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

Japan is a country that intrigues many travelers; it has a unique culture that is virtually untouched by outside influences. Not only is the food varied and delicious, but the popular places to visit offer the perfect combination of city life and quiet nature experiences. Travelers planning a visit to Japan are ready 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 Buy your JR Pass before departure

A JR (Japan Rail) pass allows travelers unlimited rides on the JR Shinkansen (bullet train) lines stretching from Tokyo across the county. Passes can be purchased for periods of seven, fourteen, or twenty-one days depending on how long travelers plan to explore the country. However, the easiest way to get the JR pass to maximize your time on trains in Japan is to buy it online in your home country. Then, you will collect an exchange order from your local branch and present this document together with your passport at a JR station in Japan to obtain the pass upon arrival.

9/10 Eating while walking is not allowed

When traveling to any country, it is important to be aware of cultural differences so that you can respect 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 a banana while running out, 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 dislike or dislike the food. Therefore, when buying food from a market stall or roadside store, be sure to sit on a bench or wait until you are still to start indulging yourself.

Related: From Hot Springs to Winter Festivals: How to Explore Japan’s Scenic Snowlands

8/10 You must have your passport with you

Many people choose to leave their passport in a hotel or hostel safe while exploring a new city. Although this is often the safest decision, in Japan it is the law for foreign tourists to have their passport with them at all times. This is required by the Japanese authorities, who have the right to stop you and ask for this ID. One of the advantages of the passport is that tourists who shop at specific stores in Japan and spend more than 5,000 yen are entitled to duty-free shopping if they present their passport at the checkout.

7/10 You must take off your shoes when entering a house

Americans may have a habit of wearing shoes inside their homes, and some Canadians have this habit as well. In Japan, this is considered very offensive. Whenever Travelers enter someone else’s home, they must remove their shoes at the door out of respect. In many cases, the host will provide guests with a pair of slippers to wear inside the house. In hotels or Airbnbs in Japan, travelers will often see signs asking them to remove their shoes in the entrance and use the slippers provided with the accommodation.

6/10 Talking on the phone on public transport is considered rude

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

5/10 Tokyo subway system closes early (for a major city)

With its reputation as a bustling metropolis, Tokyo may seem like a city that never sleeps, but in reality, the nightlife there is dying off pretty early. This is largely due to the fact that the subway system closes early at 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 making their final departure from areas like Shibuya or Shinjuku even earlier. Be sure to plan nighttime activities accordingly, as after the metro 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 probably grew up with the idea that it’s rude to drink or eat soup, they may leave that idea behind when they board a plane to Tokyo. In Japan, not sipping is actually what is considered rude. As part of the culture, sipping while eating indicates that you enjoy food.

3/10 How you pass and accept cash

Many stores in Japan now accept credit cards, but it’s always a good idea to carry cash in the local currency, especially for smaller establishments. However, how travelers accept currency and remit payment in Japan is important. When paying, travelers will notice a small tray near the checkout, often a blue plastic tray. This is where they should put the money rather than handing it directly to the cashier. When the cashier gives the change, give him time to put it on the tray before picking it up. This is more respectful and provides some distance when interacting.

2/10 Tattoos need to be covered

Tattoos were once extremely taboo in Japan, those who wore them could not enjoy the luxury of public onsen (hot baths). Although the culture is somewhat more accepting of tattoos, they are still generally frowned upon due to their association with the group called Yakuza. Therefore, tattooed travelers should be aware that they may be rejected from some onsen facilities where they have to bathe naked, thus 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 used to tipping as a sign of appreciation that the service was exceptional. However, in Japan, tipping is not part of the culture and leaving extra money when paying a bill can be confusing. Staff will chase travelers down the street in an attempt to return any extra coins they ‘forgot’ at the table, a sign of the honesty and thoughtfulness of people in this wonderful destination.

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