17 Things To Know Before Traveling To Japan

My name is Brian and my fiancé is not only beautiful, but she’s also Japanese. I visit Japan with her about once a year.

Today I want to share some important things to know before you go to Japan, whether it’s
your first time or if you’ve been before and you want to improve your experience.

This is essentially everything I’ve learned as a non-native speaker and someone who was
new to Japan. I wish someone would have or could have told me these things before my first time, and that’s why I’m sharing them with you today.

1. Learn Some Japanese.

In my experience, there aren’t a lot of English speakers in Japan, therefore it’s important
to know at least some Japanese.

I’ve put together a Google Doc of words and phrases I tend to use when I’m visiting. In it, I give you some words and phrases that will build an ultra simple but useful foundation. Then I demonstrate some combinations that are possible.

With these simple building blocks, you’ll be able to speak and even comprehend in a
scenarios and you can of course learn more words to expand from there.

2. Utilize Different Translation Methods.

In most situations, you’ll need a translator.

When I don’t have my fiance there to help, I use two must have apps, ChatGPT and Google
Translate.

ChatGPT is great for phrases that you want to say to somebody. What you want to do first is set up a prompt. I usually do something like:

  • Translate English to Japanese.
  • Print the translation out in Romaji.
  • Give me a breakdown of the translation to help me better understand.

Then give ChatGPT the phrase you want to say, let it translate, go ahead and practice it, memorize it, and try it out.

I find that ChatGPT’s translations are better than Google Translate, although the app can
be a little bit slow.

When it comes to reading in Japanese, this is where I think Google Translate is excellent.

Click the camera icon in the app. Now you can hold your phone over words on a menu or on a sign and it will translate them for you.

I will say that sometimes the translations are not great and occasionally they’re not
even helpful, but usually you get enough context to work with.

3. Change Your Phone Plan

Speaking from my own experience, we’re coming from America when we travel to Japan and that’s quite a long trip. So we tend to stay up to four weeks at a time.

I use Verizon and they actually have an international plan where it’s a hundred bucks for four weeks. This works perfectly and keeps things really simple. That’s what I go with and that’s what I recommend.

If you don’t use Verizon, every reputable carrier will have some kind of plan like this. So I encourage you to look into what their options are and pick the one that best fits the length of your trip.

Just remember to read the terms carefully and be sure to cancel if this plan doesn’t
automatically do so at the end of a certain term.

4. Have Cash On Hand

It seems like cards are more widely accepted in Japan these days, but it can be inconsistent
and you don’t want to be caught without cash.

I’ve had no problem withdrawing cash from ATMs at stores like Family Mart or 7-Eleven.
So don’t be intimidated by those. Just walk right up to the machine and it’s going to have a number of language options. Obviously pick the one that works best for you and just follow the on-screen prompts.

5. Learn The Coins

If you’re new to Japan, the register can actually be a really intimidating place. It can be confusing. You can take a lot of time and even hold up people that are waiting in line behind
you. It causes a lot of anxiety.

So I would recommend learning the coins. There’s a 500 coin, a 100, a 50, a 10, a 5, and a 1.

Something I strongly recommend, and you’re going to hear me say this a number of times
in the video, is that you practice before you go. Give yourself an amount of yen and then make yourself produce that amount.

You want to envision that you’re at the register and you’ve just received this as the cost
of your item or your items and you’ve got to quickly produce it for the cashier.

If you don’t have Japanese money for this, then I think Google is probably your best
friend. There’ll be ideas out there. Perhaps you could use play money or print cutouts or something like that.

Sometimes you’ve got to be creative.

6. You Don’t Have To Tip

This one always gets me because I’ve lived in America my whole life and tipping is pretty
much a reflex at this point.

But in Japan, you don’t tip.

You may feel some guilt about this, but it’s actually a good lesson in cultural differences.
This is what is accepted and they won’t think you’re rude.

It’s actually kind of nice not having to tip because it keeps things nice and simple.

7. Your Diet Will Change

I’m not sure where you’re coming from when you are visiting Japan, but I can say with
near certainty that your diet is going to change in some fundamental way.

For me, this has meant more seafood, more rice, more salty and oily foods and broths,
and it’s also meant less beef and less things like potatoes and certain vegetables. I also have to be careful to watch my sushi intake because of things that can build up
in your system like mercury.

It’s important to be ready for this change and to think about what it’ll mean and how
you can find a variety of food items to keep things as similar as possible to your normal
diet.

If it’s applicable and you think this might cause a significant issue for you, I would
recommend discussing it with your doctor before you go.

8. Get Comfortable With Chopsticks

Silverware like your native language is likely a crutch you will have to live without. You’ll find it in some scenarios in some restaurants, but for the most part, it’s going to be chopsticks.

What I would recommend is the same thing I did with the coins. I would practice in the months leading up to your visit to Japan with chopsticks.

Force yourself to use them. Force yourself to get acquainted and more comfortable with them in your hand.

Pick up a number of different items all the way from, you know, a grain of rice up to
a big chunk of chicken and try not to wear your hand out or get a cramp and especially
try not to drop things.

9. Wear Easily Removable Footwear

You will find yourself having to remove your shoes in places like restaurants, bathrooms,
houses, and even museums.

You don’t want this to be a big inconvenience.

What I would recommend is finding the sweet spot when you lace up your shoes to where
you can easily slip your foot out of them and then back into them, and they feel comfortable when you’re walking around as well.

If you can find that Goldilocks zone, then you’re just going to have a better day. If not, it’s not the end of the world. It’s just something to expect and be ready for.

But if you’re able to lace your shoes up at that perfect tension, then you’re going to
have a great experience.

10. Prepare To Get Naked

One of the best experiences in Japan is the onsen, the hot spring.

The problem is to enter a hot spring, you cannot wear a bathing suit. You’ve got to don your birthday suit.

Depending on your culture, if you’ve never tried this, it might be very uncomfortable.

Since it’s such a wonderful experience, I do recommend that you at least consider pushing
yourself to do this. In Japanese culture, it’s perfectly normal. And it’s really healthy to get a good soak in the hot spring.

Just remember, no tattoos.

11. Earthquakes Are Common

The island sits on four tectonic plates, so quakes are quite common. But don’t be scared of this.

Most are smaller, and you’re likely to get plenty of advance warning.

During my last visit, I experienced about a 3.5 earthquake. And it sort of felt like the house was sitting on top of water for a minute or so.

If you’re worried, stay inland. From what I understand, the quakes are larger near the coast. And that’s where the tsunami threat is.

12. Get A Railway Pass

These days, it’s really easy. You can simply add a Suica card to an Apple wallet, for example, and then top the card off with yen.

I’ve linked to a Reddit thread with a number of people discussing how to do this. And you’ll see they reinforce that it’s quite simple.

If you have something other than an iPhone, once again, your best bet is Googling it. Alternatively, you could go to the information desk when you’re in Japan and you’re at the
train station. They usually have an English speaker there that can help you out.

13. Learn Your Local Train Map

The railway system maps are quite complicated, but you can simplify things by focusing on
your immediate area.

During my first visit to Japan, I was on my own for a week, and I wanted to challenge
myself to take a train somewhere.

When I opened this map, my knees buckled, but then I realized the hotel I was staying
at was in Nippori. And the more I looked at that section of this map, the more I realized that I was in a sort of circular area with Ueno and Tokyo to the south and Tabata to the north.

By focusing on this smaller section of the map and knowing that if I stuck to the green
line, I would go in a circle and even if I made a big mistake, I would eventually end
up back where I started, I felt a lot more confident taking the train somewhere.

I love studying maps in this way and going to the train station informed and empowered
to get to my destination without a problem.

14. Trains Are On Time

Depending on where you live, this may or may not be something you’re used to.

If you’re a minute late to your train, you missed it. Plan on taking the next one, but don’t fret too much. They’re very frequent.

Having a train system like this that is so punctual and reliable is actually great for
planning and setting expectations.

15. Trains Are Quiet

It’s considered rude to make too much noise on a train or any public place for that matter.

Don’t plan on taking or making a call when you’re on the train and talk to your neighbor
if necessary, but do it very quietly.

In fact, it’s best to keep talking or noise to a minimum.

16. Understand Toilet Technology

This may be another thing you’re not used to, but Japan’s toilet game is top of the
line.

You are not going to sit down on a cold toilet seat in Japan. They are warmed just about everywhere.

And the toilet is kind of like a captain’s chair from Star Trek. There are controls and buttons. There are options for washing, water pressure, and even noise, so you can be discreet.

I could do an entire post on this topic alone, but my advice is to sit down, look at the
pictures, take a breath, and then press a button and see what happens.

17. You Are Going To Love Japan!

I say that with such confidence because it’s clean, quiet, orderly, safe, and comfortable.

The people are kind, understanding, and very appreciative when you make an effort to speak the language or adhere to customs.

Assimilate. Embrace a culture that’s new to you, has thousands of years of history, and a lot to offer.

I think every visit to Japan will change you in profoundly positive ways, and I hope this
list has prepared you to have the best experience possible.

Safe travels.

Matane!