10 Useful Travel Tips for Planning a Trip to Japan

Japan 100 percent rocked my world and I know it will rock yours too! We planned a marvelous two week Japan trip starting in Tokyo followed by Kyoto and then onto explore the islands of Okinawa. I recommend you plan to visit Japan at least 2 weeks if you have the time in order to really get a feel for the country.

There is SO much to explore in this country. Beaches. Mountains. Cities. Small towns. You name it they have it.  Our Japan vacation easily ranked as one of my all time favorites.

You need to have the right expectations before traveling to Japan for the first time and certainly an open mind but thats a given.

So I’ve rounded up some very important travel tips before planning a trip to Japan that will serve you well and should prevent any really big surprises during your visit.

10 Essential things to know for planning a trip to Japan

Japanese hospitality or Omotenashi

Let’s start with what hospitality means here in Japan otherwise known as omotenashi. This translates to wholeheartedly look after guests. The Japanese culture is extremely welcoming and it’s an experience that is to be understood only when you visit yourself.

I’m talking about airlines, hotels, taxis, restaurants, shop owners, basically everyone in the service industry. I have yet to find another country that stands out more than Japan in regards to hospitality.

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Japanese language dominates

One can probably assume that most Japanese people do not speak English, the ones that usually do are in the service industry.

Invest in a Lonely Planet Book and teach yourself a few Japanese phrases. Expect to pronounce words incorrectly and let yourself become a little vulnerable. It’s a fun learning experience and the most important thing you can do is try.

We like to get off the beaten path. We turned up at a small local sushi restaurant for dinner one night. No english speakers and no english menus. See what I mean about expectations-this is what one should assume if you get away from the tourist areas.

We glanced around the restaurant and quickly decided, we’ll have what they’re having! When it came time to order we simply pointed with a big smile and sported a thumbs up.

We sat at the bar watching the chef meticulously slicing the sushi. There was no mix up with our order, everything we pointed to was delivered and consumed very quickly.

We were seated next to some lovely gentlemen who spoke to us in Japanese throughout the course of our meal. We couldn’t understand and a lick of what they were saying and that’s absolutely okay. It’s all part of the experience.

Bowing with our tour guide Taka, one of the many beautiful Japanese greetings.

Japanese greetings

Expect to do a lot of bowing, one of the many beautiful Japanese customs. You will quickly observe there are many different types of bows but don’t stress about it. If you’re unsure how far you should bow a good rule of thumb is to mimic how the other person bows.

It’s a lovely gesture that expresses appreciation and respect for the person whom your bowing to.

In my experience it’s used most with greetings and showing gratitude. By day two it felt like second nature, just give it a try!

public transport

Navigating this city was seriously a breeze. The Japanese are all about efficiency especially when it comes to public transportation. What’s brilliant is English and Japanese signage! No excuses. Inside the train they have digital signs in English and Japanese and of course a loudspeaker that announces the stop. Google Maps works perfectly well here. Don’t forget to get yourself a PASMO card upon arrival.

It’s a card that you load money onto which works for trains, buses and some taxis. Don’t be shocked as to when you enter a train it is typically silent. Most people will be plugged into their devices or reading or just sitting in silence.  If you do engage in conversation try to be respectful and keep it to a low whisper.

Inside the train stations along the floor you can find the direction you should be walking with marked arrows. Everyone follows these rules so pay attention or you may get mowed down.

oshibori

What the heck is an oshibori? It translates to hot towels. You will never have dirty hands in Japan and that’s a great thing. Cafes, restaurants and bars will always offer customers with an oshibori as soon as you sit down at your table to clean your hands before your meal or drink.

Even when you’re eating at the most casual street side eateries. This is a culture that pride themselves on cleanliness. Genius.

Taxis

Most taxi drivers wear white gloves-oh so fancy, and have an automatic door that opens upon your arrival (curbside of course). They will also open and close the door for you when you exit.

All the drivers we encountered did NOT speak english so have your destination (in Japanese) ready for them as soon as you get in. They won’t start driving unless they know where they are going.

Nezu Museum, a great escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Clean culture

The Japanese honor cleanliness which is traced back to the Shinto religion. It is believed that Shinto gods despise filth therefore if you do not keep clean, Kami the Spirit God could punish you!

So good luck finding garbage cans in Japan, they are a rarity. Plan on carrying your garbage with you.

Safety in Japan

Japan’s crime rate is basically nonexistent and you rarely see cops.  A real oddity for a Chicago girl.

It isn’t uncommon to see a group of very young children walking to and from school and I mean 5 and 6 year olds. It’s quite amazing to see, how wonderful to live in a country where theft isn’t a big issue!

There is a big level of trust within the Japanese culture.

Women and men leave their phones, purses, and personal belongings on the tables at restaurants when they excuse themselves to the restroom in Japan. Travel outside of Japan can be a rude wake up call for locals because of these practices they fall prey to muggers.

A group of young schoolgirls escorting themselves home after school.

Japanese food

This is not a place for vegetarians. Get in as much seafood and beef as you can here.  Especially Kobe beef.

I geek out about Japanese cuisine and much of my excitement about visiting Japan involved visions of me stuffing my face with as much Sushi, Ramen and Kobe beef as I possibly could.

So naturally a lot of my time planning involves where I’ll be eating.  It’s one of my favorite things to plan for a vacation. This trip I had an extensive list of restaurants I wanted to dine at.

Be sure to check out a nice mix of casual and upscale eateries-if the budget allows for it.

If you plan on eating at any Michelin rated restaurants in Tokyo then plan to book in advance at least 6 months to a year. No joke. The most delicious beef I have ever eaten, Kobe Beef.

We unfortunately didn’t make it to any of the restaurants I had planned to go to because of this. However the concierge at our hotel took really good care of us and did an excellent job of finding alternative restaurants.

Most days we are at reasonably priced restaurants but we really wanted to indulge in the upscale dining experience a time or two while here.

One thing is absolutely certain and that is you won’t have any problem finding a good meal in Japan.

Ramen and some of the best gyoza I

Tipping in Japan

Generally tipping is not part of Japanese customs.

It’s going to feel odd if you’re used to tipping 20 percent but try your best to refrain from it and take comfort knowing that you aren’t ripping anyone off.

An exception to the rule is tipping private tour guides. It is not required or expected but well received as a gracious gesture from you.

Other Related Articles: 6 Amazing things to do in Okinawa 

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