This blog post “Top 10 Things to Know Before Traveling to Japan” was originally published on February 20, 2020, and updated on August 17, 2020.
I love traveling to Japan. One of my good friends from college is Japanse so I have been obsessed with Japan since then. I have visited her in Japan a couple of times since then and loved those trips. I traveled to Tokyo, Kyoto, Hakone, Nikkie, and Kamakura. Japan is a world of its own. Culturally, it’s very different from the US and you will need a travel guide. So there are things to know before traveling to Japan. My friend was able to guide me through these differences as a first-time traveler to Japan. That is why I put together this Japan travel guide filled with tips to help you prepare for your trip as a first-time traveler to Japan.
Know The Best Time To Go
As a first-time traveler to Japan, the best time to travel to Japan are Spring and Fall. The reason to travel to Japan during is spring is Sakura (Cherry Blossom) season in late March / early April. The to travel to Japan in fall is the Autumn Foliage season in late November / early December. Japan is absolutely breathtaking during these two seasons and every Jpan Travel Guide will tell you the same thing. However, you do have to brave the crowds.
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
As a first-time traveler to Japan, you should know, it is not necessary to tip while you travel to Japan. This is the number one Japan travel tip to remember since it is considered rude to tip. Unlike many other countries, you don’t tip waiters or waitresses, you don’t tip the bellboys, you don’t tip the cab drivers and you don’t tip any other service individuals. Japanse culture is deeply rooted in hard work, respect, and dignity. They believe you should provide exceptional service without the expectation of a tip. That’s why payment at many restaurants is done at the front desk on your way instead of paying the waiter or waitress at your table. So, this Japan Travel Guide reminds you not to tip while you travel in Japan!
02. Things to Know Before Going to Japan: How to Pay for Things in Japan
This Japan Travel Guide will let you know not only you don’t tip in Japan but you never 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 place your credit card or cash. I can’t tell you how many times I took out my credit card to give to the salesperson then remember to put it on the tray. This Japan Travel Tip reminds you to know how to pay for things in Japan respectfully.
03. Things to Know Before Going to Japan: The Best Form of Payment in Japan
As a first-time traveler to Japan, you should know cash is the best form of payment in Japan. Most of the businesses in Tokyo will take credit cards. However, when you travel to the smaller towns the small businesses only accept cash.
04. Things to Know Before Going to Japan: Know How Important Courtesy Is In Japan
As a first-time traveler to Japan, don’t be surprised if the salesperson will walk you to the door then handover your shopping bag! Don’t be surprised if the chef of the restaurant will greet goodbye you while exiting the restaurant and keep bowing until you are out of sight.
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.
06. Things to Know Before Going to Japan: There’s No Garbage Cans in Japan
There’s hardly any garbage or trash cans on the streets of Japan. One reason is for security. Another reason is the above Japan travel tip. Most people don’t drink or eat while walking in public so there is no trash to throw away.
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
As a first-time traveler to Japan, you should know shoes must be removed before entering a private home. While you travel to Japan, you wear house slippers indoors only.
Japan Travel Guide reminder: You must also take off your shoes at onsens (bath spas), Japanese style restaurants, or while visiting shrines. As a first-time traveler to Japan, look for a straw mat that’s when you know you will have to take off your shoes.
Insider Japan Travel Tip: I’m not going to lie but this was the hardest thing about Japan for me. You have to take your shoes on and off without a seat so I totally recommend slip-on shoes.
Also, you should know as a first-time traveler to Japan, there are separate slippers for the bathrooms at restaurants and onsens.
Insider Japan Travel Tip: If you are like me and don’t want to wear the bathroom slippers at restaurants provided for the public, carrying a shoe liner with you or a packable travel slippers.
08. Things to Know Before Going to Japan: How Safe Japan Is
As a first-time traveler to Japan, don’t be surprised to see school children riding the subway by themselves. I freaked out when I saw this little boy in school uniform on the subway by himself who had fallen asleep. But Japan is so safe that children often ride the subway by themselves to and from school. Adults guide them on and off the subway. Sure enough, a woman next to the schoolboy woke him up to tell him his stop is next.
09. Things to Know Before Going to Japan: How Important It Is to Form a Line
As a first-time traveler to Japan, you should know forming a line in Japan is taken seriously. Even when getting riding on an escalator, there’s a line if you want to stand while riding the escalator and another line if you want to walk up the escalator. Even during rush, people will form lines to get on the subway. It is so unusual to see if you’ve ever lived in NYC or Boston.
10. Things to Know Before Going to Japan: Heated Toilets in Japan
I bet you never thought you would see this on a Japan Travel Guide but this is one of the best parts of Japan. As a first-time traveler to Japan, you will notice the toilets are heated even the public restrooms. Not only are they heated but they play music too. If you’re jetlagged and you don’t know, it will be super confusing if you haven’t read this Japan Travel Guide. But I wish they would bring that kind of toilets to the US soon.
Japan Travel Insider Tip: Google Translate’s newest feature allows you to take a photo of a sign, menu, poster, etc. then the app will translate the photo for you as a guide.
In addition to this Japan Travel Guide, check out 10 Foods to Try in Japan When You’re Vegetarian.
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