Before moving to Japan I had visited a few times. The first time I feel like there were so many rules and I didn’t quite fit in. However, each time I visit I learn a new lesson and I wanted to share a few things that will help make your travel to Japan a little easier and to share information you just may not know.
It will always be colder than you think.
Yes, Japan does have all four seasons. But even when it’s “spring” it’s still a lot colder than you think. Really, the only hot month is August. So, be sure to pack that extra jacket! You will most likely need it!
A little effort goes a long way.
Let’s face it. Japan is a powerhouse. The capital of future technology and economically wealthy. Being an island, and very respectful to their extensive history and culture, they don’t really need much from other countries. They don’t depend on tourism, they are pretty efficient… so, the need for the everyday person to learn English is on the bottom of the totem pole. So, as a responsible tourist, just TRY to speak a little bit of the language. It really pleases them when guests in their country show a little effort and in turn, they will be more willing to go out of their way to help you.
You can drink the water.
Back in Atlanta, you can drink tap water (it’s totally safe and actually has added fluoride) but most people still drink filtered. In Thailand, we NEVER drank tap water. In Bangkok the chlorine is too high, and in smaller cities it’s not filtered much.
In Japan, unless stated otherwise (like on trains) you CAN drink the tap water. In fact, in some parts of the country that are mineral-rich, you’re encouraged to drink the tap water!
Have a handkerchief handy.
Japan is BIG on recycle and reducing, and borderline germaphobic. That being said, a lot of public restrooms do not have paper towels or hand dryers. It will do you well to adopt the local tradition of bringing your own hankie or hand towel.
Get your luggage delivered to your door.
Again, Japan is efficient! And with 200+ mph trains that can take you from one end of the country to the other in a few hours, travel is popular.
It would be very difficult to travel via train with a lot of luggage (logistically and space-wise). So at most airports, there are services that can deliver your luggage to your hotel, home, homestay, etc. And the prices are not extreme. It’s usually around $25-35 USD per piece. So I highly suggest this, especially if you are using the JR Pass, and save yourself time and hassle.
This is mostly on public transportation, but even in everyday life. When one raises their voice it may come across as “angry” or “ill mannered.” And, when traveling it is considerate as a lot of people are catching up on sleep during travel. This should be used EVERYWHERE in the world. Planes. Trains. Any place where there are other people because it’s not just your world.
Slurping is ok.
This is mostly for hot noodles. Although, when in a matcha tea ceremony, you slurp a little at the end to get it all in.
But, when eating things like Ramen or Udon, it’s best to eat the noodle when it’s hot. In order to prevent burning your tastebuds off, you suck in a little air (and a little broth) so you can eat the noodle at perfect temp.
Hold small plates to your mouth.
While we’re on the subject of dining etiquette, some dishes are brought up to your mouth. For example, when eating Tonkatsu (panic-fried pork) you dip the pork in sauce and hold it over your rice (which is held under your mouth). This is to prevent sauce from dripping all over your outfit.
Not all slippers are created equal.
Sometimes, when visiting a home or onsen, there will be slippers at the entrance and slippers outside the bathroom. Don’t wear the house slippers in the bathroom, and don’t wear the bathroom slippers around the house. You’d be surprised how many people forget this.
Here’s a tip: don’t tip.
Like most countries outside of the US, tipping is not part of the culture. In fact, some may perceive it to be flat out insulting. Like they need your charity or something. So, when you get the bill you can skip the tip.
If you have any other questions or curiosities, feel free to drop a line and I can help you out 😉