Travelling to Japan for the First Time?
If you are thinking about travelling to Japan for the first time, there are some things you need to know before you step on that plane. While magical and enigmatic, there are many things different about this fascinating and modern Asian destination, especially if you are from the West. When visiting any country, it is imperative to know about the local customs and traditions to ensure that you do not come off as untoward.
Japan is a beautiful place, and here are 10 useful things to know about this fascinating and modern culture.
Table of Contents
- The Best Time to Travel to Japan
- No Need to Tip in Japan
- Bring Toilet Paper
- Use Chopsticks for Your Own Food
- Rent Your Very Own Pocket Wi-Fi for Japan
- Understand Some of the Important Customs
- Shoes and socks
- Signs are in English and Japanese in Trains and Subways
- Learn Important Japanese Gestures
- Make Sure to Bring Cash When Travelling in Japan
The Best Time to Travel to Japan
While it does depend on which cities you plan to visit, there are some preferred times of the year when travel planning for your first time in Japan.
Due to its uneven topography, the Japanese climate can be quite varied. The northern area of the country generally experiences a colder, harsher climate while the south normally receives a warmer, tropical feel.
Cherry Blossom season only lasts for a couple of weeks each Spring and it can be tricky to plan your Japan itinerary for the perfect time. Sometimes, it is pure luck that you happen to be there during the most beautiful time of the year when the trees are in full bloom. In some places in Japan, cherry blossoms open as early as March, and some as late as May. Usually, the best time to go is the first couple of weeks in April, but it is always best to do some research before you book.
In Japan, typhoon season takes place between June and October. Especially during the months of July and August. It’s still a great time to travel as long as you are prepared with rain gear.
No Need to Tip in Japan
In fact, not only is there no need to tip in Japan, but you shouldn’t. It is considered offensive to leave a tip for any service in Japan. This is because the Japanese culture is a highly philosophical one. The Japanese people value qualities such as honour, perseverance, and selflessness. As such, kindness is generally expected out of a Japanese individual. Leaving a tip may make someone feel as if their efforts are not appreciated. When at a restaurant, it would be better for you to keep that money to yourself.
A helpful travel tip for any country is to consider bringing toilet paper or tissues with you in your pocket or purse. While most of the public restrooms in malls and train stations do have toilet paper in Japan, it might not be available at all world heritage sites and tourist attractions due to the high volume of visitors. Considering that sites such as Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto attract over 2.7 million pilgrims per year, you want to be prepared. If you do come across anyone handing out little packets of tissues, you should certainly take advantage of it and keep them handy.
Use Chopsticks for Your Own Food
While this might seem like an odd piece of advice, it is necessary. Passing food to someone with chopsticks is not something you should do in Japan. The reason being that it reminds onlookers of death. Most bodies are cremated in Japan, as that is the custom. Once the body has gone through the cremation process, family members use chopsticks to pick up large pieces of bone out of the ashes and pass them around from person to person. The bones are then placed into an urn for remembrance. So, unless you’ve embarked on some sort of a sadistic mission of trying to remind everyone around the dining table of the deep, dark oblivion that awaits them at the end of their mortal life, keep your chopsticks to yourself.
Rent Your Very Own Pocket Wi-Fi for Japan
Renting a pocket Wi-Fi in Japan is the most convenient way to have internet access while travelling. There is no need to call your own wireless company and pay outrageous fees for roaming or international charges when rental costs about $10 per day, which is far cheaper than what you would pay if you went through your own wireless company. Just make sure you rent it a couple of weeks in advance to make sure there is one available for you upon arrival.
Understand Some of the Important Customs
Be aware that walking down the street or riding the train while talking on your phone in a loud voice is considered rude when visiting Japan. You should understand that there is a different mindset in Japan than in some other countries. You must contribute to the good of the community rather than only think about the good of yourself. It is also rude to walk down the street while eating. So, if you are carrying food, no matter how hungry you are, you should wait to eat. Also, if you’re feeling a little sick, wear a surgical mask. The Japanese etiquette involves being courteous to others in times of ill health. Therefore, even at the slightest doubt of sickness, wear a mask.
Shoes and socks
If you go into a room with tatami mats, take off your shoes as this is customary. This includes restaurants or any other establishment with tatami mats on the floor. Make sure to bring or wear nice socks, so you are not embarrassed when you have to take off your shoes in most places.
Signs are in English and Japanese in Trains and Subways
This is great news if you are travelling from an English-speaking country and not planning to become fluent in Japanese before your arrival. Most signs in the JR Rail system, trains, or subways in major cities in Japan have an English translation. So, you don’t need to worry about the language barrier when commuting in Tokyo or Osaka. Of course, it is always nice to try and learn some of the Japanese language when communicating with the locals, but it is even better that you won’t have to go too far out of your comfort zone when it comes to communicating.
PRO JAPAN TRAVEL TIP: Foreign travellers have the fabulous opportunity of being able to purchase a Japan Rail Pass at a deeply discounted price reduction on unlimited train travel throughout Japan. Japan Travel passes are available as 7 consecutive days, 14 consecutive days, and 21 consecutive day periods. A Japan Rail Pass is perfect for day trips as well as travel from city to city as well as ferries and buses so definitely consider this for your Japan travel planning.
During Calculated Traveller Mary’s first time travelling to Japan, they were able to plan their itinerary so they could travel from Tokyo to Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, Miyajima, and back to Tokyo all within one 7-day window.
Learn Important Japanese Gestures
Learning some hand gestures will be helpful for first time visitors to Japan. The only place not considered rude to point with your index finger is at your nose when talking about yourself. Pointing at other people or objects can be considered highly offensive.
Another essential hand gesture to know is if you are walking down a busy street and someone puts their hand on their chest similar to what a shark fin would look like. This is their way of politely telling you they are in a hurry and would appreciate it if you let them pass.
Make Sure to Bring Cash When Travelling in Japan
In most places, you are fine if you carry around a credit or debit card but not in Japan. In fact, many places such as convenience stores do not allow you to use credit cards because they don’t have the option. Instead, you should carry cash around with you. Although Japan is a very safe country and has incredibly low rates of crime, be mindful of your cash. Practices such as keeping cash on your person and not showing off your money will go a long way.
Guest author Tiffy, a.k.a. asiatravelbug, is a travel planning freak, an ex-finance manager and currently a digital marketing ninja. Traveling has kept her sane from all the hustles and bustles of corporate life. Despite being a nervous flyer, Tiffy’s wanderlust has led her to visit Japan for 6 times (and counting). Her favourite cities are Kyoto and Tokyo and would choose to visit Japan over Paris in a heartbeat!
Looking for more articles about Japan? Check out:
– Urban Adventures and Cultural Curiosities in Tokyo Japan
– Nine Unique Experiences Found In Japan
– Mountain Views and Shinto Shrines in Miyajima, Japan