Before we visited Japan back in 2015, I had very little knowledge of the country besides what you generally hear. They have the cool city Tokyo, they have interesting fashion, the food is delicious, get ramen, sip sake, visit temples, be peaceful…that’s all I knew.

Then when we got there we noticed so many things right away that I talked about in the Family Trip to Fussa, Japan blog post. One of the first things that stood out to me was when we pulled up to the mall and there were rows of approximately 100 bicycles and none of them had locks on them. In America, it’s rare to see a bicycle left unattended with no lock to protect it from being stollen. Apparently, they are not prone to theft as much as we are here in America.

That was just one of the things I noticed, but there were some major traveling tips I wish I had known before visiting Japan. It’s the things that most people won’t tell you. Most people will share with you the best places to eat, the tourist attractions you should visit, what to wear, how the weather will be, things about religion, etc. Today we’ll share 8 things that people don’t tell you, but they should.

8 Things People Should Warn You About Before You Visit Japan

IC Card– Purchase the IC card of your choice which is a pre-paid card that you can reload to pay your fare on buses and trains. We purchased the Suica card and used it the entire trip. We reloaded it with funds as needed, but it made travel easier to have it handy. Find the right card for the region you’re traveling to in Japan as they have 10 major IC cards.

My brother following the escalator rules

Stay to the left– When riding on escalators, you should always stand to the left. In Japan, everyone rode up the escalator on the left side in case people were in a rush, they were able to pass on the right. I loved this type of “understanding” amongst residents. I really liked this rule and wish it were a part of standard etiquette all around the world. So many times I’m in a rush on an escalator and I awkwardly have to “excuse me” my way up the line.

No pictures, please!– It is forbidden to take pictures of people inside a train, and never take a picture of someone’s child. I’ve heard it has a lot to do with men getting in trouble for taking pictures up women’s dresses/skirts with cell phones on the train. No matter the reason, just don’t do it.

No shoes– It is customary to take off your shoes prior to entering a dressing room. We always did this as a general practice, but you especially need to do this when there’s a sign that requests it.

Where are the trash cans?!– You will notice that trash cans are quite scarce in Japan. In fact, I found myself lugging around trash for hours before finding a trash can on most days. They are really big on recycling and cleanliness, which really shows as you walk around the city and on nature trails. In America, in most cities you will see trash on the ground, but not in Japan. Recycling receptacles were abundant so remember to recycle freely there.

Always pay in yen– We noticed that in most retail stores when we used our card they would ask if we wanted to pay in Visa or US Visa. I found that it was always cheaper to pay in Visa (or whatever card you’re using) because our money was worth more there so I felt like I was saving money. It turns out that the reason I felt this way, was because you actually end up paying currency conversion fees when you opt to pay in US Visa, plus they typically give you a poor exchange rate. More info on using your credit card in Japan can be found here.

Wear a mask– If you are sick, it’s best to wear a face mask. I had a small cold when we got to Japan, and I got a lot of shocked looks any time I would cough in public. I realized that the people there really do wear them when they’re sick. The number one reason for wearing the surgical-style masks is actually because of the allergies that many people have. Imagine if everyone who had allergies in Atlanta wore surgical masks, we’d never see anyone’s full face!

Carry hand sanitizer– I have yet to find a reputable resource to explain the lack of soap in the bathrooms in Japan. However, I am here to tell you that on several occasions in all parts of Japan that we visited, there were too many times to count that there was no soap in the public restroom. For your sanity and your health, I strongly suggest you bring your own hand sanitizer or hand soap along for the trip.

Now You’re Ready for Japan

The 8 tips above aren’t going to really negatively impact your trip, but they are things you should know before you go. If you know someone planning to visit Japan who is from North America, South America, Australia or Europe, this is probably good information to share with them. It will make it more easy to enjoy your time without thinking you’re crazy when you’ve gone to your 3rd public restroom with no soap, or people stare at you when you cough.

If you want to read all about some fun things to do in Tokyo or where to go other than Tokyo to have fun, check out our blog post about our trip to Japan.

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2 Comments on “8 Tips Nobody Tells You Before You Visit Japan

  1. >approximately 100 bicycles and none of them had locks on them.

    Actually, almost every bicycle is locked in Japan. But Japanese bicycle locks are different from what you’re probably used to…they’re small and located on the bike frame under the seat. You probably just didn’t notice the locks.

    > they would ask if we wanted to pay in yen or USD

    “U.S. dollars”? I have never heard of a store in Japan accepting any money other than Japanese currency.

    • Oh that’s interesting about the bike locks. Now if love to see how the bike locks look and work. That makes more sense to me than they just don’t have to lock them at all.

      And about the money… In Odaiba and Tokyo we were always asked if we wanted to pay with Visa or US Visa. If we opted for US Visa it would be a higher exchange rate so we were told to always go with Visa. I will go rephrase it on the blog post so I don’t confuse people.

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