Sensoji and cherry blossom, Tokyo, Japan


This page contains photos, tips, tricks, and recommendations from our family vacation to Japan in the spring of 2023. We spent 17 days in Japan. Like most first-timers visiting Japan, we set our bases in the following cities, Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. From there, we not only toured destinations within the cities but also did day trips to destinations near the cities. For example, while in Tokyo, we visited Lake Kawaguchiko, where we admired Mount Fuji from different angles, and Nikko, home base of the Tokugawa shogunate. In Kyoto, we took day trips to Nara, Kanazawa, Shirakawago and Hiroshima/Miyajima Island.


Tokyo is a huge metropolitan area. To get to anywhere, the best transit options are subways and trains. For the reasons mentioned above, you probably have guessed it, to book a hotel, it’s better to choose one that is close to a subway or train station. Otherwise, you will spend a lot of time on walking to a transit station, time that you would rather spend on sightseeing. Another thing to note is that Japanese transportation (either buses, subways or trains) is very punctuate. They are almost always on time, either coming or leaving. Taxi is another alternative if used wisely, although costs can add up quickly if you rely on them for all your transportation needs.. It may add up quick if you go everywhere by Taxi. Buses may be a good option if your destinations can’t be reached by subways or trains. Buses may be crowded, especially in Kyoto.

Japan Rail (JR)

For longer train commute, like inter cities or even across Japan, there are Japan Rail (JR) trains. JR is not a single company, but a group of 7 rail companies (most notably, JR east, JR West, JR central, JR Hokkaido). Each of the JR companies is selling multi-day passes that provide considering saving to passengers if you take a lot of train traveling within the good-for period. As a whole, there is also a nation wide JR pass that is good for most (but not all) the trains run by the JR companies. For example, as the time of this article, JR pass doesn’t cover Nozomi and Mizuho trains, two of the most fastest train as of now. But as a tourist, you probably don’t need to worry about saving half an hour from a 3 hours train-ride by taking the fastest trains. Usually when people refer to “JR pass”, the national one is the one that they are referring to.

To know if a JR pass worths it or not, or if it’s better to buy individual tickets, go to this calculator: Japan Rail Pass Calculator. You will need to know your itineraries before you start your cost calculation. Current rail pass has 7 day, 14 days and 21 days versions, and they come at different costs.


As you may have heard, Japan has a lot of etiquette that are different from the western world.

  1. Walk on the left side (usually). You will get used to it pretty quickly. Some exceptions are that some subway stations have sign to direct you to walk on the right side so watch out for the signs. There is another exception in Osaka.
  2. No loud noises in the trains and public transportations. There are signs and sometimes public broadcast about this (muting your cellphones, etc.).
  3. No walking and eating/drinking. You will notice that even for small food trucks/stalls, there are usually surrounded by people who are eating. It’s a good etiquette to eat your food right at the place that you purchase it from.
  4. No eating/drinking in public transportation. One exception is Shinkansen (bullet trains). Because of usually long distance and long hours, it’s ok to eat and drink in Shinkansen.
  5. Take your garbage back to your homes/hotels. You will notice that there are very few garbage cans in public places (I am not going to go into the reasons for it. Some say it’s because of public safety reason). You are expected to bring your garbage back to your homes/hotels.
  6. Bowing instead of shaking hands. This is another thing that you will learn very quickly. Japanese bow after almost every sentence as a way of respect or acknowledgement. That leads to some other customs, like Japanese are very comfortable sneezing into their palms, because they never shake hands.
  7. At temples and shrines, behave calmly and respectfully. You will visit one (or dozens) temples or shrines during your visit in Japan. There are a lot of etiquette in a shrine or a temple. Too many to go into. But watch the locals do and try to follow.


  1. Tips, as in gratitude, are non-existent in Japan.
  2. Some subway/train stations are massive, especially the major ones in Tokyo. Give yourself plenty of time to find your way around the big stations.
  3. The price of an item is usually before tax. Some items have 2 prices, the second one (usually in brackets) is the one after sale-tax.
  4. Google translator (or your preferred e-translator) is your friend. You can use the translator everywhere, from translating the menu of a restaurant, to ask for direction, or to have some simple conversation with the locals.
  5. Luggage forwarding between your places. If you don’t want to lug your heavy (or not) luggage between your hotels, airports (trust me you don’t want to lug them through busy subways or train stations), you can forward(send) the luggage to your next destination. The luggages usually arrive at the destination the next day if you meet the cut off time when you send them(usually 3pm). Cost depends on the size of your luggage and weight. For reference, the regular check-in size luggage with reasonable check-in weight costs about 2,000 yen. Ask your hotel concierge for details.
  6. The best seasons to visit Japan are…Spring and Fall. I have heard that Summer is hot and humid in many places of Japan, especially eastern Japan (Tokyo) and Western Japan (Kyoto). Depends on your heat tolerance, it may or may not be an issue for you. The main reason that Spring and Falls are the best, in my opinion, is the foliage. Spring you have the cherry blossom and Fall you have the beautiful Fall foliage.

Final words

Japan, with a mix of traditional things and modern things, fascinates many tourists every year. There was an article from BBC attempting to explain why Japan has this blend of old and new: “Japan was the future but it’s stuck in the past”.

Photos I took during the Japan trip

Cherry blossom Tokyo, 2023

Sensoji (浅草寺)

Night photos

Mount Fuji

Nikko (日光)

Nara (奈良)

Kinkakuji (金閣寺) and Nijo Castle (二条城), Kyoto

Kiyomizudera  (清水寺), Kyoto

Gion, Kyoto

Byodoin Temple (平等院) and Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社)

Arashiyama (嵐山)

Shirakawago (白川郷), Ogimachi (荻町/合掌村 )

Floating Torii Gate

Himeji castle (姫路城, Himejijō) and Osaka castle (大阪城, Ōsakajō)

Universal Studios Japan

Tokyo at night

Japanese Food

Japan pop culture