Common Things to Expect When You Set Foot on the Land of the Rising Sun

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Are you leaving for your first ever Japan trip soon? Does it make you anxious and nervous, despite your months and months of research and preparation?

Rich with spectacular natural attractions, ancient and historic landmarks, top notch food, and unique and vibrant culture and traditions, Japan is a popular destination among globetrotters, both experienced and newbies alike. If you have never travelled to other countries before, and have decided that Japan should be your first international stop, read on to learn about some of the common things to expect as soon as you set foot on the Land of the Rising Sun.

Climate and weather

Japan’s climate and weather greatly vary from north to south, and east to west.

From December to February, the country experiences the winter season, and daily temperatures can range from -20 degrees Celsius in some parts of Hokkaido, to 5 degrees Celsius in the Tokyo region. From March to May, days become less cold and more pleasant, just in time to welcome the plum and cherry blossom season. All over the country, parks, gardens, fields, and valleys become crowded with people wanting to get the best seats to view the mesmerizing canopies of pink and white sakura in full bloom. From June to August, the lower half of the archipelago gets extremely hot and humid, with daily temperatures over 30 degrees Celsius, while the Hokkaido region experiences milder, low 20s Celsius days. This period also sees lots of rainy days and typhoons. From September to November, days become cooler and drier, giving many opportunities for outdoor autumn foliage viewing.

Make sure to pack the appropriate clothes and footwear.

Money

Compared to many Western countries, Japan is still predominantly cash-based. While there are large hotels, restaurants, and shopping malls that take credit cards, the smaller diners, food stalls, shops, and business establishments found at many tourist attractions tend to only accept cash. Thus, it is best to have sufficient Japanese yen with you all the time.

You can exchange your foreign currency upon your arrival to Japan, at the foreign exchange counters at the airports, major train stations, tourist information and travel centres, and others. Alternatively, you can withdraw money from some ATMs found at the airports, post offices, and convenience stores using your foreign-issued card. Just make sure to get in touch with your bank before your trip to clarify the fees, limits, etc.

Language

There is no need to enrol to a Japanese language class before your trip to Japan. A lot of the tourist spots in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and other big cities have posters, pamphlets, maps, and other resources available in English. Navigating the airports, train and subway stations, and the likes should also not be problematic, as the signages, monitors, and boards at the ticket gates, platforms, and others have English translations.

Memorizing a few basic Japanese words and phrases won’t hurt, though, and here are some examples to get you started:

Thank you. Arigatou gozaimasu.
Good morning. Ohayou gozaimasu.
Good afternoon./Hello. Konnichiwa.
Good evening. Konbanwa.
Yes. Hai.
No. Iie.
Excuse me./Pardon me. Sumimasen.
I do not speak Japanese. Nihongo ga wakarimasen.

 

Download translation and dictionary apps, like Google Translate (Android | iPhone) and Learn Japanese (Android | iPhone) to your phone if you want to learn more.

Transportation

The Shinkansen or bullet train is a popular method of long-distance, intercity travel in Japan. Even though it is expensive, it is fast and punctual, and offers spacious and comfortable seating.

By Shinkansen, you can get from Tokyo to Osaka, for instance, in just about two and a half hours for the price of 15,000 yen. If you are doing a roundtrip and at least a couple of day trips, or have more long-distance travels planned, it might be economical to get a Japan Rail Pass. Visit the Japan Rail Pass official website to find out more about it, and use Hyperdia to help you do the math and decide if getting one for your trip will pay off.

Major Japanese cities also have reliable commuter train, subway, and bus networks that can take you to their different popular sites and attractions. To get around using the trains, subways, and buses without so much hassle, buy a prepaid IC card. Just tap it on the ticket gate readers, and your fares are automatically taken care of. No need to waste your time figuring out the fare tables and ticket machines. If you are in Tokyo, you can get yourself either a Pasmo or a Suica, which you can also use in most trains and buses in other towns and cities all over the country.

Luggage delivery and storage

To not have to worry about your large and heavy backpacks and suitcases as you move from one Japanese city to another, look up luggage delivery services in Japan, such as Yamato Transport, QL Liner, Narita Airport’s Baggage Delivery, Haneda Airport’s Baggage Delivery, and Kansai International Airport’s Baggage Delivery.

For short-term luggage storage, you can always just use the coin lockers found at the airports, train and bus stations, and tourist spots. For long-term luggage storage needs, check out Narita Airport’s Baggage Storage, Haneda Airport’s Baggage Storage, and Kansai International Airport’s Baggage Storage.

Food

Japan is home to some of the most delicious dishes you will ever have in your life. In fact, Tokyo has the most number of Michelin-starred restaurants in the world. But, you do not have to spend tons of money at fine dining places to enjoy the best Japanese food. Even at small family restaurants, izakaya, yatai or food stalls, ramen shops, food courts, and convenience stores, you can get a wide selection of mouth-watering and appetizing snacks and meals that will surely make you keep coming back for more.

Etiquette

The Japanese are known to be polite, friendly, and helpful. As a foreigner, it is important to be familiar with their etiquette to avoid being seen as disrespectful or rude in any situation.

  • Do not talk loudly on trains, subways, and buses, and put your phone on silent mode to not disrupt others.
  • Throw your trash in the proper bins — combustible, incombustible, and bottles and cans.
  • Do not tip at restaurants and other business establishments, as tipping is not a thing in Japan.
  • Do not be noisy and rowdy when visiting shrines and temples.
  • Obey the “no pictures, photos, or videos” signs at shrines, temples, museums, concerts, and other places.
  • Fall in line when waiting for buses or trains, paying for your purchases at malls and shops, and others.
  • Bow slightly when greeting or thanking others.

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