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How to get started in Japan as a first-time visitor


Japan is certainly one of the top places to visit in the world at the moment and for the right reasons. The country’s geography is stunning all year round, simple to get around and full of old-fashioned attractions. Between visits, take a break and eat some delicious Japanese dishes, including the katsu (deep-fried meat smothered in panko crumb) or fresh sushi or have a drink alongside locals in an izakaya (Japanese pub).

If you’re planning Japan travel or are making plans for your next trip, this is an overview for first-time visitors to Japan.

Expect a language barrier.

The first thing that people will say about Japan is that English is difficult to find (excluding foreigners). While this may be accurate, however, it’s not something to be worried about. As a matter of fact, in comparison to other countries with no English-speaking population, Japan is well-equipped to solve any communication challenges. 

A lot of restaurants display models of food in their windows or images on their menus for customers to show, and many train stations have signage signs in Japanese as well as English.

If you’re really worried about the difficulty of speaking Japanese and want to get an offline translation program and learn some Japanese terms, rely on an experienced tour guide to help you bridge the gap. There’s no reason to worry; Japanese people are incredibly accommodating, and nothing, such as an enthusiastic smile and a big Arigato (thank you), will fix it.

Don’t be scared of public transport.

Japanese public transport is of the highest quality and much more simple than you imagine. Numerous routes range from express trains underground metros, and, of course, the famous Shinkansen (bullet train). All are simple to navigate. The majority of train stations have platforms with signage in English and Japanese, along with symbols that identify bullet and regular trains. 

If you’re unsure, talk to the staff member in question, even if they don’t speak English and can direct you to an individual who does. If you prefer, learn to use an app for maps prior to your travels; they prepare complete information about transportation, including the station trains from which you depart.

A JR Pass will enable you to travel on several Japanese train lines (excluding those on the Nozomi or Mizuho trains that run on the Tokaido, Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen lines). If train travel on underground trains is your preferred method of travel, you should not purchase individual train tickets. 

Instead, you can buy a rechargeable IC Card at the start of your journey. Just tap the card once you get to the station and then recharge it at an automated ticket machine. There are a myriad of IC cards in use throughout Japan; however, they can be used across the country regardless of the city in which they were purchased.

Take a bite of all food.

If you are travelling to a new place, it is tempting to choose the familiar Western cuisine. However, Japanese food is incredibly varied and has flavours to satisfy all tastes – staying away from local food would be doing yourself an injustice. Start by eating Gyoza (dumplings) or a variety of tempura served with Nukazuke Pickles (fermented with rice bran). 

Later, move towards steaming pots of soup made from noodles, starting with tonkatsu Ramen (pork bones broth) and the chashu (braised) meat, up to photo (udon noodles cooked in miso broth). If you’re feeling adventurous, choose Natto (fermented soybeans) and Fuku (puffer seafood).

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