If you are reading this, then you are probably getting ready for an amazing trip to Japan. But before you arrive, checkout these 10 things you should know about Japan! Also, don’t forget to checkout our other post about Japanese Manners For Travel To Japan!
Though Japan is slowly making changes to payment methods in advance of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Japan is overall a very cash-based economy. And by cash, I mean Japanese yen.
This means that most food stalls, outside markets, small mom and pop restaurants, some smaller hotels/motels, temples and shrines, entry fees for tourist attractions, and many stores outside the beaten path, will only take cash. Also, if you want to “recharge” your train/subway cards, the easiest method is to use yen at one of the many “recharge” machines.
So don’t forget to bring some cash to exchange for Japanese yen when you get to Japan. My advice is that you exchange cash for yen once you arrive in Japan, rather than in America (or other country), since you tend to get a bigger “bang for your buck” when you arrive in Japan.
Get a Suica, PASMO, or other IC Card
These cards are extremely useful during your trip to Japan, so be sure to grab one as soon as you arrive at the airport in Japan. These cards are rechargeable cards that you can use to pay for many different things.
For example, you use your card to pay for your train/subway fares, bus fares, vending machines, at convenience stores, shops, and many restaurants. So though you still need Japanese yen to “recharge” these cards, once you recharge them you don’t really need to carry so much cash with you and it makes it easy to pay for things with one tap.
In the past, there were different IC cards for different regions in Japan, but now that distinction has ended. So whether you like the pink and white PASMO or the penguin on the Suica, either one will work just fine.
Don’t Eat And Walk
Most tourist areas in Japan will have various food stalls and shops, so there will be plenty of opportunities to grab some delicious treats on the go. Just don’t eat them on the go! It is considered poor manners to eat and walk in Japan, so grab your favorite treat and find a spot nearby where you can stand/sit and eat.
Carry A Small Trash Bag
Many people traveling to Japan for the first time will notice that there are not very many trash cans around the city, parks, or other tourist areas you may travel to. It is not uncommon that you could walk around for most of the day without seeing a trash can, which means that the bottle of water, bag of chips, or other Japanese food wrappers you eventually eat/drink will go right into your pockets or backpack after you’re finished with them. So try and carry a small bag with you, to allow you to place all of your trash until you can get to a store/restaurant or back to the hotel/room you are staying in. Trust me, trying to carry empty cans in your pockets makes it difficult to sit down!
In America, most people are accustomed to leaving a tip for their waiters, and in some places the gratuity is even included in the bill before you have a chance to think about it. But things are different in Japan, where you do not leave tips.
Most Japanese people believe that providing good service is the minimum, and they see this as part of their normal duties. In fact, their are many stories about people who attempted to leave a tip only to be chased down and be given the money back! So if you are really happy with the service you received, then be sure to say ありがとうございます！
Stand In The Right Spot At Train/Subway Station
When you are in Tokyo, you will inevitably need to ride a train or subway to get where you need to go. But just figuring out where you need to stand on the train platform can become a bit overwhelming. Just take a deep breath, and keep reading.
First, you should know that Japanese train/subway stations have many, many different trains that go in different directions and leave at different times. So to help people figure out exactly where they need to be, the train schedule signs have triangles, circles, and numbers to guide you on where you need to stand.
All you need to do is look for the train you need to take–don’t worry, most train schedule signs in Tokyo display the names in Japanese and English–and then look at what symbol and number is shown for that train. For example, in the sign above you will see that one train will leave at 6:50, and next to that train is a triangle and the number “1-12”. So for the 6:50 train, you need to find the triangle on the ground and stand at any number between 1 through 12.
Here is what the symbols and numbers look like on the train platforms:
So just remember, once you get to the right train platform, find the train time you want to take, look for the symbol, look for the number, and find that symbol and number on the train platform ground. Simple!
And don’t forget to stand behind the yellow line, so you aren’t hit by the train!
Don’t Walk In The Center Of Torii
One of the must-do things when traveling to Japan is visiting a Shinto Shrine, and there are plenty of them—Kyoto has over 1,500! And at the entrance of, or within, the shrines you will find torii—like the Meiji Jingu torii pictured above, which is in Tokyo, Japan. But as you are walking through these gates, don’t walk down the center! Traditionally, the center of the torii is designated to allow “kami” or “gods” to walk through, so it is bad manners if anyone else does that. Sometimes you will even see a small barrier at the center of the torii, which is meant to avoid having tourists walk down the center.
Stand On Any Side Of The Escalator (But Mostly Stand On The Left)
Traditionally Japanese people stand on the left side of the escalator, allowing the right side for people who want to walk up the escalator. This is different than the usual escalator riding etiquette in America, so I am sure most people will make mistakes during their first visit.
However, the East Japan Railway Company–the largest railway company in Japan–launched a campaign recently to get everyone to stand on both sides of the escalator. The results have been mixed, as many people have just become too accustomed to the old way of doing things to want to change it. So to stay on the safe side, don’t forget that people in Tokyo stand on the left side.
Also, if you are also traveling to Osaka, then you have to flip things around a bit. In Osaka, people stand on the right side of the escalator, and walk on the left. Yeah, I know it can get confusing.
Get Your Ticket Before You Go Inside Restaurant
If you made the long trip to Japan, then I’m sure you are excited to try some of the incredible food that you will find there. My go-to foods are ramen, okonomiyaki, and unagi (eel). But at many smaller food shops you will notice vending machines outside of the restaurant and next to the entrance. These vending machines have pictures of all the dishes you can buy inside the restaurant, and you are supposed to purchase a “ticket” for the dish you want to eat before you go inside. Then, once inside, you simply hand your ticket to the staff, and wait for your food to get prepared.
Don’t worry, if you forget your ticket, the staff will simply ask you to go back outside and get one. But now that you know what to do, you can impress folks by not needing to be told what to do. It is called immersion!
Bring A Handkerchief Or Small Hand Towel
As your journeying through the city, eating, drinking, and having fun, you will eventually need to take a quick restroom break. And after you’ve finished your business and washed your hands, you will soon notice a lack of paper towels, or other drying mechanisms, for your hands. Seriously, most restrooms in Japan, even many that are inside malls or stores, don’t have paper towels or hand dryers. Part of this is a result of their efforts to conserve resources, as well as avoid increasing the amount of garbage.
So rather than dry your hands on your jeans, shirt, or blouse, make sure to carry a handkerchief or small hand towel in your bag/backpack. If you don’t have one with you, then just stop-by a 100 yen shop and buy one. They also make really cheap/easy gifts for everyone back home! Just don’t give them a used handkerchief, that is just gross. Haha!
There are definitely plenty more tips for traveling to Japan, so come back and learn more about the places to see, things to do, and food to eat on your next trip to the Land of The Rising Sun.