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20 things nobody told you about visiting Japan

Everything you need to know about visiting Japan so you can prepare for your trip and fully enjoy it

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. There are a few things you need to know before visiting Japan but the most important thing to remember is that you are going to have an incredible time in the country. You will love every moment of your holiday.

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. Japan surprised us in the most incredible way possible. It's a safe country, friendly and welcoming towards tourists with lots of things to do for every type of traveller.

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

Table of Contents

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.

Make sure you respect the quiet in Japan and speak softly also. It's really beautiful to walk around at night in the centre and enjoy the mega-metropolis being super silent. It has a profound effect on any visitor. You'll love it.

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.

There are over 5 million vending machines nationwide in Japan. There is 1 vending machine for every 23 people (source). Because Japan has one of the lowest levels of crimes in the world, decreasing every year, it's possible to leave all the vending machines on the side roads without the threat of them being vandalised.

Get a hot tea, a morning coffee and a snack at one of the vending machines around Japan.

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.

Jokes aside, Japanese toilets are renowned for being the absolute best in the world. They self-clean and most of them act as bidets also. Besides, no more cold toilet seats in the winter. Japan thought about the user experience and made toilets into an experience.

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.

But don't worry, as I mentioned, the Japanese are friendly towards tourists and visitors. You won't have any issues in Japan and nobody is going to make fun of you during your holiday. You will be able to find some larger size clothes if shopping is your jam.

Being skinny is important in Japanese culture for sure. But when you visit, you don't need to worry about things like this, In fact, many people come back from Japan saying they had the best time in the world. So just get ready to have a good time.

Weird hotels in Tokyo

You can find many different types of accommodation in Tokyo, but it is safe to say that you will also find the weirdest ones here. If you don't like pleasantries and talking to people pick the fully automated Henn na Hotel close to Ginza. If you are after a quick nap, check out out the many capsule hotels. Love manga? Find one of the Manga Cafes and settle in for a good read.

There are also Love Hotels in Shinjuku, tailored for more of an adult Tokyo time. However, many people use them when they also want privacy and to get away from the crowds. These hotels are themed and highly private as well.

Henn na Hotel Tokyo Ginza
Check Henn na Hotel Tokyo Ginza on Booking.com

Henn na Hotel Tokyo Ginza

Henn na Hotel is an automated 'robot' hotel in Tokyo's upmarket shopping district, Ginza. The check-in/check-out is done via self-service kiosks, and some of the daily tasks are done by robots. Fortunately, you can still contact a human if you have any issues.

Conveniently located just a minute's walk from Shintomicho Station, Henn na Hotel Tokyo Ginza boasts air-conditioned rooms with free WiFi throughout the property. Tokyo Station is 13 minutes away by train from this hotel. The rooms are equipped with a flat-screen TV, an electric kettle and a refrigerator. All rooms are fitted with a private bathroom. 

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

Tokyo Ginza BAY HOTEL

Located a 8-minute walk from JR Shinbashi Station, a 6-minute walk from Shinbashi Station on the Ginza Line, Tokyo Ginza Bay Hotel offers capsule rooms with free WiFi access. Free luggage storage service is provided at the property.

Rooms for male and female are located on different floors. Each capsule room is equipped with a USB port. There are shared shower rooms and toilets, and towels are provided.

You will find a shared lounge and vending machines at the property. There is a convenience store on the ground floor of the property building.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

Nine hours Shinjuku-North

All capsules are air conditioned and heated. Bathroom facilities including showers are shared. A hairdryer and free toiletries are provided in some rooms. Lockers are available for guest's convenience.

There are many dining options within a 3-minute walk from the property. Guests can reach a convenience store and grocery store via a 3-minute walk. 

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

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.

Japan excels in customer service. In fact, there's no other country that does customer service better than Japan. Not even England. Everyone in Japan treats customers with the utmost respect. This is something I really appreciated about my time in Japan. I felt valued as a tourist who wants to spend money to support the economy.

Tip: visit a local artisan or craft shop and learn about the way Japanese people care about tradition.

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?

This is something we valued while visiting Japan. No demand was too big or small. The staff smiled gently and tried their very best to accommodate us. Even the people in shops, supermarkets, department stores or train station were kind and service-oriented.

Visiting Japan is so worth it because you feel respected and valued as a tourist.

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.

This is why we recommend Japan for solo travellers. It's a country where you can walk around without fear. In fact, theft reports are very low in Japan. When you visit Japan you will love seeing how locals leave so many belongings unaccompanied in public places, cafes and bars.

For example, it's common for people to leave their expensive laptops and phones on a table at the coffee shop while they go to the toilet. We were stunned by this fact, but also made us feel safe, in a normal, civilised society.

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 slot machines and smoke like chimneys.

But you need to look out for smoking areas in large cities. There are many public areas where people are not allowed to smoke. You can only do so in dedicated spaces.

We noticed that many Japanese people smoke. But it's nice to know you can walk down the main boulevards without inhaling other people's smoke because of the strict rules in Japan.

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.

Another thing you need to remember is that you sometimes need to remove your shoes before entering a public toilet in a restaurant.

This may sound crazy, but toilet slippers are always provided for you. This is because Japanese people understand that the world is full of dirt and gems, so we shouldn't bring them into the home.

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 an 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.

Update: Preparing for the Olympics, Japan has been heavily investing in teaching English. As a result, people will more likely speak English in large, medium cities. The younger generations also speak better English.

But of course, since you are visiting Japan, you shouldn't be upset if people can't help you in English. Just be polite, thank them and try asking another person.

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.

This idea helps Japanese people plan their route to work and school without ever being late. Infrastructure is sound in Japan and very reliable. This is something you will really enjoy because you can preplan your trip down to the second!

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.

You will see that people wear neutral colours and the whole idea behind it is that you should blend in as much as possible. This is a Japanese mentality you should respect when visiting Japan.

A lot of people worry about visiting Japan with tattoos. You don't have to worry at all. Many people understand that in Western societies, tattoos are not related to the mafia but an act of art and self-expression. However, you might be denied entry to some onsens. This is not personal, but it's only normal that the owners cannot start making exceptions for you, to locals with tattoo will then demand entry also.

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.

So please take a moment to see the signs around you. Even if you don't speak Japanese, all posters have obvious drawings so you can understand what not to do. Another important thing is to pay attention to the signs on the pavements and floors in Japan. They will have arrows on them, so you know which side of the road to stick to. Avoid getting into people's way or you might make them late for work.

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.

When it comes to Japanese food, there's no other country I'd rather visit. You will really enjoy eating your way around Japan.

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.

In Japan, a new buyer will often bulldoze the home. This is because the land keeps its value but the house doesn't. Even though houses in Japan are built to very high standards, especially in comparison to other Western countries. Physical homes in Japan become worthless within 15-30 years.

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 in 2017 when we spent 2 weeks in Japan, we noticed that more 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.

You can look at the cost to visit Japan and make some proper estimations. You can enjoy a trip to Japan on a budget for sure. Especially now that they have an array of accommodations that are suitable for a wide range of budgets.

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

That's it! You now know what to expect from your visit to Japan. There is plenty more about the Japanese way of life and no better way to learn about it but to experience it for yourself. That's why we really recommend visiting Japan because you are going to love every moment of your trip.

What did you learn whilst visiting Japan? Tell me all about it in the comments section below.

Comment

M
Malik
03 Aug 2019

Thanks for the nice article. An interesting read, indeed.
I'm going to Japan in two weeks for business. I'll be staying in Kumamoto. Any recommendations for things to do and places to visit there?

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Cory
06 Aug 2019

Hi Malik,

Really awesome you will go to Japan for two weeks. I will create an article for Kumamoto soon!
Enjoy!

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Taniya
23 Jun 2019

Awesome! I'm glad you share your vacation and the tourist destination you choose is very good and interesting. Thank you for sharing your experience and knowledge here.

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Nathan Scheer
26 May 2019

Wow I think you could do something similar like this about every prefecture :P I pushed an article similar on Nihon Scope a few months ago, people really want the inside scoop about Japan. Still very mysterious to so many... I'll toss this on NihonScope and see if they go on a sharing spree again!

BEST,

U
Una Leigh
09 May 2019

Very informative and useful article as planning a visit in October. Feel more confident about going now. Thank you.

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Tim Donald
19 Feb 2019

Hi.
My wife and I are thinking of visiting Japan for the first time. We would like to experience Tokyo, but would also like to do something a little more tranquil, any suggestions?

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Cory
22 Feb 2019

Hi Tim, so many suggestions!
We recommend visiting Nikko and Nagano. We also recommend Kyoto with day trips to Osaka, Nara and Uji :)

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Olla Mutanbo
09 Sep 2018

Everything I’ve heard about Japan is just amazing! I’d love to visit someday too; however I’m worried about Japanese ppl’s attitudes toward African tourist, I hope the experience isn’t going to be a negative one. Like some parts of Eastern Europe that I visited recently, there were occasional hissing and bad looks, as well as avoiding us when we tried to ask questions or for directions.

C
Cory
11 Sep 2018

Hi Olla,

Japan is truly wonderful and I really hope you won't have any issues. Truth be told, cities are always fine but remote areas are a little more peculiar. Some people stare at you if you're not Asian either way. We had kids point and laugh because we looked so different than them.
Don't allow this to deter you in any way. We saw many African tourists in Japan. People in Japan are kind and polite and the only reason why they avoid is that they might speak too little English :D

J
Josh B
07 Sep 2018

Nice read guys thanks! I’m visiting Japan with my girlfriend this Christmas and new year, can’t wait!

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Cory
11 Sep 2018

You guys will LOVE it

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Angela K
09 Mar 2018

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 :)

J
John Kennedy
23 Jun 2017

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

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Nelly
14 Apr 2017

Top-notch, thanks for this.

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Aanchal Iyer
23 Jan 2017

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

K
Karin
21 Jan 2017

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

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Sarah
31 Oct 2016

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

C
Cory
31 Oct 2016

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.

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Eva | Travel Th...
30 Oct 2016

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.

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Cory
30 Oct 2016

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.

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Danielle - geek...
29 Oct 2016

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!

C
Cory
30 Oct 2016

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

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Birthe (from Wa...
29 Oct 2016

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?

C
Cory
29 Oct 2016

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...

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Birthe (from Wa...
29 Oct 2016

Thanks, I will have a look! :)

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Cavaforlunch
03 Aug 2016

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

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Cory
03 Aug 2016

Really glad you liked it! xx

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sophie nadeau
27 Jul 2016

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

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Cory
02 Aug 2016

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

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Sienna
15 Jul 2016

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

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Cory
02 Aug 2016

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

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Pati
14 Jul 2016

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

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Cory
02 Aug 2016

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

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Annika of 457 A...
12 Jul 2016

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

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Cory
02 Aug 2016

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

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Maria
03 Jul 2016

Super interesting post :P

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Cory
02 Aug 2016

Glad you liked it.

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Ben Zabulis
02 Jul 2016

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.

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Cory
02 Aug 2016

Japan is the best place on Earth :P