When you arrive in Japan, you feel like you’re landing on another planet. Everything is so different from home! But at the same time, Japan still fascinates a lot of people. In fact, millions of people visit Japan every year. A lot of them are a bit lost when they get there because they don’t do proper preparation before going to Japan, so they miss a lot of important information. Planning a trip to Japan? Here are a lot of Japan travel tips, everything you need to know before going to Japan. Your stay will go smoothly 🙂
Visa policy of Japan
One more reason to go to Japan! With a passport from a Western country, you can stay up to 90 days in Japan visa-free! In fact, citizens from the European Union and from several Western countries can stay up to three months in Japan visa-free! You can check here! We’re far from the complicated red tape to go to Turkmenistan… So you can go to Japan without a hitch. Sometimes they ask for an onward ticket at the immigration, but usually they’re not really annoying.
Getting around in Japan
Usually, when you go on vacation in Japan (or if you want to settle down there), you wanna explore the country and visit several cities. Not just Tokyo, but also Hiroshima, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe… The best thing to do to get around in the country is to get a Japan Rail Pass. This pass allows you to take the shinkansen (Japanese high-speed train) as often as you want! Yeah right, you have unlimited access to the shinkansen trains during 7, 14, or 21 days. The pass is costly (as you can see here), but you’ll quickly realize you’ll save money by getting a pass.
Individual train tickets are very expensive! If you wanna check if it’s cheaper to get a Japan Rail Pass than buying individual train tickets, check the Hyperdia website. It will give you the timetable and the exact prices of all single rides. You’ll see by yourself, buyin an individual ticket is very expensive. So don’t hesitate and get a Japan Rail Pass. You need to buy the pass on the internet BEFORE getting to Japan. Go to the website, fill the form, pay, and it will be delivered to you.
If you wanna buy the pass in Japan you can, but it’s a lot more expensive. So buy it before getting there. You’ll need to activate it in a train station when you arrive in Japan. The Japan Rail Pass is valid for foreigners only. I was in Korea when I bought the pass, and I was going to Japan right after. So I bought the pass and gave the address of my hostel in Japan (I asked the manager beforehand). When I got there, my pass was waiting for me!
Taking the shinkansen is a real experience. The trains are always punctual (it changes from our trains…), and before the arrival of the train, the Japanese quietly stand in line one behind the other. It’s beautiful to see, I’m not used to it, people are way too wild in Paris 😀 For your information, the Japan Rail Pass is also available on the Yamamote subway line only in Tokyo. The Yamamote line passes through the main districts of the city. By the way, cycling Japan is also doable!
Basic rules to follow in Japan
There are a lot of rules you need to know before going to Japan, to avoid making a blunder. Here are a few basic rules :
- Don’t tip. Never. It’s considered rude
- Never blow your nose publicly, and please never ever blow your nose with the hand towel they give at the restaurant. You’ll notice the Japanese can sniff for a very long time, which can be unpleasant to hear, but they won’t blow their nose (at least not in public).
- Never drink or eat outside, it’s frowned upon. But you can eat in the train. I only saw one Japanese woman eating outside in a park, and she was hiding in order to not be seen. Sometimes it can be frustrating to not be able to eat outside, but that’s how it is!
- Always take off your shoes when entering someone’s house or the hotel, and put on the toilets slippers when you need to use the toilets.
- Avoid making a phone call but above all talk loudly in public transportation
- You can hold the hand of your soulmate but don’t kiss in the street.
- You have to bow to greet someone. The more you bow, the more you repsect the person.
- When you give or receive a document (business card…), always do it with both hands. And never write on a business card.
- Don’t stick chopsticks into your rice vertically standing up (like Korea it reminds them of joss sticks put in sand bowls during funerals).
No trash bins in Japan
You’ll notice there are no trash bins in the street in Japan. I had a paper I needed to throw away, and I was waiting to spot the next trash bin. Four hours later, not a single trash bin in sight! It’s crazy! How come? Since 1995, and following the Tokyo subway sarin attack, there are no more trash bins in the Japanese streets. Therefore the Japanese take a plastic bag with them for their trash. However you’ll find trash bins in the convenient stores or the toilets in subway stations. There are also trash bins next to the numerous vending machines. However, I still found that there was not enough trash bins in Japan! I wondered several times how Japan could be that clean when trash bins are so scarce outside!
Escalators in Japan
Yeah, even the escalators, we have to talk about it! In France, we tend to stand on the right side if we don’t move, and on the left side if we want to climb the stairs. Each country has its own rule, in some countries we stand on the right side, in others on the left side. What about Japan…? It’s complicated, there’s not a rule specific to the country, but different rules depending on the city. A real conundrum 😀 In Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima, you stand on the left side of the escalator. In Kobe and Osaka, you stand on the right side. If you’re not sure, watch what the locals do and do the same!
Subway in Tokyo
Wanna get around in Tokyo and take the sybway? Get a Suica or a Pasmo card. Those are rechargeable cards, and you’ll be able to use the Tokyo subway. You just have to bip your card before taking the subway. Like Tehran or New Delhi, you’ll see that sometimes there are wagons for women only (I guess they implemented this following lapses from sexually frustrated Japanese). I was quite surprised, the Japanese are known for being nice and docile, however, quite often, they don’t give their seats to the elderly in the bus or in the subway. Otherwise, as I said earlier, avoid talking loudly in public transportation.
Internet in Japan
Unlike Korea where you’ll find available WiFi networks everywhere, it’s almost impossible to log into WiFi outside in Japan. I asked locals why and they said it’s too risky to have open WiFi networks, and for security reasons they almost don’t have any. At the hotel, you’ll have WiFi but outside nope. That means either you’ll have to relearn how to spend the days outside with no internet, or you rent a pocket WiFi.
What’s that, a pocket WiFi? It’s a light connection device, smaller than a smartphone, which serves as a WiFi access point. You can put it in your pocket, in your bag… and connect several devices at the same time (laptop, smartphone, tablet). You can order it on the internet and it will be delivered to you at your hotel in Japan, or pick it up at the airport when you arrive. But unlike numerous blogs, I suggest you not to order it on the internet because the prices are higher and you have to keep it a certain number of days at the minimum.
For instance, if you order it on the internet, the pocket WiFi costs between 7 and 10 euros per day, and you have to keep it a least 5 days in general. Just do what I did, go straight to Japan and rent a pocket WiFi there. I went to this store (the exact localization is at the bottom of the homepage), where you can rent a pocket WiFi. It’s 500 yens (4 euros) per day, with no minimum of rent duration. The offices are on the 5th floor. You’re welcome 🙂
Accommodation in Japan
You’ll have plenty of options when it comes to accommodation in Japan. Of course there are classic hotels, but also hostels which are not mixed. That’s the only country where I saw this, usually there are dorms for men or women only, but not whole hostels for men or women only. I guess they wanna avoid misdemeanors…
Otherwise there are capsule hotels, where you sleep in a capsule, ryokan which are traditional Japanese hotels. If you want to, you can test out a love hotel to sleep although it’s mostly used by the locals to have sex (you can pay per night and even per hour to stay there). You can also try a manga kissa, it’s a tea house where you can read mangas and spend the night on spot. Finally, there are also minshuku, those are Japanese guesthouses.
Safety in Japan
Japan is one of the safest countries in the world, you’ll have no safety problems there. I met a lot of solo travelers, a lot of girls traveling by themselves… Everything went fine! Moreover, there are no scams here, unlike a lot of other countries. For instance, at the Shinjuku train station to go to Mount Fuji, there were two stands to buy your ticket : a “tourist” one and a “local” one. I thought the price was higher at the tourist stand but not at all. Actually there were two stands because the employees of the local one didn’t speak English, but those of the tourist stand did. Smart!
In fact, the only problem linked to safety is a potential earthquake. But the population is very well-prepared and the buildings are perfectly built, to minimize damages. In fact, there are earthquakes daily but we don’t even feel most of them. Are you worried? You can train yourself at Bosaikan, an earthquake simulator in Tokyo. It’s free. For your information, in 1966, an earthquake completely destroyed the city of Tashkent in Uzbekistan. The only building undamaged in the city was built by… the Japanese!
Food in Japan
Japan is the country in the world with the most centenarians, and it’s not a coincidence. The Japanese have a healthy lifestyle, and eat very well! Contrary to what we could think, the Japanese don’t eat sushi that often (at least not as often as us when we go to a Japanese restaurant back home). The ramen is the most common and popular dish. It consists of wheat noodles served in a meat or fish-based broth, sometimes with toppings such as an egg and sliced pork. Really good! We’re not used to do it but you have to slurp your noodles, it means you’re enjoying the food! Regarding ramen, the locals don’t finish their meal, there’s some broth left. So I used to do the same.
Otherwise there are okonomiyaki, mostly savored in Hiroshima and Osaka. It’s a mix between a pizza, a pancake and a Japanese omelet stuffed with various ingredients : meat, cheese, egg, vegetables… There are a lot of other dishes you have to taste in Japan : monjayaki, takoyaki, hitsumabushi, ochazuke which is a rice bowl with raw fish, and you pour green tea on it… You have to try a traditional Japanese breakfast!
You can also buy a bento (home-packed meal) at a konbini (convenient store). As I said earlier, never stick your chopsticks into your rice vertically standing up! Surprisingly, eating in Japan is not that expensive (usually less than 1000 yens, which is 8 euros), however buying alcohol is expensive. Watching the Japanese getting drunk is interesting, they get completely uninhibited because of alcohol 😀 Wanna know more about food in Japan? Here’s a Japanese food guide.
Toilets in Japan
We have to talk about the toilets in Japan! We have our Western toilets, we also know the squat toilets, but what about the Japanese toilets? We all know the Japanese are at the forefront of technology. Even their toilets are futuristic! You have to test ’em out! You sit and there’s a remote control with many functions. Since we don’t which button does what, you have to play with them to find out! There’s a button to adjust the temperature of the toilet seat, another one to activate/desactivate the water jet which will clean your butt, another button to adjust the pressure and the temperature of the water jet, there’s another water to rinse the ladies’ little treasure, another button to adjust the pressure and the temperature of that water jet… Test it out! There are toilets everywhere in Japan, even in the konbini (convenient stores)!
Money in Japan
The currency in Japan is the yen. You need to know that over there, almost all payments and transactions are in cash only, the credit/debit cards are rarely accepted. Get there with your yens because it may be complicated to withdraw money in Japan. Indeed, most ATMs don’t accept foreign credit/debit cards, and sometimes it’s not possible to use them after the sun sets. Regarding the cards, if possible, choose a Visa or an American Express rather than a Mastercard. Mastercard is almost useless in Japan! The best thing to do is to get there with a lot of cash, or exchange some money in Japan but not at the airport, the rates are not good!
Smoking in Japan
I don’t smoke but smoking in Japan is not expensive. A cigarette pack costs about 3 euros. However it’s forbidden to smoke in most public places, and in the street. In fact, there are specific areas outside to smoke. When I think about it, I didn’t see many people smoking freely in the street. You have to go to a smoking area, they’re often next to a crossroad.
When to go to Japan?
Summertime is the rainy season, but also the typhoon season in Japan. Wintertime, it’s freezing in the country. Therefore autumn and spring are the best seasons to visit Japan. It’s up to you, but I’d rather go there springtime. Moreover there’s the cherry blossom at the end of March/early April. However avoid the golden week from the end of April to early May. It’s a holidays week in Japan, and the prices are inflated that week!
Relationship with the Koreans
The Koreans and the Japanese don’t like each other, it’s historical. Korea was a Japanese colony and the Japanese were not very nice with the Koreans. Nowadays, the Koreans keep teasing the Japanese, and vice versa. When I was in Korea, the Koreans kept saying the Japanese have horrible teeth, and the Japanese girls have a weird gait, a “backwards duck” gait. I understood what they meant by “backwards duck” gait when I arrived in Japan and honestly, they weren’t completely wrong. I don’t know why, they really walk like that, maybe they think it’s cute, or they think they look innocent walking this way.
Kit Kat in Japan
Kit Kat is an institution in Japan. To us, it’s just a chocolate bar. Over there, it’s a symbol. In fact, phonetically, Kit Kat is very close to “kitto katsu” which means “you will surely win“, it’s a way to say good luck. The Japanese usually offer their friends Kit Kats as a way to say good luck before an exam for instance, or an important event. Therefore Kit Kat does extremely well in Japan (it’s their biggest market), and there are numerous varieties of Kit Kat in Japan : melon, green tea, cucumber, mustard, strawberry…
More advice for a smooth stay in Japan
- The outlets are the same as the ones in the US. If you’re from the US, fine. If not, don’t forget to buy a travel plug adapter.
- Go to an onsen, it’s a Japanese hot spring. You have to be naked, but men and women are separated. Arima Onsen in Kobe is one of the oldest onsen in Japan. Keep in mind that tattoos are forbidden in an onsen (it’s because in Japan, most tattooed people are part of the Japanese mafia). But sometimes tattoos are tolerated, especially when they see a foreigner with a tattoo.
- There are konbini (convenient stores) everywhere. You’ll see 7-Eleven, Lawson and FamilyMart all over the place in Japan!
- Like China and Korea, the number 4 is a jinx number. It’s linked to death.
- You’ll notice there are vending machines everywhere in the street in Japan! Juice, tea, coffee, cigarettes, ice creams, rice, apples, soup, flowers, hamburgers, crepes, alcohol, anti-pollution masks… There are vending machines everywhere, and you can get anything! From what I heard, it’s in order to save space, and it allows to hire less people.
- A lot of Japanese wear an anti-pollution mask.
- 40% of women and 30% of men have constipation issues. Therefore, you’ll only find in Japan a Coca Cola Plus bottle to help them. It’s a white bottle. From what I understand, the Japanese are probably constipated because they don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, especially in big cities.
- The Japanese don’t speak English very well, they’re shy and they’re scared to speak English because they don’t wanna make mistakes.
- For a reason that escapes me, on their maps, the north is never up. Sometimes on the left, sometimes on the right… It’s a bit disconcerting when you try to find your way.
- Talking about it, their address system is very complicated. I didn’t manage to unravel the mystery…
- The Japanese use a lot of plastic bags. You buy a few things at the convenient store and they almost give you one plastic bag per item.
- For the One Piece fans, there’s a One Piece store in Tokyo called Mugiwara Store in Shibuya, on the 7th floor of the Shibuya Marui mall.
- Spending some time in Japan? Here’s a Japan one-month itinerary!
- Love Japan culture? Here are quotes about Japan! You can also watch these Japanese movies!
All right, I think that’s it! You’re now ready to go to Japan, everything will go smoothly! Don’t hesitate to leave a comment if you have a question. As usual, do not hit the road without a travel insurance! Here are more tips about why you should buy travel insurance.