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Beginners Guide To Japan

Updated on September 15, 2014

If you are traveling to Japan for the first time, you’ll probably find yourself fascinated by the inimitably unique island country. It might take you some time getting used to everyone driving on the left side of the road or walking along underground passageways, but don’t let that deter you, for it’s definitely going to be a memorable trip.

Whether you’re traveling on business or pleasure, you’ll need to take care of a few things before flying out. Be sure you have an itinerary, so you know where you’ll be staying as you move around the country. You might want to stay in Tokyo if work takes you there, as most of the business centers are located in the city. If it’s a holiday you’re planning then you can stay in Osaka as it is close to Hiroshima and Kyoto.

The Best Time To Visit

Japan has pleasant weather between late October and mid November; with daytime temperatures around 20 degrees Celsius/ 66 degrees Fahrenheit. This is also the season when airfares are generally low, so you’ll be able to find yourself a good bargain.

You have the option of flying non-stop or take a flight with one halt. Non-stop flights can take approximately 16 hours and are quite expensive compared to airlines that have one stopover. Pick a flight with one stop and you’ll lose just a couple of hours, but will end up saving big bucks.


Upon Arrival At Narita Airport

Japan boasts of one of the finest railway system in the world. Upon arrival you can purchase a 'Narita Express + Suica Card’ combo ticket at the airport, for roughly $35. The ticket will have your car and seat number printed on it. If you’ve purchased a JR Rail voucher, you can have the same redeemed at the JR booth for a JR Rail Pass.

Mt. Fuji
Mt. Fuji

Hotel Accommodation

Tokyo and Osaka have some of the finest hotels where you can stay in the lap of luxury; but, they can be extremely pricey. However, if a clean and functional room is what you need you can find those too at a reasonable $100/night. They come with basic amenities like attached shower, fridge, TV, computer and internet.

The Shinjuku’s Washington Hotel, Tokyo – What’s appealing about this place apart from its central location is the long underground walkway that takes you to a number of interesting places. On the ground level the hotel is located at a walkable distance from Shinjuku station, which happens to be the world’s largest train station and it connects you to the whole of Japan. The hotel has a number of restaurants and a convenience store. It has an international desk as well and a cloak room where you can deposit your luggage for safe keeping.

The APA Hotel Midosuji-Honmachi-Ekimae, Osaka – This hotel offers the exact same facilities as the one in Tokyo and is conveniently located opposite a train station.

Coping With Cultural Differences And Language Barrier

Your demeanor might intimidate people around you, so be watchful of how you conduct yourself. Acquiring a few social skills relevant to the people of the land can be helpful.

Greet people in the traditional way by bowing instead of instinctively going for the handshake or a hug.

Don’t use your fingers to point at things; it’s culturally unaccepted in Japan. Use your palm if you must.

Learn a few Japanese words and phrases and you’ll endear yourself to the locals. Konnichiwa stands for hello. Say Arigato when you want to thank someone. Need help? Shout out, Tsukete, Onegai.

Shrine at Hakone
Shrine at Hakone

Things To Do

Hakone is where you should head to if you want to relax. Located close to Mt. Fuji the place is known for its hot springs (onsen) and Japanese style inns (ryokan). Book a room in advance if you want to stay at one of the inns.

To reach Hakone you’ll need to board the Shinkansen (Bullet train) to Odawara station and catch a local train or bus to the hot springs. You can contact the Information Center at the Odawara station for assistance.

Kyoto offers you a peek into the culture and history of Japan. This is where you will find old shrines, temples and historical artifacts. It is a great place to explore and educate yourself about ancient Japanese culture and get in touch with its history.

Party animals head to Roppongi and Shibuya where some of the best nightclubs and bars are located. Minami in Osaka has some excellent bars too that come highly recommended, such as Zerro, Hub, Blarney Stone and Rock Rock.

Shopping can be best enjoyed at Akihabara and Ginza. You can shop here till you drop – electronics, clothes, cars and whatever else you need is sold here. For high end goods head to departmental stores and malls located at Roppongi Hills and Shinjuku.

Final Tip

You’ll experience a major time zone shift when you land in Japan. If your flight is early on Sunday morning you will arrive in Japan by mid-noon on Monday. You’ll lose a day traveling; which you’ll gain when you travel back. But do be prepared for jet lag!

© 2014 Juana


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