Things you should know before traveling to Japan

So, you have decided to embark onto a journey towards the island nation of Japan. Or maybe you are still on the fence about it and are looking to see if it is the right destination for you. Either way, being prepared and knowing how to navigate through a new countries language and culture is the big factor in ensuring that you have an unforgettable trip. Here are some of the key things that you should keep in mind when travelling in Japan.


Getting mobile internet

When making your way around a country in this day and age, having easy access to the internet is a very powerful tool for multiple different reasons we will cover further on. So, how do you go about accessing the internet on your phone in Japan? There are various ways, but the most common will be to buy a travel SIM card at the airport or any sort of electronic store in the city. As the name suggests, these SIM cards are intended to be used on a short-term basis by travelers, so they are typically data-only and are available in different time lengths, such as for seven days, fourteen days, twenty-one days, etc. If, however, you need to have a SIM card for making and receiving texts and calls, there are also travel SIM cards available with these additional features. For people who would like to cut their time spent at the airport as much as possible, you can purchase these travel SIM cards online in advance to pick up at the airport once you arrive.

Another option for accessing the internet in Japan is renting a pocket Wi-Fi device. This is essentially a mini portable Wi-Fi router you can carry around that lets you stay connected as long as it is charged and turned on. Although this may be more expensive than a travel SIM card, it is a great option for families or people travelling in groups as everyone will be able to access the same Wi-Fi device. Similar to the travel SIM cards, you can order your pocket Wi- Fi in advance online to pick up at the airport, or you can rent one at the airport from one of the counters once you arrive.


Getting around with Google Maps

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Now that you are set up with your mobile internet and connected online, being able to navigate through the country and finding optimal ways of visiting your destinations is important. This is where the powerful little ‘Google Maps’ app comes into play.

Once you open up the app you will see an empty search bar at the top, input the destination you are looking for and you will be presented with a brief overview of the location. There you will find a ‘Directions’ button which will instantly show you multiple routes on how to get there from your given location, along with more detailed information. Each route shows the estimated time it would take to complete and can be categorized into different forms of travel such as by walking, public transport, or driving a vehicle. For some places when viewing routes by public transport, you will also find that the app gives you an estimation on how much the journey cost. This is such a useful bit of information, especially for budget travelers, as it means you are able to plan your trip a lot better and avoid having to spend any unnecessary extra costs.


Using the public transport system

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So, now that you have a grasp on navigating around, one of the first places you will probably stumble into will be able a train station. The very first thing you need before hopping onto a train or even a bus will be a travel card. While yes, there are tickets you can purchase, it is a lot more convenient and time-efficient to have a travel card which you can pre-load with credit to use at any time. There are various different travel cards available depending on which area of the country you are at, but they are all exactly the same and are only different as they are issued by different companies. Some examples of these are the ‘Suica’ and ‘Pasmo’ travel cards. They cost an initial flat fee of ¥500, plus an additional amount, which will be available to use as credit on your card immediately. For example, if you purchase one for ¥2000, you will get the card with ¥1500 already topped up. You can purchase a card from the ticket machine at a station or even at the airport. The card can be topped up with credit at a ticket machine, and even at a convenience store. In some stores and vending machines, the cards can also be used to pay. If you would not like to keep it as a souvenir or hold onto it for your next trip back to Japan, then they can be returned. You can do this at a ticket machine or a service desk at the station and get your ¥500 deposit back.

Tokyo is intricately connected by the subway and trains like a web. In the city of swift transport, the train and subways follow suit by offering different types of services. They are, ‘local’, ‘rapid’, ‘express’ and ‘limited express’. ‘Local’ is your typical train which stops at every station. ‘Rapid’ skips a few stations, so if the station you are trying to get to happens to be a stop on a ‘rapid’ train, then it will be the faster option. ‘Express’ is similar to ‘rapid’ but has fewer stops. ‘Limited Express’ is the fastest out of the four, and only stops at significant or heavily used stations. To ride on a ‘limited express’ train, you will need to pay an extra fee, and the amount will vary depending on the distance.


Where to withdraw money?

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Now that you have spent some money on purchasing the travel card and free to roam the country, you may want to withdraw some extra cash or at least know where to go when you need to. The best and most accessible place to withdraw cash is at a convenience store. Outside of already suppling almost everything you need from food, souvenirs or even clothes, a large majority of them also host an ATM machine to withdraw cash from. Japan being a cash reliant society, it is always good to know that you can rely on a convenience store whenever you need to take some out. Something to consider though, is that they usually charge a small fee when you withdraw. You can find ATMs at post offices as well, but they are only accessible during opening hours while many convenience stores are available 24/7.


Common and useful Japanese phrases

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When travelling through Japan you will quickly find that not many people can speak English, especially the further you stray away from larger cities. This is why it is very useful if you at least learn a few phrases in order to save yourself time and trouble trying to communicate with people. 

Possibly the most important phrase you should learn will be ‘do you speak English?’. You would say it like ‘eigo o hanasemasu ka?’. If there are able to speak English, you should have an easier time communicating what you are trying to say. When trying to get someone’s attention you would say ‘sumimasen’. This translates to ‘excuse me’ and is a lot more polite than tapping on someone or frantically waving your hands. While exploring the country you may accidentally bump into someone or photobomb some people. In order to say, ‘I’m sorry’ you would say ‘gomennasai’. You may find yourself in a charming little shop and spot the best souvenir to bring back home, but the issue is that you cannot find a price tag anywhere. Here you would say ‘ikura desu ka?’ which means ‘how much Is It?’. A common and useful Japanese phrases list would not be complete without knowing how to say, ‘thank you’. You would say it like ‘arigatou gozaimasu’ and will probably be saying this a lot during your trip.


Communicating using Google Translate

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Similar to Google Maps previously, Google Translate is a helpful little app for any travelers. As the name suggests, all you need to do is input the message you are trying to say into the app, and it will translate to Japanese, though there may be some grammatical errors which could still cause issues. However, a great feature that Google Translate has, is that it is able to translate text from images. This is very handy when a restaurant only has a Japanese menu, or when there are no English translations or signs.


Do's and don'ts in Japanese culture

In a country which is renowned for its polite culture and etiquette, you should be aware of what to do and what not to do in order to avoid treading on other people’s feet.


Avoid eating outside while walking

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When you eat while walking, even if you do not mean to, you will find yourself dropping bits of food or may even drop the whole thing causing a mess on the street. This may cause an inconvenience to anyone that may step in it and makes the street look really messy when generally the streets are very clean and tidy in Japan.


Try to keep quiet on public transport

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When you enter a train for the first time you may notice the sheer silence of the cart outside from the train itself. While I am not saying that you should never speak, Japanese people prefer not to cause any sort of disturbance with sound whether it be from talking or using their phone. If you need to communicate with people on which stop to get off at or what the time is, do not feel as if you are not allowed, but be mindful of the people around you and say it in a quiet tone.


Do not leave tips

While tips may be a polite custom in your own culture. In Japan, keeping a high standard of service is vital. So, when you leave a tip, some may even consider this as insulting, and in some cases even chase you down to give you back the tip, thinking you left your change behind.


Hand cash over into the tray, not their hand

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When you are in any sort of store or restaurant, you will find a small tray on the counter. When you start paying be sure to put the cash directly in the tray and not the cashier’s hand. This is because of multiple different reasons, but some are because they may feel uncomfortable if they accidentally touch your hand, or in order to avoid any loose change dropping out of your hand and rolling all over the floor.