Welcome to Japan, fellow travellers! If it’s your first time exploring this incredible country, we’ve got your back. After reading this blog, you’ll be well-prepared to embrace and respect the fascinating Japanese culture. Let’s dive into the do’s and don’ts of Japan, so you can fully enjoy your adventure. First, let’s tackle the do’s!
1. Get an IC Train Card for Stress-Free Travel
Buying an IC train card might seem like a no-brainer, but trust us, it’s a game-changer. For just 500 yen, you can snag one at any station. Set it to English at a ticket machine, and you’re good to go. Load your card with some cash, and you’ll never have to fuss over buying individual tickets or calculating fares. Swipe your card, and those gates swing open like magic. No more losing those tiny tickets – just keep the card in your wallet and breeze through Japan’s metro and train system.
2. Learn Basic Japanese Phrases
Speaking a bit of Japanese goes a long way. While many locals are eager to assist, not everyone speaks English fluently. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; they appreciate your effort. Start with these handy phrases:
- “Sumimasen” (Excuse me/Sorry)
- “Konnichiwa” (Hello, after morning)
- “Ohayo-gozaimasu” (Good morning, in the morning)
- “Hai” (Yes) and “Iie” (No)
- “Arigato” (Thank you)
- “O-negai shimasu” (Please)
Practice these with a partner, and you’ll find it much easier to communicate and connect with locals.
3. Embrace the Art of Bowing
Bowing is a sign of respect in Japan, so embrace it wholeheartedly. When someone bows to you, bow back even deeper. It’s customary to keep bowing until you pass each other. Bow to everyone except children, as you don’t bow to kids when you’re older.
4. Slurp Your Food (Without Burping!)
Here’s a fun one – slurping your noodles is not only acceptable but appreciated in Japan. It shows you’re enjoying the meal. Just remember not to burp afterward; that’s considered rude. Before eating, you can also express gratitude by saying “Itadakimasu” with your hands together in front of your chest – a sign of utmost respect. And don’t shy away from using chopsticks; the effort is highly appreciated by locals.
5. Bring a Book for Train Rides
Reading on trains and metros is perfectly normal in Japan. It’s a great way to enjoy some quiet time and blend in with the locals. Take it a step further – pick up a manga and read it on the train. People will admire your effort to immerse yourself in Japanese culture.
6. Always Have Cash on Hand
Cash is king in Japan. While many places do accept cards, you’ll encounter situations where cash is essential. ATMs are widespread, so get some yen before your day trips. A tip: withdraw 10,000 yen (around $76) per transaction for convenience. You can easily find 1,000 yen bundles at 7/11 stores for smaller transactions.
7. Wear a Mask in Crowded Spaces
Even though Covid may have eased elsewhere, Japan still values mask-wearing in crowded areas. It’s a small inconvenience for a traveller and shows respect for local customs. Plus, you’ll notice that the majority of locals still wear masks.
8. Cover Up Tattoos If Possible
While younger generations are more open-minded, many older Japanese still associate tattoos with the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia. If you have tattoos, consider covering them up, especially when visiting hot springs. Some places accept tattoos, but it’s best to check ahead. You can even use “tattoo stickers” to hide them without a hitch.
9. Invest in Pocket Wi-Fi or a SIM Card
Getting around in a foreign land without internet is like navigating a maze blindfolded. Japan’s free public Wi-Fi is limited, so grab a prepaid SIM card or pocket Wi-Fi rental. You can purchase them at the airport or order in advance for pickup at your hotel. It’s a traveler’s essential tool.
10. Immerse Yourself in Japanese Culture
Experience Japan to the fullest! Visit beautiful parks, sing your heart out at karaoke bars (even if you can’t carry a tune), and savour every moment.
Now, let’s shift gears and explore the don’ts – essential tips to avoid cultural missteps.
1. Don’t Leave Tips
In Japan, tipping is considered rude. Workers are well-compensated, so your words of appreciation and a bow mean more than leaving cash behind.
2. Keep Your Phone Quiet on Public Transport
Public transport in Japan is eerily quiet. Even headphones at normal volumes can disturb fellow passengers. Switch to quiet mode, read a book, or enjoy the creative ads on display.
3. Dress Appropriately
Avoid revealing necklines and opt for more modest clothing. When visiting temples, dress respectfully. Trying on a kimono is not only stylish but also a sign of respect for Japanese culture.
4. Don’t walk on the Right Side
In Japan, pedestrians keep to the left side of the road. It might feel strange if you’re from Europe, but it’s best to adapt. In crowded cities, flexibility is key, so don’t sweat it if you make a mistake.
5. Don’t Open Taxi Doors
When taking a taxi, let the driver handle the doors. Trying to open them yourself can be awkward – they have buttons for that!
6. Don’t walk with shoes inside of a house
Many Japanese households use special slippers indoors. If you see a pile of shoes at the entrance, it’s customary to take off your shoes and use the provided slippers. Be extra careful if you encounter Tatami mats; shoes can easily damage them.
7. Don’t Litter
Japan takes pride in its clean streets. Carry your trash with you until you find a suitable disposal point, like a convenience store. Consider packing a plastic bag to keep your trash separate from your belongings.
8. Be Punctual
Japanese people are punctual, and being on time means arriving early. Plan your travels accordingly, and if using Google Maps, follow its recommendations for train cars and transfers.
9. Don’t Touch Strangers
Respect personal space in Japan. Instead of touching someone, excuse yourself and maintain a reasonable distance when asking a question.
10. Don’t Walk and Eat/Drink
Eating or drinking while walking is considered rude in Japan. Take your time and enjoy your snacks or beverages in a designated area.
11. Mind Your Chopsticks
Show respect when using chopsticks. Avoid sticking them straight into a bowl of rice or setting them directly on the table, as this is considered disrespectful. Rest them on top of your plate or bowl between bites.
12. Don’t J-Walk
In Japan, people strictly obey traffic rules. Wait for the light to turn before crossing the road; it’s a cultural norm.
With these tips in mind, you’re ready for an unforgettable journey in Japan. Avoid common tourist pitfalls, respect local customs