Going to Japan for the First Time Tips & Tricks

You’re going to Japan for the first time ever! Yay! おめでとう! Congratulations! You’re probably excited and nervous. You’ve got where you’re going, your flights and accommodation sorted, but you’re a little unsure of transport and what to do about food. If that’s you then here are some tips and tricks when going to Japan for the first time.

(If you don’t know the Japanese alphabets hiragana and katakana I suggest starting here)

  • Restaurants and Food
  • Trains
  • Buses

Restaurants and Food

I’ve written a lot about different kinds of restaurants, food and useful Japanese to know (see the links below). And even have 2 Memrise flashcard courses that help you learn useful restaurant Japanese. So a this section would be too long with ALL the other information, here are some of the key points:

There is a thriving restaurant culture in Japan, especially large cities. You can easily find fast food restaurants and cafes. I always suggest asking someone at the hotel/B&B you’re staying at for a recommendation.

レストラン の おすすめ が ありますか? (resutoran no osusume ga arimasu ka?) – Do you have any recommendations for restaurants?

この あたり、いい レストラン が ありますか? (kono atari, ii resutoran ga arimasu ka?) – Are there any good restaurants around here?

When you go into a restaurant don’t be too worried by the waitress talking quickly to you. She’s probably asking how many people are there. You can hold up your hand to show how many people there are and the waitress will lead you to a table.

Ordering can be fairly easy. Fast food restaurants often have menus with pictures, and/or displays with plastic food out front.

えいご の メニュー が ありますか? (eigo no menu ga arimasu ka?) – Do you have an English menu?

おすすめ が ありますか? (osusume ga arimasu ka?) – Do you have a recommendation?

When paying ask for the “okaikei”. DO NOT LEAVE A TIP – it’s considered rude, implying the restaurant doesn’t pay their workers enough.

おかいけい おねがいします。(Okaikei onegaishimasu) – The bill please.

Other useful food related articles:


Train lines and companies are different in each city but they tend to have the same layout when buying tickets.

Below is Tokyo’s JR line. The area will look like this when buying train tickets.

Japan for the First Time Train Map
Japan for the First Time Train MapBuying tickets is very simple. Maps will normally have the English place names next to them, or a separate map with the English. Your current station is normally highlighted in bright red. You find the station you want to go to and buy a ticket for that much.

For example, on the left you’re in Ikebururo, and want to go to Tokyo station. So you need to buy a 190 yen ticket.

To buy a ticket you use the machine under the map. Just put the money in and hit the button for the right amount. You can put in any amount, even a 10,000 yen ($100) note, and the machine will give you right change and your ticket!

Japan for the First Time Train ticket Machine

Hyperdia is a life saver in Japan! This website is amazingly useful. You can type your starting station and destination. and it will give you times, cost and train lines you need to get there. Even if you want to use the bullet train!

Speaking of bullet train tickets (called shinkansen in Japan), the bullet train is a JR train line. Go to any JR station and you can buy a bullet train ticket from a JR booth, or a special office that sells them. There will normally be someone who can speak English otherwise you can ask:

___ から ___ まで、しんかんせん の チケット を おねがいします。 (___ kara ___ made, shinkansen no chicketo wo onegaishimasu) – A shinkansen ticket from ___ to ___ please.

Japan for the First Time Shinkansen


(These are regular city/town buses, not long distance buses or night buses)

Japan for the First Time BusBuses in Japan can also be very easy. You can find out where to go and which bus to get via google maps. When the bus comes the number and main destination is on the front, with a list of main stops on the side of the bus in Japanese. You get on via the back door.

When you get on there will be a small orange box with a ticket sticking out. Take the ticket and you’ll see a number. You need to know this number to know what to pay at the end.

Japan for the First Time BusIf you look towards the front of the bus there’s a screen with the stop name and numbers underneath. Your ticket number will show you how much you need to pay when getting off at that stop.

For example, if you had a number 5 ticket you need to pay 260 yen when you get off.



Japan for the First Time Bus MachineTo pay you need the correct change. If you don’t have the right change you can put a note in the section on the right (2)  and change will come out (5). 

Count the correct change you need and put it in the top part (1) as you get off the bus.





Travelling around Japan can be pretty daunting when you don’t know what to do, but you’ll learn quickly. I’ve made mistakes and gotten lost many times, but every time things have worked out and I’ve learnt from my mistakes. It’s all part of the adventure!

If you’re interested in useful phrases for visiting Japan check out this post: Essential Japanese for Visiting Japan

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