Travel tips are always something we’re interested in when visiting a new country. We always try to do our own research prior to visiting a foreign country so that we’re aware of their customs, laws, rules, systems, etc.
We had the best time in Tokyo, Japan! (Read about our first impressions here.) However, there were some things we struggled with or were surprised about.
Success is where preparation and opportunity meet. ~ Bobby Unser
So that you’re more prepared than we were, here’s a list of things to know before visiting Japan, based on our own experiences.
Travel Tips For Japan
Taxis are a luxury in Japan and are very costly. For example, a 15 km ride could cost between $60 – 100 CAD or $45 – 78 USD, according to the time of day. If you don’t want to lift a finger, then you’ll be happy to know that taxi doors are automatic and will not only open automatically, but close as well.
Alternatively, the way most of the locals get around is via the subway system or railway lines. These are very convenient, however can be a bit of a struggle to navigate for non-Japanese speaking persons. English signage are not usually available in the stations. Therefore, it can be difficult to figure out which station is which. You can however, ask the person at the Information Desk (there’s one at every station) which station you’re trying to get to and they’ll more than likely have a printed paper of the station and platforms you’ll need to go on. Once you have this information, proceed to the ticket terminals closest to the line you need to get on and purchase your ticket. You can select “English” on all of these ticket stations.
Please don’t just purchase a ticket at your nearest ticket terminal as that terminal may be for tickets to a different line. One station can have several lines. Remember, we said it’s very confusing!
Japan Rail Pass
If you plan on traveling around a particular region or throughout the country, a JR Pass would save you some money. Also, buying the pass online prior to your visit will save you even more, as there are different prices online when purchased prior to landing. With the JR Pass you’ll get access to the bullet train (Shinkansen), as well as the JR commuter trains, buses, and ferries.
Tipping is NOT required in Japan. In fact, some may get offended if you do so. It’s already built into the price, therefore no need to worry about how much extra cash to leave. This is also true for hotel staff and other service staff.
Wearing slippers inside the home is customary. It’s actually disrespectful if you keep your shoes on while inside someone’s home. As well, don’t be surprised if there is a separate slipper for wearing inside the washroom. Don’t forget to change back into the indoor/house slippers when exiting the washroom! 🙂
The locals love giving gifts, small or big. Whenever they visit someone’s home, they will bring a gift. They’re never empty handed. When you’re at the mall or shopping area you’ll see everywhere that everything, especially food items are nicely packaged so that they can be given as gifts.
We were told and have read that Japanese people are very honest. We also experienced it first hand. For example, if you lost your phone (like I – Alicia – did), you’ll be sure to get it back. My phone dropped out of my pocket when I was seated on a bench at the mall. It wasn’t until we walked through several stores within the mall that I realized it was missing. I panicked (since ALL our travel info were on my phone); as soon as we walked back to the seating area I knew it would be okay. The workers at the nearest store waved me down as they noticed that I was looking for something and they handed me my phone with a big smile.
This leads into how safe it is in Japan. And this isn’t just coming from us. It’s repeatedly in the top 10 list of world’s safest countries. I (being a female) have never felt 100% at ease (even in my own hometown) walking through the streets of Japan, whether it be day or night.
Surprisingly, cash is king in Japan. Most restaurants and shops will only take cash. You may be able to use your credit card at hotels and big chain department stores. So make sure you bring Japanese Yen when you’re visiting.
In Japan, tattoos may be associated with members of the Yakuza gang. If you’re looking to visit an onsen (aka Japanese hot spring bath) and have a tattoo, you may not be permitted.
Japan has huge underground malls and that is where you’ll find a lot of food outlets as well. If you’re looking for a quick bite head to the underground! They have a great variety of foods to choose from.
Talking In Public
Keep your voice low when talking in public. This is part of their etiquette. Also, you’re not allowed to have or take a phone call in the subway/rail systems. There are signs that actually ask you to turn off the ringer of your phone and to NOT speak on the phone.
Plain and simple, just don’t do it. Pointing at people or things in Japan is considered rude.
You can smoke freely in most restaurants, but not in public. Most restaurants nowadays have a designated smoking room. However, if you’re on the street, you can only smoke in designated smoking stations. This even goes for vapes.
When in Japan, you’ll see surgical masks being worn by many. This is not to protect them from germs, but for them to protect you from their germs, if they’re not feeling well. It’s also worn to block exposure to pollen. So don’t be afraid to purchase some and wear them, if you’re suffering from pollen allergy or aren’t feeling well.
Japan is very clean! They have a high standard of cleanliness (another reason why we love Japan 🙂 ). However, finding a garbage bin on the street is far and few, so you’ll have to hold on to your garbage until you come upon one. And when you’re throwing out your garbage make sure you place it in the right bin. Recycling is a major thing for them. It is a source of pride for the Japanese people, so make sure you do it and do it correctly.
They’re confusing as heck! They ALL have controls and they don’t have English translations. There’s a button for everything, including flushing the toilet. However, this is one thing you can do manually with the lever on the side of the tank. My first time in a public washroom and I had to ask someone to come into my stall to show me how to use the darn thing. I didn’t know if I needed to press a button to raise the toilet cover and I didn’t want to just press any button and have water spray out of it. Funny thing is she spoke no English and probably thought I was crazy. But she did show me the handle to manually flush.
You may think that there are so many rules in Japan, but in our opinion these are what makes things seamless and efficient. We really enjoyed our time in Japan and we hope these tips will help you in your adventure there.
Are there any other tips that aren’t listed above that you know of? Please share them in the comments below.
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