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How to plan a holiday in Japan to ensure peace of mind

Are you curious about Japan? Wish to experience its bustling cities, soak up Japanese culture and learn more about its rich history? Full of traditions, new technology and modern skyscrapers, Japan has a whole spectrum of culture to enjoy. Plenty to fill any traveller’s bucket list.

With colourful seasons to embrace, delicious food options to try and a welcoming atmosphere, its no surprise that Japan is becoming one of the most popular destinations in Asia. In fact, in the first 10 months of 2023 nearly 20 million people visited the country for a holiday.

However, a holiday in Japan is one to plan in advance! If you haven’t jetted off to Japan we have the following travel advice to help you get ready…

First, Visit Japan Web

To secure fast-track entry, register all the requested documents and data before leaving home on Visit Japan Web. This data will include an embarkation form and a customs declaration. Then you’ll need to declare any medicines at the airport.

Travelling with medicines to Japan?

If you need to take prescription drugs, the ones below will need to be considered carefully.

Hallucinogenic, narcotic, or psychotropic drugs are not allowed in Japan unless there are very special circumstances. In this case, approval is needed from the by the Japanese Government (the directors of the Regional Bureaus of Health and Welfare). You’ll need apply for a Yunyu Kakunin-sho (an import certificate) and have it to hand before leaving home.

For all other prescribed medication (excluding injections), you can take up to one month’s supply to Japan and don’t have to apply for  a Yunyu Kakunin-sho. All you need is written confirmation from your GP, to state why you’re being prescribed this medication. Plus, the prescription and any documents that state that the medication is for your own personal use.

Above all, double-check with your GP before leaving home.

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Organise your currency for a holiday in Japan

Currently, the exchange rate between the British Pound (GBP) and the Japanese Yen (JPY) is good. At the time of writing, 1 British Pound buys you 179 Japanese Yen. Each yen is then divided into 100 Sen.

To ensure you get the best exchange rate when planning a holiday in Japan you could consider ordering a Japanese travel debit Card. This is a debit card that will stop you from paying hidden exchange fees in the exchange rate. It can be used to pay for items or when withdrawing money from ATMs in Japan.

Withdrawing cash from ATMs is still common in Japan because its cash-based society is part of its culture (7-Bank and 7-Eleven ATMs are free). However, there are still many places that only accept cash, such as shrines and rural shops. So you may want to take some. In city centres, more cards should be accepted as well as other cashless payment options.

Japanese money Yen

Choosing accommodation for a holiday in Japan

A holiday in Japan allows you to stay in western or Japanese-style accommodation. However, If you’re looking for an authentic experience in Japan you can stay in a Ryokan. In general, Ryokans are designed with simplistic beauty in mind, often featuring tatami mats, shoji screens, paper lanterns and other traditional elements. Many also feature onsen hot springs or natural baths nearby for guests to enjoy. Some may even serve kaiseki ryori meals, which are high quality dishes prepared using seasonal ingredients. Upon arriving at a Ryokan, visitors will normally be greeted by the staff wearing kimonos who will help them check-in.

As mentioned, ryokans can be found in hot spring resorts. Here, you can relax your body in an onsen (Japanese, natural hot spring) post-flight. Bear in mind that some onsen will not accept customers with tattoos. We’ll cover tattoos in some more detail below.

In contrast, capsule hotels (or pod hotels as they are known in the UK) are a unique, inexpensive option. Made up of tiny rooms, they’re a simple solution if you need to source accommodation quickly to rest. The popularity of capsule hotels can be attributed to their affordability and relative comfort compared to more traditional forms of lodging. Plus, they are often conveniently located near popular tourist destinations such as shopping districts, train stations and airports – making them an ideal option for travellers on a budget who need a place to stay without compromising on location.

Whether you’re travelling solo or not, when navigating to a capsule hotel via Japan’s railway network a JR Pass is recommended. It allows fairly comprehensive train travel all over Japan – including the world famous bullet trains! So with that freedom to explore, there are some customs that it pays to be aware of. Japanese Lifestyle

Japanese customs to follow during a holiday in Japan

Japan is known for its attention to etiquette. So, here are a few things it is good to know…

When using public transport

Try to give up your seat for someone if they require it more than you, such as elderly people, or pregnant women. Pregnant Japanese women often carry their unborn child discreetly. Instead, they wear pink maternity badges to signify their entitlement to a free seat. So, keep an eye out for these badges.

When you use public transport during crowed times the Japanese government recommends that you wear a mask to prevent Coronavirus. Since 8th May 2023, coronavirus has been downgraded to the same level as seasonal influenza in Japan. So, whether you wear a mask is up to you. On balance, wearing masks has always been a common site across Japan’s trains, buses, crowed spaces and busy streets.

busy street in Japan

Eating and Drinking in public

Food and drink are not permitted on public transport. However, when using the Shinkansen bullet trains or green carriages (marked with a four-leaf clover symbol) for long journeys food is served. These green carriages offer more space and are often quite after passengers have reserved and paid for their seat in advance.

When you leave the bullet train, remember that eating and drinking while walking around is typically frowned upon. Instead, it’s more polite to follow Japanese etiquette and eat by a vending machine, stall, or outside the store where you purchased the item. If you’re observant you’ll notice the locals walking by with their takeout bags en route to eat somewhere later.


When eating in restaurants, be aware that tipping is almost non-existent in Japanese culture. In fact, it’s rude. Therefore, when you’re in a restaurant, bar or hotel don’t feel obliged to do so. There are other ways to be respectful throughout your stay…

quite Japanese people


Being loud or boisterous is disrespectful in Japan. It’s also considered bad manners to talk on mobile phones while on public transport. So, always remember to switch your mobile phone to silent when travelling around, or just send a message. During a holiday in Japan, you may notice that the Japanese speak quietly to one another when in public. For best practice do the same.


Tattoos in Japan were traditionally a sign of yakuza membership, signifying a link to an organised -and feared- crime group. Although tattoos are common in the western world, in Japanese society, there’s still some prejudice against them. As a foreign tourist, there will be less expectation to conform to this, so don’t worry too much.

Just be aware that your body art may attract some negative attention. Due to Japan’s rules, you may be required to cover your tattoos when in public pools or baths. Some places will be stricter than others. There are also tattoo-friendly onsen and hotels so you can experience this without feeling too self-conscious.

Following Japanese customs can be a little overwhelming but the Japanese (although shy) are warm and welcoming people. As tourists, we’re not expected to be aware of every unspoken rule. Hopefully, the pointers above have reassured you. Just remember, you’re there to visit a fascinating country and to experience its culture.

Any errors you make will be forgiven. So, relax and enjoy while visiting one of these Japanese holiday destinations…

Top Japanese holiday destinations


Japan is an archipelago made up of 14,125 small and large islands. The second largest island is called Hokkaido. Hokkaido is Japan’s most northern and unspoilt island. Its full of beautiful parks, lakes and a magical mountain range called the Hidaka Mountains in the southeast. This is where you’ll find a small ski resort perfect for intermediate skiers and snowboarders.

If winter sports are not for you but you still want to celebrate the season stay in the island’s capital Sapporo.  Here, snow depths can reach as much as five metres. A great environment for building ice and snow sculptures. In February attend the Sapporo Snow Festival (Yuki Matsuri) to see some amazing snow sculptures.

Since 1950 this winter festival has grown from a school that decided to build six statues (in Odori Park) to an event covering three venues across Sapporo. Today, the snow and ice sculptures are made by a special unit of the Japan Self-Defence Forces. Plus, experienced local volunteer groups. Also, at the event you can enjoy live music and tuck into Sapporo’s selection of seafood from food trucks.

Begin your day by walking through the Odori Site (in Odori Park). Here you’ll find the tallest snow sculptures (reaching 15 metres high and 25 metres wide). Then at night a projection mapping show will display them in all their glory.  To find the ice sculptures, Susukino has them on display for the annual Ice Sculpture Contest. For a more fun for the young (and young at heart), head to the Tsudome Site. Here, you can whizz down giant slides, go snow tubing, play in the snow and more. The Tsudome Site is a hall located 15 minutes outside the city centre. Use the shuttle bus to reach it. To reach Sapporo fly from Tokyo.

Sapporo snow festival


Tokyo may have plenty of Metropolitan landmarks and sights to see, such as one of the world’s tallest towers – the Tokyo sky tree. Yet its many gardens and green spaces are great to relax in too. To learn about Tokyo’s past, the district of Asakusa is the area to head to.

When visiting Asakusa, visitors will find an array of ancient structures intermixed with modern buildings that give it an old-meets-new vibe. Here you can wander through narrow streets lined with traditional stores and eateries such as the Kaminarimon Gate, Asakusa Jinja Shrine, Nakamise shopping street, Hanayashiki amusement park and so much more.

The biggest attraction here is undoubtedly Senso-ji Temple – known as Tokyo’s oldest temple – built to celebrate the goddess of mercy. Since 645 AD its been sat at the entrance of Asakusa. This Buddhist temple complex has been a spiritual centre for centuries.

To capture more temples on camera, turn west to visit Kyoto.

Tokyo skyline


Kyoto was Japan’s original capital until 1868, with a rich history spanning over 1200 years. Many of the shrines, temples and other historical treasures remain for visitors to explore, making it arguable one of the worlds most fascinating cities. Some examples include Kiyomizudera Temple, known for its impressive wooden stage that stretches out over a valley; Fushimi Inari Shrine with its iconic orange torii gates; and Sanju-san-gen-do Temple which features breath taking views of Kyoto from the top of its three-storey pagoda.

Kyoto is a beautiful place to visit in autumn from mid-September to early December. It’s a good time for reflection and ‘maple leaf hunting’. This is a traditional Japanese tradition and autumn festival called Momijigari.

Kyoto holiday in japan


To see a castle from a fairy tale land Osaka Castle is worth a visit. It is one of the prime tourist attractions in Osaka as it provides insight into the city’s long history. Built in 1583, the castle was once used as a centre of politics during the Edo period until 1868 when it was destroyed and later rebuilt in 1931. Visitors can climb up its eight stories for stunning panoramic views of the surrounding area.

This 14th-century castle is surrounded by gates, turrets, and smart stone walls. However, the best time to see it in all its splendour is April. In spring, Osaka castle’s park (Nishinomaru), is full of 600 beautiful, cherry trees. This makes it a top location for a picnic during Hanami (cherry blossom viewing), another traditional Japanese custom.

To learn more about Japanese culture look out for theatres where you can watch Kabuki, a traditional Japanese dance and interactive performance.

holidays in japan to Osaka castle


Take Free Spirit travel insurance for a holiday in Japan

Wherever you venture across the land of the rising sun, we hope we’ve provided you with enough information to travel with peace of mind. For more up-to-date information, when planning a holiday in Japan, subscribe to Gov.UK’s travel advice email.

To travel with confidence don’t forget to purchase Free Spirit Travel Insurance.


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