For better or for worse, Japan is not like any other country in the world. While it does share a few things with its Asian neighbors, it remains truly unique and tourists and long-term residents often find themselves in a pickle when they do things that are considered normal back home that just wouldn’t fly in Japan. Here are 10 mistakes to avoid when you travel to Japan.
Unlike in Western countries, tipping is generally considered to be an insult in Japan. As far as the Japanese are concerned, tipping implies that you believe someone went above and beyond to serve you, rather than performing the same way for other customers. It can also imply to the owner that you don’t think they pay their employees a decent wage. The exception to this rule is with ryokan or traditional inns, where it’s customary to leave a small amount in an envelope before you leave.
2.) Not carrying enough cash
While Japan is technologically advanced in many ways, it still remains a largely cash-based society. It’s good to have a credit card handy, but cash is still definitely king in Japan.
3.) Not carrying an extra pair of clean socks
There are a number of places where you will be expected to remove your shoes upon entry. Having soiled socks can be a very embarrassing situation to be in, so it’s best to only pack clean socks on your trip.
4.) Not learning basic courtesy words and phrases
The Japanese are very polite people, and as they’re often in close quarters with others, manners are a central part of their everyday life. Knowing the Japanese words for ‘excuse me’(Sumimasen), and ‘thank you’(Arigatou Gozaimasu) can be a great start. Check any of the thousands of excellent resources online for a list of basic phrases you can get down and master before you make the trip.
5.) Not getting a pocket WiFi
Japan has some of the best internet connectivity in the world. However, as a traveler, you might still be paying through the nose for roaming charges from your service provider. A pocket WiFi can be one of the handier things you can get for a trip to Japan. Some companies such as Japan Wifi Buddy can get you a fast internet connection as soon as you land in Japan, and for much less than a typical data plan by most cellphone service providers.
6.) Expecting to find a trash can just anywhere
There are very few public trash cans in Japan, chiefly because the Japanese are generally very strict about segregating their trash. Most people will just generally hang on to their trash until they get to their home or office where it could be disposed of properly. Fortunately, you will also find trash cans in your hotel, and also in public restrooms. And speaking of public restrooms…
7.) Not carrying hand sanitizer and handkerchiefs with you
It’s not unusual for public restrooms in Japan to not have soap, hand dryers, and toilet paper. This can be disconcerting for some people after seeing the spotless outdoors that characterize Japanese cities. Japanese people typically carry around a handkerchief mainly for drying off their hands after using sinks in public restrooms as well as some toilet paper for when the need arises, and it’s best that you do the same as well.
8.) Assuming a Japan Rail Pass will save you money
A lot of guides will recommend that you get a Japan Rail Pass to save you money when you’re traveling around Japan. However, as of writing, a 7-day JR Pass will set you can by as much as 27,837 yen, which is a considerable amount any way you cut it. Only get a JR Pass if it makes sense for your itinerary, as an individual ticket can offer better value, especially for short time travelers.
9.) Not bringing a power bank
We all know that our devices have an astonishing ability to run out of juice right when we need them. Sure, you can actually buy power banks in Japan that are probably better than the one you own. However, it’s best to already have one on hand rather than to waste time looking for one when you arrive.
10.) Forgetting that temples are real places of worship
Some Japanese may take offense at horseplay and other kinds of misbehavior on temple grounds. Always show the proper respect and deference when you’re visiting one of Japan’s thousands of holy sites.