Japan has been on my travel list for a longtime, but I never really took the time to plan to visit the country. Being a big fan of Mangas, I have always been interested by the Japanese culture and going to Japan was one of my dreams to make true. I even managed to get a manga portrait of myself at the Manga Museum in Kyoto!
Furthermore, seeing more and more photos from Japan popping in my Instagram newsfeed fed my travel bug and next thing I know I was booking my flights to Japan.
Japan being my first Asian country to visit, I was looking forward to the cultural shock. As a westerner, there might be many things that could surprise you once you arrive there.
Japan in numbers
The country is made up of 6,852 islands
Due to its location on the Ring of Fire, there is an average of 1,500 earthquakes in Japan
There are 5,5 million vending machines around the country
Japan is expensive...
Going to Japan can definitely be pricey, BUT it is not as expensive as I heard. It really depends on the type of traveler you are.
When I traveled I staid in guest houses and Airbnb where I was able to cook my own food that allowed me to save money for leisure activities.
I ended up paying about 2,080 euros for the total cost of my 14 day trip to Japan, knowing that the expenses were made over a couple of months, especially for the payment of the flights and rail pass. Yet, it is not a budget destination as the average cost per day was about 91 euros (taking off the flight ticket) but overall this included the transport, accommodation and entertainment like leisure and sightseeing.
1. The streets are clean
The first thing I noticed when I arrived in Japan is how clean the streets are, which was pretty surprising because you cannot find any bins in the streets. They are all located in public places like shopping centers or train stations, etc... Yet the people are respectful and keep the streets clean. An example some occidental countries could follow!
2. No one will accept your tips
Tipping in Japan is not in the customs, it would be taken as a sign of disrespect if you would tip someone for the service they provided.
3. Everyone is friendly
Despite not speaking a fluent English, it was not too hard to ask for guidance or any other types of information when needed in Japan. The people I encountered were always ready to help and most spoke English.
4. "You won't find many ATMs in Japan"
That's what I heard a lot before going to Japan but once there I had no issues finding ATMs. They are usually located in post offices, convenience stores like 7-Eleven, Circle K, Lawson and main bank branches. Although payment in cash is usually preferred, especially outside big cities. And another thing, when handing cash to someone, hold the money with two hands as a sign of respect.
5. Eating and drinking in the street are considered rude
You won't see locals eat or drink in the streets, or if they are they usually are young or teenagers. It is a cultural etiquette not to walk and eat on the streets and you will notice that people either stand in a corner or just sit indoors as mostly every food stalls have a designated eating area.
6. Do not point
This is another cultural etiquette. It is rude to point with a finger to show a direction or something. Instead wave with your hand.
7. Don't be shocked by seeing the swastikas symbols
In Europe, this sign is known as the Nazi symbol but in Japan it is known as "Manji" and it represents the Shrine or temple symbol. There's been couple proposal to stop using swastikas as Japan prepares for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and that might create confusion among tourists. But it is causing a lot of heated discussion.
8. The trains are always on time
This is not a myth, trains are all arriving and leaving on the dot. Make sure to be on time or you would have to wait for the next one. Also, if you are planning on staying in Japan for couple weeks and travel around, make sure to purchase a JR pass. They can only be purchased outside of Japan where you will be given a receipt that you can exchange at the train station to collect your pass. The pass can be used throughout the extensive JR train network and save you a lot of money.
9. Lines, numbers and arrows
In Japan, metro station have clearly marked places where you are supposed to stand for a train or bus and arrows on stairs so you know which side is for walking up or down. It really makes commuting more enjoyable.
10. Rent a wireless router
These handy little gadgets are the best way to stay connected to Internet. You will get unlimited data plan and multiple devices can be connected. I got mine via my Airbnb host who provided it for free, otherwise you can either order one during your stay or use the ChatSim card that allows you to use communication apps only.
11. Food is displayed
One thing that I really appreciated as a tourist not speaking the local language is that if you go to any restaurants or food stalls, there will always be samples of the menu displayed so that you know what you are getting in your plate. No more ordering and thinking "crap, what did I just order"! I still wonder how they manage to do this though, it looks so real!
This is how you will be greeted everywhere you go by the staff when you enter a shop or a restaurant. It means in short "Welcome" or "Come in". It can feel surprising the first time and sometimes a bit awkward but you get used to it over time and actually miss to hear it when you travel back home!
I honestly had a really great experience traveling in Japan and I cannot wait to go back again one day. The people are so humble, respectful and polite that it makes your traveling experience so enjoyable.
Despite being really expensive, I could actually imagine myself going back again to visit more hidden gems the country has to offer.
If you are going there for the first time, here is a little introvert tips: take the time to experience the life as a local and go to temples or parks to release your mind and enjoy the peace and quiet when you need a break from the disturbing traffic noises of the cities.
PS: Check out my other blog posts if you are planning on traveling around Japan!