Japan is a fascinating country with a rich history and culture and numerous attractions and appeal for travellers. If you’re considering a trip, take a look at these tips for travelling in Japan and get advice to prepare for your visit and ensure an unforgettable experience.
When to go
Japan is lovely during all seasons, so choosing the time to go depends on what you’re looking to experience. The fall, which runs from September to December, is beautiful with the vibrant foliage and a great time to explore the outdoors. Winter, which spans December to March, brings snow-capped peaks, but little rain or snow on the ground. Summer, which runs from June to September, has balmy weather for hiking in many of the outdoor areas. Spring, which runs from March to June, is arguably the best time because you’ll experience mild, pleasant weather and gorgeous blooms all over, such as the prized cherry blossom.
Where to stay
Whether you want a swanky hotel or more low-key accommodation, Japan has an array of holiday rental options. If you want an authentic experience, you may want to stay in a ryokan for at least one night. Originating in the Edo period of the 17th century, ryokans are traditional inns where you sleep on a tatami mat on the floor, eat a traditional Japanese breakfast and bathe in a communal environment. The rooms are minimal, usually offering floor mats, sliding doors, low furniture and pine bathtubs, though many of the ryokan options also have modern amenities.
Etiquette and customs
Politeness is important to Japanese culture, so it’s best to familiarise yourself with some of the customs, etiquette and travel tips before your trip. There are a number of taboo behaviours and gestures, such as smoking or eating openly in the streets, taking pictures of people, pointing, talking loudly and entering a home with shoes. It’s also customary to bow as a sign of respect, though avoid the full 90-degree bow, which is reserved for dignitaries. A 30-degree or 70-degree quick bow is more appropriate for normal social interactions.
Safety in Japan
Japan is among the safest destinations in the world. Japanese people not only avoid aggression and conflict, but it’s a relatively crime-free country in terms of theft. This is due to Shinto beliefs in which a possession carries the essence of the owner.
Though Japan is safe, it’s best to exercise sense and caution when travelling. Like any other destination, it’s good sense to secure your personal belongings, avoid unfamiliar areas alone and stay in well-lit, public areas at night.
Cash is common
Though Japan is known for its technology, the country relies on cash as the primary means of payment. Many restaurants and shops only accept cash, and you’re unlikely to find any establishment that takes cards outside of the cities. It’s not uncommon for locals to carry large amounts of cash on them, especially with Japan’s low crime rate. It’s best to know before you go and prepare yourself with all the cash you anticipate needing for your excursion.
Cash is also viewed as a crafted product of value, so Japanese cash is kept straight and clean. You won’t see people crumpling or creasing bills.
Learn some of the language
Japan is a popular traveller destination, so many people can speak English well. Still, it’s good to learn some common phrases in Japanese to prepare for your trip, especially in a culture that values politeness so much. Learn how to say things like ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘excuse me’ and other common phrases. You may want to make a note with some translations, such as for ‘bathroom’, ‘exit’ and ‘directions’, which will be helpful if you need assistance from a local during your trip. You could also purchase a small language guide that covers what to know in Japanese to communicate your needs.
Public transport is accessible
Public transport is the primary mode of getting around in Japan. You’ll find numerous metro and train systems that travel all over the country, offering the most efficient form of transport. If you’re travelling in a city, you can get an IC Card for automated calculations and to gain a discount on your trips. If you’re travelling over longer distances, you can get a JR Pass for the country’s rail network and a mobile app to find detailed train schedules and a filter for itinerary.
Take in the culinary experience
Japanese cuisine is popular all over the world, so experiencing an authentic Japanese food tour during your trip is a must. There’s no shortage of restaurants throughout the country, and you’ll enjoy high-quality ingredients in clean, friendly environments, no matter where you choose to dine. Some must-try highlights include curry, gyoza, okonomiyaki, soba, ramen and tempura. If you wish you knew where to get the best sushi, keep in mind that some of the best sushi restaurants are small and independent.
Japan has some unique cultural expectations with dining. It’s not customary to tip, no matter what. It’s considered a rude gesture.
Learn to use chopsticks
Chopsticks are available in wood, metal and plastic. Most Japanese meals are eaten with chopsticks, so it’s a good idea to do your best to learn prior to your trip. Placing chopsticks across your plate or bowl indicates that you’re finished, but you can put them to the right or below your dish if you’re still eating. Just make sure that the tips don’t touch the table.
Chopsticks should never be used to point to someone, stab your food or tap on the edge of your dish. You should also avoid sticking them vertically into your food, which is reminiscent of the Buddhist funeral practice of incense burning.
Spend time in a traditional garden
Japanese gardens are unlike any other gardens in the world and a must-see if you’re going to Japan. Combining aesthetics and philosophies, traditional gardens are designed to highlight nature and express the fragility of existence through time. Japanese gardens also have cultural significance and reflect the periods in which they were designed.
Some beautiful garden elements include water features, particularly waterfalls, rocks and sand, bridges, water basins, stone lanterns, trees and flowers, fences and gates and fish. Sacred gardens are designed with principles of miniaturization, concealment, borrowed scenery and asymmetry, all of which contribute to a Zen feeling.
Plan your trip to Japan
Now that you have all the essential information you need to know before visiting Japan, you’re ready to plan your trip. Visit Expedia to discover Japan holidays to make the most of the experience!