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What you need to know for your first time in Japan

Visitors view seasonal cherry blossoms from a pedestrian bridge in the Roppongi district, Friday, March 31, 2023, in Tokyo.
Visitors view seasonal cherry blossoms from a pedestrian bridge in the Roppongi district, Friday, March 31, 2023, in Tokyo.

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Japan is a bucket list destination for many tourists. Although there is a common notion that it is an expensive destination, there are many ways to save if you decide to take the trip to the land of the rising sun.

Here are some basic tools to prepare for your first trip to Japan on your own.

U.S. citizens do not need a visa to enter. However, you must complete an immigration declaration and another for Customs when entering the country. You can do it online to save time when arriving at some of its airports or ports of entry.

How do I move around in Japan?

The first thing you should do is download the official application of the Japanese Ministry of Tourism. It is a tool that will help you organize your trip. Although you can use Google Maps, I suggest downloading the Navitime app (iOS and Android). It is very efficient at identifying the best subway and public transportation routes and includes activity recommendations that will be of great help.

Public transportation: The public transportation system is excellent. To pay on the subway, trains or buses, I recommend adding the Suica or Pasmo cards to your mobile device. You can download both to your Apple or Android wallets and pay directly from your device every time you need it. You just have to go to the transportation card area and search for them by name. You can add balance directly from your credit cards.

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Is the Japan Rail Pass worth it?

The answer will depend on the duration and plans of your trips in Japan, although I can tell you that it is expensive. For example, if you are only going to the cities of Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto and the duration of your trip will not be more than 7-10 days, it will probably not be cost-effective to buy it since the greatest savings are when you use it on bullet trains between big cities.

If your plan is to stay for more than a week and you plan to move between several of its large cities, such as Tokyo, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Nagoya, Osaka or Sapporo, it is very likely that it will be very cost-effective for you to acquire the JR Pass. I recommend that you do the mathematical exercise of comparing the cost of purchasing the individual passes versus the pass.

How do I find, book activities?

To book most activities in Japan you can use the Klook app (iOS and Android). In it, you can get everything from tickets to the Universal Studios parks to reservations at your cafes or immersive experiences. It is important that you know that most of the most famous restaurants require reservations. It is highly recommended that you book them at least two to six weeks before your trip.

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How do I communicate?

Google Translate (iOS and Android) can be your best ally in a country where you don't speak the local language. Although it is always recommended that you learn between 10 to 20 basic phrases of the language of the destination you are going to visit, the Japanese are distinguished by their kindness and service, and this will facilitate the communication process.

Wilson "Wil" Santiago Burgos is the founder of Mochileando.com, one of the largest travel platforms in Puerto Rico and the Latin American market in the U.S.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What do I need to travel to Japan? Here are the basics.