First Time in Japan? Things To Know Before You Go
We love Japan
Japan is a REALLY safe country. For example, if you leave your phone in the subway by accident, there is a 99% chance it will be turned into the subway police station. I know, because it happened to me!
The majority of people, young and old, don't (or are too shy to ) speak English.
A lot of businesses (especially restaurants) are cash only so make sure you have ample yen on you. ATMs are everywhere and it's safe to carry money with you.
Talking on the phone in public is considered a social faux pas. You won't hear anyone talking on their mobiles while on the subway or in most public areas.
If you stay at an Airbnb or homestay, bring an outlet adapter. If you forget to bring an adapter find your nearest Don Quijote store. Don Quixote is the biggest discount store chain in Japan, is open 24h and sells everything from green tea Kit Kats, clothes, and designer bags to cables and outlet adapters! Oh and they participate in tourist tax free shopping so bring your passport!
A LOT of stores offer duty free shopping! When you spend ¥5,000 or more you are exempt from paying tax and can get the discount right there in the store! Always bring your passport because in order to be given your purchase tax free the store needs to verify that you are visiting Japan as a tourist and will staple your receipt inside it.
Shinkansen bullet trains are the way to get around between cities. Also, you don't really need a reservation for the Shinkansen if you have a Japan Rail Pass. Even during cherry blossom season, when lots of tourists are using the trains, we had absolutely no issues getting a seat in the non-reserved train cars. For more info, check out our How To Get Around article!
Every shower in Japan has a bath stool! It's actually really comfortable to shower while sitting, make sure to try it out!
Toilet seats are often heated. It's weird at first because it gives you that feeling like someone else was just sitting on it eeekksss! But after awhile you start to really dig it - especially on a cold midnight walk to the bathroom hah. Also they are SO MANY buttons for operating the toilet! It's intimidating at first but the most important ones are the flush buttons and they look like this:
weather is unpredictable
Watch out when crossing streets, Japanese drivers stop for pedestrians only after they've started crossing the street.
Stores go vertical! Every building in the main shopping areas of the cities includes retail spaces on all floors, not only on the street level, so sometimes the cool boutique you are looking for might not be visible on eye level - look up!
If you are coming for the cherry blossom season - IT RAINS A LOT! Bring shoes for rain. Umbrellas are cheap and sold everywhere (you can find them at 7/11, FamilyMart and Lawsons).
7/11, FamilyMart and Lawson are a good, cheap and fast option for when you want food, snacks and drinks. They're also where you go to top up your subway card, buy train tickets, and a myriad of other cool things.
Love make up? Cosmetic stores in Japan are awesome - you just need to find them. Unlike Korea and Taiwan, Japanese make up stores are rarely on the main street. You'll find them at the second or third floor of a book store or at department stores like Loft and Don Quijote. The selection of cushion foundations, blush creams, eyeliners, face masks and moisturizers is truly amazing so prepare to spend few glorious hours in there.
getting around and getting online
If your Japan trip is going to cover multiple cities with multiple day trips out of each city then consider getting a JR pass. If you are only planning to see Tokyo + 1 other city you might be better off flying with a low cost flight to your destination and paying out of pocket for subway rides. All prices are available online (current JR pass cost: 7 day pass $263, 14 day pass $419 and 21 day pass $535) and you can roughly calculate if the JR pass will be worth it for your particular needs.
Getting a pocket wifi is a really good idea if you want to navigate though Japan fast. We used it for 3 weeks and had coverage everywhere we went. It's also a great way to message/call Airbnb hosts, navigate the cities with Google Maps, translate basic words to ease communication, and binge on social media while you're in an owl cafe.
Photo booths - TRY THEM! Every game arcade has at least few photo booths available. Every booth offers a different set of photo backgrounds and stickers for your photo set! It's really an experience especially because there is no english and you have to guess how to navigate but hey - that's part of the fun!