Ultimate Backpackers Guide to Japan

Beautiful shrines, temples and cities: it’s no wonder Japan is a popular tourist destination. Japan has such an enriched and unique culture, as a tourist visiting this spectacular country, you want to make sure you’re being respectful and follow standard protocol. I’ve curated the ultimate backpackers guide to Japan for you after spending 4 weeks there. Find guides, how-tos, tips, and more.

Eating Etiquette

It’s in your interest to become accustomed with chopsticks prior to visiting Japan as for the most part that is all you’ll be given, and you don’t want to be one of those classic tourists who has to ask for cutlery. When eating out in Japan, there’s chopstick etiquette. Don’t stick chopsticks vertically upwards in rice, as it reminds Japanese people of funerals. Same rules apply with handing food from one pair of chopsticks to another. It’s not courteous to lick food off of chopsticks as well.

Must-Try Food:

Kobe Beef: Wagyu beef – can be very expensive delicious!

Okonomiyaki: A savoury pancake dish made from cabbage. Common toppings include bacon, mayo, seafood and pickled ginger. It’s amazing!

Sushi: Any sushi will be delicious, my favourite was from a sushi chain restaurant called Sushiro. Inexpensive, great variety and delicious!

Ice cream: From matcha (green tea) to miso, you’ll discover an abundance of delicious flavours

Takoyaki: Made from batter with a bit of octopus in the middle. Comes with different sauces on top – delicious!

Kobe beef

Pro tip: Japanese people are so efficient and polite, they don’t work hard for tips as it’s expected of them to deliver a high-quality service. Therefore, tipping is not customary in Japan. 

Public Transport

When using public transport, the most convenient way to pay is using an IC Card. You can opt to buy single paper tickets each journey but that involves a lot of faff and it’s more expensive. Popular IC cards are Pasmo, Suica, Icoca and seven more options. I opted for a Pasmo card which I bought at the airport. You can only pay for Pasmo cards using cash, not a debit or credit card. I recommend then transferring your physical card to your Apple wallet. Not only does it make topping up a lot easier, as you can top up via your card rather using cash. It’s definitely worth doing and you can transfer your current balance to your Apple wallet.

Street Etiquette

The best piece of advice from this backpackers guide to Japan is that it’s not customary to eat or drink while walking in Japan. You’ll find the streets to be meticulously clean, so it’s bad-mannered to do so. There normally is a designated seating area outside food stalls where you can enjoy your meal or snack there. Also, be prepared as there aren’t many public bins, if at all. I only came across bins next to food vendors or at train stations and sometimes parks. I’d recommend carrying a spare bag around in your rucksack to make the designated rubbish bag. 



If you want to experience quintessential Japanese tradition, visit an onsen. The water is typically very warm as it’s derived from a natural hot spring. A traditional Japanese onsen will require you to enter naked, whereas more tourist-aimed onsens specify you can wear your swimsuit. Similarly, you typically can’t enter a traditional onsen if you have tattoos. But I visited a tourst onsen where I wored a bikini and was allowed in with my tattoo; it’s always good to check before entering; some may require you to cover it with tape.

Pro tip: If you don’t fancy a traditional onsen, I really recommend visiting Kowakien Yunessun in Hakone. There’s such a wide variety of hot springs, you can even bathe in coffee or red wine! There are slides, saunas, hot tubs, different baths with varying temperatures. It’s a really great activity. Check it out here.


If you’re on a budget, I recommend booking Japanese business hotels. They’re inexpensive, clean, safe and modern! In my opinion, a much better choice than hostels.

One thing to note when booking accommodation, some hotels have designated smoking rooms. Be sure to check before you book your room, there’s nothing worse than staying in a room stinking of stale smoke!

Best Travel Tips

  • Cash is king. Be sure to always have an adequate amount on you, but in most established restaurants and shops card will be accepted
  • I found the best currency exchange rate was from ATMs in 7/11 Convenience Stores
  • Signs generally are in English. Menus for the most part have an English translation but I’d recommend downloading Google Translate beforehand.
  • Face masks are still worn on public transport and on the street despite mask laws being relaxed. 
  • Japanese people are really respectful and love to queue
  • Don’t talk on the phone while on public transport, it’s seen as disrespectful
  • Bowing is a sign of respect
  • When receiving anything, be sure to accept it with 2 hands rather than 1, as a sign of respect
  • There are designated smoking areas in the street and hotels, you cannot smoke anywhere on the street
  • If you’re waiting in a queue for a shrine/temple/activity that requires an admission fee but has a long queue, always check on Klook if you can buy the tickets there. It will save a lot of time, and you can normally head straight in if you’ve pre-bought tickets
Mount Fuji

Japanese Phrases

  • Arigatou gozaimasu | ah-ree-gah-toh goh-zah-ee-mahs = thank you
  • Konnichiwa | koh-nee-chee-wah = hello
  • Sumimasen | Su-mi-ma-sen = excuse me
  • Moshi moshi = hello when picking up the phone

When saying thank you, it’s best to say Arigatou gozaimasu rather than just ‘Arigatou’ as it’s more polite to say it the formal way

I hope you’ve learnt something new from this ultimate backpackers guide to Japan. Let me know if you have any other great tips!

1 Comment

  1. I simply wanted to write down a quick word to say thanks to you for those wonderful tips and hints you are showing on this site.

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