10 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Japan (But Probably Never Expected)

Japan is a country that intrigues many travelers; it’s got a unique culture that is virtually untouched by external influence. Not only is the food diverse and delicious, but the popular spots to visit offer the perfect combination of city life and tranquil experiences in nature. Travelers planning a visit to Japan are in for the trip of a lifetime, but there are a few things they should keep in mind to make the most of their time in this beautiful destination.

10/10 Purchase Your JR Pass Before Departure

A JR (Japan Rail) Pass enables travelers to take unlimited trips on the JR Shinkansen (bullet train) lines extending from Tokyo across the county. Passes can be purchased for seven, fourteen, or twenty-one-day periods depending on how long travelers plan to explore the country. However, the easiest way to obtain the JR pass to maximize your time on the trains in Japan is to buy it online in your home country. Then, you’ll pick up an Exchange Order from the agent office in your area and present that document along with your passport at a JR station in Japan to obtain the pass when you arrive.

9/10 Eating While Walking Isn’t Allowed

When traveling to any country, it’s important to be aware of the cultural differences so that you can be respectful of them. In Japan, one of these subtleties is the etiquette around eating on the go. In North America, it’s common to snack on a granola bar or banana while running out the door, at the mall, or walking down the street. In Japan, this is considered extremely rude due to the belief that performing an activity while eating means you’re not appreciating or enjoying the food. Therefore, when buying food at a market stall or roadside shop, be sure to sit on a bench or wait until you’re stationary to begin indulging.

Related: Hot Springs To Winter Festivals: How To Explore Japan’s Scenic Snowy Lands

8/10 You Must Carry Your Passport With You

Many people choose to leave their passports in the safe at a hotel or hostel while exploring a new city. Although this is often the more secure decision, in Japan, it’s the law for foreign tourists to carry their passports at all times. This is required by Japanese authorities, who have the right to stop you and ask for this identification. A benefit of carrying the passport is that tourists shopping at specific stores in Japan who spend over 5000 yen are entitled to a tax-free purchase if they present their passport at checkout.

7/10 You Must Take Your Shoes Off When Entering A Home

Americans may be accustomed to wearing shoes inside their homes, and some Canadians partake in this habit as well. In Japan, this is considered highly offensive. Anytime travelers enter someone else’s home, they should remove their shoes at the door to be respectful. In many cases, the host will present guests with a pair of slippers to wear inside the home. At hotels or Airbnb in Japan, travelers will often see signs requiring them to remove their shoes in the entryway and use the slippers provided with the accommodation.

6/10 Talking On The Phone On Transit Is Considered Rude

Every North American who’s been to a big city like New York, Toronto, or Chicago has experienced the irritation of listening to someone else’s loud phone conversation on public transit. In Japan, this is never a problem because the unspoken rule is that you should never answer your phone or chat on public transit. This is a space to be quiet and respectful of those around you.

5/10 The Tokyo Subway System Closes Early (For A Major City)

With its reputation as a bustling metropolis, Tokyo might seem like a city that never sleeps, but in reality, the nightlife there dies down fairly early. This is largely due to the subway system closing down early in the night compared to Toronto or New York. The trains are not 24 hours; most subway lines end their service around midnight or 1 a.m., with some doing their last departure from areas like Shibuya or Shinjuku even earlier. Be sure to plan nighttime activities accordingly because after the subway closes, transportation options are limited.

Related: Why Kusatsu Onsen Is Considered The Best In Japan

4/10 Slurping Is Good Manners

Although North American travelers likely grew up with the notion that slurping while drinking or eating soup is rude, they can leave this idea behind when boarding a plane to Tokyo. In Japan, not slurping is actually what is considered rude. As part of the culture, slurping while eating indicates you are enjoying the food.

3/10 How You Pass And Accepting Cash Matters

Many shops in Japan now accept credit cards, but it’s still a good idea to carry cash in the local currency, especially for smaller establishments. However, how travelers accept change and hand over payment in Japan matters. When it’s time to pay, travelers will notice a small tray by the till often a plastic blue tray. This is where they should place the money rather than hand it directly to the cashier. When the cashier hands over the change, allow them time to place it on the tray before picking it up. This is more respectful and provides some distance during the interaction.

2/10 Tattoos Should Be Covered

Tattoos were once extremely taboo in Japan, with those bearing them unable to enjoy the luxury of public onsen (hot baths). Although the culture is growing slightly more accepting of tattoos, they are still generally frowned upon due to their association with the group called the Yakuza. Therefore, travelers with tattoos need to be mindful that they may be rejected from some onsen facilities where they have to bathe naked, therefore exposing the tattoo. Look for tattoo-friendly onsen like Natural Hot Spring Hisamatsuyu in Tokyo.

1/10 Tipping Is Not Part Of The Culture

North Americans may be accustomed to tipping and see it as a sign of appreciation that service was exceptional. However, in Japan, tipping is not part of the culture, and leaving extra cash when paying a bill may result in confusion. Staff will chase travelers down the street in an attempt to return the extra coins they “forgot” at the table, a sign of how honest and thoughtful people are in this wonderful destination.


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