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How To Visit Japan Like a Local (In 10 Steps)

Updated Septembeer 17, 2023

As you probably know, it’s very difficult for tourists to see the real Japan—especially if they don’t speak Japanese. To that end, it’s really important to travel like a local rather than a tourist. That’s why we’ve created these 10 steps to help you see Japan like the locals do. 

Give these tips a read and then connect up with a trip planner who lives in Japan—they’ll help you plan exactly where to go, what to see, and how to get around. It’s like having a best friend who lives in Japan help plan your trip. Because why would you want to see Japan like a tourist when you could see it like a local? Learn more.

#1:  Experience the must-dos like a local. 

When you visit Japan, experience the must-dos like a local
Go-karts in Tokyo | Liz Mc/Flickr

No trip to Japan would be complete without hitting up essential Japan must-dos, like touring Tokyo or hiking the foothills of Mount Fuji. But just because these activities go on everyone’s Japan itineraries doesn’t mean you have to visit them like everyone else. 

Instead, explore Japan’s best places to go like locals do. Rather than simply touring Tokyo, take a go-kart around Tokyo must-dos like the Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo Tower (your Japanese local can help you set it up). Don’t just wander around Mount Fuji—lounge on the shores of Lake Tanukiko while you watch the sunrise over Mount Fuji. 

#2: Stay in uniquely Japan lodgings. 

When it comes to finding accommodations in Japan that suit your budget and tastes, it may be tempting to just stay at the familiar, big-name hotels that you’d find in the US. Don’t be fooled—it’s a tourist trap. With tips from a local travel expert, it’s totally possible to find unique, authentic Japan lodgings, like rustic ryokans (traditional Japanese B&Bs) in Kyoto or futuristic capsule hotels in Tokyo. Whichever you choose, it’ll be a *much* more authentic experience.

#3: Know when to visit Japan’s incredible must-sees.

When you visit Japan, get a local's advice for when to visit Japan's must-sees
Tokyo Tower | Naotake Murayama/Flickr

As you already know, trying to plan a trip to Japan often requires a bit of finesse—especially when determining the best time to visit. After all, you wouldn’t go to Japan in October and expect to see cherry blossoms. The same concept applies to many of Japan’s must-sees, like Tokyo’s December holiday illuminations and fireworks or Toyama Bay’s firefly squid in late March. Don’t miss out on what interests you most—utilize a local’s in-depth knowledge of seasonal Japan points of interest to make your Japan visit that much more spectacular.

#4: See the hidden gems. 

Planning a trip to Japan gets a lot easier (and much less stressful) when you know where you’re going in advance. Some travelers only know they’re spending something like 3 days in Tokyo but forget to outline their activities ahead of time—which is a total rookie move. To avoid wasting precious travel time, have your local Japanese trip planner add their favorite off-the-beaten-path gems to your personalized itinerary.

#5: Take public transportation whenever you can.

When you visit Japan, opt for public transportation as often as possible
Train in Japan | っ/Wikimedia Commons

Bottom line: in Japan, taxis add up super quickly (around $15 USD per ride). Uber Japan is only available in Tokyo and isn’t very popular, mainly because Japan’s public transportation is so incredibly efficient and cheap. As you plan a trip to Japan, set aside just 600 yen ($6 USD) for each day you plan to use Japan’s subways. And for help navigating intercity subways and cross-country trains, check out these handy Japan travel tips (or just ask your local planner).

#6: Get to off-the-beaten-path spots that locals love.

Sure, you could go to Japan’s best cities like Tokyo or Kyoto and just hit the highlights. But, you’d miss out on the awesome local scenes, filled with the true taste of Japan. Connect with a travel planner who lives in the cities you’re visiting—they’ll point you toward stuff like Tokyo’s izakaya alleyways, where you’ll sip sake with locals, or to the most delicious street food stalls along Osaka’s Dotonbori Canal. 

#7: Find out which Japan must-dos are totally free.

When you visit Japan, find out which activities are free
Yoyogi Park | Aapo Haapanen/Flickr

Some of the most fun things to do in Japan don’t cost a dime—you just need to know where to look. One of the best ways to budget-travel in Japan is to visit public-access places, like Japan’s stunning shrines and temples or municipal parks. You can view natural wonders (like cherry blossoms or mountains), watch street performers, and absorb the history without spending anything. Ask a local trip planner for a complete list of the free things to do in Japan’s best places to visit.

#8: Get travel tips from someone who actually live in Japan (not a travel agent).

We all love our TripAdvisor tips and guidebooks, but the most reliable sources for Japan travel tips are Japan locals themselves. Local Japanese travel experts know all the ins and outs of Japan travel, from airfare deals to accommodations and special events. Plus, staying safe in Japan is much easier with travel tips from planners who live in the cities you’ll visit.

We know: when you plan a trip to Japan, you want the most up-to-date, reliable travel info. For this reason, some travelers work with Japan travel agencies during the planning process. However, travel agents rarely travel to the destinations they plan for, and frequently make recommendations based on commission—so it’s hard to tell if you’re getting the best deal on airfare, events, and other essentials. Solve this dilemma by working with local trip planners, who know Japan super well and don’t work on commission. 

#9: Eat the fantastic local cuisine. 

When you visit Japan, be sure to enjoy the fantastic cuisine
Ramen in Japan | Andrew Green/Flickr

Japan’s array of delicious foods will entice even the pickiest eaters. As a rule of thumb when it comes to Japan travel, just follow the locals to find the best eateries, ranging from street food stalls to Michelin-starred restaurants. Osaka, Tokyo, and Hiroshima are all major foodie destinations in Japan, where locals line up for okonomiyaki pancakes, takoyaki octopus balls, and mind-boggling ramen. If these food spots sound right up your alley, connect with a local trip planner for more recommendations on the best places to eat. 

#10: Build your personalized trip with a local Japan travel planner.

The keyword here is “personalized.” You don’t want to take a cut-and-paste trip to Japan that everybody and their grandma has gone on. Instead, plan your trip to Japan with a local travel planner, who has insider travel knowledge and lots of experience with customized trips. For $30 a day, it’s a total steal. A Japanese trip planner will make you a custom-made trip to Japan, complete with a personalized guidebook and map, that suits your budget and interests. All aboard the winners’ train. 


Now that you’re geared up to visit Japan like a local, it’s high time to connect with a local trip planner whose Japan travel know-how is second to none. Any questions? Send us a message. And don’t forget to check out:


Still have questions about travel to Japan?
Why not ask someone who lives there? ViaHero connects you with a local to help plan your trip. They’ll create a guidebook based on your personal travel style.
You’ll see a unique side of a destination and travel independently—all while saving time and money in the planning process. Find a local today.

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