Look through our ultimate guide of things to know before visiting Japan.
A trip to Japan is usually once in a lifetime occurrence for most people. That is why you should gather as much information as possible since there is a lot to know! From public transportation and itinerary to budget and the most popular tourist attractions, there is some basic stuff that will only make your trip better. So, look through our ultimate guide of things to know before visiting Japan.
When to visit
Even though most countries are the most crowded in the summertime, things are quite different in Japan. Actually, we suggest choosing the months of March to May, and September to November. The country is at its most vibrant state in spring and autumn since this is the time the scenery is painted in white cherry blossoms and vivid red from the autumn leaves.
The charming surroundings are what bring in people during those times, so be prepared for big crowds and tourists. However, November is actually the cheapest month to visit Japan!
Always have cash
Yet another unusual but essential thing to know before visiting Japan is their cash and card policy. Workers are usually paid in cash, and most businesses and services prefer and sometimes accept only cash. While there are definitely places that will take your card, make sure you have enough yen according to your budget and their prices.
We suggest you take care of that before your trip for the best currency balance, but if you find yourself lacking, head to 7-Eleven ATMs while you are there, as they are open 24/7.
Public transportation is the best
Public transportation, especially trains in Japan, is exceptionally well-developed, so it is undoubtedly the best choice for visitors.
One thing that is exceptionally important is the Japan Rail Pass. The pass allows you to save plenty of money on your travels, particularly if you plan on exploring many different cities and regions during your trip. In addition, it gives you access to the Shinkansen, a network of high-speed trains and undoubtedly the most popular option for tourists.
The Japan Railway pass also gives you easy access to JR-branded commute trains, buses, and ferries. We cannot emphasize this enough – the pass can save you as much as double the price you would pay if you bought tickets just before boarding!
Keep in mind that the pass is valid for a certain period of days, depending on how long you plan to visit. It can be a 7, 14, or 21-day allowance, so check your itinerary! Also, while it can only be activated once you enter Japan, you must buy the Railway Pass before setting off on your trip!
Visit all the biggest cities using the railway – there are options for the Nagoya to Yokohama, Sapporo to Kobe, Tokyo to Osaka train, and many, many more!
Learn to say something
While Japanese sounds and looks extremely difficult for first-time visitors, you should still make an effort to learn a few main phrases.
Etiquette is very important to the Japanese, so you should definitely know how to say hello, please, and thank you. This will help you with basic services and will make you look a lot less ignorant compared to tourists who do not bother to look up the necessary mannerisms and expressions. You will also be rewarded with a smile if you at least try!
While the linguistic situation in Japan is not that bad, they are not known to be a very English-speaking country, so the preparations are necessary for your own comfort.
Apart from the niceties, we suggest you also look up and try to pronounce other important phrasings, such as asking for directions, exit, prices, and others. Spell it out phonetically if needed!
Tattoos are taboo
While it seems a bit archaic, tattoos in Japan are considered bad manners, and most importantly, they are associated with the Japanese mafia – the Yakuza. However, since there is really not anything you can do about it except for wearing long-sleeved clothes, you should still be prepared to be asked about having any in certain places.
This is especially important if you plan on visiting hot springs or resorts that are very popular tourist destinations in the country. Then, they are more likely than not to ask you about having any tattoos before entering. As sad as it may be, be prepared that it might cause you to be denied access.
Do not tip in restaurants
This probably sounds a bit weird, right? Well, in Japanese etiquette, it is practically forbidden to leave tips to waiters after eating. Waiters and restaurant staff is paid a full wage, including servicing tips, so they do not expect you to leave anything after a meal. Actually, they are more than likely to run after you and demand you take the money back.
While it is not considered offensive, and the Japanese are quite used to tourists not knowing this bit of information, there is no way the waiters will accept the tip, so do not feel guilty. This is just the way that it works!
Surgical masks are usual
After the COVID-19, the world was already used to surgical masks, but they were a common thing in Japan even before all of it went down.
The Japanese do not wear them in order not to get sick or something. They simply put one on when they are not feeling well and want to avoid even basic flu germs from spreading. The masks are treated as a common sight there, so do not feel unsafe when you see people in the streets with their faces covered. The Japanese also wear them to avoid exposure to pollen!
There you go – the main things you should know before visiting Japan. Some of them might seem highly unusual to you, but this is just their reality and evidence of a very distinctive culture. That being said, you will have to do some heavy research before going – this is not a trip you can plan spontaneously. Besides that, just have fun!