Surely Japan is an amazing travel destination. Its isolated location, unique history, and limited facilities have shaped a culture that cannot be found anywhere else. Even experienced travelers admit the uniqueness of Japan so that you may expect lots of surprises during a trip there. Locals’ behavior, dining etiquette, high technologies, and various old customs will drive you crazy and take by surprise. Even though the unknown is not always bad, it’s definitely better to know some things in advance to avoid inconveniences, confusions, and extra expenses. Moreover, it is very easy to accidentally offend Japanese people when you don’t understand their daily communication rituals.
Here we go with our list of six essentials for visiting Japan. Read and get prepared!
You might have known there is a tradition to take shoes off before entering the house in some Asian countries. Here in Japan, you have to take shoes off every time you visit a temple, castle, somebody’s home, a dressing room or a traditional Japanese restaurant. Actually, every place with a tatami mat floor demands to take your shoes off. Therefore, we recommend you wear comfortable and easy-to-take-off shoes.
Even though Japan is a pro in new technologies, it is far from being a cashless country. You will have to pay in cash in public transport, most shops, restaurants and convenience stores.
An IC Card is an option, which is a rechargeable card. You can pay with it in public transport, at some shops and vending machines.
Many tourists tend to think that Japanese people speak English quite well. Some of them really do, but the majority will not be able to communicate with you easily. You can find English speakers at the airport, train stations or around touristic hot spots. But if you go off the beaten road, be ready to use Japanese only. Moreover, you will not even find English translations in many restaurants and shops. So, it will be a super bonus if you learn some basic Japanese before going there. The language itself is quite difficult to study all alone, so taking Japanese classes with professional tutors is a good idea.
Japan Rail Pass
If you are going to travel a lot within the country by train, buy the Japan Rail Pass. It will save you money greatly. You should also download Hyperdia to your phone to see train schedules and navigate easier through the routes.
Understanding of Japanese etiquette
Japanese culture is fascinating, and the locals really appreciate humbleness. The Japanese are always polite and afraid of offending other people. There is a huge number of customs and rules, but here are a few you need to know for sure:
- Bow to show respect when you meet somebody;
- Speak quietly;
- Smoke only in special areas;
- Do not point at the people or things (it’s rude);
- Do not eat out in the streets; do it in the cafes and restaurants;
- Prepare very small gifts if you want to thank somebody (e.g., a souvenir from home will be great);
- No tips at the restaurants. A waiter most likely will chase you and give your tip back;
- Do not litter even though sometimes it’s hard to find a garbage bin;
- Do not take photos of the people without their permission;
- Do not say ‘no’ sharply. Japanese people do not like saying ‘no’ and you will hardly hear this word from them.
This is another source of awkwardness for those visiting Japan for the first time. As you might remember, shoes must be off in many eating places as well. Wet towels are only for hands’ cleaning. The Japanese say ‘itadakimasu’ before starting eating. This is their ‘thank you for the food’. Here people usually eat with chopsticks, and their use is also regulated with traditions:
- Do not point at other people with chopsticks;
- Do not tap your bowl with the sticks, stab food or place them vertically into rice;
- Place chopsticks across the bowl when you finish the meal;
- Put chopsticks to the right or below the dish if you haven’t finished yet. Tips mustn’t touch the table!
One more strange, yet interesting thing is that you may cook meals at a restaurant by yourself. This is usually applied in okonomiyaki restaurants.
Tips to find cheap sushi and more
Shopping in Japan is not always expensive; there are dozens of shops with a unique choice ranging from modern gadgets to weird chocolate tastes. You can also find good-quality, cheap and ready-to-go food in department or convenience stores. Sushi and bento boxes there are totally great! By the way, tourists can get a VAT refund after shopping.
As you can see, Japan is a fascinating country with many unusual traditions and surprises for travelers. Study the peculiarities of the local culture, and you won’t get into embarrassing, confusing situations while on a trip. Good luck!