Where to stay in Japan for the first time?

Japan is one of my favorite travel destinations in Asia, and I have traveled to many cities in Japan. In today’s article, I will help you to find the best places to stay in Japan for first-time visitors.

I will share with you what I believe are the best areas to stay in Japan for first-timers and tourists, along with a helpful map. I’ll also recommend some of the best hotels for various budgets.

Japan is the dream destination of many travelers and visiting Japan for the first time can be an exciting experience. Here are some tips for your first time in Japan:

Japan has a lot to offer, from bustling cities to serene countryside, so identify the places you want to visit and create a rough schedule.

Japan has an efficient and extensive public transportation system. You can consider getting a Japan Rail Pass if you plan to travel between cities. It’s cost-effective and allows unlimited travel on most JR trains for a set period.

Cash is King. While credit cards are accepted in many places, it’s a good idea to carry some cash, especially in more rural areas or smaller establishments. Japan is a cash-oriented society.

Japan has a different electrical outlet, so bring a universal adapter for your electronic devices. Download useful travel apps for navigation, translation, and transportation.

Be mindful of Japan’s distinct seasons. Cherry blossoms in spring and autumn foliage are popular times to visit. Also, Be prepared for crowded places, especially in popular tourist spots and during festivals.

You can learn Japanese customs and etiquette. Simple gestures like bowing and saying “arigatou” (thank you) go a long way. Be prepared to remove your shoes when entering someone’s home, certain traditional inns, and even some restaurants.

You can stay in a traditional ryokan for a unique experience, or opt for a modern hotel. Booking accommodations in advance is advisable, especially during peak travel seasons.

Where to stay in Japan for the first time?

The best places to stay in Japan for first-timers and tourists are Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. They are the most popular tourist destinations in Japan and the top 3 cities on most visitors’ Japan itineraries. You can also consider Hiroshima, Hakone, and Fukuoka if your time allows.

Tokyo is the capital city and a lively metropolis known for its futuristic technology, bustling markets, and historic temples. You can explore the bustling districts of Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Akihabara, and iconic landmarks such as the Tokyo Tower, Shibuya Crossing, and Meiji Shrine.

Kyoto is the cultural capital of Japan, and is famous for its ancient temples, traditional tea houses, beautiful gardens, and the bamboo grove. You can visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kinkaku-ji, and explore the historic Gion district.

Osaka, often referred to as the Kitchen of Japan, is a food lover’s paradise. You can visit Osaka Castle, try local street food at Dotonbori, and experience the vibrant nightlife in areas like Namba.

Hiroshima is a great place to visit if you are interested in WW2 history. From here you can take a day trip/ferry to the beautiful Miyajima Island to see the floating torii gate and temples.

If you have time, check out Fukuoka, a good base to explore southern Japan. Hakone is a popular hot spring resort town near Tokyo, offers breathtaking views of Mount Fuji, hot springs, and traditional ryokan experiences. It’s a great place to relax and unwind.

Below is a map of the popular areas in Japan for first-time travelers. You can scroll down to view the live map.

Map of the best places to stay in Japan first time
Map of the best places to stay in Japan first time

Let’s get into the details of the recommended areas to stay in Japan, especially for first-time visitors. I’ll provide you with some suggestions for the best places to stay in each area, catering to every budget. 

All hotels in Japan have been carefully selected by me from well-known and secure booking sites such as booking.com, with guest review scores of at least 8.0 or higher at the time I chose them. 

If you don’t like my suggestions (perhaps they don’t suit your budget or preferences), you can click the “MORE HOTEL DEALS” button where you can choose your own hotel.

6 Best places to stay in Japan for first-timers and tourists:

1. Tokyo

Tokyo is one of the top places to visit in Japan for your first time. Tokyo is the capital and largest city of Japan and serves as the political, economic, and cultural center of the country. 

Tokyo is divided into multiple districts, each with its own unique character. Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ginza, Asakusa, and Akihabara are among the well-known districts, each offering distinct experiences ranging from shopping and entertainment to business and nightlife.

Here are some of the highlights in Tokyo:

Shinjuku is the bustling district of Shinjuku, known for its skyscrapers, entertainment, and shopping. You can visit the observation decks in buildings like the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building for panoramic views, explore the Gyoen National Garden, and visit Kabukicho nightlife district.

Don’t miss out on the famous Shibuya Crossing, one of the busiest pedestrian crossings in the world. The surrounding area is full of shops, restaurants, and entertainment options.

Asakusa is the historic area where you can find the famous Senso-ji Temple, Nakamise Shopping Street, with lots of traditional crafts and snacks.

Visit Harajuku, a district known for its unique street fashion. Takeshita Street is a colorful and vibrant place lined with quirky shops and boutiques. Take a stroll through Meiji Shrine, located near Harajuku. 

If you’re interested in technology and pop culture, Akihabara is a must-visit. This neighborhood is famous for its electronics shops, manga/anime stores, and gaming centers.

You can explore the Odaiba man-made island in Tokyo Bay, which offers entertainment complexes, shopping malls, and scenic waterfront views. Visit attractions like Palette Town, Odaiba Seaside Park, and the teamLab Borderless digital art museum.

Roppongi Hills is also a must-see. It is a modern complex with shopping, dining, and cultural facilities like Mori Art Museum, and Tokyo City View observation deck.

From Tokyo, you can take a few day trips to Okinawa (Hawaii of Japan), Kamakura (beautiful temples, shine, and beaches), and Nikko (home to several UNESCO World Heritage sites).

The good amount of time to spend in Tokyo is 3-4 days. The best areas to stay in Tokyo for first-timers are the ones near the JR Yamanote Line. These include Shinjuku, Shibuya, Tokyo Station, Ginza, and Asakusa.

Best places to stay in Japan in Tokyo for first-timers:


2. Kyoto

Kyoto is one of the most popular places to visit in Japan for the first time. Kyoto served as the capital of Japan for over a thousand years, from 794 to 1868, making it the country’s cultural and historical heart.

Kyoto has numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It is home to many temples and shrines, each with its own unique architectural and cultural significance. Some well-known examples include Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion), Gion Shrine, Fushimi Inari Taisha, and Kiyomizu-dera.

The Gion district in Kyoto is famous for its traditional wooden machiya houses and as a center for geisha and maiko (apprentice geisha) culture. You can experience traditional tea houses, entertainment, and observe geisha performances.

Don’t miss out on Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Located in the western outskirts of Kyoto, Arashiyama is known for its bamboo groves, scenic landscapes, and the iconic Togetsukyo Bridge. It’s a popular destination for both locals and tourists.

The Kyoto Imperial Palace is a significant historical site that served as the residence of the Imperial family until the capital moved to Tokyo. The palace grounds and gardens are open to the public.

Kyoto hosts various traditional festivals throughout the year, such as the Gion Matsuri in July, which is one of Japan’s most famous festivals.

The good amount of time to spend in Kyoto is 2-3 days. From Kyoyo, you can easily take day trips to Nara and Osaka. The best areas to stay in Kyoto for the first time are in Downtown Kawaramachi, Tokyo Station, and the historic Gion district.

Best places to stay in Japan in Kyoto for first-timers:


3. Osaka

Osaka is one of the best cities to stay in Japan for the first time, especially for food lovers. The city is known for its unique local cuisine, which includes famous dishes like okonomiyaki (a savory pancake), takoyaki (octopus balls), and various types of street food.

Osaka is renowned for its vibrant cultural scene, including traditional theater such as kabuki and bunraku. It boasts several notable landmarks, such as Osaka Castle, Shitenno-ji Temple, Umeda Sky Building, and Universal Studios Japan, a popular theme park.

The city is home to the iconic Dotonbori district, known for its neon lights, lively atmosphere, and a variety of street food. The Glico Running Man sign is a popular photo spot, and you can explore the surrounding streets for delicious takoyaki and okonomiyaki.

The good amount of time to spend in Osaka is 1-2 days. The best areas to stay in Osaka for the first time are around the stations in Umeda and Namba.

Best places to stay in Japan in Osaka for first-timers:


4. Hiroshima

Hiroshima is a great destination to visit in Japan, especially if you are interested in the history of World war 2. It is also a great base to take a day trip to Miyajima Island to see the iconic floating torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine.

Here are some of the highlights in Hiroshima:

Pay a visit to the Peace Memorial Park, which includes the Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Atomic Bomb Dome), the Peace Memorial Museum, and the Peace Flame. These monuments serve as a sobering reminder of the atomic bombing in 1945 and promote a message of peace and anti-nuclear sentiments.

Explore Hiroshima Castle, a reconstructed castle with a museum that provides insights into Hiroshima’s history. The castle grounds are especially picturesque during cherry blossom season.

Try Hiroshima’s famous dish, okonomiyaki (savory pancake), at Okonomimura. This multi-story building in the city center is dedicated entirely to various okonomiyaki restaurants.

Explore Hiroshima’s nightlife in areas like Nagarekawa or Hondori. Enjoy local bars, izakayas, and entertainment venues.

The good amount of time to spend in Hiroshima is 1-2 days. The best places to stay in Hiroshima are in Downtown near the Peace Memorial Park and Museum, and around Hiroshima Station.

Best places to stay in Japan in Hiroshima:


5. Hakone

Hakone is a popular hot spring resort town near Tokyo, Hakone offers breathtaking views of Mount Fuji, hot springs, and traditional ryokan experiences. It’s a great place to relax and unwind.

Many ryokans (Japanese inns) and public baths offer a relaxing soak in the hot springs, allowing you to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of the mineral-rich waters.

Popular points of interest in Hakone include Hakone Open-Air Museum, Lake Ashi, Hakone Ropeway, Owakudani, Hakone Venetian Glass Museum, and Hakone Museum of Art.

You can spend a night in the region. There are many places to stay in Hakone, but the most popular areas to stay are around the train stations in Hakone Yumoto and Gora.

Best places to stay in Japan in Hakone:


6. Fukuoka

Fukuoka, located on the island of Kyushu, is a dynamic city with a rich history, vibrant food scene, and modern attractions. It was an important port city during the medieval period and served as a gateway for cultural and economic exchanges with neighboring countries, particularly China and Korea.

You can explore Fukuoka Castle, relax in Ohori Park, visit Fukuoka Tower, Canal City Hakata, Nakasu Yatai District, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, and Hakata Machiya Folk Museum.

The good amount of time to spend in Fukuoka is 2-3 days. Fukuoka has many areas to stay, but the most popular neighborhoods for first-timers to book their accommodations are in Hakata and Tenjin.

Best places to stay in Japan in Fukuoka:


In conclusion, Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka are the best places to stay in Japan for first-timers and tourists because they are the most popular cities to visit in Japan. You can consider staying in Hiroshima, Hakone, and Fukuoka if you have more time in the country.

 You can continue reading about popular destinations in Japan in these articles:

There you have it, my recommendations for the most popular cities that you can visit during your first trip to Japan. I hope you enjoyed my article and find it both informative and helpful.

If you have any questions or would like to share your thoughts, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. Your feedback is invaluable and helps me continue to create more quality content.

About Author: Ocean Cameron

I'm Ocean, founder and main editor of travelhotelexpert.com. I’m a passionate traveler who specializes in uncovering the best hotels and locations in every city, especially for first-timers, all without the need for a car.

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