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Things to Know Before Traveling to Japan

Updated: May 30

Embarking on your first journey to Japan is an exhilarating experience, filled with the promise of ancient traditions, modern innovations, and unforgettable adventures. As you prepare to immerse yourself in the Land of the Rising Sun, it's essential to familiarize yourself with the unique culture and customs that define Japan.

Here's my guide of things to know before traveling to Japan:

a red and gold japanese temple with a buddhist monk attending to the incense

Understanding Japanese Culture

Respect for Tradition

Japan is a country steeped in tradition and respect for age-old customs. From bowing as a sign of greeting to removing your shoes before entering someone's home or certain establishments, embracing Japanese etiquette is key to showing respect for the culture. While most tourist attractions won’t expect you to remove your shoes, there are many dining establishments that do. So be aware of those around you and take note of the customs portrayed.


Harmony and Politeness

Politeness is paramount in Japanese society, and maintaining harmony in social interactions is highly valued. Practice patience, speak softly, and avoid confrontational behavior to ensure smooth interactions with locals. When you are on public transport, you will quickly notice that it is almost completely silent. Please don’t be the loud foreigners and respect the quiet environments.

Group Harmony

In Japan, the collective is prioritized over the individual, leading to a strong emphasis on group harmony. Be mindful of your actions in group settings and strive to contribute positively to the collective experience. If you are on a group tour, please be respectful of locals moving around you and take care to maintain social distancing. Locals are not usually “touchy feeling” but operate at a collective unit. Also, don’t point your finger at anyone.


Essential Travel Tips


Language Barrier

While English signage and speakers are more common in tourist areas, knowing a few basic Japanese phrases can go a long way in facilitating communication. Consider learning greetings, expressions of gratitude, and simple phrases for ordering food or asking for directions. My Chinese helped us a lot while traveling through the country as most of the kanji characters mean the same thing. However, don’t be afraid to ask for help. The people are quite hospitable and will generally go out of their way to assist.

Cash is King

While Japan is technologically advanced, cash is still widely used for transactions, especially in smaller establishments. Make sure to carry enough yen, as credit cards may not be accepted everywhere, particularly in rural areas. Most of my cheap eats in Tokyo were cash-only establishments.


Tipping is Not Customary

Unlike in many Western countries, tipping is not customary in Japan and may even be perceived as rude. Exceptional service is already included in the price, so simply express gratitude with a polite bow or a sincere "arigatou gozaimasu" (thank you very much).


Trash Disposal

Japan maintains strict standards for cleanliness, and proper waste disposal is essential. Carry a small bag for trash and dispose of it in designated bins, as littering is considered disrespectful. Have you seen the meme of someone pulling out their daily trash from their backpack? Seriously, there are no trash bins in Japan and yet the country is spotless.

Eating Etiquette

Customarily, you will be given an oshibori, which is a wet cloth. Usually, it’s cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It is not for your face, but rather to clean your hands before eating. It should be rolled back neatly and either returned to the waitress or used if needed throughout your meal. Also, never place your chopsticks in a bowl of rice. It resembles incense burning at death and is considered extremely rude (also in other Asian cultures). Place your chopsticks on the side of the bowl lying flat.

Enjoy Traveling to Japan

Japan's allure lies in its seamless blend of ancient traditions and cutting-edge innovation, captivating visitors with its breathtaking landscapes, culinary delights, and cultural treasures. Sometimes first-time visitors are in sock, but if you embrace Japanese etiquette, mastering essential travel tips, and approaching your journey with an open mind and adventurous spirit, you'll have an unforgettable experience! Get ready to discover the magic of Japan.


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May 22
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Great and informative content!


May 21
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