Japan: 10 Tips for an Amazing Trip
Planning a trip to Japan should take you a good amount of time. It’s not the kind of place you just want to show up and “wing it”. Understanding the culture, some basic language, and narrowing down the overwhelming amount to see and do should keep you busy for a couple of months pre-trip. And there’s nothing to get you more excited about going than the lead-up, am I right?
1. Pocket Wifi
Since most US phones are locked by the provider, it makes swapping SIM cards difficult while traveling. Luckily in Japan, you can rent portable “pocket” wi-fi. It’s around $8/day and you can connect up to 5 devices at a time. Perfect if you’re traveling with friends or family, and you can easily split the cost. KLOOK is the main provider, and you need to reserve yours ahead of time. Then you just collect it at the airport and drop it off before you fly out.
2. Rail Pass Research
Before you buy a rail network pass, map out your travel plans. The cost of the pass might not be worth it if you’re only planning on 1-2 city destinations. Not every train in Japan is included on the pass, especially rural trains. You can map out your plans using Google Maps or HyperDia.
It’s not a city in China. Or in Japan. Don’t tip in Japan. It’s offensive like you’re telling them they don’t earn enough money. I know, for Americans tipping is a bodily reflex, but seriously, keep your tips to yourself.
Get in the habit of looking in front of the door before you walk into a building. If you see a bunch of shoes, then take yours off before entering. No one is going to steal your shoes.
5. A Lil’ Bow Goes a Long Way
It won’t be expected of you, but if someone bows, mimic them. Keep your back and neck straight and follow their lead.
6. Know Your Street Etiquette
Two things not to do on the street/in public include smoking and blowing your nose. In big cities, smoking can sometimes get you a fine, so learn the local laws ahead of time. Blow your nose privately.
7. Pick A Season
If you’re thinking about a winter visit, that’s a smart call. It’s the high season for skiing, so the cities can be pretty quiet, especially on weekends when people head to the slopes. It’s also when you have the highest chances of seeing Mt. Fuji. Summer is typhoon season so plan for rain- although it’s the best time to see the snow monkeys. Spring draws large crowds due to the cherry blossoms and accommodation is hard to come by unless you’ve booked 10-12 months in ad
8. Tattoo Taboo
While attitudes are slowly changing around body art, it’s still not widely accepted in Japan. If you’re planning to visit any hot springs (onsen), public pools, or gyms, you’ll need to cover them up. You can find a waterproof foundation specifically for tattoos, so buy some ahead of time and pack it just in case. If you’re interested in learning more about why ink is frowned upon, here is some cultural background.
9. Toilet Trouble
It’s not what you’re thinking…we’re talking about flushing. You’ll encounter some incredible toilet diversity in Japan, from simple holes in the floor for a bit of quad-burning to “normal” western style to super-futuristic “wtf does this button do”. The best thing we can tell you is to look for levers, they could be anywhere, but generally, a lever over a button is what you’re looking for. Sometimes buttons will just make “flush” noises to cover up any embarrassing sounds. Just go with the flow and you’ll eventually figure it out.
Put the time in and learn a bit of the language before you go. Duolingo is a free app, and Rosetta Stone is a great option if you can allocate some of your budgets towards a more robust program, it’s around $40 for 3 months. Also download Google Translate, which you can use to translate signs using your camera function.