20 things nobody told you about visiting Japan

Visiting Japan has been the best travel decision we made to date. With all the weird quirks, the latest crazes and its uniqueness, Japan quickly became our favourite country in the world. 

When I first arrived in Tokyo, I had no idea how to eat sushi correctly, why people bow and how to greet or thank in Japanese. I didn't know why people take their shoes off or that it's perfectly safe to carry large amounts of yen in my wallet, whilst getting lost in the darkest streets of Tokyo. 

So here are the 20 things nobody tells you about visiting Japan. 

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Tokyo Japan Sunset

Japan is silent

I know, I know, you can't believe one of the world's most densely populated cities can actually be silent. Well apart from certain districts such as Shibuya or Shinjuku, the streets of Tokyo are rather quiet. Nobody speaks loudly, nobody screams, there is no chattering in the background. Walking around downtown Tokyo at night (e.g. Chiyoda) is like enjoying a quiet Sunday afternoon in a park. 

There are vending machines everywhere

Oh no, you forgot to buy milk, noodles, smokes, bananas? Worry not, there are vending machines EVERYWHERE in Japan. You can buy anything ranging from hot or cold drinks to umbrellas and warm meals. 

You need a manual to use the toilets

There is a singing button, a seat warming button, a button which shows a person sitting on top of a small spring, a person sitting on top of a waterfall ... there is a plus button, a minus button. Ergh, I guess just try and get to know your toilet before using it. 

Size matters in Japan

Everyone eats. Everyone eats all the time. Yet everyone is skinny and petite. Chances are if you are anything over (UK) size 6-8 you are probably considered fat in Japan. 

The Japanese are super proud

It doesn't matter if a Japanese person works in a corporate environment, Michelin restaurant or serves you at the local shop, everyone is super proud of their work. They do things well, never cut any corners and take their job seriously. 

Japanese chef popular japanese food

World's best service

In line with the previous point, since everyone is super proud of their work, things are obviously done correctly, all the time, anytime. This, in turn, translates to Japan having the world's best customer service. Forget the 5* hotel experience you have to pay serious cash for in a Western country. In Japan, you will feel like royalty just by ordering noddles from the tiny restaurant hidden in a dark street. Impressive, right?

Japan is super safe

Japanese children go to school alone since they are 5 years old. Women have nothing to fear even when they walk in the darkest street in the middle of the night. Being amongst the countries with the lowest crime rate on the planet, Japan has maintained its reputation as being incredibly safe. 

Person or chimney?

In Japan, there are still bars, restaurants and establishments where people are allowed to smoke indoors. A Pachinko, for example, is loud entrainment places where people play the slot machines and smoke like chimneys. 

Sometimes you just need to take the shoes off

It can happen to you anywhere. At the restaurant, at the temple, when entering someone's home. Japanese are quite strict about their "taking the shoes off" rule and you should absolutely respect this. Make sure your socks are always clean and spotless. 

Temple Roofs Uji

Japanese people don't speak English

I was surprised to see a few people who can speak English in Japan. For such internet oriented nation, I expected that most will have no issues communicating in English. In reality, I heavily relied on gesticulating and pointing at things. Learn a few basic phrases before visiting Japan.  

They are dead on time

Never, ever, ever be late when meeting with a Japanese person. Everything in Japan is dead on time: the trains, the buses, the people, the service. On rare occasions when the trains are late, the conductor offers an explanatory note to the passengers so they can use it at work/school. If you are invited to a party at 7 pm, be there at 7 pm sharp. 

Hello, sexy!

The Japanese look good even when they take the garbage out. Everyone wears good clothes, is dressed properly and nicely arranged. There are no people wearing baggy t-shirts, old trousers and dirty shoes. There is no such thing as overdressing in Japan. 

No rule benders

Is there a rule, a law, a sign? The Japanese take it seriously and respect it. It is because nobody bends the rules in Japan, that the society works so well, the crime rates are incredibly low and people respect each other. 

No tipping

Chances are, if you tip in Japan, someone is going to run after you to give you the money back. It's not an insult to tip, but people are simply happy with their salaries and their work, hence they don't believe tipping is necessary. Should you love the service just buy the chef a shot of sake. Say Kanpai (the Japanese word for cheers) and leave it to that. It will be far more appreciated. 

Disposable houses

All Japanese houses look rather good and they seem to be preserved in great condition. This is because, in Japan, people demolish and rebuilt their houses every 30 years or so. Of course, not all houses undergo these drastic changes. 

Sunset Shrine Kyoto

No cards please, we're Japanese

For such high tech nation, Japan still uses the good old cash. From the economy's perspective, using cash is obviously much better, but it's also more inconvenient for the person carrying the money. However, since Japan is very safe, carrying lots of yen in your pocket is perfectly fine. When I tried to buy something of high value in Japan, I wanted to pay with my visa card. It turns out, the merchant didn't even know how to use the card machine and offered me a staggering 15% discount for the inconvenience, if I pay with cash instead. 
 

Update: During our second visit when we spent 2 weeks in Japan, we noticed that almost every business accepted our international card. There were some izakayas where we needed to pay cash, but definitely a huge improvement since we first visited Japan. 

 

Manners matter

Of course not being a douche applies to all travellers in any country, but the Japanese are super tight about their customs. Sure they will forgive you if you are a foreigner, but they will also much appreciate you if you put a little effort in. Learn the essential Japanese manner and etiquette prior to visiting Japan. 

Religion is not a thing

The Japanese are not religious, they are spiritual. No, it's really not the same thing. Whilst highly peculiar about living in harmony with their nature, they don't actually go to shrines or temples to pray but to pay their respects, which is a huge difference in Japan.
You can learn a bit more about Japan and religion here.

spiritual sensoji tokyo

Japan is not expensive

For so many years tourists avoided visiting Japan because of the "super expensive" label. In reality, Japan is not expensive. Sure, if you compare it with the living costs in Cambodia, Japan is rather pricey, but I'm comparing it to the living standards in the US, UK and Europe. You can eat a decent hot meal for as little as $3 if you know where to look. On that note, don't forget to make a list of all the popular Japanese food you need to try. 

Japan has four Seasons

Japan has four seasons and people celebrate and live in harmony with them. They even cook accordingly by using seasonal produce. People also dress for the season, so if you are planning a February trip to Japan, make sure to bring warm clothes, whereas Spring in Japan is mild and pleasant. You can prepare for the cherry blossom festival or learn what is the best time to visit Japan

Couple Travel Mount Fujisan Japan

There is plenty more about the Japanese way of life and no better way to learn about it but to experience it. What did you learn whilst visiting Japan? Tell me all about it in the comments section below.

28 Comments

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Nice article, enjoyed reading it and you're right with all those items. I love Japan, it's a great place to visit and the people are wonderful ! For me it still remains one of the best and certainly most quirky travel destinations.

Japan is the best place on Earth :P

Super interesting post :P

Glad you liked it.

What I love about Japan is their hi-tech toilet and of course the Sakura festival.

I'm back home thinking...why don't we have those amazing toilets here in the UK!!!

I visited Japan last year and stayed only for 4 days in Tokyo since it was just a stopover. I wish I had more time! It's a very interesting and inspiring country.

I invite you to visit my blog and read my latest post :) I hope you'll like it

I hope you get to spend more time in Japan next time!

Japan is totally on my bucket list, these pictures make me want to go so bad!

I hope you manage to visit soon, it's such impressive country!

I can't believe I've still never been to Japan (it's definitely on my bucket list though!)

Put it super high up the bucket list. I really can't wait to go back. Such amazingness.

I've never been but I really want to go after reading all of this. Great list xx

Really glad you liked it! xx

I always like those handy list about things you need to know before visiting another country, definitely when their culture is so different than ours. How awesome is it that vending machines are everywhere? So convenient! I believed Japan to be expensive too, glad that it isn't. ;) You got a list on where to look for "cheap" and good food as well? Hope to make it there one day. Tokyo 2020 maybe?

Thank you for taking the time to read my article. I do have a list for best street food in Tokyo. However, apart from the high end restaurants, there are a lot of places where you can get a meal for as cheap as $5. Yes, it's healthy and delicious. I am creating a comprehensive book for Tokyo 2020 and can't wait to share it with you all. More details soon. I hope you do go do Japan, you won't regret it.
https://www.youcouldtravel.com/destinations/japan Here is the place where all Japan related magic happens. And this is the best food guide to get you started https://www.youcouldtravel.com/travel-blog/the-best-18-types-of-street-f...

Thanks, I will have a look! :)

I love this! It is all so true! I lived in Kyoto for 2 years - and this just took me right back!! The weirdest thing I found was in a similar vein to the no debit cards - they all use fax machines! Like, all the time! I had to learn how to use on at work because I'd never done it before! haha.
For such a technologically advanced country- they always manage to surprise me with how low-tech they really are!

Kyoto is such amazing city, but if I could live anywhere in Japan, it would definitely be Tokyo for me. I loved their culture, their food, the people, simply everything. But still...fax machines? haha

Thank you! I love this list! Japan is on my bucket list but one huge thing is the cultural difference or my total ignorance of its culture so to say that I had.

Hi Eva. Glad you liked the list. I hope you go to Japan soon. Don't worry about the cultural difference, I reckon you will love it after a day or two.

I agree with Japan being silent. Of course it gets loud and lively in some places, but most times people hurry on by getting to their destinations. (Related to your point on them being precisely on time!) I'm pretty sure it also has to do with people being respectful of other people's sound space. The Japanese are a very respectful people, after all! This can also be why they dress smartly and sharply all the time. Looking our best is respect for the person we're meeting with, right? :) In the provinces, clothes are more relaxed, but always appropriate, still.

Removing shoes is more often than "sometimes", I think! Oh, and GASP! I have seen a few rule benders. Seeing them reminded me that Japan isn't perfect.

Aaaah and I live in the Philippines, so Japan is definitely expensive. You can't tell me otherwise. Haha! BUT it's totally worth the money!

(Oops, I'm not trying to contradict what you're saying; I'm just sharing what I've seen!) Thanks for sharing these! I always want to go back to Japan, and this post fuels that even more. :D

Hi Sarah, Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I am crazy about Japan and I think it's the best place ever. I love how smart, respectful and awesome the Japanese are. Can't believe you saw a couple of rule benders, haha, that seems mad!
I have been outside of Tokyo and travelled around and I have to agree, people can be a more relaxed in terms of appearance, yet I still found them nicely dressed. Maybe this is my attitude coming from the UK, where sometimes people go shopping in a pyjama or a onesie (dude, no joke, it's weird). When it comes to prices, I have to compare it with the UK because this is what I know best. However, by no means Japan is cheap...is just affordable if you know where to look. A little hotel room in London can be £80 or more, whereby Tokyo had some for £50 or even less. For example, there is no way I can go in a British restaurant and get a £3 (delicious) meal. In Tokyo I managed to do this on a regular basis (those cool vending machine restaurants). I would love to visit the Philippines <3 I bet it's beautiful.

Interesting article! I didn´t know they also liked to take shoes off :-) I am a fan of that!

This is super fantastic, some points are unbelievable Cory.
By the way got some Japanese colleagues who have been recently hired to work with us, this will add on a some more amazing and interesting points to the list.
Keep posting such off beat topics it really sounds interesting
Cheers

N

Top-notch, thanks for this.

Thanks for sharing this.I'll be visiting the place over the holidays

A
Angela K

I love Japan so much!! I've been there two times and on my last trip I spent quite some time in rather rural areas and it was super nice! :)
People in comfy clothes and completely relaxed.. an unusual sight in Japan :D those people are really curious and if you speak some words in japanese they will be super happy and help you with totally everything

Great experience :)

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