Japan Travel Tips - When In Japan
Japan is a country with it’s own way of life. At first it may seem strange from the outside but once you lean in a little, it will all start to make sense. If you are going to Japan for the first time, or even if you have been, you might find this list useful. Here are a list of things that I encountered in my travels recently.
1. Carry A Small Bag when Out and About
Bring a small bag when sightseeing. It will be useful to store trash. Yes, that's right. Japan streets have no visible rubbish bins. Because littering is a definite no-no, no matter where you are, we found ourselves keeping our trash in our bags till we find a bin. Bins are usually located at train stations, train platforms and convenience stores. Sometimes, right next to vending machines too. But usually just for recyclables. In my case my camera bag doubled up as a portable rubbish bin. If you are at a restaurant and you happen to have a small bag of rubbish, most of them will happily take your rubbish and dispose for you. Just ask nicely.
Also, remember to seperate your trash into burnable and non-burnables. There are bins to dispose non-burnables like metal cans and pet bottles. Everything else goes into a burnables trash bin.
2. Don't Walk and Eat
You might have heard this one before. And it's true in most situations. It is generally considered unacceptable to walk and eat. Most markets, like the Tsukiji Outer Market, will have small areas with standing tables or bar stools for you to eat at. If you buy a quick bite from the convenient store,, you can stand and eat outside the store. Some stores also have an area to sit and eat. I find it better to finish my food before setting off because I get to enjoy my food properly. And, when I finish, I can dispose of the trash into the store. Yes they usually have a trash can in store. Otherwise I'd be stuck with a piece of trash till I find the next illusive bin!
Although, there are unique situations where you can walk and eat and that's on food streets. On those streets, it's perfectly acceptable to walk and eat. Because the entire street is lined with food stalls selling snacks and eating while walking is fine.
3. Factor in time to be lost
I am not kidding. YOU WILL BE LOST. Even for the most avid traveller, it will take you some time to navigate Japanese train stations. Unless you read Japanese, it is a bit of a mind melt trying to pair train directions, with train line names, with colour, with where you want to go and the correct platform to get onto. Fortunately most train stations are easier these days as they have English phonetic spellings of the Japanese name. But even then, it will take some time to get the hang of it. What I have found useful with Google maps is to zoom in on the map to find the nearest exit by number and their corresponding cardinal direction (meaning north, south, east or west), which is usually written out in Kanji (similar to Chinese characters) in Google Maps. If you are like me, just willy nilly take the nearest exit, you might find yourself on the opposite end of the station to where you want to go. Exits are very important. In fact figure that out before you even step out of the train or be prepared to be lost.
Well, here's a quick snapshot of what each character means.
北 - North [kita]
南 - South [minami]
東 - East [azuma]
西 - West [nishi]
中 - Central [chuo]
Here’s a cheatsheet for north south east west and know the chinese/japanese equivalent of it.
A great companion app is Hyperdia, which I mentioned in a previous post. It is so useful that I have to mention it again. Because I was using the 7 Day JR Pass, Hyperdia was very helpful in showing me the best route to take without having to pay extra for local train lines. Or the cheapest option available. As a quick note, the JR Pass only allows you to ride unlimited on JR branded train lines, Shinkansen and some local services. Anything else that does not have the JR brand, like the Tokyo Metro or the Kuko Subway (in Fukuoka) are operated by other companies and these require seperate tickets.oThe JR Pass still presents a lot of savings if you are going to 2 or 3 cities (Like from Tokyo to Osaka to Kyoto and back), so it is definitely recommended.
Fortunately, there are also other unlimited passes that saves you money taking local trains. Like the Osaka Amazing Pass that gives you up to One or Two-day unlimited rides and entry into many tourist attractions such as the Osaka Castle, Umeda Sky Building and river cruises.
4. Pick up a few useful Japanese phrases
If this is your first time to Japan, here are a few phrases that will be very helpful. Japanese people are very helpful and if you ask for help, most of them will go out of their way, even with language barriers, to give you a hand. When we had our flat tyre at the market in Fukuoka, two men came by to help us inflate our tyre and called our rental company to translate for us. Having some Japanese phrases will be helpful. Do note these are mostly used in informal settings.
Konichiwa - Hi, Hello, G'day
This is pretty straightforward standard greet. You can use this anytime of the day. Sometimes you might hear "Konbanwa" - good evening. Or "Ohayogozaimasu" - good morning.
Sumimasen - Excuse me, I'm sorry, Pardon Me, Can I get some help?
This is a very versatile phrase. It's both a phrase to apologise and also to get the attention of the waiter. Although, the proper phrase for apologising is "gomenasai", the above is also an acceptable form.
Daijoubu - It's Alright, I’ts Ok, No Worries
This was something I picked up from my partner. It's such a useful phrase in situations when someone bumps into you and you can say Daijoubu.
Arigato Gozaimasu - the formal phrase to say Thank You.
Arigato is the shortest informal equivalent to 'thanks'. But we've noticed that the full Arigato Gozaimasu is the usual thing most people say. We've also heard of a more formal Domo Arigato Gozaimasu. And that's used in a setting where you are super thankful for someone's assistance or to show a deep gratitude. Usually also followed by a bow. The correct way to pronounce this is simply 'arigato-gozaimassss'. Drop the 'u' at the end. This phrase is also a versatile phrase to say 'you are welcome'.
Chottomatte - One Moment Please, One second
In situations if you are fumbling for coins to pay, or when you need to ask for help. If you want to make it more polite, add 'Kudasai' at the end.
These are just some of the phrases I've used. Don't be afraid to sound silly. I certainly felt like a fish out of water using these tongue twisting phrases. One time instead of saying arigatogozaimasu, I said gadogado... which is a spicy indonesian salad! Lucky for me, no one knew what I was saying... So, what other phrase do you think is also useful? Do tell me in the comments below.
5. Be Respectful - Do as the locals do
This might also seem obvious. But talking on trains is a frowned upon. You will notice that people either whisper to each other on trains or they take phone calls outside of train cars. On Shinkansens, if you have to take a phone call, you should go to section between train cars which have sliding doors to block off any noise.
While eating on Shinkansen is encouraged, eating on local subway and metro trains are frowned upon as well. If you have to eat, finish them at the platform or outside the gates (also good to dispose of your food trash) before you board.
Most cashiers have a small money tray for you to place your cash on the payment counter table when you are making payment. I have made the mistake of handing money directly into the hands of the staff only to realise there is a money tray in front me. That same money tray is also where they give you your change as well.
At temples and shrines, local Japanese actually go and pray at these holy sites. So, don’t treat this like any other tourist spots and act like an excited fool. Be aware of your surroundings. Avoid making loud noises and jumping about excitedly. If you are shooting a video or photo, avoid pointing it into people’s faces. Be discreet, quiet and respectful.
And if you get told by a local, respectfully follow what they say and don’t question why. You can always google that later. Sometimes they are just cultural norms outsiders are not familiar with. Remember you are after all a guest in someone else’s home.
Essential Things To Remember
• Portable Powerbank - for your devices. This is pretty obvious.
• Wall Plug Converter - Japanese wall sockets are two-pin (flat). However if you do forget, you should be able to borrow one from the concierge. Or buy one at a 100 Yen store.
• Multi-Extension Plug - Rooms may only come with one or two wall outlets. Especially capsule pods, some only have one. Again, you can also buy one at 100 Yen shops. Although they’d all come in Japanese two-pin only.
• Leave all 240 volts electronics at home. Japanese voltage is similar to American at 100 volts. Most European, Aussie and South East Asian electrical devices are not compatible and will require a voltage transformer. Using non-compatible devices is a fire hazard and damage your devices. So, leave them at home. Especially things like hair dryers, as some may not be dual voltage. Most hotels, even the budget ones will supply them anyway. If you really need to bring an electronic device, such as hair curlers/straighteners, always check that it says 100 - 240 volts to mean they are dual voltage. Fortunately portables like laptops, smartphones, power banks including USB chargers are pretty dual voltage, so you don't have to worry about exploding sockets!
• Japan uses the metric system much like Europe, Aussie and Asian.
• Japan cars and roads are right hand drive, much like most of Asia Pacific. If you are confused, cars and vehicles drive on the left side of the road, the opposite of the US.
• Japan has one time zone across the entire country with no daylight savings observed. Also known as JST, Japan Standard Time is +9 GMT.
1 hour ahead of most Asian countries like Singapore, Hong Kong,
1 hour behind eastern Australian states (during non-daylight savings)
Anything else I missed? Let me know in the comments below!