Preparing for your first trip to a new country can be a challenge. In this article, we've listed some things to know about Japan, such as its climate, transportation system and accommodations, that should help you out. We also provide information about specific types of activities and what you need to bring.
First, some basic information you will want to make sure you know in order to best enjoy your stay in Japan.
The Climate and What to Wear
The climate varies by latitude and topography, but the spring (March to May) and fall (September to November) are the most comfortable times of the year. There is a rainy season between spring and summer (June to August). The summer is humid, and there have recently been many days with extreme heat surpassing 35°C. You need to be prepared for the cold in the winter (around December to February), and there is considerable snow in the areas near the Sea of Japan.
What to Wear:
The hardest times to plan what to wear are spring and fall, when the weather is unstable and the difference between high and low temperatures can be significant. It is usually sufficient to have layers, such as long-sleeve shirts, cardigans and jackets, but there are some days in the early spring and late fall when you'll want a coat. Also, in the early spring and late fall, there are some days when a short-sleeve shirt is sufficient during the day, but the temperatures drop at night. A down jacket will be welcome during the coldest time of the year (January to February). In summer, short sleeves will be sufficient. Of course, if you find that you didn't bring the right clothes, you can always buy them in Japan.
Prices and Payments
Cash is still the most common form of payment in Japan. Many places, such as department stores, high-end restaurants, commercial facilities, convenience stores, and supermarkets (with some exceptions) accept credit cards, but many small and independently owned stores do not. There is no tipping in Japan, but some hotels and high-end restaurants add a service charge.
A drink in a 500ml plastic bottle is generally between 100 JPY and 150 JPY, and lunch costs about 1,000 JPY. The price of the shortest ride on a train is about 150 JPY. A rough budget for staying in Japan for a week is 50,000 JPY per person (excluding flight and accommodations).
Currency exchange outside of the airport is available at banks and post offices in large towns, major hotels, and some shops selling gift certificates and various discounted tickets. Many credit cards and cash cards can be used to withdraw money in yen 24/7 at Seven Bank ATMs that can be found at 7-Eleven stores and other places.
Public toilets in Japan are free of charge. They can often be found at airports and stations, as well as on long-distance buses and trains, and at convenience stores and supermarkets. Although western-style toilets with seats are popular, there are many older facilities that still have Japanese-style toilets that are used by squatting over a toilet set into the ground.
Always make sure you flush the toilet after using it. Toilet paper should be flushed down the toilet at the same time. Although many toilets have handles you push down to flush, some have buttons or will flush when you wave your hand over a sensor, and some flush automatically when you stand up.
Electricity and Wi-fi
Power sockets in Japan take A-type plugs so you will need an adaptor to use electric products that have different types of plugs. The voltage in Japan is 100V, which is the lowest voltage in the world. Be sure to note what voltage electric products can be used on when purchasing them in Japan.
Wi-fi access is available with registration at a variety of places including airports, stations, hotels, restaurants, commercial facilities, and convenience stores. There are iOS and Android applications that allow you to use wi-fi around the country, so it is useful to download them in advance. If you don't want to worry about wi-fi access, consider renting a Mobile wi-fi Router at the airport.
Japan is a country prone to earthquakes and other natural disasters. Don't panic if you feel an earthquake while in Japan. Be sure to ensure your safety by stepping away from any glass windows, large furniture, or anything that may fall, and if possible, hide under sturdy structures. If you are outside, protect your head and move away from buildings, concrete-block walls, and utility poles.
Typhoons and torrential rain can cause mudslides and flooding, so do not go to the mountains or near rivers or oceans. Flights may be cancelled so be sure to check their status early. The government's app for foreigners, Safety Tips, provides information during disasters in English, Chinese (simplified and traditional), Korean, and Japanese.
If you need to see a doctor, tell the reception staff at your hotel what your symptoms are and ask them to recommend a nearby hospital. If you are on the road, hail a taxi and ask the driver to take you to a hospital. If it is an emergency, dial 119 and call an ambulance. You'll need to tell the operator where you are, so it is better to ask the hotel staff or a nearby person for help.
If you have travel insurance, first call the support desk. Depending on the insurance company, they should be able to recommend a hospital, make reservations, arrange for an ambulance and provide interpretation services over the phone.
What to Take
As mentioned earlier, you will definitely need cash. You'll also want to take a smartphone on which you can look up maps and train information and use translation tools. You may not always have Wi-Fi access, so bring a guidebook as well. Also, Japanese bathrooms sometimes do not have paper towels, so bring a handkerchief. Hand sanitizing gels can be useful to sanitize your hands at mealtimes. It is also prudent to bring medication that you are used to. You may also want to bring deodorants, as they are not readily available outside the summer, and overseas products can be more effective. You may also want a folding umbrella for unexpected rain (although these can be purchased cheaply in Japan). Needless to say, don't forget to bring your passport!
The following is some information to help you travel to your destination smoothly and without stress.
It is standard to line up when waiting for a train on the platform, and there are markers on the platform that indicate where to line up. When boarding the train, be sure to let people get off first. Do not talk loudly on the train or talk on the phone, and set the ringer on your phone to silent mode. If you have luggage, try not to get it in people's way when the train is crowded by placing it on the rack. If you have a backpack, carry it in front of you. Also be aware that some of the seats are priority seating for the elderly, pregnant, disabled, and injured.
Purchasing Train Tickets
Tickets for short rides can be purchased at the automatic ticket machines. Check the price to your destination on the map by the machines, put the money in, and click on the button for the appropriate amount. For long distance tickets, go to a manned ticket counter. Basically, you just need to tell them the destination, but if you are getting assigned seating, you'll need to say what time you want to leave or arrive. Even if you are not sure what ticket to get, the clerk can help you decide on the best route if you know where you need to go and what time you want to get there.
The standard way to leave bags at the station is to use the coin-operated lockers. Major stations have lockers of varying sizes, so you can leave your suitcase and large luggage. A locker usually costs between 300 JPY and 800 JPY.
The lockers can be full at busy stations, so if you cannot find a locker, see if there is a baggage storage service. Not all stations will have one, and the services and operating hours will differ from station to station, but if there is one, it is usually between 400 JPY and 800 JPY per day.
Buses and Taxis in Japan
Buses in Japan run on a timetable. To ride a Toei Bus in the 23 wards of Tokyo, get on at the front and pay the fare, and get off the back door. To ride the Osaka City Bus or Kyoto City Bus, get on the back and pay the driver at the front when getting off. All buses have buttons to press to alert the driver you want to get off at the next stop. Fares may be a flat fee or differ depending on how far you are going. Some buses are not equipped to give change, so be sure to have exact change when getting on the bus.
Taxis are available at taxi stands at airports and major stations. You can also ask the front desk of your hotel to call one for you. If you want to hail a taxi on the street, raise your hand to let the driver know you want a ride. The initial fare in Tokyo is between 380 JPY and 410 JPY.
Useful Japanese Phrases
▼Use Phrase A when you don't know how to get to a destination, and phrase B to let someone know your desired mode of transportation.
[jp] A: ○○ wa doko desu ka? (Where is ○○?)
[jp] B: ○○ ni ikitai desu. (I'd like to go to ○○)
[jp] Eki (station)
[jp] Basutei (bus stop)
▼Use the following phrase to communicate which mode of transportation you want to use.
[jp] ○○ ni noritai desu. (I'd like to get on ○○)
[jp] Basu (bus)
[jp] Takushii (taxi)
[jp] Densha (train)
The Convenient Japan Rail Pass
If you are planning to visit several cities, consider getting a Japan Rail Pass. It is a ticket that gives you free access to all trains on the JR system as well as buses and ferries in designated areas. It covers the shinkansen (bullet train), so you can travel around the country at a discount. There are different tickets for the Green Car (first class) and regular car and can be bought for periods of 7 days, 14 days, or 21 days. They cannot be purchased in Japan, so be sure to go to a designated agency in your country before traveling to Japan.
Travel cards (IC cards) are a great way to avoid the trouble of looking up fares and purchasing tickets every time you get on a train. Charge one in advance and all you need to do is touch it at the gate to ride on trains or buses. They are issued by a variety of railway companies, but most can be used interchangeably. They can also be used to purchase items at station kiosks, as well as at some convenience stores and vending machines. They can be purchased at ticket machines and tellers of major stations in cities across Japan.
What to Take
When you are traveling, it is so much easier to have a small suitcase with wheels rather than lug around heavy bags. You will also want a smaller bag with items you want to access while on the road. If you plan to travel on a night bus, take a neck pillow to support your neck when sleeping upright.
Choosing the right accommodations is key to traveling, so here is some information on the main types of accommodations available in Japan, and the etiquette you want to keep in mind during your stay.
About Overnight Accommodations in Japan
There is a wide variety of accommodations available in Japan, ranging from hotels and guest houses to cheap and convenient capsule hotels. When staying at uniquely Japanese inns called ryokan, be sure to keep the following points in mind.
・At ryokan, the futon is often used for sleeping, but the staff take care of both laying it down and putting it away.
・Usually, breakfast and dinner is included. Keep in mind that dinner is often a luxurious multi-course meal, which can become a bit much if you are staying for a long period.
・Ryokan inns often lock their doors at night, so be careful if you want to be out at night
・The rates are per person rather than per room, so it can become costly for families.
Etiquette and Procedures for Using Shared Baths
Many hotels and ryokan have large shared baths, so here is some information on how to use them, including some dos and don'ts.
・If you have a tattoo, you may not be able to use the shared bath or be asked to hide the tattoo with a band-aid, so be sure to check in advance.
・Undress in the dressing room and take a small bath into the bathroom. The bathrooms usually have areas with small seats in which to wash with soap and shampoo.
・The basic consideration is not to get the water in the bath dirty. So do not go straight into the bathtub, but wash your body and face thoroughly before entering the tub. Absolutely do not wash your hair or clothes in the bathtub.
・Take care not to let your hair or towel touch the water in the bathtub. If you have long hair, be sure to put it up in a bun.
Useful Japanese Phrases
▼These are phrases to use to confirm times for meals or to use certain facilities.
[jp] ○○ wa nanji kara/made desu ka? (What time does ○○ start/end?)
[jp] Ofuro (bath/bathtime)
[jp] Choshoku (breakfast)
▼These are phrases to use to ask if certain facilities and amenities are available, and where they are.
[jp] ○○ wa arimasu ka? (Do you have ○○?)
[jp] ○○ wa doko desu ka? (Where is ○○?)
[jp] Kinko (security box)
[jp] Ofuro (bath)
▼These are useful phrases to ask what services are available.
[jp] ○○ wa deki masu ka? (Can you do ○○?)
[jp] Ryogae (currency exchange)
[jp] Kuriiningu (laundry)
Things to Take
Rooms in ryokan are often not as soundproof as in hotels, so earplugs may be helpful when going to sleep. At the same time, keep in mind that you should be considerate of other guests and refrain from talking loudly or making loud sounds. Sleep masks may also be helpful at night, especially if you are staying at capsule hotels or guesthouses which may not be set up to block lights out completely.
Items You Don't Need to Bring from Home
Standard amenities at Japanese hotels and ryokan are as follows. Most hotels and ryokan have shampoo & conditioner, body soap, a dryer, towels, and tissue in the guestroom. Some also offer bathing salts or bubble bath. It is OK to take any disposable amenities such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, razors, hair brushes, soap and hair bands with you.
Yukata (robe) or pajamas that can be worn to sleep in and walk around the hotel/ryokan in are also usually provided. A padded tanzen (jacket) to wear over the yukata and socks are also often provided. Keep in mind that you cannot take the yukata or pajamas with you when you leave the hotel/ryokan.
Eating is one of the pleasures of traveling. Be sure to know the etiquette so you can thoroughly enjoy the wonderful food that Japan has to offer.
Useful Japanese Phrases
▼When you want to get the attention of a member of the wait staff, raise your hand and say "sumimasen". This word can also be used to express regret or appreciation.
[jp] Sumimasen (excuse me, sorry, thank you)
▼Point to the menu and use the phrase, "○○ o onegai shimasu", to indicate what you want to order. When the item you're pointing to is at the tip of your finger, put "kore" (this) in the ○○, and put "are" (that) in the ○○ when it is a little further away.
[jp] ○○ o onegai shimasu. (I'd like to have ○○.)
[jp] Kore (this)
[jp] Are (that)
▼Etiquette for eating at Japanese restaurants
When eating rice and soups, pick up the bowl. Don't use a spoon for the soup, but drink it directly from the bowl. Keep in mind that it is considered to be bad manners to put your elbows on the table while eating.
Chopsticks are an important part of Japan's culture, and there are some things you should remember not to do.
・Do not use chopsticks to pull a dish towards you.
・Do not use chopsticks to look inside a dish.
・Never pass food from chopsticks to chopsticks. In Japan, there is the tradition of passing bones from chopsticks to chopsticks at a funeral, so it is considered to be back luck.
About Izakaya and Sake
Izakaya (Japanese pubs) are popular as a place to enjoy a variety of food and drinks at reasonable prices. A custom there that foreigners are often vexed about is the "otoshi". Otoshi is a small dish of food that is served and put on the bill without the customer ordering it (it usually costs several hundred yen). Consider it Japan's unique cover charge and enjoy it as a filler until the food you order is served. Also, it is common at izakaya to order the drinks first. The Japanese often order beer first, but of course, you can order whatever drink you want.
How to Drink Sake:
Sake is an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting rice. There is a variety of different types, such as the jyunmai-shu that is made without adding alcohol. There are also different ways of drinking it, such as "reishu" (cold), "nurukan" (slightly warm), and "atsukan" (hot), depending on the characteristics of the sake, what you are eating with it, and the season. It is fun to try different combinations.
Halal Restaurants in Japan
There are not many restaurants that serve halal food in Japan, but the number of restaurants that are certified halal or have halal meat on the menu is increasing gradually. You can research restaurants that serve a variety of halal ingredients cooked in different ways. Here, we will introduce a Turkish restaurant in Osaka that serves 100% halal food.
Istanbul NazaR Kita-shinch Store
This is a restaurant with English menus and staff who speak English and Turkish. Its most popular menu item is the kebab, but it also has a variety of dishes that change monthly so you can enjoy authentic Turkish food. There is also a prayer room.
Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurants in Japan
The number of vegetarian and vegan restaurants has been increasing dramatically of late. There are restaurants that focus on serving brown rice for rice, which is fundamental to Japanese cuisine, as well as those that serve ramen noodles made with no animal products. This time, we introduce a vegan salad restaurant in Tokyo.
This is a restaurant that serves organic, raw, plant-based food. Central to its menu is the Salad Buffet & Deli (1,188 JPY (incl. tax)) of organic vegetables grown with no pesticides. In addition to the approximately 30 different vegetables, brown rice, and soup, there are about 20 different types of dressings. There is also a full drinks menu that includes soy lattes and organic wines.
Looking for souvenirs is one of the pleasures of traveling. Here are some pointers for enjoying shopping in Japan.
Useful Japanese Phrases
▼This is a phrase for asking about color and size choices. Replace ○○ with the appropriate word.
[jp] ○○ wa arimasu ka? (Do you have ○○?)
[jp] Saizu chigai (different size)
[jp] Iro chigai (different color)
▼This is a phrase for asking the price.
[jp] Korewa ikura desu ka? (How much is this?)
▼This is a phrase for asking the location and product name. Replace ○○ with the appropriate word.
[jp] ○○ wa doko ni arimasu ka? (Where is the ○○>)
[jp] Reji (cash register)
[jp] Menzeihin (Duty free)
What to Take
Here are some things to take with you when shopping.
Smartphone or Tablet:
Smartphones and similar devices are indispensable for looking up items you want and store locations. They are also a convenient tool to communicate with salespeople who do not speak your language.
In Japan, you can often end up with a great deal of coins that are given you as change. It is convenient to have a coin purse that you can carry the coins in.
If you are a traveler visiting Japan, you can usually get duty exemption if you purchase more than 5,000 JPY worth of items in one store. Keep in mind that you need your physical passport to make arrangements—copies are not acceptable.
You'll want to enjoy sightseeing as much as you can while visiting Japan. So here is some useful information regarding leisure activities.
Utilize 1-day Package Tours
There are a variety of package tours available for tourists in Japan, ranging from organized tours you can participate in to arrangements following a customized itinerary. There are numerous travel agencies offering these services, starting with the largest, JTB, and including such agencies as Nippon Travel Agency, H.I.S, and KNT-CT Holdings. They offer a wide selection of tours, such as ones that cover major tourist destinations in one day, and ones that focus on specific experiences, such as shopping, fruit picking, or visiting onsen (hot springs).
Purchasing Tickets for Sightseeing and Leisure Facilities
Usually, tickets for sightseeing and leisure facilities are purchased at the ticket booth or machine at the entrance. If there is a manned booth, tell the teller the type of ticket you want to buy and make the purchase. If you need to use a ticket machine, you simply put in the money and press the appropriate button, but there may be cases where the information is not written in foreign languages. So it is helpful to know basic Japanese characters such as 大人 for adult and 小人 for child. Travel agencies and tourist information centers will be able to help you purchase tickets for major facilities. Also, places that require advance reservation often accept reservations online.
What to Take
There are many items worth bringing from home if you are planning some leisure activities in Japan. For example, swimsuits tend to be more expensive than in other countries (a bikini set is usually between about 15,000 JPY and 20,000 JPY) and sizes are limited. Also, be aware that sunglasses are often considered to be fashion items in Japan, so their ability to block UV rays may not be as high as you like. You may also want to bring sunscreen that you are used to. The strongest sunscreen sold in Japan as of 2018 is SF50+/PA++++.
That's the end of our guide! Be sure to refer to this article before leaving for Japan so you can enjoy your vacation to the fullest.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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