14 Things to Know When Planning a Trip to Japan

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Japan offers a wide range of experiences that will make your trip a journey to remember. The streets are bursting with energy, public transport is clean and efficient, and the people are welcoming and friendly! That being said, Japan is very different from a typical holiday destination. Here are a few things to know and tips for when visiting Japan.

1. Public transport is great

Throughout Japan, public transport is popular among locals and tourists. Within the city, the subway and bus systems are convenient, efficient, clean, and in abundance.

When travelling between major cities, the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) is the quickest mode of transport. These trains come regularly, offer comfortable, spacious seating and are easy to use. Although the bullet train can be expensive, the JR Rail Pass can make the cost much more affordable and is available for 7, 14 or 21 days. There is also the option of regional passes too for shorter and more local travel.

Bullet Train in Japan
Bullet Train in Japan

2. Travelling between cities

Intending on travelling outside of Tokyo and toward some of the southern cities? A JR Rail Pass can make the journey much more affordable. The passes are only available to tourists of Japan and allow access to the bullet train and JR systems. Passes vary in length from 7, 14 or 21 days, so the pass should be activated when it’s intended to be used rather than upon arrival in Japan. A valid passport will be required to activate the pass. It’s also important to note that JR Rail Passes cannot be purchased in Japan and should be acquired prior to arrival.

3. Consider renting a portable Wifi

Wifi is generally available in hotels, airports and some restaurants and cafes, but not all. To make your life easier then consider renting a portable Wifi device from the airport when you arrive. You can then return this when you leave.

4. Carry cash with you

Japan is primarily a cash-only destination. Aside from hotels and department stores, many restaurants, cafes, and shops will only accept cash. So try to carry cash at all times to avoid any awkward situations. ATMs are also in abundance throughout Japan, making it very easy to withdraw cash regularly.

5. Learn a few phrases

Many locals don’t speak English so it may be useful to learn a few phrases before visiting. Here are a few to remember.

  • Arigatou Gozaimasu – Thank-you
  • Sumimasen – Excuse me
  • Nihongo Ga Wakarimasen – I don’t understand Japanese
  • ergo o hanasemasu ka? – Can you speak English?
  • wa dok desu ka? – Where is _____?

This language barrier may seem daunting at first, but it rarely proves to be inconvenient. It isn’t difficult to communicate or get a message across to someone. There is also plenty of English translations on signs all over the country. For example, the subway maps have both Japanese and English versions.

6. Tipping isn’t required

Unlike in America, tipping isn’t necessary in Japan. Due to the culture, in some circumstances, it may even be considered rude. Sometimes, the server will run after you to give back the money. It’s best to simply pay the set price and move on.

Japanese Food
Japanese Food

7. Avoid littering

One thing most visitors won’t see in Japan is rubbish lying in the streets. The country is renowned for being a very clean destination. When visiting be sure not to dispose of any rubbish by throwing it on the ground or leaving it behind. You can often find bins in train and subway stations and various other places. Also, bring a bag to carry your rubbish around until a suitable place is found.

8. Subways can get tight

With Japan being home to the world’s largest populated city, the subway system is bound to get crowded – especially in the mornings between 8 and 9 as well as in the afternoons around 5. In fact, the rush hour is known to be so intensive that professional ‘pushers’ can be regularly found shoving passengers into crowded trains. Unless you don’t mind a cosy train ride, it’s best to simply avoid a commute during these times.

9. Bowing

When greeting people Japanese people will bow. Depending on who is greeting who the bow is to a different depth. For example, when greeting a friend it’s a small bow, and if someone is providing a service, such as hotel staff it will be much lower. Although as a tourist it’s not massively expected, it is still nice to get involved in the culture.

10. Tips for taxis

To flag a taxi down often you must be on the same side that the taxi is going. As well as this many drivers can’t speak English, so if using taxis either get your hotel to write down your destination, get a business card from your hotel to make it easy to return, or show where you want to go on Google Maps (or a similar service) on your phone.

11. Prepare for the unexpected

Earthquakes are a regular in Japan, so visitors touring the country should know what to do if they are suddenly caught in one. Try to take shelter under a strong piece of furniture or a doorway and avoid going outside. The locals are used to feeling tremors and are well-equipped with the knowledge of what to do in an earthquake, so be sure to follow their lead.

Unless visitors are staying in Japan for an extended period of time, an earthquake encounter is unlikely. Don’t dwell on this improbable encounter and try to focus on having an unforgettable time in this energetic destination.

12. Public toilets are free

Unlike many cities and destinations around the world Japan’s public toilets are free to use. They are also commonly found at stations and at various spots in major cities. Another cool thing about Japan is that many of the toilets are advanced and have heated seats. This is quite a unique experience and you may find this with public toilets too.

13. Stand on left in Tokyo and right in Osaka

If you’re from London you may be familiar with the whole standing on the right thing. Well, in Tokyo it’s standing on the left, and Osaka it’s standing on the right. Somewhat confusing, but just look at what the locals are doing and hopeful you won’t have any angry people behind you wanting to get past.

14. Vending machines are everywhere

Vending machines are a way of life in Japan. From the usual snacks and drinks to umbrellas, fruit, noodles, hot drinks, underwear and meals, almost anything can be found in these vending machines. The best part? They are conveniently located extensively throughout the country.

Vending machines in Tokyo
Vending machines in Tokyo
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Written by

Nicholas Hastie

Nicholas Hastie is a travel and health writer located in Brisbane, Australia. He is passionate about documenting his journeys through writing and photography. Nicholas enjoys sharing his travel stories online and encouraging others to travel and create unforgettable memories.

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