Navigating Japan as a First-timer

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Advisor - Katie Anderson
Curated By

Katie Anderson

  • Japan

  • Food & Wine

  • Arts & Culture

  • Nightlife

  • Entertainment

  • Local Food

Girl wearing black in Japan
Curator’s statement

An incredibly unique country known for iconic cherry blossoms, impeccable cuisine (400+ Michelin star restaurants), fantastic hiking for all levels, remarkable skiing, a shopping paradise and 23 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, there is something for every type of traveler! I took a solo trip to Japan in September and it is one of my absolute favorite destinations in the world. As a first timer, a trip to Japan can seem a bit intimidating, but I urge you to go. You will leave Japan eager to return again!

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Where to stay in Japan

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Things to do in Japan

Beautiful Historic Japan

Food tour

As a country known for its impeccable cuisine, I would highly encourage you to do at least one food tour. My personal recommendation would be to take a Best of Shibuya Food tour. This is a small group guided walking tour (3 hours) off-the-beaten path, stopping at some of the hidden gems that only the locals go to. This is also a great way for you to explore Shibuya on foot, known for the Shibuya crossing location.

Mt. Fuji

Take a full-day small group or private tour with a guide to Mt. Fuji and Hakone with a Japanese-style lunch included. I took this tour with a small group and had a wonderful experience meeting fellow travelers. A visit to Mt. Fuji is a must-do on your first trip to Japan.

Cooking class

Take a Private Traditional Japanese Cooking Class with a local. Cooking classes are a fun way to immerse yourself in the local culture while learning something new and eating delicious food. You will learn to make 3 to 5 authentic Japanese dishes from scratch (2 hours).

Shibuya Sky

Head up to Shibuya Sky (46th) floor for a 360-degree panoramic view of Tokyo. You can purchase tickets four weeks in advance for The Roof Shibuya Sky, which includes seats at the rooftop bar with your choice of drinks or champagne.

Private Guided Tour of Tokyo

As a first timer in Japan, who may be nervous navigating the public transportation, I would highly recommend a fully-customizable, private 4-hour or 8-hour Private Guided Tour of Tokyo. The options are endless — choosing between temples and shrines, Tsukiji fish market, shopping excursions, Imperial Palace with lunch at a local restaurant. This is a great way to increase your confidence navigating Tokyo as a first-timer.


As a first-timer in Japan, you absolutely want to spend a few days exploring Kyoto. I would recommend a Kyoto Private 6-hour tour with an English-speaking driver, no guide. Kyoto was a true highlight for me, with stops at the Kiyomizu temple and Arashiyama with its towering bamboo forest.


For a historical experience, take a full-day group or a private tour to Hiroshima and Miyajima Island. You will visit sites like the Peace Park and A-Bomb Dome.


For the shoppers, head to Ginza for the best luxury shopping in Tokyo.

Tokyo Tower

Head up the Tokyo Tower for a TopDeck Tour. I prefer the skyline views at night for some fabulous photos.

teamLab Planets

A final must-do in Tokyo is to get tickets to the teamLab Planets TOKYO: Digital Art Museum. This is not your traditional museum; it is an immersive experience with digital art installations designed to stimulate all five senses.

Day Trips

Recommended day trips for a first timer in Japan would include a visit to Mt. Fuji & Hakone, Nikko National Park and Hiroshima and Miyajima’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites.

Places to eat & drink in Japan

Yummy Sushi

With 400+ Michelin-starred restaurants, dining in Japan is truly a foodie's dream. From my own personal experience, don't overdo it on the sushi on day one. Tokyo dinner options:

When in Japan, a unique experience is to try a conveyor belt sushi restaurant; for this one I would recommend Nemuro Hanamaru KITTE Marunouchi.

Tokyo bars:

Kyoto dinner options:

The food scene in Japan is so incredibly amazing, you really can't go wrong!

Need to Know

Navigating Japan as a first-timer can seem intimidating, but it doesn't have to be. I am happy to arrange a private airport transfer for you to and from your selected hotels, in addition to the various tour options with hotel pick-ups offered. While in Japan, you absolutely must ride the bullet train at least once because that in itself is an unforgettable experience!

Looking for more Japan travel inspo? Check out Travel Advisor Cindy La's guide, Exploring Japan: Things to Do in Osaka, Tokyo & Kyoto.

Advisor - Katie Anderson

Travel Advisor

Katie Anderson

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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Japan.