This post was most recently updated on March 10th, 2020
If you’ve never been to Asia before, a trip to Japan can feel very daunting compared to your usual European jaunts. Japan is a vibrant and exciting country, and any trip here is going to be very rewarding. Still, it’s better to know the basics before you travel, so here are seven tips for your first trip to Japan.
1. Understand Your Currency
The currency in Japan is the Japanese Yen. Be sure to have a basic grasp on the exchange rate and how much things cost before you travel there, so that you don’t feel too overwhelmed when you’re handling cash and paying for items in the country.
It’s a good idea to always have a cash option in Japan, or at least a travel card loaded with currency rather than your usual credit card, as not all places take card payment. A popular place to withdraw money in Japan with a good exchange rate is the 7-Bank.
2. Traveling by Train and Metro in Japan is Encouraged
The rail system may look overwhelming when you’re studying a map, but Japan’s system is very sleek, fast and efficient. So if you’re looking for a dependable way to get around during your trip, the train and metro system is definitely advised.
Take the time to study their rail system before you travel so that you don’t risk being too confused when you need to board a train.
3. Take a Dedicated Tour Package
Japan is a big place with lots to see. If you’re feeling uncertain about being able to plan your perfect itinerary, or you don’t like the idea of depending on yourself to work out the metro system, you can always look into the best Japan tour packages to find exactly what you need.
4. Don’t Be Put Off by The Masks
If you’re considering a trip to Japan, then you’ll already be familiar with the fact that the majority of the populace wear surgical masks on their face. This isn’t because Japan is a polluted place where you need to wear masks; it’s simply because the Japanese people are preventing the spreading of germs if they are sick, or protecting themselves against allergies.
5. Be Open-Minded About the Food
Japanese cuisine can put a lot of picky eaters off, but don’t let that stop you. Japanese food and hygiene standards are top notch, and their variety of healthy and delicious food options are second to none. If you’re looking to try plenty of menu items on your first trip to Japan, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with some basic food terms so that you know what you’re ordering. You could even take some cooking classes before you go.
It will also help to learn to use chopsticks before your first trip to Japan. The locals will praise you if you do. Use them as a unit, and do not stab your food with them. When you are finished, lay them down in front of you facing left.
You may also be surprised to learn it is appropriate to sip, slurp, chomp, and burp while eating. In fact, the louder you are, the better. The cook will be flattered!
6. Do Not Tip
In some countries, it’s considered rude not to tip, especially for an exceptional service. However, in Japan it’s the opposite. It will be considered rude or even insulting to offer a tip, so try to avoid it. Service employees like hairstylists or taxi drivers receive reasonable wages and do not expect any bonuses.
7. Learn Cultural Expectations
It’s important to undersand some of the cultural expectations before your first trip to Japan. The more you know, the less likely you will offend someone. The Japanese are very polite so they may not say anything, but you should know these things:
- Don’t wear shoes in the house; use the designated toilet slippers in the bathroom
- Shower before you soak (bathing is not for cleansing)
- Don’t eat or drink while walking
- When gesturing “me” or “myself”, point to your nose, not your chest
- Avoid the numbers four and nine in Japan; the Japanese words for these numbers sound like death and torture.
- Don’t talk on your cell phone in public; texting is fine.
- Don’t touch in public; no hugs, walking arm-in-arm, or public displays of affection
- Saving face is very important, so Japanese prefer not to say “no”. You might hear “we’ll try our best” or “that might be difficult” instead.
- Japan has a 77% recycling rate; absolutely do not litter, and do dispose of your waste in the appropriate bins.
I hope you feel more prepared for your first trip to Japan after reading these seven tips. You’ll learn more when you arrive, but this should give you a good foundation. Shiawase no tabi, or Happy Travels!