Visiting for the first time: 12 things to know before going to Japan
Japan is a wonderful country, you’ll soon fall in love with it’s culture and how different it is from the “Western World”. If you are traveling to this destination soon and would like to know a little bit more in order to not be caught off guard or be out of line, here are a few things to know.
Greeting = bowing & eye contact to be avoided
Hugging, touching or even hand shakes are generally a no-no in Japan. What instead? Bowing! You may not be used to this custom but you’ll be in no time. The lower the bow the more respect shown; there are books about bowing but no need to read them. Just do it! You won’t be off. Also, Japanese consider prolonged eye contact to be rude. The rule is keep it to 25%!
English is extremely limited
This was the case all over Japan, but don’t worry, you’ll get by. Many times the people I interacted with understood me and just nodded and pointed out where what I needed was, or mentioned some basic words in English. Worst case scenario, use google translate and show the word in Japanese. It’s really handy to know or understand some basic words though, I literally used “arigato gozaimasu” (a-ree-ga-tou go-zai-mass), which means thank you, every five seconds.
Smoking cigarettes on the streets is not allowed
I mean it is, but only in designated areas which is quite funny. What surprised me is that some bars do allow you to smoke inside (or have designated areas). Normal restaurants don’t.
Tipping is non-existent
Although this may sound crazy for some, specially Americans, it’s true. In a few occasions I dared to give a tip. I already knew about the tipping etiquette but just said f* it, I’ll try. Every time they insistently turned it down, even if they had just given me a free tour. Mind boggling, isn’t it?
Say hi to chopsticks!
You will probably find no alternatives in most places, so do try to learn how to use them. There is chopstick etiquette as well, but I didn’t know about it and I was fine – just don’t do crazy stuff with them.
Cherry blossom season
The cherry blossom season or “Sakura” forecast is usually released mid Jan–but generally the season opens somewhere in Japan early March and closes somewhere else in Japan in late April. Keep in mind that the season in each location is usually shorter. If you are serious about seeing the cherries, research: just google “cherry blossom forecast”.
Toilets are amazingly technologic
Seriously, definitely something you haven’t seen before, they splash water in various different forms, intensities, temperatures, throw air – you can heat your toilet seat, and the funniest one, you can trigger soothing water noises or flushing noises. You’ll also see that most of them are from a brand called “TOTO”, it’s kind of a monopoly they have. So funny.
Matcha, matcha, matchaaaa….
Matcha is becoming increasingly popular worldwide but the matcha frenzy is a million times bigger in Japan! There is matcha everything: latte, ice latte, ice cream, all sort of candies, cakes, biscuits…the offer is just never ending. Make sure you try it all!
Cash is king
Despite being one of the most technologic countries in the world, cash is still the most common form of payment. 90% of the hotels I stayed in had to be paid in cash, some stores don’t accept credit cards, and some ATMs don’t accept foreign cards, so I personally exchanged money in advance and would recommend you to do the same.
Tokyo is within the most expensive cities in the world, and I found Japan in general very expensive compared to London which is were I live, mainly when it comes to accommodation and eating out. However supermarkets are really cheap so the convenience stores such as Seven Eleven, Lawson & Family Mart quickly became my best friends. Also, big supermarkets sell quite good sushi and food for low prices so do check them out.
No trash cans
Japanese consider eating while walking to be rude and trash cans in crowded areas to be dangerous, hence you’ll find it very difficult to throw your trash on the streets. Hold on to your trash until you find one!
You’ll notice no one talks on the subway. Talking loudly in public places is considered rude, so keep a low voice. Also, there are women only carriages on the subway which you will easily identify by a sign on the floor, just be alert.