Japan has been on our bucket list for many years – and we were not disappointed! While it is an amazing country it was also very different from any other country we have ever visited. Here are some of my best – and very practical – Japantips if you are going to Japan.
Learn the lingo
If nothing else; learn to say “hai”. It means “yes” but the Japanese people seem to use it the same way the Italians use “prego”: yes, thanks, you’re welcome, no problem etc.
Download a translation-app on your smartphone
Most touristy restaurants have an English menu but even the pricing system in metro stations in Tokyo is in Japanese only and if you like exploring the local food scene a translation app is a must. You won’t always get a correct word and sometimes not even a useful word at all but if nothing else they will give you some idea about what’s going on and usually also a good laugh 🙂
Get a Japanese sim-card
You’ll need to access Google maps. Japan literally is the place where the streets have no name. As a result you cannot find your way around using an address and an old fashioned map and without a Japanese sim card it will cost you a fortune. We ordered our Japanese sim card from home and set it up on the plane there, but you can buy them in most airports. We bought ours here: https://www.mobal.com/japan-sim-card
Japanese people are extremely friendly. They do however seem quite shy and terribly afraid of doing anything wrong and loose face but a big smile seems to help. Everywhere we went we met only hospitality and everyone always helped when we asked – and most importantly; smiled and kept calm 😀
Toilets…. They are as funny as you think. Different kind of shower aggregates – and fake sounds are all part of the experience. If you see a toilet-flush-system with English translations – take a photo. That way you can always find the flush-button if you end up in an all-Japanese joint.
Most Japanese always have a small handkerchief or washcloth with them. It’s quite handy and they use it to dry their hands for example since you won’t find any paper towels in Japanese toilets. However there is always plenty of toilet paper and the public toilets are generally very clean!
Garbage bins are non-existing in Japan. Consequently; always have a small plastic bag with you to collect your trash and then throw it away at your hotel. It does get rather annoying carrying your trash around all day but as a result Japan is one of the cleanest countries I’ve ever visited!!!
Tea and coffee
Most hotels will have tea- and coffee facilities in the room. But not coffee which is strange because the Japanese do drink a lot of coffee. However in hotel rooms you’ll mostly find green tea. I suggest you bring a bit of instant coffee if you – like me – cannot live without coffee.
Waiting in lines
Wait in lines. And I mean lines! They even have signs telling you how to wait in the line. Everything is extremely organised in Japan. To the point where even I – a structure freak – felt like being a rebel sometimes and mess with the pretty laid out tomatoes or cheat in the line.
You will almost certainly come across food you have never seen before but just go ahead and try it. Please remember that since Japan is such a well organized place they are also very strict on hygiene in all matters and food is always fresh and well prepared (and very well presented!). You might have a thing or two that you don’t like – but you’re not very likely to get sick, you might just not like it.
I only had two things I could not eat. One is a fermented (they ferment everything!!) soybean mass (in lack of a better word). It doesn’t taste bad but the texture is horrible. It’s like eating slime. The other thing I really did not like was a fermented cucumber – fermented in a brown-ish paste. That one tasted horrible. Other than that we loved everything!
If you use public transport please always work with a margin. Buying your train tickets can be tricky because signs are almost always only in Japanese or it’s difficult to find the right subway station. You’re likely to spend some time trying to figure it out – make sure you have time to get lost 😉.
Please note that the ticket machines only take cash and most of the time you insert the cash before you select your ticket. And how do you find out what fare to actually pay? You will probably have to ask someone because in most places you cannot figure it out by yourself.
Always have plenty of cash. Small businesses – even some restaurants – do not take cards (and neither do tickets machines).
Stay in a Ryokan
You must not miss a stay in a ryokan. It’s a bit like at Japanese B&B. Some come with dinner and breakfast and this is highly recommended. It’s such a great experience. We stayed here (which is not cheap at all but it was worth every penny!): http://www.wanosato.com/
Don’t start off in Tokyo
I would highly recommend finishing off in Tokyo – meaning start somewhere else. Tokyo is huge and overwhelming and therefore quite a mouthful however we absolutely loved it. I think this is partly due to the fact that by the time we arrived in Tokyo we were used to the Japanese way and we could just enjoy it without being too overwhelmed.