What to Know Before Visiting Japan

Japan is one of the most exciting and long-anticipated traveling destinations for the millions of foreigners that flock to its bustling cities every year. Few countries boast a culture with such a unique blend of old tradition and innovation. Certain cultural commodities, like anime and ramen, have become international symbols of the country, but there’s so much more than Tokyo’s flashy neon lights and Harajuku fashion to the Land of the Rising Sun. The rich language, complex social standards, and superstitions that still run high throughout the culture can make it an intimidating destination for first-time visitors, but don’t worry. Japan is also an incredibly welcoming place, and with a little research, you’ll be able to respect all the locals while enjoying your trip from a more informed, authentic perspective.

Many Places Only Accept Cash

The cost of visiting Japan for a 10-day trip can easily cost over $15,000 including airfare. After you withdraw money, subtract currency conversion rates and any processing fees, you may be holding a lot less yen than you imagined for your vacation. While you’ll have no problem finding an ATM in the city, you should plan your expenses out as much as possible ahead of time. Gathering a lump sum for a trip can be difficult, but you may be able to make some changes in your personal life that make it more affordable. For example, you could consider refinancing your student loans, using your credit cards for part of the costs or even selling your life insurance policy. You can review this guide on cashing out your policy to see if it’s the right option for you.

You Should Learn Basic Words and Know How to Read Them

Japanese has a difficult writing system that can be immense for speakers of Romance-inspired languages. Characters can be written in hiragana, kana or kanji, which are Chinese characters that have been adopted into Japanese culture. You don’t need to be fluent to travel, especially if you’re sticking to popular tourist spots in major cities like Tokyo and Kyoto. 

However, you should know how to say basic phrases, greet people appropriately according to the time of day and their age, recognize common street signs and ask a simple question. While many Japanese who work with the public know a little English, it makes a big difference to see someone take the time and effort to communicate in the country’s native language. Japan is a country where respect precedes everything, so bear that in mind with every interaction.

Tattoos or Even Shoes are Not Welcome Everywhere

While tattoo art is considered a form of personal and creative expression in the West, many places and people in Japan still consider them inappropriate. The main reason tattoos have such a bad reputation is their association with the yakuza, the Japanese equivalent of the mafia. If you have any tattoos, you’ll want to stay covered or use a cover-up before visiting many places. You may even be denied entry into a traditional Japanese bathhouse.

Many restaurants and dressing rooms require people to remove their shoes before entering. It is also considered highly disrespectful to wear your shoes in a Japanese home. Make sure that you check any signs or look at others’ feet before waltzing into a location without removing your own shoes.

You Don’t Have to Leave a Tip

While visiting Japan can be pricey for a foreigner, there is one silver lining in that no tips are required. The country pays its workers fairly, so you don’t have to feel bad about not leaving your waiter a little something after a meal. Workers also take immense pride in their jobs in Japan, no matter what they do, so you won’t ever be pressed for tips by a cab driver or hotel staff member either. In fact, if you leave some money on the table after a meal, don’t be surprised if the waiter comes running after you to give you back the money you forgot.

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