals tend to dress smartly and conservatively, so pack smart casual clothes. Sportswear is rarely seen anywhere other than the gym, and flip flops should be kept for beach outings only. When visiting temples, you’ll be required to leave shoes outside. Slippers are the preferred footwear for hotel bathrooms. In a traditional hotel you’re expected to wash yourself in the shower before taking a bath. The bathtub is for soaking and relaxing purposes only.

Visit Japan: first-time itinerary

If you enjoy escorted tours, Japan is a fascinating country to explore with an experienced guide. When looking at Japan tours, check the itinerary and make sure you visit these must-see attractions.

Any Japan visit has to include a few days in Tokyo, the cosmopolitan capital that’s home to 13 million inhabitants. It can understandably appear hectic. At the city’s ‘Scramble’ crossing some 3,000 people will walk over the road at a single time – but there are plenty of surprisingly quiet spots too. You’ll be pleased to learn that Tokyo is remarkably safe and clean.

visit japan shibuya crossing tokyo

Visit Japan: Shinto Meiji shrine and Mount Fuji

Start with a trip to the famous Shinto Meiji Shrine, a serene and austere memorial dedicated to a 19th-century emperor. It’s a popular traditional wedding venue, especially on Sunday mornings. Then head to the fashion-centric and colourful Harajuku area, and the neighbouring Akihabara shopping hub, famous as the place to buy personal robots.

A trip to Mount Fuji, a particularly photogenic volcano south of Tokyo is also a highlight for first-time travellers to Japan – more so in the winter when it’s covered in snow. But don’t worry about getting too close. Although still active, Fuji has not erupted since 1707. One of the best viewing spots is at Lake Kawaguchi. It is stunningly beautiful during the cherry blossom season around mid-April and again when the trees turn autumnal shades of red and gold in November.

visit japan mount fuji and sakura cherry blossom

Visit Japan: Shinkansen bullet trains and Hiroshima

Taking a ride on one of Japan’s high-tech bullet trains will be an unforgettable experience on a holiday to Japan. The shinkansen travels at speeds of up to 320km an hour, and it’s a convenient way to take you to one of the more sobering of Japan sights – Hiroshima. The atomic bomb blast of August 1945 destroyed the ancient city, killing tens of thousands of people. The only structure left standing in the area, Genbaku Dome, has now been reconstructed as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.

Visit Japan and on a first-time trip it can be fun to learn more about the country’s culture, perhaps visiting a private home to discover more about the traditional arts of origami or flower arranging. You may even want to spend a night in a ryokan, a typical Japanese inn where you’ll sleep on a rolled-out futon after savouring a kaiseki multi-course dinner.

visit japan maiko and geisha

Visit Japan: Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion and geishas

Kyoto should be on your itinerary too. The city has over 1,600 temples and shrines, with the Golden Pavilion, dating back to the classical Muromachi age, being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As the name suggests, the upper floors are covered in gold leaf and glow in the morning light with a blinding intensity.

The Temple of the Dragon at Peace and Nijo Castle are additional worthy attractions, but it’ll be a walk through Kyoto’s Gion district that will capture your heart. Here you’ll see the classic image of Japan – geishas and maikos (trainee geishas) wearing silk kimonos walking on their wooden sandals through streets full of traditional wooden houses. Note however, that geishas should again be treated with respect, so even if you want that iconic shot, don’t take photographs without asking for permission first. Many authentic geishas will be en route to work and won’t look your way. Other individuals and tourists are only too willing to dress up as a geisha and pose for your camera.

visit japan torii gates fushimi inari shrine kyoto japan

As for other must-see sights, the list could go on. But for first-time travellers, don’t miss the Shinto shrine of Fushimi Inari near Kyoto. Here you’ll witness the spectacular sight of thousands of red Torri gates forming two vermilion-coloured wooden tunnels up a hillside. Visit Japan and expect the extraordinary.

Planning to visit Japan

Explore some of the cultural, historic and natural highlights with a holiday to Japan. Our Land of the Rising Sun escorted tour includes visits to Tokyo, Mount Fuji, Hiroshima, Kyoto and even the chance to ride on a bullet train.


If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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