Visiting a country as enticing and enchanting as Japan for the first time might also be just a little bit intimidating. Myself, I am not normally one for excess research before visiting a new country but I did enjoy myself reading posts alike this one before I visited Japan earlier this year. Alas, I decided to create one myself.
Here are 22 useful tips in bullet point style on common mannerisms, ways to save some pennies along with some simple #funfacts!
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22 useful tips for your first time visit to Japan
- Don't be afraid to ask for help
But make sure to do it the right way, i.e. by getting to the point, rather than initialising the conversation by the, rather intimidating, question of "Do you speak English?" as this might scare them off.
- You will want a Japanese toilet at home
While central heating mightn't be a general thing if you are staying in an airbnb or similar; the toilet seat is likely to be warm. That is how I realised just how unpleasant it is to be cold, only to sit down on an even colder toilet seat. And then I'm not even mentioning the fact that they clean themselves!
- ... and some hand sanitizer
Although public restrooms are often plentiful, they tend to lack essentials like hand soap and paper towels to dry yourself. Carry a travel size tub of hand sanitiser to repell germs and/or some paper tissue to dry.
- Cash is Queen
Although Japan is a highly futuristic destination in many ways - a card reader is not always to be found. This particularly applies outside of the cities, but even in Downtown Tokyo this can be the case. As a rule of thumb, always carry at least JPY1'000 with you.
- Water is safe to drink
Be it bottled or from a public fountain, the Japanese water is safe to drink.
- Keep a plastic bag at hand
There are hardly ever any bins to be found in the streets (which is surprising when you think about how clean the streets are!); so if you, like me, enjoy a few snacks throughout the day - carrying a small plastic bag to store your rubbish in is a good idea, until you next find a bin.
- Cross for the check
When you are ready to pay at a restaurant, simply cross your index fingers to form an X and your waiter will bring you your bill.
- Trains are ALWAYS on time
Unlike Europe, or god forbid, South East Asia; if a train states to leave at 4:16 it will leave at 4:16 and not "some time around".
- Buy your souvenirs at Dollar Stores
... rather than right outside said sightseeing spot. It is no neuroscience to figure out that they are well overpriced! Plus you can find some really quirky fun items in these Dollar Stores.
- ATM's ARE widely available
... Despite a reputation suggesting otherwise. There is normally one found in 7-Eleven and they are pretty much everywhere!
- Bring a pair of slip on shoes
Since you are required to remove your shoes before entering a home, temple and most hotels (commonly to be replaced by provided slippers), it is a good idea to be able to do so quickly by packing a pair of shoes you can easily slip in and out of.
- Mobile WiFi is a life saver
It is difficult enough to try and navigate yourself; getting a pocket wifi is a life saver when it comes to using the GPS - and browsing HappyCow for us veggies...
- Public Transport stops at midnight
So if you plan on a night out/miss the last connection - taxi is your last option. If you don't feel like paying for one, you can always get a booth at a Manga Kissa for a few hours of slumber... or comic book reading!
- There is no tipping-culture
Quite the contrary, tipping is considered rude! Most likely some poor waiter will think you simply lost the intended tip and make a run to try and catch up with you.
- Be respectful on public transport
Japan's public transfer system is like no other! A lot of people see their commute as a time to catch up on some reading or sleep. Fellow passengers respect each other by keeping their phones on silent, refrain from excess talking and if they do take a call, they do so between carriages as to not disturb.
- Japan is a non-smokers paradise
Smoking is generally not allowed in the streets, instead you will have to find an allocated smoking area. Yes, really!
- Japan is a very safe place
People leave their doors unlocked, despite living in the midst of an urban jungle (unlike Swedes who look the door but then leave the key in a boot just next to it...). They leave their wallets and phones to reserve tables when in cafés, and people fall asleep on the subway with bags wide open in their laps.
- Protective masks are not what you think they are for!
Contrary for common belief, the infamous mouth covers are not because people are afraid of catching a cold - rather the opposite! The japanese normally wear them when they themselves are feeling seedy and it is to protect spreading the germ on to others. Again, goes to show the humbleness of these people!
- ... But also look down!
Another decorative part of japanese cities are the manhole covers in the streets. These are normally to go in style with the area you find yourself in; like the Ueno Park has ones with cherry blossoms and Nara ones with deers.
- Platform indicators are amazing.
How do you smoothly operate a population of 127 million? Well, clear instructions for one. From the moment you enter the airport to waiting at a train platform, there will be indicators marking where to stand, queue, etc! I miss this in Europe.
- Look up!
A lot of restaurants and shops are not located on the ground floor of a building (which isn't crazy when you think of all the skyscrapers in this country!) like us europeans might be used to. But if you find yourself at allocated address and said restaurant is not there, simply look up! It might be further up in the building.
- Do not be afraid to strip off!
If you find yourself in Japan you must, I beg of you, get yourself into an onsen. Don't miss out on this merely because the idea of bathing in the nude seems alien; just leave your self-consciousness at the door - because, as you are about to find out, no one really gives a damn!