Complete Japan Guide for going for the first time!


36.2048° N, 138.2529°E

(Photo: Lake Kawaguchi)


Throughout most of my travels, whether I am doing a city trip or a beach holiday, I always feel I need to take a trip to back to Japan! During the last 4 years I have managed to get 8 Japanese stamps on my passport! And each time i do go, my suitcase returns home filled with Japanese snacks – best of all you can claim tax free refunded to you inside the shops you shop in.

I’m going to share with you 10 tips on here you may want to know about if its you’re first time going, hopefully they’ll help you know what to expect a bit more!

(Photo: Old Town Kyoto at sunset)


1. ICCOCA, Suica, Passmo and JR Pass

  • The ICOCA card, Suica card and the Passmo cards are the most commonly accepted cards equivalent to Oyster(UK) and Octopus(HK)cards for public transport in Japan, and can be used to pay at many stores such as the famous convenient 7 11’s and Family Mart all around Japan. These cards are most appropriate if you are only visiting one city. Please remember to top them up via the appropriate machines (machines will be labelled ie. Passmo machine or ICOCA)!
  • If you are travelling through Japan cross-country, the JR Passwhich can only be purchased by non-Japanese residents (ie. Tourists) – will work out best, such as if you are travelling from Osaka to Tokyo, or to Hokkaido! It will be cheaper than using any of the cards mentioned above. The pass covers travel for all JR line trains, some ferries and most bullet trains apart from the Nozomi bullet train – the fastest bullet train service.
  • Most bullet trains have ‘reserved‘ and ‘non-reserved‘ seats, if you purchase a reserved seat (at an extra cost) you will be guaranteed a seat for the journey but during busy times you should purchase a reserved seat in advance – I’d recommend booking a day or two in advance if you want to keep to your planned itinerary. If you do not purchase a reserved seat you can just hop on with your JR pass, but for a 2 hour trip from Osaka to Tokyo you may need to stand.

(Photo: Kyoto, Arashiyama Bamboo Forest)


 2. Main areas and where to stay

For TOKYO, I like staying in the main areas which are central and convenient. Staying around Tokyo station is great if you want to stay in an area where you will have direct transport to iconic places or towards further out places such as Mount Fuji, Disneyland/Disney sea and both Airports.  Tokyo station itself is near Tokyo tower, Tokyo Skytree, Asakusa Shrine – so its great for seeing landmarks. 

Shinjuku is the other station I like to stay for doing a lot of shopping since it has a HUGE shopping district, as well as main stations for public transport to outer areas similar to Tokyo Station. If you want to see Mount Fuji and experience Onsens try staying at Hakone Lake Kawaguchi, and Onsen town!

(Photo, taken from the gardens of Prince Hotel – Click here to view the hotel we stayed at with Tokyo Tower view (Prince Hotel)


For OSAKA you may want to stay around Namba area for convenience and it is right next to Dotonbori – the main busy shopping district with many gaming arcades, however it is still 20 mins away from Shin Osaka station

KYOTO is quite small in terms of things to do so if you want convenience staying near Kyoto Station will be the main area you will find signs of life at night. Otherwise another great choice at Kyoto is staying further out where you can experience some authentic Onsen and tatami boutique hotels.

(Photo taken from Onsen at Hotel Mystays Mount Fuji)


3. Airports


Tokyo: Tokyo has two main international airports, Haneda and Narita.

  • Haneda International Airport is MUCH closer to the city centre and much newer, approx 20 mins via mono rail train (which is very fast compared to Narita), with large viewing windows and a peaceful journey. I would definitely recommend arriving/booking your flights to Haneda airport if going to Tokyo if possible as it always makes my journey feel much shorter and less stressful, however not all countries fly direct to Haneda…which means you will have to fly to Narita (next point below).
  • Narita International Airport is approx 1 hour away from Tokyo station via the JR Narita express, a limousine bus, or 2 hours via public train. If you want to go straight to Shinjuku it will take slightly longer. Generally Narita is much bigger so there will be cheaper flights going here more often, and more direct flights also from certain countries.
  • The Narita Express (has wifi) is quite pricey – 3000 yen (approx 30US dollars) but is the quickest and most comfortable way to get into the city, the limousine bus has wifi and is about 1000 yen. I don’t recommend the public train as you have to change a few times and its more expensive than the direct bus – also it does not have wifi.
  • There are some cheap CAPSULE HOTELS for both airports should you need to stay a night before or after flights, or for transits. For Narita I would recommend Nine Hours, for Haneda I would recommend First Cabin. – Book in advance as they seem to sell out quite quickly!
  • Taxi prices I found are on the same level as New York taxi prices, despite the taxi’s in Japan being VERY clean it is not cheap/ a reasonable choice to go from the airport.

(Must do: Dress up in a traditional Kimono in Old Town Kyoto)

Kyoto: To reach Kyoto, the easiest way to get there from abroad is by flying to Osaka Kansai, and take a bullet train from Shin-Osaka Station via JR Tokaido Shinkansen train with a duration of 15 minutes, costing 1420 yen for an unreserved seat. 

Osaka: From Osaka Kansai airport to Namba station, it will take just under 40 minutes for a Nankai Airport Express or the Limited Express Rapid train. Regular seats are priced at 1130 yen.


(photo: Lake Kawaguchi)


4. Useful Japanese words to get you around

English is not a ‘must know’ language in Japan, so many of the Japanese will continue to speak in Japanese to you even if they know you don’t speak it. They are also super super polite, so I feel pretty bad if I can’t even say thank you back to them after they’re long polite sentences when buying some water in 711. You will hear most of these phrases a lot on arrival!

Thank you – Arigatou Gozaimasu (pronounced along the lines of ali-ga-toh ger-zai-mas)

Excuse me – Sumimasen (pronounced along the lines of – sooh-mi-ma-sen)

Yes – Hai (‘hay’) (sometimes with a small bow)

No – iie (‘ee-eh’)

Hello – Konnichiwa

Sorry – Gomen nasai (gor-men-na-say)

Good morning – Ohayou Gozaimasu (oh-hay-yo ger-zay-mas)

Good evening – Konbanwa (con-ban-wah)


In Japan and some other countries it’s common to bow for extra politeness (such as in Thailand), so don’t feel shocked to bow back if you find you really want to sympathise a thank you!

(Photo from 2014 in Fukuoka)


5. Wifi/Sim card

Personally, I don’t feel there was free wi-fi around much, perhaps in main large stations but not in every station. Sim cards and Japanese wifi ‘eggs’ are very common around Japan particularly at the airports, but can be quite pricey at around 2000 yen, especially for me when I travel to places such as Thailand and Phillipines, where I always buy an unlimited data sim card for 2 dollars! The good thing about booking at Air BnB is that often provide a portable wifi egg for their guests, some hotels may do it too. However, if your hotel doesn’t provide one then you can consider getting an egg to share between a few of you or a few devices, this should work out cheaper.

 (Photo: Hakone Shrine)



6. Restaurant Ordering

It is not common in Japan to share dishes, and some restaurants specifically state each person must order at least one dish. So bare this in mind when entering or ordering!

(Photo: Chureito Pagoda)


7. Stores you cannot miss all around Japan

711 – they have 711 pretty much all over Asia, but each time I go Japan I will guarentee buy some snacks and drinks for the go from here as they are EVERYWHERE. I will always buy a different Japanese drink each time I go pass one (especially in summer when it’s really hot), sometimes even a quick breakfast if the hotel does not provide and I have a long journey coming up. Japanese drinks and snacks are pretty expensive in the UK so you will notice your bag leaving much heavier than before walking in.

Don Quijote (ドン・キホーテ Don Kihōte) – a discount chain store which sells… pretty much everything you’ll need before you leave Japan. It sells too wide of a range of products, from Japanese make up beauty products contact lenses false eyelashes, most of the Japanese snacks you’ll need, electrics and phone cases cameras… to clothing. Best of all you can get tax free here.


(Photo: Chureito Pagoda)


8. Tokyo Banana

My favourite snack and souvenir I buy each time I visit Japan!! A banana flavoured soft soft soft soft cake, with cute packaging, comes in different colours based on the original flavour. If you don’t come across one during your visit in the city, don’t worry each airport sells them in the duty free stores after security!! You havn’t visited Japan if you don’t buy one of these to hand back as a souvenir!




9. Onsens

Japan is a volcanic country so there are hot springs all around the country to dip in! They are said to promote blood circulation, reduce stress or fatigue and improve skin conditions. Please note that PUBLIC baths are split into different sex, as you need to be full nude. If you have a tattoo usually you won’t be allowed in a public bath as it can offend others believing you are triad (Yakuza) related, unless you can cover it up you, will need to find a private onsen! Many onsen towns such as Hakone and Lake Kawaguchi have amazingggg hotels with private onsen inside the room.

(Photo taken from Onsen at Hotel Mystays Mount Fuji)



10. Go with an empty suitcase!

And return with snacks, and accessories, and plushies! My personal fav are POKEMON Plushies from the Pokemon Centres and Pokemon Stores you will find around Japan – one located in Osaka Kansai Airport if you don’t have time during your visit inside the city. You are bound to buy something!

If you applied for tax free shopping on any of your goods, you will notice a receipt stapled to your passport. Each shop will state the minimum payment eligible for tax refund. Usually you pay for the tax first then refund it at the a separate counter inside the store, or shopping centre. And on arrival back at the airport, customs will remove this from your passport. If you didn’t bring your passport when paying and shopping, you can claim the refund back at tax refund counters inside the airport.


(Photo: probably still my favourite photo of all time..  taken at Lake Kawaguchi during Sunset)


Hope this gives an idea when you are planning for a trip to Japan! As for you Japan, I’ll be back soon.



Disclaimer: We were full paying guests at Hotel Mystays, Lake Kawaguchi. All opinions, photos and written content belong to Heidi Leung and© 2018 All Rights Reserved.

Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Heidi and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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1 Comment

  1. Steph Chan
    June 5, 2018 / 10:46 pm

    Omg these tips are just amazing!! so so helpful and can’t wait to go back to Japan, it’s just the best place!


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