Tips For Visiting Japan For The First Time
One of the smartest moves you can make before visiting Japan is to research the culture. Japan, though modern, has distinct, and perhaps surprising, customs regarding cleanliness, etiquette, and general behavior, and knowing these will make you a good visitor.
Keep It Clean
Nn Japan, health, hygiene, and cleanliness are taken very seriously. Visitors quickly notice that many Japanese wear surgical masks when in public. This is done not simply to avoid catching a cold, but also to prevent the wearer from spreading an illness to fellow citizens. In a country where calling in sick to work is rare, masks are a sign of common courtesy. You can find these masks at any convenience store. It is also wise to arrange medical transport in advance via MedjetAssist should you fall more seriously ill.
Another hygiene topic of interest to Westerners is the Japanese toilet. These come in two designs: a deluxe electronic version and a hole in the floor. The modern version, which typically has heated seats and other luxuries, is widely available at hotels and restaurants. Buttons with pictures will help you use these toilets. If using a public toilet, however, expect to find a hole in the floor, and be aware that you should bring toilet paper with you, as it is unlikely to be available in most bathrooms.
Mind Your Manners
Japan is known for being a very polite place, so familiarize yourself with the basics. Some customs, such as smiling and bowing to greet or thank a person, are well known. Lesser known customs include speaking in a quiet voice, even in public. Foreigners are stereotyped by the Japanese as being loud, so maintaining a quiet demeanor will make a good impression. In the same vein, know that it is considered boorish to eat while walking on the street and coarse to speak on a cell phone in public.
It is also customary not to tip for service, and offering one is insulting to many Japanese. In a place where doing a good job is already the expectation, tips are considered tasteless and unnecessary incentives. Many Japanese don’t expect foreigners to know this custom, however, so don’t worry if you forget and offer someone a tip.
Where Cash — and Trains — Are King
Japan offers more general travel surprises as well. The most important is that cash is king. Don’t expect most businesses, including restaurants and grocery stores, to accept credit cards, and be aware that banks may be hard to find or deal with as a foreigner. Exchanging some cash for yen at the airport is highly recommended.
Traveling by train is also a smart move. Far cheaper and easier to use than cars, trains can get you almost anywhere, and stations are supplied with English signage to help you. Multi-day all-you-can-travel passes are especially popular with tourists. Consider a tour by train during ohanami, or cherry blossom season.
These tips should help you hit the ground running when you get to Japan. Knowing what to expect from the Japanese — and what they expect from you — will help ensure a memorable, enjoyable trip. Whatever your itinerary, be clean, quiet, and polite, bring cash, and go by train, and you’ll have an unforgettable experience.