Last Updated: May 12, 2024

Japan Travel Tips

A List of My Helpful Hints & Hacks

Donny Kimball

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A woman in Kyoto gets ready to board a bullet train heading for Tokyo, Japan

Many moons have passed since I originally started publishing on Medium back in 2017. Over the years, I’ve amassed a ton of articles on how to get the most out of your trip to Japan. Unfortunately, Medium has… let’s call it less-than-favorable navigation meaning that it is increasingly becoming more and more difficult to curate my work. To rectify this issue, I’ve compiled all of my travel tips below .

To make things easier for you, the reader, I’ve separated things into four categories. You can use the following table of contents to easily jump between the four sections. The articles are listed in reverse chronological order within the various sub-groups so just know that my more recent work will appear towards the top.

Table of Contents

Japan How-To’s
Walkthroughs for understanding how things are done in Japan

Logistical Hacks
All you need to know to get around efficiently in Japan
Time Your Visit
Learn about Japan's best seasons and annual festivals
My Japan Rants
Off-topic essays about travel and Japan

Japan How-To’s

A woman in Kyoto walks down the road at Kyoto’s Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka area during cherry blossom season.
  • Minimalist Travel in Japan
    Despite traveling nonstop, I never bring anything more than my trusty backpack and this article explains how I manage with so little luggage.
  • Japan Long Stays
    If you’re coming to Japan, anything less than a month is not going to be enough to see all of the things you should see and do while here.
  • Embrace the Mizuburo
    Meaning “Cold Water Bath,” mizuburo are a way to cool off after an onsen or sauna session but they are also very helpful for clearing the mind.
  • Solo Travel in Japan
    Of all of the countries in the world, it’s hard to imagine a place that is more conducive to solo travel than Japan (especially for women).
  • Authentic Kokushu
    This in-depth primer will tell you everything you would ever want to know about Japan’s domestically produced kokushu (lit. “alcohol of Japan”).
  • Japan After the Pandemic
    These five reasons will show you why Japan should be your post pandemic destination of choice once international leisure travel again resumes.
  • Convenience on Every Corner
    As anyone who has visited Japan knows, the country has a vending machine on every corner. What’s more, there’s also a slew of odd ones too!
  • Japan Safety Tips
    While Japan is regularly considered to be the safest country on the planet, you still should keep your wits about you when traveling here.
  • No Photos Allowed!
    While Shinto shrines regularly welcome people to take photos, this often isn’t the case at Buddhist temples and this article explains why.
  • Teetotaling in Japan
    Japan can be very pushy when it comes to alcohol. This article will tell you all you need to know to tactfully refuse a drink when out and about.
  • Ballin’ on a Budget
    While Japan has an image of being a rather expensive country to visit, it can actually be done quite cheaply if you know where to skimp.
  • Japanese Hospitals
    In 2018, I crashed my bike and broke my collarbone. The subsequent trips to the hospital taught me a lot about Japan’s healthcare system.
  • Tipping in Japan
    Many overseas visitors don’t understand the fact that Japan simply doesn’t have the same tipping and gratuity culture that they’re used of.
  • Clubbing in Tokyo
    Tokyo is home to an epic nightlife scene. Alas, it can be quite overwhelming to navigate all of the venues and genres so refer to this guide.
  • Japan Travel & Natural Disasters
    Japan is a country that is often prone to natural disasters. This article will explain all you need to know to be as safe as possible here.
  • Shinbutsu Shugo
    For much of history, the religions of Shinto and Buddhism were syncretically intertwined under a system that is now referred as Shinbutsu Shugo.
  • Exercise While Traveling in Japan
    Health enthusiasts often want to get in a workout even when traveling and this article will show you the best options for doing so in Japan.
  • Western Toilets in Japan
    Having to use a Japanese squat toilet can be a nightmare for tourists. This guide will explain how to find a western style toilet in Japan.
  • What is Japanese Culture
    Defining Tokyo’s unique culture is a difficult question but this article will take a stab at unveiling what dwells under the neon lights.
  • Traveling in Japan’s Countryside
    This guide will detail all you need to prepare and know about when getting off of the beaten path and traveling in the Japanese countryside.
  • Why Get Off the Beaten Path
    Most visitors to Japan do not get to experience the country authentically due to their travels being tainted by the shadow of overtourism.
  • Japan’s Shrines & Temples
    Give their syncretic past, it can be quite hard to tell Shinto shrines apart from Buddhist temples in Japan but this guide will show you how.
  • Photography Do’s & Don’ts
    Japan has a lot of rules around photography and many tourists are unaware of them. This guide will explain how to avoid committing any faux pas.
  • Japan Nightlife 101
    From pre-last train drinks to morning ramen, this in-depth guide will show you all you need to know to plan an epic night of partying in Japan.
  • The Ultimate Onsen Guide
    Bathing in a hot spring with complete strangers can often seem overwhelming to tourists in Japan but this guide will help alleviate any concerns.
  • How to Visit a Shrine
    This guide will tell you all that you need to know to follow the proper etiquette that’s expected when one visits a Shinto shrine in Japan.
  • Japan’s Luggage Problem
    Wheeling a giant suitcase through the streets of Japan is a big no no but this guide will show you what to do with all your stuff while visiting.
  • Japan & the Ketogenic Diet
    In the land of white rice, it can be extremely difficult to maintain a ketogenic diet but this short guide will tell you all you need to know.
  • Eat the F@$#ing Meibutsu
    All of the regional areas in Japan have their own specialty. Known as meibutsu, these treats are something that you need to sample in Japan!
  • Drinking in Japan
    Alcohol has long been an important part of the local culture in Japan and today, drinking with Japanese has its own set of unique manners.

Logistical Hacks

A Hayabusa Shinkansen Japanese bullet train departs for Tohoku
  • The JR East Pass (Tohoku Area)
    This five-day itinerary covers all of the many places I went in northern Japan when traveling to promote the JR East Pass (Tohoku Area).
  • Jiyuseki Tricks
    While it’s often better to book a reserved seat on the bullet train, using the Jiyuseki or “free seating” allows for a number of travel hacks.
  • In Praise of Dormy Inn
    When it comes to places to stay in Japan, my go-to choice for accommodations is regularly Dormy Inn for their handy hot springs and amenities.
  • Love Hotel Lodging?!?
    Oddly enough, Japan’s ubiquitous love hotels can be a great failsafe when you need accommodations but all other nearby options are booked out.
  • Upgrade to the Green Car
    If you have a bit of cash to blow, the green car is one step above a normal seat and is a great way to travel in style when using local trains.
  • Gear Check
    As I am a known minimalist, I rarely bring much gear with me when exploring Japan’s hidden gems. This article will show you all I carry with me.
  • Share Cycling Across Tokyo
    In a city like Tokyo, there’s a lot of hidden allures that reside in between the train stations and these are often best reached via bicycle.
  • Fly Regional Airports
    While most visitors to Japan opt to fly into either Tokyo or Osaka, regional airports are often better for exploring Japan’s hidden gems.
  • Dissecting the JR Rail Passes
    This guide will help you understand if the Japan Rail Pass if right for you or whether it makes sense to only go with a regional pass instead.
  • Ryokan, Yay or Nay
    A lot of international visitors to Japan are interested in staying at a ryokan but is a traditional Japanese inn really the right choice for you?
  • Japan’s Highway Buses
    While the bullet trains in Japan are extremely expedient, opting to take a highway bus can be an easy way to cut back on travel expenses.
  • Hacking the Shinkansen
    In addition to the JR Rail Passes, there are all sorts of other hacks that you can use to affordably explore Japan’s hidden gems for cheap.

Time Your Visit

A heart-shaped cutout in the cherry blossom trees at Hirosaki Park in Aomori Prefecture
  • Chasing the Cherry Blossoms
    While the standard timing to view the cherry blossoms is the end of March, the trees reach their peak much earlier down elsewhere in Japan.
  • Japan’s Golden Week
    Golden Week is an annual string of holidays in late April and early May. It’s one of the worst times for overseas visitors to Japan to travel.
  • The Shujo Onie Festival
    In Oita’s Kunisaki Peninsula, oni are considered to have good nature. As a celebration of this, local monks play out the role of these demons.
  • Winter by the Irori
    While most overseas visitors to Japan miss out on the experience, sitting by an irori hearth is one of the best things to try in winter.
  • Surviving the Japanese Summer
    Japan is notorious for its hot and sultry summers. This guide will equip you with all you need to know to make the most out of summertime.
  • Tsuyu, the Rainy Season
    Japan has a “fifth season” that takes place between spring and summer known as tsuyu. While things can get wet, it’s also a great time to visit.
  • Tis the Season
    Many tourists ask when is the best time to visit Japan. Unfortunately, there is no good answer because every season is a great time to come!
  • Christmas in Japan
    Christmas time here is a little different than it is overseas. This article will tell you all you need to know for a December visit to Japan.
  • Halloween in Japan
    Japan takes Halloween to a completely different level and this guide will prepare you with all you need to know to join the costumed fun.
  • The Kawagoe Festival
    Saitama Prefecture’s Kawagoe Festival is an epic celebration that honors the town’s historical legacy as a merchant supplier to Japan’s capital.
  • The Ultimate Koyo Guide
    Koyo is the Japanese term for the fall leaves. This primer will provide you with all the basics that visitors need to know to enjoy autumn.
  • Summer’s Toro Nagashi
    This haunting tradition of floating lanterns down the river was originally held as a summertime means of ushering spirits on to the next world.
  • The Wa-no-Akari Exhibit
    Escape summer’s heat and experience an exhibit held at Tokyo’s Hotel Gajoen in what has been described as a “department store of ornamentation.”
  • The Kanamara Penis Festival
    Held at Kanayama Shrine in Kawasaki, the Kanamara Penis Festival is by far one of Japan’s oddest celebrations and is sure to always draw a crowd.
  • A Neophyte’s Hanami Guide
    Cherry blossom season is one of the most popular times to visit Japan and this guide will teach you how to enjoy the local tradition of hanami.

My Japan Rants

A misty path along the Kumano Kodo in Wakayama Prefecture
  • The Awareness Problem
    Content on every hidden gem in Japan already exists; thus, the country doesn’t have a lack of information — it has an awareness problem.
  • On Being a Creator
    In light of the direction that social media is heading, I look back on the past decade of being a creator on the day of my 38th birthday.
  • Again & Again
    While it’s true that Japan has an endless variety of options, it’s also true that no one visit to a place is sufficient to fully write it off.
  • The Journey IS the Destination
    As great as Japan’s many hidden gems are, it is the entire adventure required to reach them that really brings the travel experience to life.
  • Spending on Japan
    Contrary to logic, my investment strategy is simply to throw all of my money in Japan with the knowledge that the country will take care of me.
  • Tohoku’s Sokushinbutsu
    Japan is home to a collection of mummified monks known as Sokushinbutsu. Unlike with ancient Egypt, these ascetics underwent the process while still alive.
  • All for Japan
    This one-off rant explains why I spend every waking hour and every yen I earn as a digital marketer and content creator in the service of Japan.
  • Not Enough
    The past year has shown me that the current Donny is not enough and that embracing joy is the key to being of better service to Japan long term.
  • The Endless Journey
    This article explains why I feel that I’ll need many more lifetimes to finally visit all of the many hidden gems in Japan that are on my list.
  • Our Japan
    This new e-commerce platform unlocks latent potential by connecting overseas buyers with the local goods of Japanese craftsmen and artisans.
  • #ProjectKokusan
    To ring in the new year right, I’ve decided to challenge myself to only consume kokusan (meaning “made in Japan”) products whenever I can.
  • Benzaiten’s White Snakes
    How a chance encounter with an old friend led to a causal vortex of change that would alter every aspect of my personal and professional life.
  • Why I Love Japan
    Though there are a lot of amazing countries out there, these five reasons are why Japan is hands down the best place to visit on the planet.
  • This is a Daikon
    As strange as it may sound, the iconography of this Japanese tuber helped me to eventually overcome one of the darkest periods of my life.
  • Below the Bar
    This article explains how I used a ploy taken from the playbook of Oda Nobunaga to make one of the most difficult decisions of my life.
  • Why I Do What I Do
    A lot of people wonder why I spend all of my discretionary income and time on slaving away to promote Japan’s hidden gems. This article is the answer.
  • Empty Plates
    This odd article will explain why I rarely cover food-related topics on this blog despite Japan being the best place on the planet for foodies.
  • An Essay On Service
    Despite having a large audience that could easily be monetized, I actually opt to work for free most of the time to better help local regions.
  • Japan’s Kimon Superstition
    In Japanese geomancy, the direction of the northeast, the Kimon, is considered to be unlucky as it’s believed evil spirits can enter from here.
  • Japan’s Sex Industry
    This extremely NSFW article takes a look at what lurks below the neon glow of Japan and unveils the country’s ubiquitous sex industry in detail.
  • The Only Thing that Matters
    At the end of the day, the only thing that really matters to me is whether or not I can continue to travel and explore the hidden parts of Japan.
  • On #DonnyThings
    Admittedly, I am into some weird things but this article explains why I can’t stop obsessing over niche Japanese topics like Shinbutsu Shugo.
  • Rejecting My Ikigai
    While most people say you should follow your dreams, I have instead opted to divorce my raison d’etre from what I do to make money here in Japan.
  • The Slow Carb Diet in Japan
    By following the Slow Carb Diet in Japan, I was able to lose 10 kg while only eating food that I bought at 7-Eleven and other convenience stores.
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Subscribe to the A Different Side of Japan newsletter to get my in-depth area guides and travel tips delivered directly to your inbox. Every week, I share insightful tidbits to help travelers get off of the beaten path.

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Donny Kimball

I'm a travel writer and freelance digital marketer who blogs about the sides of Japan that you can't find in the mainstream media. https://donnykimball.com/