Japan offers some of the best and most memorable historical and cultural experiences for tourists from different parts of the globe. It is home to many ancient shrines, temples, and castles; scenic mountains, valleys, and other landscapes; and mouthwatering dishes that will make you keep coming back for more. If visiting Japan is in your bucketlist, below are a number of things that you should be aware of before you start planning your itinerary:
Take your passport with you wherever you go.
Do not forget to always have your passport with you when traveling around Japan. Passports are necessary when checking in at hotels, hostels, and other lodgings, purchasing Japan Rail Passes, and various other transactions. Before your trip, get yourself a durable and waterproof passport case where you can store it and other small personal items for convenient storage and easy access.
Many businesses only accept cash.
Not all restaurants and department stores in Japan accept credit cards. It is best that you have some yen with you the moment you arrive to Japan. Before your trip, buy yen from your local bank to avail of good exchange rates. Or, once in Japan, you can also just exchange your foreign currency at the foreign exchange counters at the airport, or use your cards to withdraw yen from ATMs at the airport, post offices, and convenience stores around the country.
Do not tip.
Unlike some Western countries, Japan does not have a tipping culture. At restaurants, bars, hotels, and other business establishments, you only have to pay for the goods and services that you purchased. You are not required and expected to leave tips. Any extra amount of money received will only be returned to you.
A Japan Rail Pass is not always worth it.
While looking for information on how to save on transportation expenses while in Japan, you might have come across advice that you should buy a Japan Rail Pass. This is not always cost-efficient, especially if you are only travelling within a city, or are not using the Shinkansen or bullet train more than a couple of times.
For instance, a 7-day Japan Rail Pass, which can be purchased for 29,110 yen, only pays off if you are doing a roundtrip between Tokyo and Kyoto, and a couple of day trips in a span of 7 days.
A return trip between Tokyo and Kyoto costs about 26,000 yen (or about 13,000 yen one-way). To make the 7-day Japan Rail Pass worth it, throw in a day trip to Himeji (from Kyoto, a roundtrip costs about 5,000 yen) or Nikko (from Tokyo, a round trip costs about 10,000 yen).
Trains very rarely arrive and depart late.
If you do not want to miss your train, get to the train station several minutes early. The train stations in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and other major cities consist of several lines and platforms, and can be a bit confusing for tourists. You will need a bit of extra time to figure out where to go to be able to get on the correct train.
Do not talk on your phone while on a train.
Commuter trains in Japan are generally quiet. You may hear some hushed conversations here and there, but loud conversations on phones are not very common. It is actually frowned upon and considered rude to talk on your phone while on public transport, as it makes you look like an inconsiderate person who does not respect your fellow commuters’ need for silence and privacy. Before boarding, put your phone on silent or vibrate mode while commuting.
The subway trains do not run 24 hours.
Many people are not aware that Japan’s subways and metro do not operate 24 hours a day. If you plan to be out past midnight, you may need to take a cab or walk back to your hotel. Make sure to sort your itinerary out in advance in order to not miss the last train home. Look up train timetables and save them to your phone.
Fall in line.
Lines are very common in Japan — when waiting to board buses and trains, paying for your purchases at convenience stores and shops, buying tickets at tourist attractions, and eating at popular restaurants. To not be rude and disrespectful, check if there is a line and go to the back. Do not cut or push. Patiently wait for your turn like everybody else.
Expect to do a lot of walking.
You can easily average more than ten thousand steps a day while sightseeing in Japan. Exploring all the castles, shrines, temples, gardens, museums, and other tourist spots involve so much walking. Even just searching for the correct platforms in the big, busy stations like Shinjuku Station, Shibuya Station, and Tokyo Station can take several minutes. For this reason, it is recommended that you invest in good quality footwear for your trip. Make sure that your shoes are perfect fit and cushioned to prevent blisters and other injuries.
Convenience stores and vending machines are everywhere.
You can find convenience stores and vending machines at almost every street corner in Japan. If you want to grab a quick bite on your way out, you can stop by a 7-eleven, Lawson, FamilyMart, or other konbini to purchase tasty sandwiches, onigiri, bento, and a variety of other snack and food items. Or, if you are thirsty, find a nearby vending machine and choose from a good selection of bottled water, sports drinks, coffee, juices, and more.
You can get by with zero Japanese language skills.
Do not think that you cannot have fun and enjoy Japan if you do not know how to speak and read Japanese. A lot of foreigners that visit the country barely know the language, outside of “konnichiwa” and “arigatou”. At train stations and tourist areas, you can find signs with English translations and staff members that can communicate with you In English. And, you can always download Japanese translation and dictionary apps to your phone to help you out.