Travelling from London to Japan takes around 12 hours and spans half the globe so there’s no surprise that it is a very different country with different customs. Below are 10 things that are helpful to know before you travel.
Japan may be technologically advanced but don’t let that kid you into thinking it’s easy to use your card. Japan is mostly a cash-based society, there were a number of occasions where we could not even attempt to use our cards and many occasions where our international cards were not accepted, even in ATM machines.
I would recommend converting some money before you travel! We found it best using the ATMs in 7eleven, there is a small charge but our cards were all accepted.
Buy a Japan rail pass
The best way of getting around Japan is by train and if you plan on visiting a number of locations it tends to be easier and cheaper too. The Japan Rail Pass offers a number of different options, we opted for the 7-day pass but they also have a 14 day and 21-day option. Our pass cost just over £200, this included the Shinkansen (bullet train) as well as the ferry from Hiroshima to Miyajima, it also included all travel on JR trains.
Don’t expect large rooms
Tokyo is the most densely populated city in the world so it’s no surprise hotels cram a lot of rooms into a building. Space = money so if you want a room you can do backflips in, you need to check out the more pricey hotels such as the Mandarin Oriental or the Shangri La. If you prefer to spend your money on experiences rather than a hotel (you probably won’t even spend much time in), you need to prepare yourself for a very cosy room. Our hotel in Tokyo, The Premier Cabin Hotel, was so small we could barely fit two suitcases in. You could brush your teeth, sit on the toilet and shower all at the same time. We got by but it must have been a serious fire risk as my suitcase had to be left right in front of our door! That being said, we were located in the heart of Shinjuku and the rooms were silent with a great blind, so no regrets there.
Other cities are a little more spacious but Japan is very populated as a whole!
No Diet Coke
This might seem like a very trivial issue, but I found it hard to find Diet Coke (or Coke Zero) anywhere! There’s plenty of normal Coke but I just don’t like the taste as much and honestly, I just started to miss it!
Prepare for the crowds
As I mentioned above, Japan is one of the most densely populated nations in the world and there has been a huge tourist boom in recent years. The most popular time of year to visit is April during cherry blossom season, then it’s November as this is the peak of the autumn foliage.
Annual arrivals have increased by 23 million visitors a year, making it the fastest-growing destination in the world by a long way. Since 2010 tourism has risen by 263% and boy can you feel it…
Kyoto was by far the busiest and you won’t have anywhere to yourself unless you rise very early. This did take the charm out of some places, especially the Bamboo Forest but knowing this in advance means less disappointment when you get there.
Smoking is legal in small restaurants
Something that really took me aback was the fact smoking has not been banned in all public places. Smoking indoors in public places in the UK was banned in 2007 and you get so used to it you completely forget it could be legal somewhere else. Whilst smoking indoors in Japan is illegal in many instances, this rule is based on the square footage of a business. The majority of authentic Japanese restaurants have space for around 10 people (sometimes less), meaning it is small enough for them to miss the law. I absolutely cannot stand the smell of smoke but hey, what can you do about it?
Large groups can’t fit in restaurants
Following on from above, there are many wonderful bars and restaurants in Japan that are minuscule. We travelled as a group of 6 and it was near impossible finding places that could seat us all. Japanese dining is very authentic and an experience in itself. It is much easier when travelling as a two that’s for sure!
Jaywalking is illegal
Back home in London most people completely ignore the red man on the traffic light and cross anyway (when there are no cars of course). In Japan, this is illegal and if the police catch you they can fine you! If you aren’t spotted, you will feel eyes burning into the back of your head by commuters as you skip across the road.
Carry your passport for tax-free shopping
Did you know when you buy goods abroad you are entitled to claim back the tax? I had no idea until I bought a camera lens and they asked me for my passport. I asked them why they needed my passport and they told me it was so they could remove the tax from the bill (10%). Had I known this I would have brought it with me! Unfortunately, my passport was safely locked away in our hotel room, but if this does happen, you can claim the tax back at the airport.
This one will be the most difficult for those travelling from the US… Forget everything you know about tipping culture, it does not exist in Japan and it is offensive to do it. In the UK you tip when the service is good, I found it difficult not to tip all our lovely waiters and waitresses during our travels!
I hope that helped! Let me know in the comments if you have any other must-know tips!