What to do and what not to do when planning a trip to Japan
Japan can sometimes seem like another world. A country where the latest technologies are a part of everyday life alongside millenary traditions. Japanese customs are often very different to Western culture. To help avoid any problems or misunderstandings when you travel to Osaka or Kyoto, here are a few things you should know before you go.
When is the best time of year to travel to Japan?
The best time to visit Japan is spring or autumn. March and April are when the cherry trees come into bloom (hanami) and the whole country is very pretty. There are lots of interesting festivals in summer, but this is the rainy season and the days can be very hot and humid.
Eating in Japan
As you probably know, the Japanese don’t eat maki with avocado and mayonnaise. This doesn’t mean you’ll only be eating tofu, algae and regular sushi. You’re likely to find yourself eating more noodles (soba and ramen) than you expected. Japanese cuisine is very varied and there are lots of fish, meat and vegetable dishes, although there may not be that many vegetarian options. If you’re unsure what to order, you’ll see that some restaurants have plastic reproductions of their dishes on display to help you choose. Be adventurous!
Tip: however much you might like soya sauce, don’t mix it with white rice in Japan, as the Japanese only do this with poor-quality rice and the restaurant and chef might well take offence.
Cash and tipping in Japan
Although most places accept credit cards, you may find some shops and restaurants don’t, so it’s always best to have some cash on you. Most vending machines (you’ll find vending machines for everything, from flowers, toys and sandwiches to underwear) do not take credit cards.
In Japan, tipping is not the norm, though tips are sometimes accepted as a Western habit. The Japanese consider service to be included in the price and see no point in paying any extra for it in cafes, restaurants, taxis or hotels. If you’d like to give your guide a tip, you should place it inside an envelope, as a gift. Never hand them money directly and don’t insist if they politely decline to accept.
Transport in Japan
The JR Japan Rail Pass is a handy way of getting between major cities in Japan and can be used on most trains and buses, including the high-speed shinkansen. You can get this pass before your trip at a travel agency, which will give you a voucher to exchange for your Japan Rail Pass at the main Japanese airports and railway stations. You should always show your passport when asked to show your pass.
If you’re planning to drive in Japan, you’ll need an international driving licence. Like the United Kingdom, Japan drives on the left.
Handy facts about masks, colds and noses
You’re bound to have noticed that the Japanese often wear surgical masks. They wear them when they’ve got a cold to avoid spreading germs. People also wear them when there’s a flu outbreak or if they’ve got an allergy. Blowing your nose in public is considered to be very rude.
Toilets in Japan
Toilets are always a delicate topic of conversation when travelling to certain countries. In Japan—a country of contrasts if ever there were—toilets can range from basic latrines to warmed toilet seats with musical accompaniment. There is usually a distinct lack of toilet paper, so it’s best to take some Kleenex with you.
As in other countries, you’ll find attendants at public toilets, which cost about ¥100 (about €0.80).
Being quiet and keeping your distance
The Japanese tend to avoid physical contact, especially with foreigners, so if you meet someone, don’t hug or kiss them or even shake their hand. The typical Japanese greeting is a small nod of the head. The degree of the nod depends on the status of the person being greeted.
Another rule of basic etiquette is not to talk too loudly. Bear this in mind in restaurants and on public transport.
Shoes and socks
The Japanese regard shoes as dirty and take them off before entering a house. Some restaurants will ask you to do the same and will give you sandals or slippers in exchange. Make sure you’re wearing a decent pair of socks.
These are some of the most important things to know before heading off to Japan. Have we forgotten anything? Have you got any more tips for travellers? Leave your comment in the box below!