Japan travel tips for beginners: Things you need to know

posted on October 13, 2016

First thing you have to do when you visit Japan? Prepare yourself. Prepare yourself for an incredible experience in one of the weirdest and most wonderful places on Earth.

Prepare yourself to be amazed and confused, delighted and shocked, intimidated and embraced, impressed and disgusted. Japan is so extraordinarily foreign and bizarre, and yet so welcoming and safe. It's a place where everything seems different, and yet you're always encouraged to give it a go.

As a first-time visitor, you will undoubtedly get lost in Japan. While the public transport system is probably the most efficient in the world, you won't be able to navigate it without at some point having absolutely no idea where you're supposed to be going. The streets outside, meanwhile, are clean and orderly and safe, but with a system of addressing that will leave you constantly wandering around blindly, miles from where you're supposed to be.

But the joy of Japan is that getting lost is OK. It's how you make discoveries. And if you don't find your way out of these situations yourself, someone will help you. In fact if you ever look even slightly bewildered in Japan, there's a good chance a kind citizen will offer to fix whatever problem it is you seem to be having.

Japan is like that. It seems intimidating, with its sprawling metropolises and foreign customs, but the people there will make it far less so.

That's good news, because the best way to experience Japan is by jumping in and doing all of the things that seem so strange and foreign. Order ramen noodles from a vending machine. Go to a café staffed by manga characters. Spend the night in a Shingon monastery. Get nude at an onsen. All of these things are possible.

Most people's first journey to Japan will include much of what's known as the "Golden Route", a trio of the country's best and most approachable cities: Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. This is an excellent place to start, giving you a hit of the old Japan and the new.

In Tokyo you can see the hyper-modernity of Shinjuku, go shopping in Shibuya and Harajuku, eat great food in Ebisu, experience the old "Edo" in Asakusa, and hang out with the hipsters in Shimokitazawa and Koenji. In Kyoto you get one of the world's most beautiful cities. In Osaka you'll find a buzzing hub full of people who are obsessed with good food.

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