Things I wish I had known before visiting Japan

Every year, Japan attracts thousands of travelers to visit this beautiful country. But unlike the prejudices, it’s not only Manga-Fans coming. Japan is extremely popular for its culture, its traditional architecture and its magnificent nature. Therefore, Japan attracts a huge variety of target groups. But there are many differences between the Japanese and the Western culture. Because of that, I’ve created a little overview for you about all the things I wish I had known before visiting Japan. 

Japan Facts

  • Includes 6852 Islands
  • The 4th biggest island state in the world by area
  • Worldwide only state with an emperor
  • 126 Million Inhabitants
  • Place 11 of the most populous countries in the world
  • Also called Country of the Rising Sun
  • Country Code +81

Best travel time for Japan

Mild Season

March – May, October + November

Ski Season

December – March

Cherry Blossom Season

End of March – Beginning of May

Bank Holidays in Japan

01.01. New Year

11.02. National Foundation Day

21.03. Vernal Equinox Day (Sakura)

29.04. Showa-Tag

03.05. Constitution Memorial Day

04.05. Greenery Day

05.05. Children’s Day

03.07.Marine Day

11.08. Mountain Day

3rd Monday of September: Respect for the Aged Days

22.09. Autumnal Equinox

2nd Monday of October: Health and Sports Day

03.11. Culture Day

23.11. Labour Thanksgiving-Day

23.12. The Emperor’s Birthday

Important Words

Hello – Konnichiwa

Bye – Sayonara

Thank you – Arigato

Thank you very much – Arigato Gozaimas

Excuse me – Sumimasen

Here – Koko ni

Delicious – Oishi

Fish – Sakana

Yes – Hai

No – ie

Money

Akihabara District Tokyo I Japan I big city I busy streets I Japan
The Akihabara District in Tokyo

Currency

The currency of Japan is the Yen. One Euro equals around 135 Yen and one US-Dollar equals 108,7 Yen. (January 2018)

Withdrawing Money in Japan

Everywhere you can easily find ATMs. (Almost every 7-11 offers one) We didn’t have any problem with withdrawing money during our time in Japan.

Payment with Credit-card

Another of the things I wish I had known before visiting Japan was that in Japan, Cash is king. Many stores don’t even offer the opportunity to pay by card. If you want to pay by credit-card it can actually happen that the cashiers seem a little overstrained.

For instance, when paying my train ticket by credit-card, they accidentally charged me almost 40€ too much. In the end, it took more than a month to get my money back. In order to avoid such a situation better pay with cash.

Prices in Japan

Japan is considered one of the most expensive travel destinations for a reason. Prices for accommodation can be pretty high.

Prices for transport can even be higher than in Central Europe. (In the end, more than 40% of our expenses in Japan only were spent on Transportation.)

Food can be quite affordable in some restaurant chains and convenience stores. Anyway, fruits (besides Bananas) are usually pretty expensive.

Tip

Matsumoto Castle I Japan I Edo I Japan
Castle in Matsumoto

During your trip to Japan, you should refrain from giving tips. In the Japanese Culture giving tips is not common and can even be considered insulting.

Japan Budget & Saving money while traveling Japan

We have spent less than 1000€ per Person for one month in Japan. How we did it and how you can do it as well is written down in my Japan Budget Guide here.

Food in Japan

Magome food I Japan I Sushi I Traditional Japanese Food I Hiking I tsumago I vicki viaja

Yes, it’s true: There is a lot of fish and seafood served in Japan. But even if you are like me and not a real fan of eating those fishy sea dwellers, you don’t have to stay hungry. The Japanese Culture offers a big variety of extremely delicious dishes. By the way, you can find my Top 10 of yummy Japanese Food here.

Eating with Chopsticks

In Japan, it is usual to eat with chopsticks. Sometimes, even the soup. (The solid ingredients are eaten with your chopsticks while the brew gets drunken directly from the bowl afterwards)

In case you have never eaten with chopsticks before, it might take you some days to get used to it. Don’t worry, it’s actually not that difficult. But you can as well ask for a fork 😉

Please note: The chopsticks should never be put upright into the rice as this is just done in a death ritual. So better just lay them on your bowl or on the device which sometimes is offered to hold your chopsticks.

Visa

Magome, Japan I Hiking from Magome to Tsumago I Hiking I Japanese Alps

Another really important point of the things I wish I had known before visiting Japan is the visa. In general, European and US Citizens can enter Japan without a visa for 90 days if you don’t come to work or study. While being inside of the country, you can also extend you stay to 180 days.

Author’s note: Please note that information can change at any time. Please make sure that information is correct by contacting an official source before your trip or applying for your visa. This post is just for general information and I can’t guarantee or be made responsible for any changes or exceptions.

Security in Japan

Japan Geisha District

Japan is considered one of the safest countries in the world.
You don’t have to worry much about pickpockets etc. (Anyway, you should have an eye on your valuables the same way as in any other country)

Tattoos in Japan

Tattoos in Japan are often connected to the  Yakuza Gang. In the everyday life, your tattoos won’t probably matter much. But if you are planning to visit an Onsen having tattoos can lead to problems and people with tattoos are often denied entry. If you have a small tattoo you can usually cover it with a band-aid.

For that reason, during our trip to Japan, my partner Eduardo had to visit the Onsen without me. (They are separated by gender anyway)

Infrastructure

Geisha District Kyoto I Japan I Traditional Japanese

The Infrastructure of Japan is really good and even better than in some Western countries. Probably every place of touristic interest can be accessed by train, bus, airplane, boat or other public transportation. Hospitals in Japan, usually, offer highest standards and technic.

Buses in Japan

Kinkakuji Temple I Kyoto I Japan I Japanese Architecture

In order to get from one place to another in Japan, the cheapest option is usually the bus.

In general, the buses have a good quality and there is enough space for everyone. (It also depends on the company you choose, of course)

If you chose to take the bus often throughout Japan, you might want to consider getting the so-called Willer Bus Pass. Just get all the information on their website here.

Trains in Japan

The same as for the buses goes for trains in Japan as well, by the way. They are usually clean, comfortable and safe. The only difference is that trains normally are much more expensive than buses.

If you are planning on traveling frequently by train you should consider whether a JR-Pass is worth it. Get information about the JR-Pass on their website here.

If you want to know more about riding a train in Japan and how the Japanese train system works be sure to also check out this post by footsteps of a dreamer.

Metro in Japan

I guess everyone has seen one of these videos on TV before: A totally overcrowded subway in Japan.

But if you are going outside of rush-hour it actually is not even that full inside of the metro.

The much bigger problem when taking the metro, especially in Tokyo, is to find the correct track. Particularly in Shibuya, it was super difficult for us to find the right line.

The problem: Almost every line belongs to another company. Therefore, you also have to buy another ticket for each line. If you are staying some days in Tokyo, it is probably worth it being a Suica-Card, with which you get access to all lines.

However, different lines can be quite far away from each other and make you walk a lot. Sometimes, you even have to change the building.

Where are all the trash cans?

While walking through the streets of Japan you will probably realize that everything is extremely clean. Mostly nowhere you can find waste on the ground.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to find any trash cans. Unbelievable! The locals of Japan are just used to carry their trash with them until they have found a trash can where they can throw it in.

Pssst… Often, you can get rid of your waste in one of the many convenience stores.

How do Japanese toilets work

Understanding Japanese Toilets I How does a Japanese Toilet work I japan

Japanese Toilets seem to be a science in itself when you use them for the first time. But trust me, after getting used to it you don’t want to go back to normal Western toilets.

There are different functions which can differ depending on brand and model.

The main functions that the average Western toilet doesn’t offer are the shower function, the Bidet-Function and the Music-Function. In public toilets, you can often find pictures like the one above explaining how to use those different functions of the toilet.

Anyway, the best function for me is the heated toilet seat! 😉

Please take off your shoes

Magome Yukata I Japanese dress I How to dress in Japan

If you get invited to visit someone at home, always take off your shoes at the entrance! If you enter someone’s house or flat with your shoes on, it can be seen as unpolite.

The same goes for some accommodation. If you are not sure, better ask before entering.

By the way, after taking off your shoes, the tip of them should be showing to the entrance. But don’t worry, I’m pretty sure no one is gonna get upset if you forget this one 😉

And what is the deal with the masks that everyone is wearing?

In Japan, you can see a lot of people walking around with those surgery maks. Especially, in public transport, such as metro and bus there are a lot of locals wearing these masks. I actually always thought that they are wearing them in order not to get sick. But actually, it is the opposite.

If you are not feeling well or have a cold, usually you put on such a mask in order not to infect others. How nice is that?!

Therefore, if you are sick you might wanna put on a mask as well when using public transport to show your respect to the locals. You can buy them in one of many convenience stores.

Communication in Japan

Shinjuku Tokyo I Food Market Japan I Japanese Food

The communication with locals can sometimes be pretty difficult as the English-Level in Japan is quite low. Many Japanese don’t speak or understand English.

So, it might be a good idea bringing a dictionary/ Translation-App with you or learn some words/ sentences in advance.

However, some Japanese actually just avoid talking to foreigners, even though they speak English because they are afraid of making mistakes. 

Quiet, please!

Since I am living in Spain, I realized how loud people in some countries can be. But in Japan, this is really different. Japanese are usually pretty quiet, especially when using public transport. Therefore, refrain from loud conversations when being in public in order to show your respect to the locals.

A little bit of respect

In the Japanese culture, Respect is an important part. Therefore, the Japanese are not only respectful but also extremely nice. Sometimes even too nice. 

An example: In the Metro, we asked a man whether we were at the correct track. But besides just telling us that we were on the wrong track he not only accompanied us to the correct one but also bought us two bottles of water from the vending machine on the way since it was a hot day.

Therefore, you should also always show a lot of respect while being inside of the country or talking to a Japanese.

Sometimes, there is even too much respect. Some restaurants try to avoid having foreigners coming since they are afraid of uncomfortable situations due to misunderstandings.

For instance, while being in Tokyo, we tried to enter a bar with one of our friends that is living in Japan once in a while (therefore, he speaks fluently Japanese) the staff tried to explain to us that we couldn’t enter. But when our friend asked in Japanese about the problem, suddenly there was a free table for us. (When walking through the restaurant, we actually realized that almost half of the tables were empty)

Smacking is not necessarily bad

From an early age on, my parents taught me to eat as quiet as possible, not to do any noises while eating and especially not smack.

Anyway, in Japan smacking is completely normal. It can even be seen as a compliment to show that the food is good. 

The only problem may occur if you bring your newly learned Japanese smacking habits back to the Western world. 😉

Internet and Sim-Card in Japan

You can buy sim-cards in any city throughout Japan. There are several companies and with a variety of offers. If you want to buy a sim-card it might be the easiest to check with someone in a shop which sim-cards fits best to your needs.

In case, you just need an internet connection, there are also other options. One of them is a portable wifi-device.

Another option is to just use the free wifi which is offered nearly everywhere around the town. In almost every convenience store, you can find free wifi. Even many Metros, Restaurants and of course accommodations offer free wifi.

Just download the free App Japan Connected Free Wifi in order to connect to Wifi faster and easier.

Things I wish I had known before traveling to Japan

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About me

Vicki

Hi, my name is Vicki. Here you can accompany my boyfriend Eduardo and me on our way through different countries of this world. Let's travel together!

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14 thoughts on Things I wish I had known before visiting Japan

  1. I’ve been to Japan twice. The first one was kind of shouldered by my bestfriend and her husband so I didn’t really feel how expensive it was. The second one was as a part of a press trip. I’m returning again this year so i guess I have to save more moolah lol 😀

  2. Awesome article girl! I live in Japan so I love reading Japan related posts <3 Yes it's baffling at first that there is no trash cans on the street. The fancy toilets and face masks take getting used to too! About the face masks though, people wear it for both reasons. Not to get others sick AND prevention from getting sick if it is influenza season!

  3. This is a really comprehensive guide, which is great because Japan can be so overwhelming for a first-time visitor! I lived in Japan for a year, and it was because of this that when I got a tattoo I deliberately had it somewhere that it could be covered by a swimsuit, in case I ever went back!

    • Haha I should have done it like that. But when I got my tattoos I never thought I would ever go to Japan (Nor did I even know about the rules they have there regarding tattoos haha)

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