We have visited Japan couple of times, we compiled and compressed top 10 things & +10 more to know when traveling to Japan. Reading this article and having interest traveling to Japan, we assume that you know these basics: Japanese are one of the politest people within this planet, bowing heads are a norm, if someone bows their head at you, replay back with a bow – these occur wherever & whenever. Secondly, only few can communicate in English. Lastly, you can try but don’t expect restaurants will have forks & knives – practice your chopstick skills before visiting Japan.
Things you should know before visiting Japan
If you have been planning to visit Japan, this Japan travel guide will give you the basics that you’ll need to know before visiting the “land of the rising sun”.
1.) Bring your Passport at all times to Experience ‘Tax-Free’ shopping
Asides being a valid ID, bringing your passport will help you save money.Before paying, present your tourist visa page attached to your passport and they will deduct the tax on the total bill.
However, this only applies on transactions with receipts. Street food stalls, traditional restaurants, rickshaws (two-wheeled vehicle pulled by one man), Kimono rentals and etch., may not honor this priviledge.
2.) Exchange foreign currency to YEN at the airports or better, before entering Japan
Learn from our mistake, we thought that it will be easy to exchange our foreign currency outside Airport, thinking in mind that we will get better rates.
There were no (or at least, very few) foreign exchange houses around. They don’t accept USD cash payments too. Even our second line of defense, credit cards will give you less help with your bills. Stores and restaurants in Japan often only accept cash. That means you’ll need to convert your money if you want to buy anything – or eat.
If you haven’t had a chance to exchange your money at the Airports, Few banks can do the YEN exchange for you. It took us two banks hops before we had exchanged our money. We waited for about 30 minutes and a lot of verification to complete the entire process – passport and visit/tourist visa.
3.) Metro rail is best for tourists – Taxi are luxury
If you are visiting Japan and planning to hop between prefectures, getting JR Pass is the best option. Japan-Rail (Japan’s rail system) is one of the best train systems on this planet. Having a JR pass will definitely help save you big. It is an unlimited pass to anywhere using JR and it is only offered to Tourists – take advantage of this special treatment.
JR takes pride of their time, they will arrive and leave on the exact time mentioned on their schedule. This is good for time-sensitive travel plan.
Though we never experienced riding a taxi cab, most people say it is expensive, and even the locals classified this transportation option as ‘luxury’. With this, the demand is low, which is why Uber has little presence in Tokyo (no existence outside Tokyo).
4.) Eating Etiquette in Japan
Starting a meal in Japan is a little bit different from the rest of the world. Whether eating with new Japanese friends, dining in a Japanese restaurant, or attending a business lunch with a Japanese client, following a few simple etiquette rules will show respect to others. However, keep in mind that these are only merely guidelines.
Typically the Japanese eat at low dining tables and sit on a cushion placed on tatami floor (a reed-like mat). In formal situations, both men and women kneel, while in casual situations the men sit cross-legged and women sit with both legs to one side.
In restaurants and bars a hot steamed towel (“oshibori”) is offered so you can clean your hands. Do not wipe your face with the towel.
A meal begins once the main guest, family member or waitress makes a gesture to start eating. This usually comes in the form of gratitude, such as the term “ itadakimasu”, which means, “I gratefully receive”. To finish the meal, one might say “gochisosama deshita”, which means, “thank you for the meal”. These are not involved with any rituals – it is simply expressing your appreciation.
Slurp Soup with Sound
Slurping your soup with a strong sound tells your cook or people around you that your meal is Oishi (Yummy) and you appreciate it. Most Japanese believe inhaling air when eating noodles enhance the taste. I tried it, it is somehow true, not sure if this only a psycho or scientifically proven. Making a loud zip improves the taste of my ramen.
When eating sushi, do not mix wasabi into your soya sauce bowl. This can be an insult to the cook, as it’s said to restrict the taste of the sushi.
Try Not to Add Any Condiments in Front of the Cook
We recently knew that adding any condiments in front of the cook is like telling them that your meal lacks taste and you need to add something to taste better. They will feel bad that they have not satisfied your taste. Come to think of it, it makes sense.
If you really need to add something, wait until the person/people who prepared your meal is not in sight. We did that! We poured more soy sauce and that hot pepper flakes every sushi meals.
5.) Trash cans are few & far between
Japan is generally clean. However, few trash-can are around and often far between to each other. It is handy to keep a plastic bag with you just in case.
6.) Try NOT to tip even the service is great
In general, in Japan, staff don’t accept tips and might even return them to you. Please remember that if you insist on giving tips to the staff, they might get in trouble afterward.
7.) A small gift/souvenir can mean a lot – “Omiyage”
The simplest definition of “Omiyage”; Gifts you bring back to your family, friends, and co-workers. The locals will appreciate if you gift them with something unique; key chains, snacks which are not locally available in Japan
8.) Observe if you need to leave your shoes at the doorsteps
Leaving your shoes-on when entering someone’s house is disrespectful. Like many other parts of Asia, removing your shoes when entering a home is an absolute must. This is also the norm for several restaurants, so be sure to check around if you should slip your shoes off or not.
9.) Self-service country
Locals do not rely on anyone. You pack your own things at the groceries, clear your own table at the restaurants, return your own push carts, and most gas stations are self-service.
10.) Different restaurants offer different specialties
Try out different kind of restaurants. There’s no such kind of all-in-one restaurant in Japan where they offer Ramen (traditional hot noodles), Sushi, Okonomiyaki (traditional Japanese pizza) and Yakitori (BBQ chicken skewers) in one place.
10 more Things to know when traveling to Japan
1: Don’t worry too much if you see drunken businessmen (wearing business attire). It is common to see such situation as they’ll go out after work and drink heavily.
2: English translations not common on restaurants and vending machines
3: If you are an adventurist, try “Onsen”, Japanese hot bathing facilities where you can relax both body and mind with others, yes… with other people. Note: you need to take off all your clothing.
4: Speak with a light voice in public.
5: Wearing Surgical/Flu Masks is common. It is not being rude but rather, they are trying to contain their flu.
6:Locals can hardly catch-up with jokes. Cracking one might get you in an awkward situation.
7: Japan uses Plug A type. Make sure to bring a travel adapter.
8: Don’t’ feel bad if a local Japanese turned-away after asking something. Again, don’t expect Japanese people to respond in Japanese. Try to understand that English is not their thing.
9: If there is no ‘call-a-waiter’ button around, say “Sumimasen” when calling a waiter. It means: “Sorry, please excuse me”.
10: You can find quality yet budget meal inside grocery and convenient stores.