Tips for Traveling to Japan
Konnichiwa! Thinking about a visit to the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’? Prepare yourself for an amazing experience! Here are a few tips for getting the most from your journey to Japan.
Etiquette Tip For Traveling To Japan
If you’re not sure, etiquette is basically the idea of attempting to present oneself properly and formally at all times. At the root of this idea is respect for each other, respect for the society as a whole, and respect for one’s self. For the best experience when traveling in Japan, a little etiquette could really go a long way. There is a formality to almost everything done publicly in Japan. From the arranging of flowers, the preparation of tea, the presentation of food, to even greeting one another, there is almost a quest for perfection, as well as an appreciation and respect for each other that underlies Japanese culture. Try bowing. Not just a nod of the head, but an actual bow. It is a very simple gesture really, but as a formal acknowledgment of others in Japan, a good bow is well received. It’s like a firm handshake in the United States; a good bow shows attentive focus, strength, and respect. Also, be aware of your volume when speaking in public with your travel companions. If you listen to those around you, you will barely hear them at all because being respectful of others means generally being between quiet and silent when in public. This includes talking on the phone and the volume of the music in your headphones. (Yes, I’m serious.) And be prepared to take off your shoes! Buy some foot powder and some new socks if necessary, but removing shoes happens more often than you might think, including at public restaurants. Having a pair of slippers in your day bag is not a bad idea. Have tattoos? Many Onsen, or Japanese hot tubs, don’t allow visitors to wear clothes and will be separated by sex. Often tattoos are not allowed to be visible, which means if you have any tattoos, you may not be allowed to bathe publicly. Remember travelers: following local custom and tradition is always recommended when traveling abroad to show respect to those whose land you are visiting, and is often rewarded with warm smiles and helpful attitudes.
Speaking Japanese While Traveling To Japan
I’m not talking about learning the whole language. Japanese people love to joke about how easy their language is, and while that may be the case to the Japanese, it is much different from English. That being said, an attempt at learning a few key phrases will show a great deal of respect and earn a traveler some goodwill.
Using JR Pass To Travel Within Japan
The Japanese railway system is an engineering marvel. The Shinkansen, or bullet train is an experience not to be missed. You can set your watch by the arrivals and departures of trains in almost any station at any time on any day. There is train service to all of the major cities as well as much of the countryside throughout the country. There are a few different Railway systems that require separate ticketing, but the JR pass is an excellent value and the customer service is very helpful when planning your daily itinerary. On a side note, when my wife and I traveled to Japan we found that almost all of the employees of the railway system spoke pretty good English and were very helpful. Their English will most certainly be better than your Japanese, and when asking for assistance from them showing off the bow that you have been practicing will get you a smile. There are seven-day and 14-day JR passes available, but many of the local trains used for day trips may require separate tickets, so consider planning your long trips for the period when your JR pass is active. When using the train for long trips arrive early to give yourself a chance to get some food for the train. All of the large stations have food available that fits into the etiquette of eating on trains in Japan. (Yes there is even etiquette for that: don’t bring anything on the train that is going to smell too much or make a mess.) We purchased an upgrade for our passes last time we were in Japan, which allowed us to reserve first-class seats on the train. These tickets are an excellent value because it is exactly like traveling first class on a plane while the countryside zooms by at 200 mph. The seats are wide and luxurious soft leather which recline to almost flat. Of course, all the trains have free Wi-Fi, and if you missed getting food at the station don’t worry, there is usually an attendant with a cart selling snacks on longer trips.
What Cities Should I Visit When Traveling To Japan?
There are thousands of years of history visible throughout Japan, so where are you travel will be directly connected to how much time you can spend. You could probably spend decades in Tokyo and not taste all it had to offer. There are islands and snowy mountains, and everything in between. Osaka and Kyoto should not be missed, but Edo has its merits. Mount Fuji is stunning on a clear day and the adventurous can even put boot to rock. IMPORTANT NOTE: when traveling by train to Mt. Fuji, be sure to approach it from the south (Tokyo). The path of travel is much simpler (read: fewer hours and connections) coming from Tokyo than from Osaka. hopefully, you can spend more than a week, but if not you will just have to return. A minimum of two weeks is ideal, but then isn’t it always?
Additional Japan Travel Tips
Currently, the yen trades at about 100 to the US dollar, so be prepared to be wowed by a lot of zeros on your money. That being said credit cards are generally acceptable almost anywhere in Japan. Bidets are also a thing in Japan. They are everywhere. Even on trains. And they are AWESOME. You will wonder how you ever lived without it. When my wife and I came home from our trip to Japan we had to have one. And for all of the etiquette in Japan, when you get to eat Ramen, and you had best plan to eat lots of Ramen if you know what’s good for you, be advised it is common to slurp your Ramen! True! While it may seem counter to everything else, slurping Ramen is the norm. And while you are slurping your Ramen people may be smoking in the restaurant. Again, it seems counterintuitive to a group of people that are so concerned about being respectful of others, but many restaurants in Japan still allow smoking inside, so be prepared to look for non-smoking alternatives to some of the most popular places along the way.
Arigato, and Kansai! Happy trails!
About Our Guest Writer:
M.R. Felker, Content Writer. M.R. Felker lives near San Diego, travels frequently with his amazing wife, and likes to live dangerously by accepting candy from strangers.
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