Street in Shibuya City, Tokyo
Japan,  Guides and Itineraries

13 Things to Know Before Traveling to Japan

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Japan is one of the best countries to visit in Asia. It has a colorful history, unique cultural traditions, and interesting sights. Japan attractions millions of tourists around the world each year. Today we’ll look at a list of things you need to know before traveling to Japan!

If you’re serious about traveling to Japan, you can check out some of the Japan tour packages to determine where exactly you might want to go.

1. Visa requirement

This is an obvious one. Check that your Japan visa requirements are fulfilled before your trip. Most Western countries do not require a visa and tourists will be granted one on arrival. Other Asian countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam, and China still require a tourist visa.

As of April 2020, Japan has launched an electronic system for visa applications for easier processing.

2. Costs of traveling to Japan

Japan is relatively more expensive compared to other budget destinations in Asia such as Indonesia, Cambodia, or Vietnam. But it’s also cheaper compared to UK and European destinations.

You can easily find izakayas (pubs) offering reliable food and drinks, convenient & cheap public transport, and various free activities wherever you go.

A safe estimate for a daily budget in Japan is $100.

3. Few locals speak English

Few people in Japan can communicate in English with ease. So it’s generally recommended to memorize important phrases to help you get by. One phrase that you might use frequently is “Sumimasen, wakarimasen” (Sorry, I don’t understand).

That saying, exploring Japan without knowing the language isn’t exactly a big problem. Almost every important sign is written in English and you can always download apps like Google Maps so you won’t get lost.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

If you get lost or you need help with anything else, don’t be afraid to ask. The Japanese are helpful and will generally bend over backwards to help you out. Even the police are approacheable; there is little crime in Japan that the police in local kobans (police boxes) act not only as crime fighters but also neighborhood helpers.

That saying, don’t expect everyone to be super “warm” either. The Japanese are polite and may come as cold, and those living in the city in particular may be shy when interacting with someone in a different culture.

5. It is generally safe

There is no petty crime in the street. In fact, if you lose your wallet you can expect it to be returned.

However, this isn’t an excuse to act reckless or stupid. Use your common sense especially when visiting nightlife areas such as Roppongi or Shibuya, where there are still reported cases of theft and other crimes.

6. Places to explore in Japan

Street in Shibuya City, Tokyo
Street in Shibuya City, Tokyo.

Tokyo is the capital of Japan and it’s one of the top tourist destinations in the country. Tokyo features everything from heritage temples and public gardens to neon-lit skyscrapers. That saying, it doesn’t reflect the lifestyle of Japan in a whole. If you want to get a more complete look at Japan, explore the countryside!

Street in Kyoto, Japan
Street in Kyoto.
Shirakawa-Go in Japan
Countryside living in Shirakawa-Go.

Aside from Tokyo, you should also settle a base in either Kyoto or Osaka. This will put you within reach of other interesting places such as Nara, Kobe, and Himeji.

7. The food is amazing

Night restaurant in Japan
Sushi in Japan

I know we’ve all had sushi, but the sushi in Japan is in an entirely different level — the fish is so fresh & delicious!

Just to clarify though, sushi is not an everyday food in Japan but a “luxury-style” cuisine. If you go to regular eateries, some of the common items you will find are katsu curry and rice, beef bowls, and noodles such as udon. You should also try the food sold in convenience stores, which are incredibly tasty as well.

You will never look at Japanese food the same way again.

8. Always bring cash with you

Even in cities like Tokyo, cash is king. Even high-end bars and restaurants mostly require that you pay in cash. This is starting to change with the cashless economy, but as of the moment it’s best to always carry a wad of cash with you.

If you want to withdraw money using your credit card, you can easily do so in 7-11 stores.

9. Expect good customer service

One thing that stands out while visiting Japan is that the locals offer great customer service — from the bus luggage handlers in the airport to those working in hotels & restaurants. In fact, restaurants may deny you service if the staff cannot speak your language since they do not feel that it is right to offer substandard service.

10. Always keep a plastic bag for trash

It may come as a shocker to you, but Japan doesn’t have many trash cans available out in public. This is because of the 1995 sarin gas attacks which injured thousands of people. After this even, trash cans were taken away as they can potentially hold dangerous weapons.

So how can you properly dispose your thrash? A practical tip is to always carry a plastic bag with you. You can also find designated trash cans in train stations, parks, and vending machines.

Take note that littering is a grave penalty in Japan. If caught, you can end up serving a prison sentence o pay a hefty amount.

11. Learn the Japanese etiquette

Subway in Tokyo, Japan
Subway in Tokyo.

There are so many things that the Japanese do differently, so to avoid any social faux pas it’s best to read up on the proper Japanese etiquette.

Some of the things you need to know are:

  • Japanese are incredibly punctual. If you agree to meet up with them at 10AM, expect them to be there at 9:45AM or earlier.
  • It is rude to eat in public, such as when walking down the street or inside the train.
  • Restaurants and sometimes even business settings may require you to leave your shoes at the door. So make sure to purchase new socks or at least bring decent pairs before traveling to Japan.

12. Tattoos are still a taboo

In many countries, body tattoos are accepted as normal. But in Japan, it’s still considered a taboo. There it’s associated with prisoners, prostitutes, and members of the yakuza.

In fact, a lot of onsens won’t let you in if you have a tattoo.

Try to wear something that will cover your tattoo or just stick a tape to cover it up.

13. No tipping

There is no tipping in Japan. In fact, this is something that is looked down upon; they consider this to be an insult. It’s best to pay the amount listed in your bill. If there is a tip jar, you can leave a tip but otherwise it is not expected.

Do you have anything else to add to our list of Things to Know Before Visiting Japan? Let us know in the comment section below!

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