Before You Leave for Japan

There are a couple things you might want to know before you go to Japan. This list should help you out deciding on what to bring, and what to do before you touch down in Japan.

1. Money

Obviously, if you are travelling to Japan, you are going to need some spending money. Japan uses the Japanese Yen (JPY)  as currency, thus meaning that you will need to get some Japanese Yen prior to Landing. Avoid exchanging money at airports as it will cost a whole lot more than it should.

If your bank offers it, get a prepaid travel card, it should allow you to transfer money to the card in whatever currency you want, in this case JPY. The travel cards are likely to be a type of VISA card.

Please note that Japan primarily uses cash for most payments, including large payments. But don’t worry, you can find a ATM machine which accept VISA, and withdraw a 20,000-30,000JPY at one time. Japan is a safe country, so as long as you don’t leave money standing out in the open, you will be fine to have that much money on you at one time. It’s not uncommon to see someone carrying around even more money!

2. Travel Insurance

We cannot stress this enough. Travel insurance is essential for travelling to Japan! Even though Japan is one of the safest countries in the world, accidents still happen. It’s important to remember that even though you might not have needed it, that it was there in case you ever needed it. 

It all depends on your provider, but usually for a month it will be slightly over $100. It’s a little expensive, but worth it.

3. Clothing

Depending on the season, you are going to need to make sure you have appropriate clothing according to the weather. In the winter, it can get pretty cold, especially in northern Japan, where they have the highest annual snowfall in the world! And on the other end of the spectrum, in summer, the temperature can easily get into the 30’s (°C)

In Japan, it’s also customary to not wear anything that would draw to much attention to yourself. The Japanese are a very modest society. So avoid wearing clothing that is too short, or too bright to avoid unwanted attention.

4. Tattoos / Piercings

If you have visible Tattoos and Piercings, we would HIGHLY RECOMMEND you remove them, or cover up your tattoos. In Japan, people who have tattoos or piercings are often identified as outsiders, or even gang members, and because of this, you’d expect to get treated pretty poorly, and you might be refused service in several places.

Especially in Onsens (hot baths), many places won’t allow you in if you have any tattoos whatsoever, so if you are going to Japan with tattoos and piercings, do not be surprised how people might treat you differently.


5. Gift Giving

The Japanese are very hospitable people, and it’s customary to give gifts as a token of your gratitude to a person or family. If you are Home staying, it is important that you remember this as they will likely give you gifts, and you do not want to be rude and forget a gift. 

Secondly, It is important to remember to never turn down gifts from anyone – Even if you didn’t do anything to deserve it, or that you don’t like it.. You should never reject someones offer of kindness to you. So when someone gives you a gift, make sure to bow, while you are accepting it, and thank them for it. You may dispose of it later when you know that they aren’t going to get hurt, such as you when you have left Japan, or when you are certain that the gift giver will not notice if you disposed of it. 

6. Business Cards

To the Japanese, Business cards are a vital form of communicating and networking, but there is proper etiquette to it. When receiving a business card, remember to bow, and accept it with two hands. At the same time, give the other person your card as well. Do not put the card directly into your pocket, inspect it first, read it carefully, even if you can’t read the Japanese on it. After you have read it, put it in a safe place, your wallet is the best place for it. 

If you don’t have business cards, Don’t worry, it’s not vital to have it, but if you would like to make contact with people after you leave Japan, it would be preferred to have them with you if you can.

7. Eating and Drinking

There are a couple of different things to remember for this section.

First, if someone brings you food or a drink, do not consume immediately, wait until they say “douzo” which means please, insisting that you can go ahead and eat. This is very important for when you are visiting someones house, but not important when just casual eating with friends or at a restaurant. 

Another thing is that before you eat, remember to put your hands together and say “i-tadaki-masu’ prior to eating. This is a kind of ritual, thanking the person who prepared a meal for you. It’s similar to a prayer in other religions, so even if you prepared a meal or drink for a friend or someone, you would still say it. Afterwards you have finished eating, you should say “gochi-sou-sama-dashita” which translates to “Thank you for the meal”.

It’s also important to not eat or drink while walking. For example, you go to a convenience store and get some food. Often, people will stand outside the convenience store and eat, rather than walking away and eating. A main reason for with is because garbage/recycling bins are extremely rare to find in Japan. You can find them outside the convenience stores a lot, but other than that, really difficult. It’s supposed to be like this to discourage littering, if you have people all eating in the same place with garbage bins, people will use them. So if you are going to buy some food and eat it right away, make sure you eat outside the store, or take it back to your accommodation and eat it there. 

8. Pedestrian Crossings

This is a big one. Order in Japan is blatantly obvious, as people will often stand at a pedestrian crossing, until the light turns green for them, indicating for them to begin walking. They will do this even when there are no cars around. So if you are wanting to blend in, then follow along and wait until the traffic light indicates that you may cross the road. 

9. Train Etiquette

Different places have different train etiquette, it all depends on time of day, and where you are going. In Tokyo, our staff observed that people are a reasonably quiet on the train, whereas in Osaka, we noticed that people were a little louder. 

But a couple of good tips to make sure you don’t get any bad looks, here is what you should do. Turn your phone to either silent, or vibrate. If you get a call, then take it quietly, and tell the person you are currently on the train and you will call them back when you get off. This is to prevent disturbing anyone.  Keep your voices down if there are people sleeping around you. If you see an elderly person, pregnant women, or someone who is disabled, offer your seat to them out of respect.

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