Things to know before visiting Japan

My sleep is still deprived. Actually, I am typing this at 3:15am. I was walking around Japan last week and now I am back home making a list of the things I noticed on the trip and I probably should’ve been ready for before arriving. There we go:

No Trash

  • Littering in Japan is strictly prohibited. It is not just an official ban but a social behavior, the Japanese never litter, they carry trash around until they find a trash bin, which unlike in other countries they are actually hard to find.
  • When I visited a week ago, I carried a plastic bag in our backpack to keep the trash we were generating during the day. At the end of the day, I got rid of the bag either at any train station or at the apartment we were staying at.

Don’t expect tourists to be welcome everywhere

  • The group I traveled with and I didn’t like the idea of going to the famous restaurants and bars packed with tourists in the area, so we tried to find more authentic spots. To our surprise, we found that many of those places actually serve only Japanese people. Many places decided to stay loyal to the Japanese clientele and don’t introduce ‘loud’ tourist in there business, or they preferred not to deal with translation issues, declined international credit cards and so on…
  • It was a bummer sometimes but we understood their reasons and we could always find another spot where we could hang out and enjoy our evening with the locals.

Not always will you find English speaking staff, so get ready before the time of your trip.

  • It actually surprised me the fact that many tourist places didn’t speak anything other than Japanese. Of course, they don’t have to, but being from Europe I am used to visiting different countries where always the Tourism field staff speaks English also. We found that some place’s second language was Mandarin. I was not expecting small local businesses to speak English, but in many important tourist places, attractions and well-known businesses we couldn’t communicate with the staff. Of course, that is their preference and I respect it, but still surprised me.
  • I would recommend studying the basic structures before traveling to the area, things like where is this? Or how much it costs? Thank you and please. In our case: Thank god for google translate.

You won’t find many available outlets

  • Unlike in the US and Europe, it was really hard to find outlets to recharge our devices during the day. Of course on Temples and monument sites, but we couldn’t even find them in malls, restaurants or even train stations, not even at Starbucks.
  • I hardly recommend always having a portable charger while you are out and about exploring the cities.

Free Wi-fi available in the main cities

  • There were many accessible wifi hotspots especially downtown and around busy areas. Regularly, you only have to register and you can get connected. It’s not the same in less knows areas of the city or while in the underground system.
  • I recommend getting a portable wifi device you can preorder online before arrival and pick up at the airport. It is very economical, but you must make sure it doesn’t have a limit on how many GB you can use. We found ours to be useless the last 3 days of our trip since we ran out.

Carry cash at all times

  • Many places, especially small stores and restaurants don’t take cards. Even at some train stations or at the airport there were cash-only spots. In places like Museums, hotel stays and long-distance trains you will be able to use your credit card, but they may not take it to the little shops around those areas.
  • You can withdraw cash from the atm at 7evelen, and you will only be charged by your local bank.

Dress accordingly

  • It is really rare to find Japanese men or women dressed in a provocative way or in a revealing or ‘sexy’ outfit. They respect their culture and the elderly very much and are more laid back than what we are used to in the US or Europe. They dress more proper and ‘cute’, stylish but always covered and classy.
  • I would suggest we as tourists do the same, not to the point of dressing like them, toning down our outfits a little to make sure we are not offending the locals. For example, what I did was carrying a scarf with me to cover any cleavage while entering temples and sacred areas. *Also, if you can, cover your tattoos in sacred areas.

Public show of affection

  • You won’t see much kissing, hugging and touching from couples in Japan. The most I saw some couples do was holding hands while walking around.
  • Again, do as you see. Don’t start making out with your partner on the streets just because that is okay back in your country. You may be offending the locals with your actions.

Do not stand out / get too much attention

  • Japanese people seem always prepared and calm. Do not run around to enter trains and busses. Do not yell or laugh and speak too loud.
  • Once you visit Japan you will get an idea of how people act and you should imitate it. What could be okay in your home country and within the group you are traveling with, could result in an offense for the locals. Again, do as you see.

Do not expect food alternatives

  • In the US and Europe, we are spoiled with things like 5 different kinds of milk and flour, vegan options, dairy, and gluten-free options… You won’t find the same in Japan. I am lactose intolerant and it was nearly impossible to find a coffee place that had any dairy-free option. The only place I could find almond milk was Starbucks and not every store had it, unfortunately.

Do not expect sushi everywhere

  • Japan’s cuisine is really diverse and one of the best I have ever tried. From Udon noodles to Kobe beef. From grilled baby octopus to matcha sweets. Everything I tried I liked and I am extremely picky. Wandering around their food markets is one of the best experiences you can have with the locals tasting an endless selection of freshly cooked dishes.

Can’t wait for the next posts about spots we visited on this trip. Stay tuned!

 

 

9 thoughts on “Things to know before visiting Japan

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  1. Thanks for the tips. A few comments from my perspective. I completely agree about the cash comment. Most larger restaurants were fine with credit cards, but for the most part we used cash. My family was surprised by how many people spoke English. We didn’t have any real language issues. There was quite a nice exchange as I watched a drug store employee switch between English, Japanese, and Mandarin. That was fun and reminded me of how global and interconnected the world is The point about littering caught my attention. We rarely saw a trash can or a bench (I guess loitering is not encouraged either). As tourists we did lots of touristy things, but we aisle tried to venture off the beaten path and didn’t encounter any issues as tourists. Finally 100% agree about the portable wifi device. We had two for 7 people and it worked out fine.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment. Exactly! We encountered many employees of hotels, tourist attractions and so on that spoke several languages. Where we really found many spots whose employees only spoke Japanese or Japanese and Mandarin only was on the little souvenir stores surrounding every tourist attraction. For us it felt weird that they had located their business there to profit from the tourists but then they didnt spoke English and in some occasions not even the items for sale would be labeled in english. It seems weird but again, if they prefer it that way, its their culture and their business. We as tourist have no saying there.

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  2. As a frequent Japan traveler I can tell you that Japan has made a huge effort to offer some English menus and train its staff. Maybe tourists don’t notice it but 10years ago there wasn’t anything in English and now I see a lot more but I agree some places are still Japanese only. I was surprised to see a restaurant that didn’t allow children in Kyoto last summer, surprised and a little relieved I must say as I was having some quiet time eating.

    Liked by 1 person

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