I’m just coming off a 12-day vacation in Japan (Osaka, Kyoto, Tokyo & a few places in between) and cannot stop thinking about the kind people, the rich culture and the food, oh the food was delicious. This was my first trip to Japan and I learned some handy tips when travelling in Japan.
Here’s a list to help you along on your journeys (and if Japan isn’t on your list, I’d seriously consider it).
No Tipping: Tipping isn’t a custom in Japan – pay whatever is on the bill. Even though there’s no tipping, you’ll experience some of the best customer service in the world.
Carry Cash: Not to worry – you can definitely use your credit card when buying clothes, but it’s very convenient to use cash for food, with many places being cash only. And if they do take cards, you’ll want to use cash so you don’t hold up the line! It’s much more efficient.
Department Store Discounts For Tourists: Lots of department stores offer special discounts for tourists including my favourite department store, Takashimaya (which offers 5%). Pop by the information booth before you roam the store for your special discount card (don’t forge to bring your passport).
Stand On The Left: Yup, instead of right! Stand to the left when heading up or down the escalators. You don’t want to be a blocking the right side of the escalator during a busy commute.
Women’s Only Subway Cars: I didn’t experience any subway rides where I was packed like a sardine, but it can get insanely busy during rush hour. On some subway lines, there are cars designated for women-only – you’ll see pink signs on the subway floor and pillars.
English Is NOT A Common Language: Keep this in mind when trying to navigate your way through the cities. English is not a common language, and if you need to ask a question – keep language simple. For example, you’ll want to say “cheque” for the bill at a restaurant instead of saying “I want to pay”. Also learning a few words in the language are appreciated, like ‘Excuse Me’ is ‘Sumimasen’. I also had Google Translate on my phone – this came in handy at the subway when I typed a message in the app and showed the subway attendant, who then typed in a message on the Google Translate app on her iPad.
Buy A SIM: I used a Docomo SIM card for my phone, as you’ll use your phone a lot for searching subway routes and making sure you’re going in the right direction on Google Maps. SIM cards can be purchased at convenience stores like Family Mart, Lawson and even the airport (I saw them at Narita in Tokyo). Renting a Pocket Wifi is also an option (it’ll be a tad pricier), but good if you have a tablet or laptop you’re using during the trip. Pocket Wifi’s have a battery life of about 8 hours.
Rent A Locker: It’s likely that you’ll be out and about for hours on end and may accumulate a few (or a lot) of shopping bags. All of the subways have lockers that you can rent (small to large), store your bags or suitcase. Depending on the size of the locker, they cost 200-700 Yen.
Turn Off Your Ringer: On the subway – it’s busy on the trains and you want to respect others. You’ll notice that there aren’t any loud people yapping away on their phone.
Haneda Over Narita Airport: If you’re travelling in and out of Tokyo, you may want to consider Haneda Airport over Narita. Haneda is significantly closer to the city centre. A bus to Haneda from the Shinjuku district takes about 35 minutes, while a bus to Narita takes 120 minutes. The greater distance also means it’s more expensive (more than double the price) to get to Narita. If you have a choice, choose Haneda over Narita.
Buy Treats At The Airport: It’s a given that you’ll take home Japanese snacks, you really can’t help it. Remember the airport is great place to buy these snacks. Going through Narita airport, I saw four exclusive flavours of Kit Kat bars and tonnes of snacks. This saves you from lugging treats to the airport, which take up precious space in your luggage. And make note, you need to buy chocolates from Royce and grab “fries” from Potato Farm.
If you’ve been to Japan, let me know your favourite places in the comments – I can’t wait to go back!
Stay tuned for my guide to Japan – places to visit, things to eat and where to shop.