Japan is a country that’s been on my travel bucket list for years. Ever since I discovered sushi and ramen came from here, I was in. So it’s no wonder that when I had the opportunity to live there for five weeks, I said HAI! (That’s ‘yes’ in Japanese, but also the way I greet people in English.) What follows are my own tried-and-trued Japan Travel Tips.
I had a lot of preconceptions about Japan in my head before I got there. I was more than surprised to found that some were true, some were completely wrong, and some were very unexpected. The takeaway? You definitely need to visit. Below are some of the things I’ve come across the past three-ish weeks that I’ve lived in Kyoto, while also traveling all over the country via my JR Pass.
Japan Travel Tip #1: Celery Men (and women) Are Everywhere.
Okay, fine, salary men. But celery men sounds more fun. Also, that weird Paul Rudd video I found absolutely needed to make it into this. The term [salary men], used for the abundance of men and women walking the streets in suits, also refers to the people who live and breathe their careers. In Japan, that’s a lot of people. So many people, in fact, that they’re not dating, having sex, or getting married because they’re too busy working. It’s a crazy world that the Japanese live in, and I still gawk at the number of people in suits everywhere, all the time. Speaking of suits…
Japan Travel Tip #2: Suit stores are a thing.
The pattern on the pants can, indeed, be found at the pants store, along with the rest of the suit. It’s no wonder that since so many people are constantly wearing “business attire”, that there are a ton of stores dedicated to selling just that. Only, every single one looks the same, and thus, most people wearing the suits all have very similar ones. Talk about original…
Japan Travel Tip #3: If you find a trashcan, please pin it on Google Maps.
Japan is one of the cleanest places I’ve ever seen or lived; the streets are pristine, and you’ll generally find a janitor sweeping one of five leaves that have fallen on the sidewalk outside of your local Family Mart [Unaware of what Family Mart is? Read about my obsession with them here.]. However, for a reason that I can’t figure out, it’s insanely hard to find a place to throw away trash. If I can’t put it in a trashcan, and there are never any trash cans around, where does it go? Locals have told me to simply carry my trash around until I actually do find a bin to properly dispose of it in, like some sort of good human being. The Japanese people do this, and I have as well since I’ve been here; it’s like they’re genuinely concerned about their fellow man and woman! On that note…
Japan Travel Tip #4: Keep your germs to yourself!
For many reasons, you’ll see tons of people wearing disposable medical face masks. I’ve definitely seen people do this on airplanes, rarely, but it is a very common practice throughout the country — and not just on public transport. Sometimes I feel as though I’m surrounded by a bunch of surgeons; and then I realize they’re all wearing business suits. As I’ve read up on, while many Asian countries do this (sometimes because of pollution, other times because they’re selfish and don’t want you getting them sick), the Japanese are simply being courteous. If people feel as if they’re getting sick, it’s considered rude to spread your disgusting germs while taking the subway or even just walking on the sidewalk. So nice of them. Why are we my fellow Americans and I so inconsiderate?
Japan Travel Tip #5: The Japanese are sssssmokin’! (Literally.)
This one was super surprising to me: so many people in Japan smoke. And, take note, so many bars and restaurants still allow them to smoke inside. So while my lack of having a dryer in my apartment means that it takes 3 days for my jeans to dry after being washed, all of my clothing typically reeks of smoke unless I plan down to the tee on when I’m going to wash it and how long it will take to dry. I’m not quite sure how this relates to the fact that the Japanese live the longest, but I’m going to pin the issue on the fact that they work so much and they’re probably v stressed. (see above). They even have tons of areas that are specifically just for smokers (even outside) because it’s illegal to smoke on many of the streets or in public! However, it’s still very much a thing in many restaurants and bars. Either way, it’s something I expected of Eastern Europe (who has since banned smoking indoors in larger cities like Prague), but definitely not from Japan.
Japan Travel Tip #6: Knives don’t exist.
If they do, they’re playing an impressive game of constant hide and seek. Chopsticks are all you get to eat your food with, and if there’s a large piece of something that needs to fit in your mouth hole, open wide, or awkwardly bite it while trying to pull hard enough with your chopsticks to pull the other half away, using your teeth as some terrible makeshift pliers to replace lack of said knife. Whichever option you choose, there’s a 99% chance you’ll look ridiculous either way.
Japan Travel Tip #7: Don’t make it rain.
There’s a very specific way to pay for things here. For every place that you need to hand money to someone, follow these steps:
- You’ll be provided a tray. Gently place your money on the tray.
- Hand the tray to the cashier with loving eyes.
- Wait for your change, which will be handed back to you on the tray.
- Say thank you.
- Never make it rain. (Or hail. I’m looking at you, guy who hates change.) You’re in Japan, not a strip club. Don’t be a heathen.
Japan Travel Tip #8: Wait your turn.
Again, the Japanese do this weird thing where they’re super considerate to complete strangers and their fellow human beings. They are patient. They are kind. They’re all the things that the 1 Corinthians bible quote advocates that you hear at every wedding, ugh. (Seriously, brides. Be a little more original.) Where there is a wait, there is a line. This includes everything from waiting for the subway or train to getting on an escalator. Unlike the teenagers that push their way through to the top of the escalator at the mall yearning to get to the local Hot Topic store, these people wait. They form lines. They move to one side, politely, so that if you are in a hurry, you can calmly but quickly make your way by walking up the escalator instead of just waiting. *sigh* WHEN WILL WE LEARN FROM THEM!? *thinks about getting on the NYC subway and practically getting trampled*
Japan Travel Tip #9: Be a rule-follower!
Just as the Japanese wait in lines, they also follow rules. And there are rules for everything. Some are written, others are simply known. For instance, there’s no sign, but you just shouldn’t cross the street when it says not to. It doesn’t matter if there aren’t any cars coming or if the intersection is blocked off completely from traffic – DON’T. DO. IT. Also, don’t walk in horizontal lines on the sidewalk. Did you know that this inconveniences people? They kindly ask that you don’t inconvenience people. Also, re: selfie sticks: THESE ARE DANGEROUS AND ALSO INCONSIDERATE, YOU MORONS. They know they’re great for your new Facebook profile picture, but please, they’re ridiculous. Re: the subway/train: please put your phone on silent and kindly don’t talk on it or play your crazy music loudly because you forgot your headphones. They know this is a thing in America, and they gently remind you that this is not okay in Japan, because Americans are rude. *everyone follows the rules and humanity is chill AF* Thanks for the reminder, Japan!
Japan Travel Tip #10: Make yourself look really really ridiculously good looking.
I’m an American, and I know that we are notorious for looking at our phones and taking selfies. But I have something strange yet true to report – the Japanese people may just be even worse for this. They not only love their phones and selfies, but they also love editing the shit out of them. There are dedicated PLACES with tons of photo booths where they let you take photos, edit them to be flawless, and then print them out or send them to your phone. This is called Purikura, and it is so insanely fun. Seriously. I went twice. Also: some of the translations are a biiiiit…off. We also went on Halloween weekend, where everyone was frantically trying to primp extra intensely; gotta get that fake blood right, y’all.
Japan Travel Tip #11: Grocery shop at the vending machines.
I’ve never been so impressed at the amount of vending machines in one place. Fun fact:
There is one vending machine for every three people that reside in Japan.
That’s a ton of vending machines. And most of the time, they have everything from coffee to melon soda to milk tea to water to green tea to oh my goodness how many liquids could possibly be in these things?? The Japanese be thirsty, y’all. There are also ones that have food, but drinks tend to take the lead in most of them. Another awesome thing? One vending machine dispenses drinks that are both hot and cold. Just look for the red labels for hot and blue ones for cold. And if it’s coffee that you want….
Japan Travel Tip #12: Trust the Boss.
The coffee boss, that is. The Boss kind of runs the coffee biz (if you’re talking about the vending machine or convenience store coffee biz). The Boss is a brand of canned and bottled coffee beverages that you can find allllll over the country. (And Asia, apparently.) He’s got black coffee! Coffee with milk! Espresso! RAINBOW COFFEE! Get them hot, cold, or “tepid” at your friendly neighborhood vending machine. Or convenience store. Speaking of…
Japan Travel Tip #13: Eat every meal at a convenience store.
Ok, not every meal, but I spent a significant amount of money (read: not a lot) on convenience store food. And that’s because it’s delicious. There are three main convenience stores to choose from, and everyone has their favorite: Family Mart, Lawson’s, and 7-11. Haters will say Lawson’s is better than Family Mart. (jk. They’re both good. But I was Family Mart for Halloween sooooo I’m biased.) I’m so obsessed that I wrote an entire post about Japanese convenience stores. Read it here.
Japan Travel Tip #14: Absorb all the hilariously-translated English.
Look, I’m no language guru. I know English and Spanish and maybe the words “Beer”, “Cheers,” and “Thank you” in multiple languages. The Japanese, however, are smart as hell. A lot of them know English but don’t actually speak it that often because they’re so polite; translation: they don’t think they know it well enough to even attempt to speak to you. Which is absurd, considering I know hardly any Japanese, yet still find a way to butcher “Excuse me”. (SUMIMASEN!) That being said, their English, while amazing, isn’t perfect. And it is very clearly illustrated on all of the translated signs, posters, and apparel. Not gonna lie: I wanted to buy it all. I giggle every time I look at these. Which makes you wonder if their English IS perfect, and they do this to entertain us. Either way, love it.
Japan Travel Tip #15: ABDUCT ALL THE BABIES. (Just kidding.)
Guys. Japanese babies are so effing cute. I actually asked many parents if I could take photos of their children. (Always ask first). Check out this one, who was definitely, totally, excited about it.
I mean, COME ON:
Japan Travel Tip #16: Eat only Japanese food and LIKE IT.
Japanese food is probably one of my favorite kinds. I could eat sushi, ramen, gyoza, and so many other things every day. Fact: I did. Not only because I loved it, but also because…well, it was pretty difficult to find other cuisines. If you’re in Japan, prepare to just eat Japanese food. To me, this wasn’t a bad thing. I could live in Japan and eat that stuff all the time. But do know that though there’s variety in Japanese cuisine, there aren’t many others to choose from in general. [curious about what you’ll be eating? Check out my “Eat Your Heart Out” post with solely photos of what I ate in Japan.]
Japan Travel Tip #17: Spend a good amount of time on the toilet.
No, not because you have to. You likely won’t get sick in Japan from food – even the convenience stores mentioned above have some of the freshest food ever. This mention isn’t about tummy troubles; it’s about toilet triumph. Maybe you’ve heard about Japanese toilets. Maybe you haven’t. If you haven’t, you should know that they’re smarter than most people currently sitting in the US Senate. They’re AMAZING. They clean you. They dry you. They SING YOU SONGS! When you’re too shy to do your business, they produce a nice flushing sound to help ease your nerves. There are toilet stores all over the city, though I’m not sure if it’s one of those “try before you buy” things. But then, like, how do you know if you’ll like the features? *ponders this for way too long* If you ever go to Japan, chill on a toilet for a while. You’ll thank me later.
Japan Travel Tip #18: Fake food is #fakenews.
For some reason, Japan restaurants love showing off their menu to the patrons walking the streets. Only, it’s not just a menu. They take the time to create all of their dishes with some sort of….rubber? Plastic? It’s…not appetizing. Like, at all. And yet, everyone does it! Fake food fills the windows of restaurants everywhere, as if I’d be window shopping for my lunch and think, “Oh, that rubber salmon sushi looks like! Let’s go there!”
While I’m sure there are plenty more things to absorb, these are just the ones that stood out to me after a couple weeks. Japan has offered possibly more culture to me than any other country so far. There are just so many strikingly different things: the people, the food, the way of life, just to name a few. I loved Japan so incredibly much that there’s no doubt in my mind I’ll be back at some point. (Did somebody say Strong Zero?) Also, if I’m ever going to enjoy my time in the bathroom as much I did there, I’m gonna need to head back to Toto Toilet Store, stat.
More Japan Travel Tips for the Intrepid Traveler
Like what you’ve read, and hungry for more? Here are some of my other favourite sources for Japan Travel Tips. Happy trip planning!
- 10 Tips for Traveling to Japan from a First Timer by Lauren Orsini for Forbes
- Japan Travel Guide by Nomadic Matt
- Japan Travel Tips and Advice: 20 Things That Will Shock First Time Visitors to Japan by Ben Groundwater for Traveller
- Japan do’s and don’ts: etiquette tips for first time travellers by Lonely Planet
- 24 Things You Should Know Before Traveling to Japan by Katherine Alex Beaven for Oyster.com