If you've read my past Japan posts (such as creating the perfect itinerary or where to go in Tokyo) it is pretty obvious I planned this trip to death so I feel like I walked in knowing exactly what I was getting myself into. I would now like to pass on everything you need to know about your first time in Japan because I think it might really help some of you take advantage of all this beautiful country has to offer.
The Japanese are some of the nicest and most polite people you will ever come across. Many of my friends and colleagues had told me this before I went but I would always just brush it off thinking it was an over exaggeration. And I continued to think this as I travelled through Tokyo as I had yet to meet someone who was more polite than the average person. But then I arrived at Kyoto station half way through my trip, finding myself lost for the first time (my WiFi buddy had up until this point been guiding me). A woman approached me offering to help me find which bus I needed to catch to get to my hotel, walked me to the bus stop and stood with me until the bus came. It didn't stop there, she even got on the bus with me to talk to the driver and make sure he was going the right way and to be aware that I needed to get off at the stop. I almost cried, it was the nicest thing a stranger has ever done for me.
Japan Railway Pass
A JRP is basically a pass that gets you unlimited train and subway (only particular lines) within Japan for a certain number of days. The most popular one is the 7 day pass for around £200. Although it sounds expensive (it definitely did for me) it actually saves you a lot of money if you plan to leave Tokyo and travel to different places such as Kyoto, Osaka and Miyajama Island. However, it is worth it to plan out your rough itinerary and see whether there JRP is worth it or not. For example, if you plan to stay in Tokyo for most of your trip with maybe one day trip then it would be cheaper to just get a one off ticked to wherever you're planning on going.
WiFi is basically non-existent
Luckily I had read about this before travelling to Japan and sorted out a portable wifi device. These things will save your life and just make your trip more enjoyable as you can easily navigate your way through the country online. The one I would highly recommend is the Japan Wifi Buddy. They were extremely reliable and sent the device to my hostel (you can also pick it up at the airport) with instructions as well as an envelope you can use when you post it back to them at the end of your trip.
Convenience Stores are Amazing
The UK needs to adopt the way Japan do corner shops. They have the most epic range of food and drinks you could want as well as other essentials such as toiletries. The most popular ones you'll see are 7-11, Lawson and Familymart.
On the subject of food, Japan also takes their vending machines seriously. For a few yen you can get various kinds of drinks and snacks. The coffee in particular made many of my mornings more bearable!
In Japan it seems to be the norm to not have soap in public bathrooms, so I'd advise bringing your own hand soap or wet wipes just to avoid this issue. Also, on a weirder note, public bathrooms there are actually fairly... public. As in you can look straight into the guys section and just see men... well you know. After a quick google while I was awkwardly standing in queue I discovered that apparently its because they feel it is safer to have bathrooms be so open rather.
Also the high-tech toilets are both amazing and so so weird. Don't be afraid to play with the different features!
A few things to be aware of will help you during your time in Japan:
- Japanese people tend to be very silent on public transport.
- Do not eat food while walking, it is considered rude (it's also why there are not trash bins).
- Know a few key phrases before going (Arigatou for thank you is a good one to start with).
- Tipping in Japan is not expected and some people may even take offense.
- When paying for items at a shop, put your money onto the little tray on the counter.
Japan is a cash based society
Everything in Japan is dealt with using cash and your credit or debit cards will be relatively useless in Japan. Make sure to take out plenty of cash before you leave home and if you need more whilst you're there then local 7-11 ATM's are a safe place to take out some cash.