I have a deep love for traveling to Japan. It all started when I made friends with a Japanese person during my college years. Since then, I have visited her in Japan a few times and every trip has been wonderful. I have explored Tokyo, Kyoto, Hakone, Nikkie, and Kamakura. Japan is truly a unique place with its own distinct culture that is quite different from the US. It’s important to have a travel guide to help you navigate through these differences. Luckily, my friend was able to show me the ropes during my first visit to Japan. As a result, I have created a comprehensive list of things to know before traveling to Japan: Japan travel guide filled with tips that will help you prepare for your first trip to this amazing country.
Know The Best Time To Go
If you are a first-time traveler to Japan, the ideal seasons to visit are Spring and Fall. During Spring, which is in late March/early April, the Sakura (Cherry Blossom) season is in full bloom. In late November/early December, the Autumn Foliage season is at its peak during Fall. These two seasons are truly mesmerizing in Japan and many travel guides would agree. However, expect to face large crowds during these peak seasons.
Insider Japan travel tip: Summer is too humid in Japan and this Angeleno thinks winter is too cold but perfect for skiers.
10 Things to Know Before Going to Japan
01. Things to Know Before Going to Japan: There’s No Tipping in Japan
If you’re a first-time traveler to Japan, it’s important to remember that tipping is not necessary. In fact, it’s considered rude to do so. Unlike many other countries, you don’t need to tip waiters, waitresses, bellboys, cab drivers, or any other service individuals. Japanese culture values hard work, respect, and dignity, and exceptional service is provided without the expectation of a tip. In many restaurants, payment is made at the front desk on your way out instead of directly to your server. So, when traveling in Japan, it’s best to avoid tipping altogether.
02. Things to Know Before Going to Japan: How to Pay for Things in Japan
This travel guide for Japan will inform you that tipping is not customary in Japan and it is also not appropriate to directly hand over your credit card or cash to the service provider. As a first-time traveler to Japan, you should look for a small tray near the register where you can place your credit card or cash. I have personally made the mistake of trying to hand over my credit card to the salesperson, only to remember to place it on the tray. This travel tip for Japan serves as a reminder to be respectful when paying for things in Japan.
03. Things to Know Before Going to Japan: The Best Form of Payment in Japan
If you are traveling to Japan for the first time, it’s important to note that cash is the preferred form of payment. While most businesses in Tokyo do accept credit cards, small businesses in smaller towns often only accept cash.
04. Things to Know Before Going to Japan: Know How Important Courtesy Is In Japan
When traveling to Japan for the first time, it is common for salespeople to accompany you to the door and hand over your shopping bag. Similarly, it is typical for restaurant chefs to say goodbye and bow continuously until you are out of sight. Don’t be surprised by these cultural customs.
05. Things to Know Before Going to Japan: The Etiquette About Eating or Drinking in Public in Japan
As a first-time traveler to Japan, you should know it is considered rude to eat or drink while walking in public. In fact, most cafes in Japan don’t have to-go cups.
Insider Japan Travel Tip: It’s acceptable to drink or eat around the vending machines.
Hot travel tip: It is acceptable to drink coffee or tea near vending machines.
06. Things to Know Before Going to Japan: There’s No Garbage Cans in Japan
It is noticeable that there are very few garbage cans on the streets of Japan, which can be attributed to two reasons. Firstly, it is for security purposes. Secondly, most people in Japan do not consume food or beverages while walking in public, hence, there is very little or no trash to dispose of. This is an important travel tip to keep in mind while in Japan.
Japan Travel Guide Reminder: Littering is a big offense in Japan.
07. Things to Know Before Going to Japan: How Important Taking Your Shoes Is In Japan
When traveling to Japan for the first time, it’s important to be aware that shoes must be removed before entering a private home. House slippers should be worn while inside. Additionally, it’s customary to take off your shoes at onsens (bath spas), Japanese-style restaurants, and shrines. Look for a straw mat as a sign that shoes must be removed. It can be challenging to take shoes on and off without a seat, so slip-on shoes are recommended. Restrooms at restaurants and onsens have separate slippers, but if you prefer, you can bring your own shoe liners or packable travel slippers. These insider tips can make your first trip to Japan more enjoyable.
08. Things to Know Before Going to Japan: How Safe Japan Is
If you’re traveling to Japan for the first time, it may come as a surprise to see school children riding the subway unaccompanied. I myself was taken aback when I saw a young boy in his school uniform asleep on the subway. However, Japan is renowned for its safety, and it is common for children to take the subway to and from school alone. Adults are present to assist them when boarding and disembarking the train. As expected, a woman sitting next to the sleeping schoolboy woke him up to inform him that his stop was approaching.
09. Things to Know Before Going to Japan: How Important It Is to Form a Line
If you’re planning your first trip to Japan, it’s important to be aware of the local custom of forming lines. Even when using an escalator, there are separate lines for standing and walking. Even during busy periods, people will patiently queue to board the subway. This may be different from what you’re used to if you’ve lived in cities like New York or Boston.
10. Things to Know Before Going to Japan: Heated Toilets in Japan
You may not have expected to find this information in a Japan Travel Guide, but it is one of the highlights of visiting Japan. As a first-time traveler, you will notice that even public restrooms have heated toilets that sometimes play music. If you are jetlagged and unaware of this, it can be quite perplexing. It would be great if the US could adopt this type of technology soon.
Here’s a helpful insider tip for traveling in Japan: Google Translate now has a feature that lets you snap a photo of a sign, menu, poster, or other item, and then the app will translate it for you, serving as a handy guide.
In addition to this Japan Travel Guide, check out 10 Foods to Try in Japan When You’re Vegetarian.
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