12 Things Everyone Should Know Before Traveling to Japan

Visiting a new country with a different culture is always a large undertaking. It can be difficult to navigate language, culture, etiquette, and customs. Japan has its own eccentricities and quirks which can make this confusing or difficult to travelers.

Complete Guide Before Visiting Japan via DepositPhotos

These twelve tips should help you to sail smoothly through some of these issues.

Cash

Japanese Yen Bills and coins photo via Depositphotos
Japanese Yen Bills and coins photo via Depositphotos

Japan has clung to being a ‘cash only’ society for a long time. It has long been known that some shops and restaurants in Japan only accept cash. In recent years there has been an increase in credit cards being accepted in stores, and a number of cashless payment apps have been introduced. However, a lot of these require Japanese residency so for those visiting Japan, cash is still the number one choice. In case you need cash, Currency Exchange are available in most cities and hotels. ATM Machines are also widely available for cash withdrawals.

Pocket Wi-Fi

Big Sky Nation Skyroam Hotspot Pocket WIFI Review
Big Sky Nation Skyroam Hotspot Pocket WIFI Review

When visiting Japan, it is very likely that you will need to use the internet often, perhaps more than usual. Using maps, translation apps, transport planning apps (and the occasional social media photo upload) all use a lot of data and it is likely you will need these services multiple times throughout the day.

The best way to manage this is by renting a pocket wi-fi, a small portable wi-fi that you can carry with you, and connect to whenever necessary. There are a number of companies which offer this service and they can often be collected from the airport or sent to your hotel.

Book your Japan 4G Pocket WiFi

JR Pass

Buy JR Pass photo via Deposit Photos
Buy JR Pass photo via Deposit Photos

The Japan Rail Pass is often considered an essential of visiting Japan. JR (Japan Railways) offers a rail pass that provides free access to JR trains and the shinkansen (bullet train). It is available in blocks of 7 days, 14 days, and 21 days. The true value of the JR Pass comes with travel between cities.

When traveling around Tokyo or around Osaka, the train fares are quite low. But when it comes to traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto or Osaka to Hiroshima, the costs add up quickly. The JR Pass, while seeming expensive at first, often ends up being cheaper than buying the individual tickets for each leg of your journey.

Book your Japan Rail Pass here

Public transport

Shinkansen Bullet Train Tokyo
Shinkansen Bullet Train Tokyo

In Japan, most traveling is done by public transport. Whether this is workers commuting to the office or families on holiday, one of the main modes of transport is train. The public transportation network in Japan has been well-designed and easy to use. This includes the bus, subway, and train networks. While visiting Japan, it is very likely that travel between sightseeing locations will be done by the neat, efficient public transport of Japan.

Walking

Shibuya Station Tokyo
Shibuya Station Tokyo

Something that comes hand-in-hand with the huge amount of public transport travel is the amount of walking. There is often a short walk to or from the train station, if you need to change trains, there may be another short walk and these can start to add up. It is also important to take into consideration the size of the Japanese train stations. The main city stations are enormous, often with connected underground shopping centers and a lot of stairs. Most days that involve sightseeing will also involve a lot of walking.

Train Rules

Autumn scenery along train tracks railroad in Japan via DepositPhotos
Autumn scenery along train tracks railroad in Japan via DepositPhotos

Japan has a number of rules when it comes to public transport, especially the train. This is largely because everyone has to take the train, it can often be crowded, and a few guidelines make the experience easier for everyone. Eating and drinking on the trains is highly frowned upon in Japan. It’s ok to have a drink from a water bottle or eat a mint, but anything that requires more time and could potentially annoy the people around you is best to avoid. This is also true when it comes to noise. It’s important to be quiet on the trains in Japan. This means no phone calls and very quiet conversations when you are with friends or family.

Taxis

Taxi in Tokyo Japan photo via DepositPhotos
Taxi in Tokyo Japan photo via DepositPhotos

If it’s late, you’re tired and just want to get home, you might find yourself taking a taxi. It is easy to hail a taxi in most cities in Japan, but there are some differences. One of the things to keep in mind is to not touch the doors. The doors are automatic and operated by the driver. When the taxi stops, wait and the door will open for you. The same is true when you leave the taxi.

Vegetarianism and Veganism

Raw vegan sushi rolls with vegetables via Depositphotos
Raw vegan sushi rolls with vegetables via Depositphotos

Vegetarianism and veganism have been slow to take hold in Japan and there is still a lot of misunderstanding. If you are vegetarian or vegan, simply asking staff if an item will be suitable might not work. The bases for a lot of Japanese foods are animal-based, even if the final product appears not to be. One of the main culprits is dashi, a soup stock used to give the rich taste in a lot of Japanese foods. It’s often not thought of as an animal product but it does contain fish.

If you are strictly vegetarian or vegan it is important to do some extra research into what foods are and aren’t ok for you to eat or ask more specific questions of staff (Rather than “Is this vegan?”, questions like “Does this have eggs or milk in it?” might be more helpful.)

Food preferences

Miso Ramen photo via Depositphotos
Miso Ramen photo via Depositphotos

We all have our preferences when it comes to food and often restaurants are willing to make adjustments to suit food intolerances, allergies, and preferences. However, in Japan, asking a restaurant to change a meal for you will result in confusion.

It is not common to ask for your food to adjusted and so restaurants, cafes and even fast food places are not used to doing so.

Supermarket vs Convenience store

FamilyMart in Japan via Depositphotos
FamilyMart in Japan via Depositphotos

Everyone has talked about the wonder of Japanese conveniences stores, but an often skipped alternative is the supermarket. In most areas, there will be a supermarket fairly close by, they are often open until midnight and they have everything the convenience store has and more. A lot of people love the instant on-the-go food from convenience stores, the supermarket has the same thing but with more variety. It’s often cheaper also.

Bins

There are almost no public bins in Japan. However, littering is also a huge taboo. So it is important to carry your rubbish with you until you get home or to a train station with a bin. The best way to manage this is by keeping a plastic bag with you that you can use for any rubbish that you accumulate.

Plastic Bags

No Plastic Japan via DepositPhotos
No Plastic Japan via DepositPhotos

As of July 2020, Japan requires a number of retail outlets including supermarkets, conveniences stores, drugstores, and more to charge for plastic bags. This is in an attempt to cut down on plastic wastage in Japan. Stores have been able to set their own prices, but most are around ¥3. It’s not expensive but it can add up so carrying an eco-friendly bag or re-using a previous plastic bag can help avoid searching for coins at every stop.

Visiting Japan often involves a number of surprises and hiccups along the way. Whether it’s navigating transport or arranging food, hopefully, these twelve tips will save you from some of those issues.

Searching for the best Tokyo hotels and affordable flights? Check out our complete list of affordable hotels and resorts via Agoda or you may also see available Airbnb properties in the city.

Want more updates about tourist attractions and exciting activities in Japan? Please follow #TeamOutofTown, on Facebook, and TwitterInstagram, and Pinterest for more travel ideas.

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