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 have gone to Tokyo, Kyoto, Hakone, Nikkie, and Kamakura. Japan is a world of its own. Culturally, it’s very different from the US. So there are things to know before going to Japan. My friend was able to guide me through these differences that why I put together this guide to help you know things about Japan that will help you prepare for your trip.
Know The Best Time To Go To Japan
In my opinion, the best time to go to Japan is Sakura (Cherry Blossom) season in late March / early April as well as the Autumn Foliage season in late November / early December. Japan is absolutely breathtaking during these seasons. However, you do have to brave the crowds. 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
1. Know There’s No Tipping in Japan
It’s Japanese culture, it is unnecessary and even considered rude to tip. It’s one of those things to know about Japan so don’t make a faux pas. Unlike many other countries, you don’t tip waiters or waitresses, bellboys, cabs or 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.
2. Know How to Pay for Things in Japan
Never hand over your credit card or cash to the service provider to pay for things. There’s always a small tray near the register that you place your credit card or cash at the store or restaurant. 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.
3. Know The Best Form of Payment in Japan
Cash is the best form of payment in Japan, especially in small towns. Most of the businesses in Tokyo will take credit cards but small businesses in small towns will only accept cash.
4. Know How Important Courtesy Is In 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 you out of the restaurant and keep bowing until you are out of sight.
5. Know The Ettiques About Eating or Drinking in Public in Japan
It is considered rude to eat or drink while walking in public. In fact, most cafes don’t have to-go cups. It’s acceptable to drink or eat around the vending machines.
6. Know There’s No Garbage Cans in Japan
There’s hardly any garbage or trash cans in Japan. One reason is for security. Another reason is the above tip. Most people don’t drink or eat while walking in public so there is no trash to throw away. Keep in mind: Littering is a big offense in Japan.
7. Know How Important Taking Your Shoes Is In Japan
Shoes must be removed before entering a private home and then you wear house slippers. There is a separate slipper for bathrooms. It’s the same with onsens (bath spas). There are restaurants that you will have to take your shoes off when visiting. Normally, those restaurants have a straw mat that’s when you know you will have to take off your shoes. The same goes for most shrines.
I hated wearing the public bathroom slippers that everyone else at the onsen wore. I recommend carrying a shoe liner with you. 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 vs knot tie sneakers.
8. Know How Safe Japan Is
Don’t be surprised to see school children riding the subway by themselves. I freaked out when I saw this little boy (maybe 7 years) in school uniform on the subway by himself who had fallen asleep. My friend assured me that Japan is so safe that children often ride by themselves to and from school. Adults (strangers) help them on and off. Sure enough, an elderly woman next to the schoolboy woke him up to tell him his stop is next.
9. Know In Japan How Important Forming a Line
Forming a line is an art form in Japan and they take it super seriously. Even when getting on an escalator. There’s a line if you want to stand and a line if you want to walk up on the escalator. Even during rush, people will form lines to get on the subway, which is very unusual to see if you’ve ever lived in NYC.
10. Know About Heated Toilets in Japan
This is one of the best parts of Japan. 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. But I wish they would bring that kind of toilets to the US soon.
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.
If you’re vegetarian and going to Japan, check out 10 Foods to Try in Japan When You’re Vegetarian.
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