A first-timer's guide to Japan
Japan 28.04.2014 Transindus
A country of contrasts, Japan is home to ultra-modern cities, cutting-edge fashion, ancient traditions and stunning mountains. Discovering this mix of wonders is a major part of what makes travelling here so appealing - and in this guide for newcomers to the country, we aim to help you learn more about where to explore these contrasts, as well as how to make the most of your visit.
Where to go
First of all, as with any destination where contrasts are a key attraction, it's important to select an itinerary that allows you to explore these. For first-timers to Japan, a tour that incorporates the dazzling capital, Tokyo, with trips to Mount Fuji, Nikko and Kyoto is a good choice. This way, you'll get to experience plenty of facets of Japanese culture.
The nation's capital, Tokyo is more than just a city - it's a unique experience. Seeing the sea of people rushing across the famous Ginza intersection, being squeezed into a metro train and going to one of the local karaoke bars is all part of a classic Tokyo visit.
From Tokyo, you can go on several amazing day trips. One is to Nikko, the most famous attraction of which is its line of Jizo Buddhas, so old that they're covered in moss. You can also go to Mount Fuji, which is one of the country's most iconic sites. This active volcano is absolutely beautiful and easily admired from ground level, but if you're an active person you might prefer to make the trip to the summit.
There's only one way to leave Tokyo behind - the bullet train. This is a quintessential Japanese experience in itself, especially as it's become something of a symbol of modern Japan. In terms of your end destination, choose Kyoto - a city that really contrasts with the capital.
Indeed, this ancient city is full of historic buildings and age-old ritual. Home to an incredibly impressive 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites, it was actually once the nation's capital - a title it held for over 1,000 years. Plus, there are more than 2,000 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines to discover here too.
Useful tips on customs and behaviour
Japan is famous for being a very polite, considerate country, and one that has strict codes of behaviour. So, it pays to understand more about local customs before your visit - not just so you don't offend, but also so you get as much out of your trip as possible. It's also a very welcoming place, where people treat each other with respect and courtesy - something that has helped to make it famous for its hospitality.
Be ready to remove your footwear
In Japan, it's customary to remove your shoes when going into a restaurant, inn, house or even office, as well as some tourist attractions. Don't worry, though - it's very easy to tell when this is expected, because you'll see a neat row of shoes (usually in a sunken foyer) before you head far inside. House slippers (often provided) will then be worn instead. Bear in mind, though, that these should be removed as well if you go into a straw mat room, known as a tatami.
Bowing is a standard gesture when meeting, thanking or saying goodbye to someone. Technically, there are lots of different rules for bowing in Japanese culture, but as a tourist you needn't worry too much about these - just make an effort to make a short bow from the waist in the above situations.
Remember to act with courtesy in public
In Japan, being loud or rude in public is a definite no-no - even if you're out and about in local bars.
Don't eat or drink while you're walking
You probably wouldn't notice it without it being pointed out to you, but the Japanese don't tend to eat and drink while they're on the move, so it's best to follow suit while you're there.
Slurp your noodles
Dishes like ramen are virtually impossible to eat without at least a bit of slurping, and this is expected - in fact, it's considered polite, because it shows that you're enjoying your food!