20 September 2016

Our Expert Travel Tips for Travelling to Japan for the First Time

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Buffalo Tours are excited to officially launch their Tokyo office and welcome our wonderful travellers to this incredible destination! We’ll be celebrating with some great Japan focused content and you can check out some of our tours right here now.

Travelling to Japan for the first time can be a daunting experience. The culture is so different, there is a strict etiquette and Japan isn’t the cheapest of Asian destinations. Not to mention having sky-high expectations for one of the world’s most traditional, delicious and, dare we say, magical countries.

Well, our local experts know a thing or two about making the most of your first trip. From our team of locals to you, these are our top tips and insider advice to those burning travel questions!

Japan temple wish wood cards

The Best Time to Visit Japan

Japan has four distinct seasons that influence the weather, the country and travel plans considerably.

Spring is a great time to travel as it is warm but not too hot and has very little rain. And then there is Cherry Blossom Season. Usually occurring between March and April, this is a truly special time to visit but it is overwhelmingly busy and more expensive.

Although not an official season, Tsuyu in June experiences extremely high rainfall and leads into a very hot and sticky summer. Summer festivals fill cities with dancing, beer gardens and evening entertainment.

Temperature and humidity drop at the start of September and by November leaves are turning red, gold and yellow. Autumn in Japan is less busy but no less spectacular than during spring.

The north east and Hokkaido experience heavy snows and are great for skiing during winter. The rest of Japan may experience small snowfalls. There are far fewer tourists at this time, except in Takayama as the area looks especially beautiful in winter.

Entry into Japan

66 nationalities are visa-exempt for stays 90 days or less, including the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. See here for a full list.

travelling to Japan for the first time

Packing tips for Japan

  • The weather in Japan is very changeable so it is best to pack layered clothing. It’s a good idea to carry a small umbrella too.
  • Japanese people are quite conservative in how they dress and they always dress nicely. People’s attitude towards themselves can be judged on the pride they take in their appearance. Smart casual is best and for bars/restaurants in 5-star hotels semi-formal will be expected. It is rare to see a Japanese person in flip flops…
  • Japan is famous for it’s toiletries and cosmetics and the range is vast. Most brands have their flagship stores here, although products can’t be purchased for much cheaper than at home.
  • Many pharmacy drugs are prescription only, including anti-inflammatory and anti-histamines. Japanese over the counter pain relievers are also much lower potency than that available at home.
  • Power is 110v with two flat prongs like US plugs.
  • Phone SIM cards are expensive and only available at large electronic stores in tourist areas- they cost $100 – $200 for up to two weeks. It is better to rent sim cards or wireless devices online before arrival which can be picked up at the airport after arrival.

TIP: Wi-fi is becoming available is most places (train stations/café/convenience stores/most cities are also offering) and is free.

Our favourite experiences


ATMs that take international cards are located at all Post Offices and are only open when the post office is, during the day. They are also located in most convenience stores.

Debit and Credit cards are not widely accepted in Japan as it is a very cash based system and/or not always set up for international cards. This is slowly changing but be prepared to carry a lot of cash.

TIP: Japan has relatively low crime rates but always be aware and sensible.

Japan Kinkakuji


Japan has one of the most efficient, cost-effective and expansive transport systems in the world.

Trains and buses are cheap within cities and transport cards are easily bought and topped up. They are now linked across Japan and a Tokyo travel pass will work on buses in Kyoto, trams in Hiroshima and trains in Osaka. One day unlimited travel passes can also be bought in each city.

For national travel, the Japan Rail Pass provides unlimited travel on rail/bus/ferry networks across the country, including Shinkansen (bullet trains).

Other forms of transport

Taxis are cheap over short distances during the day but then the fare increases very fast into the evening.

There are lots of bicycles in Japan and most hotels rent them. Cities are flat and most roads or paths have bicycle lanes. Helmets are not provided as they are not required by law in Japan. Because the cities are so flat it is also very easy and pleasant to simply walk.

Japan zen garden

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Take out travel insurance. Hospitals will live up to modern western standards with matching prices.
  • Take off your shoes when entering homes/temples and even hotel rooms – watch for the change of flooring to indicate a change of shoes.
  • In a shop place your money in the tray on the counter when you go to pay for something rather than straight into someone’s hand.
  • Carry your litter with you. There are very few rubbish bins and they are usually only located on station platforms and outside convenience stores. And do divide your rubbish into the correct recycling bin.
  • Drink the tap water in Japan- it’s delicious!
  • Observe correct etiquette when using onsens and hot springs.
  • Stand to the left on escalators and walk to the left. Except Osaka, they stand to the right on escalators just to confuse things…
  • Put feet on tables or chairs, or point the soles of your feet at anyone.
  • Eat and drink while you are walking – except at a festival.
  • Don’t count your change. Shop staff will always count it out in front of you and recounting indicates you don’t trust them.
  • Wear the toilet slippers out of the toilet!
  • Prominently display your tattoos. They are becoming more common with locals in big cities but being modest of them is seen as respectful.
  • Talk on the phone on trains – change to silent mode.
  • Don’t open and close taxi doors as the driver has a lever and if you do it, it can break.
  • Walk and smoke cigarettes. Most cities in Japan are now smoke free and will have designated outdoor smoking areas only.

Japan heritage walking street

Japanese Language Tips

The easiest way to make friends in any country is to try to speak at least a little of the local lingo.  By learning the basics, you will find locals want to be more helpful and they can also practice their English with you!

Here are some basic phrases to learn before you go:

Ohayo gozaimasu

Good Morning


Good Afternoon


Good Evening



Arigato gozaimasu

Thank you very much

Watashi wa….

My name is…





O’genki desuka?

How are you?

Genki desu

I’m fine thanks

Are you thinking about your first trip to Japan? Let our local travel experts in Japan design a customised Japan tour perfect for the kind of traveller that you are.


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