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Himeji Castle in Himeji! Photo credit: Liêm Phó Nhòm at Flickr.com.

Tips for Visiting Japan

Are you planning to visit Japan for the first time in your life? Visiting Japan soon and have no idea what to do now? Are you worried about how to deal with Japanese culture while traveling across the country?

If you are then you must need to know some very useful travel guides to Japan. As you will be visiting Japan for the first time, you seem to me a little bit nervous but at the same time excited.

Here, you will experience a lot things that seem to you unexpected in some ways. You will be traveling in a country where its culture and your culture are completely different. You have to be familiar with the Japanese culture, manner, customs, etiquette and other things.

It is time for you to turn your anxiety into a state of enjoying the trip fully. I don’t know where to start from because lots of things are coming into my head, but I would definitely bring out the most important ones that you must pay attention to. All the things I am going to publish here are the must know things before you visit Japan.

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Here is your JR PASS!
  1. The very first tip about visiting Japan is the Japan Rail Pass. JR Pass is kind of your train ticket which is very economic and offers you extensive train ride including super fast bullet train throughout Japan. Please note that, taxi fare is very expensive in Japan, therefore, JR Pass is the only way to cut your travel expense. In fact, it lets you explore the scenic beauty of Japan by train.
  2. Bow as many as time you want. In Japanese culture, it is a form of greeting someone you meet. You can bow while saying “Hello, Thank you, Excuse me, I am sorry and Have a nice day.” It is a must thing to do while meeting elders. Therefore, try to practice it at home and please don’t just forget it.
  3. I always suggest to learn some very useful Japanese phrases and words to those who ask me for travel guides. It will comfort you to communicate with Japanese especially when you order food at restaurants, when you seek information from public, when meeting with locals, when buying souvenirs. Learn some basic Japanese phrases here. There is a good Japanese learning book that could teach you how to learn Japanese easily in a short time. Find it here.
  4. Buy a Japan travel guide, Pocket WiFi, and a Map of a particular city where you are supposed to roam around. These three important travel accessories could save your time when you are to find popular tourist attractions, train station, subway, hotels, restaurants, bars, shops, and many more.
  5. In traditional Japanese culture, locals hardly wear shoes inside home. It means you have to take off your shoes before entering any Japanese houses. It is a kind of custom you must obey. Footwear is strictly prohibited in ryokan (Japanese inn), temples & shrines and even in some hotels around Japan. And when you see tatami mat on a floor, you must take off your shoes immediately.
  6. It is better when you don’t use your Mobile phone on a running train. In some hotels, restaurants, and coffee shops use of mobile phone is strictly prohibited. Even if you have to make a call or receive a call just get out of that place for a moment and then answer the phone or make a phone call. And don’t speak very loudly over phone in public.

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    Hot Spring Bath (Onsen)
  7. There are some rules of etiquette when you decide to go to Onsen (Japanese Hot Spring Baths). There, you have to take your shoes off and please don’t go to the wrong change room. Be aware of this! Before you go to hot spring you have to take a shower to clean your body up. And, put the towel on your head during the time you enjoy your hot spring bath. There is a book called Etiquette Guide to Japan: Know the Rules that Make the Difference. I want you to read this before you go to Japan.
  8. I assume that some of you may use and hold Chopsticks though there is some important chopsticks etiquette that you should know. For example, Japanese people never ever pull any dishes with chopsticks, they don’t make sound hitting a bowl, they don’t point them to someone else and etc. If you don’t know how to eat with chopsticks then, you better start learning it. However, if you don’t care about it then you ask for a spoon to the waiter/waitress in a restaurant.
  9. In Japan, people walk on the left side unless there are signs telling you to walk on the right, and drive their vehicles on the left side as well. Unlike many other countries where people drive on the right side, people here drive car on the left side and please note that – that’s the correct side of driving any vehicles here. I hope you won’t drive a car driving it on the right side and break the traffic rule.
  10. You are suggested not to tip anyone here in Japan. People here see it negatively. Tipping is considered to be impolite in Japanese culture. Therefore don’t you ever try to tip any waiter or waitress. They are just happy to serving you, that’s it.
  11. Smoking in a public area is strictly prohibited. You can’t do it when there are people around you. When you have to smoke, go to a place where smoking is permitted. Some hotels, restaurants and public trains have designated area for smoking.

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    Traditional Japanese Style Toilet
  12. The traditional style Japanese toilet could scary you a bit unless you have never used that before. You don’t sit on it, rather you squat over it. Japanese public toilet is like this! And you may not find western style toilet in some places. Though, some Japanese toilets have many interesting buttons which might be very complex to you!
  13. It is impolite taking picture of something where photography is not permitted. So always be careful of it and take photos of any objects where it is permitted.
  14. It is not impolite make slurping sounds of eating noodles. You can do it and don’t get crazy seeing people do it around you at a restaurant.
  15. Japanese people seem to you very calm; indeed they are and please don’t listen to music loudly or shout loudly and make them think you an impolite person.
  16. Don’t bite or clean your fingernails in front of others. If you do that you would kill your own modesty.
  17. Most of the Japanese ATM machines don’t accept international Credit or Debit cards except few though. So, you have got to come here with a lot of cash as a result you don’t run out of it.
  18. You can rent a Pocket Wi-Fi device with you during the time you travel around Japan. It keeps you stay online wherever you go. And free Wi-Fi internet facility is given to the public at train station, airport, hotel and restaurants. Often they don’t seem reliable.
  19. You have to buy a travel adapter in case you need it for charging your phone, laptop, and tablet or else in urban areas of Japan. Usually, Japanese electrical outlets are 2-prolonged and if you have a 3 device with a 3-prolonged plug then you have to rely on an adapter. But most hotels in Japan provide what you need regarding this matter, so don’t worry at all. You can buy a Japan travel adapter here.

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    Yasumitenjin Shrine Torii Gate.
  20. Temples & Shrines are calm and sacred places. Don’t speak loudly there and make too noise, take your shoes off before entering to these and if you see an offering box there then put one or two coins in it.
  21. Visiting Japan in spring and autumn seasons are great, though summer and winter seasons offer a lot of interesting things to experience. Though, the weather in summer and winter could badly hurt you. Especially, in recent years temperature looks pretty bad during the summer months. When it rains, it rains a lot and could stop you traveling around. So, you always check the weather forecast before you pay a visit to a certain attraction.
  22. You don’t have to wear Kimono or Yukata at the time you visit some places around Japan. Just wear your usual costumes. Though, it will be great if you try wearing light Yukata during any summer festivals.
  23. You have to pack things lightly as much as possible. You don’t have to bring many costumes. In fact, you could buy costumes/dresses here in Japan. So, why to make your luggage heavier?
  24. When you go out for sightseeing from the hotel you stay overnight, be sure to write down its address both in English and Japanese (if possible). Who knows you might get lost on the way back to your hotel! If that happens, just show this to someone so that they could direct you to the right way to find your hotel.
  25. Rail Stations get crowded during the morning and evening hours. Stay out of it if possible. Even if you have to travel at that time, be sure to focus on the train you are supposed to catch. Just don’t miss your train or take the wrong train. Stay focused!
  26. Your mobile phone set might not work in the land of the rising sun. And it usually happens to everyone when they first travel to Japan. So, I am suggesting you to buy or rent a smart phone set with Japanese SIM card. It will make your trip much easier. Buy smart phone and SIM Card that support in Japan here.

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    Seiza at Ryokan.
  27. When you visit a ryokan or Japanese house you are supposed to sit in seiza. It literally means correct sitting style. You must first be kneeling on the floor and sit on your heels. Japanese people sitting like this rather than sitting on chair.
  28. Buy Prepaid IC Cards to make payment at shops, restaurants and vending machines. IC cards and rechargeable card, so called prepaid travel card in Japan. There are many type of IC cards and among them PASMO, SUICA, ICOCA, KITACA, TOICA are the most popular. You can buy IC Cards at ticket counters and ticket machines at the designated railway stations all over Japan. PASMO card is very useful in case you take the service of Tokyo subway! Remember, your JAPAN RAIL PASS won’t let you take the service of Tokyo subway. So, you rely on PASMO card.
  29. If you are to come here in Japan to see Cherry Blossoms or Autumn Foliage then you would have to make a hotel reservation in advance. A lot of visitors visit Japan during that time of the year so before that period arrive most of the hotel room get booked. Don’t be late if you don’t want to hear or see this “no reservation.”
  30. When you decide to eat with your Japanese friends or co-workers then before eating say “Itadakimasu” and say “Gochisosama deshita” after eating your meal. I teach you other two words which can be used: 1) Kampai – Cheers and 2) Oishii – Delicious.
  31. You can carry a box of tissue or hand towel when you for an outdoor sightseeing spot. You simply don’t need them in hotel or restaurant. But in case you are adventures and want to hike the Mount Fuji, Mt. Takao then you must have these with you on the trip.

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    A foreign visitor wearing Yukata with two Japanese women.
  32. If you are visiting Japan in the winter, you must bring jacket, sweater, hand gloves and winter hat. On the other hand, if you are visiting Japan in the summer, make sure you wear light costumes, and carry an umbrella and a hand fan. Learn, how to survive Japanese summer.
  33. Learn few Japanese language and gestures. Pick up the important ones and apply them when you need one of those. You can learn some here.
  34. Exchanging visiting card is a common thing while meeting someone officially in Japan. To do so, you stand up bowing slightly, and holding it with your fingertips with both hands toward the one you want to give a card. Make sure that the card is clean with no dog-eared corner. When you are to receive a card from someone receive it your both hands and bow and then read and examine it carefully. It shows that you are serious and the card is important to you. Learn more.
  35. When you go somewhere else to experience something for free and if you see donation box there then donate some money. 100-200 Yen would be perfect!
  36. Write down two emergency numbers of Japan quickly please. For Police service: 110 and for ambulance & fire service 119.
  37. Finally, I would like to remind you one thing which in fact it is very important. Check out if you need a tourist visa. If you do need a tourist visa then apply immediately.

I assume I have covered all the things that what a first time Japan visitors need to know. Hopefully, all worries and anxieties of yours have gone by now. How do you feel now? I think you feel great, no way! These Japan travel tips are published because you really need to know them before visiting Japan. I am done here and now it is your turn to accomplish them all. I have published an article based on the problems you could face while traveling in Japan. You can read it here. Good luck!