Japan is unlike any place you will ever visit. It’s an amazing blend of old and new with enough to constantly stimulate your sense. It’s home to an unlimited variety of shopping, video games, skyscrapers, dining and culture.
Here are the top 10 tips to conquer your first time to Japan!
1. Keep To The Left When Walking in Japan
One of the first things you’ll notice when you touch down in Japan is just how organized traffic is. This applies to both vehicle and foot traffic. Japanese people drive and walk on the left side of the road. Therefore, stick to the left when walking around town and while standing on escalators. You’ll notice arrows on the ground indicating the flow of traffic when walking indoors at subway stations and on the outdoor sidewalks.
2. Download The Google Translate App
You’ll encounter very few English speakers in Japan, so a having translation app can become quite useful. We found Google Translate really handy, especially if you need to translate Japanese menus! You can either hover the camera over the words or upload a photo for translation. We found more English-speaking locals in Kyoto and Osaka, but much less in Tokyo.
Try learning a few basic Japanese phrases and keywords beforehand!
3. Use Google Maps For Public Transportation in Japan
Public transportation is the #1 most efficient way of getting around the cities. Utilize Google Maps for directions as the train departure and arrival times are extremely accurate.
Make sure to pay attention to the train icon, since there are several different trains per platform. More often than not when transferring, you will actually have to exit that line in order to enter another line. (ex. Railway to subway, subway to JR Line, JR line to railway, and etc). It’s extremely easy to use once you get the hang of it!
4. Public Transportation Etiquette
When waiting for the train at the platform, be sure to line up in the indicated areas (arrows) so you don’t disturb traffic getting on and off the train.
Be quiet on the trains. Put your phone on silent mode and avoid phone calls, loud music and loud talking. Many commuters work long hours and their commute is appreciated in the quiet. Keep in mind that on the weekends and during later hours, these rules don’t apply as much since most locals go out to drink and socialize.
There are several designated priority seats on the train, so be prepared to give up your seat for those in need.
Even if the train appears full, you can squeeze in by turning around at the door and entering backwards into the train. This is customary and not considered rude here.
If you’re wearing a backpack, place it on the ground between your legs. This is so you’re not hitting other people with it, since the trains get quite full!
When getting on the bus, enter through the back door. Afterwards, exit through the front and pay on your way out!
5. Trash Bins
Japan is absolutely spotless and you’ll hardly see any litter anywhere. Trash bins are quite rare around the city, but you can find them in the convenience stores or subway stations. Hang on to your trash until you can properly dispose of it. Littering is a big no-no.
6. Don’t Tip
Good service and politeness is ingrained into Japanese culture. Tipping is not expected and will be returned if you attempt to do so. Some will find it insulting, so just don’t do it all together!
7. Buy a SIM card or Pocket Wifi Device
You’ll undoubtedly need internet access during your Japan trip. The two main options are to purchase a prepaid SIM card or rent a pocket WIFI device. If you purchase a SIM card, make sure your phone is unlocked.
Pocket Wifi is essentially a small, portable device similar to your Wifi router at home. You can connect more than one device to the pocket router. Just remember that it’s battery-powered, so there’s a possibility that you can run out of battery quickly if you’re using it a lot.
We ended up paying $80 CAD for 30 days of unlimited LTE data. It’s quite expensive, but we opted for a more convenient option. Several vending machines at the airport also sell affordable, short-term prepaid SIM cards. 7/11 convenience stores sell them too! Click here for more extensive info on the SIM card vs. Pocket wifi device. There’s also a list of pros and cons.
8. Japan ATM’s
Before you leave for your trip, make sure your debit card can be used internationally! The ATM’s in Japan don’t accept international cards. However, you can take out cash from the ATM’s located at the 7/11 Convenience Store (7 Bank).
In Tokyo, the 7 ATM is the only one that accepts international cards. In Kyoto and Osaka, the FamilyMart ATM’s also accept them.
9. Don’t Walk And Eat
Walking and eating is mostly frowned upon in public. Most people who get takeout will stop to eat it by a vending machine or next to the shop.
10. Don’t Blow Your Nose In Public
Sniffing is more acceptable than blowing your nose in public. If you find yourself trickling, wipe your nose until you’re able to blow it later.