After living in Japan for several years, and visiting the country many times, I thought a simple list of travel tips could be useful for new travelers to Japan. If you plan to visit Japan, take the time to read these top 5 simple travel tips and you will have a much improved experience.
Many new visitors to Japan believe that arigato (thank you), konichiwa (hello) or gomenasai (sorry – bit strong in most instances) are the main words for newbies and tourists. In application, I believe the best word you can use is Sumimasen. “Sumimasen” means a casual or formal apology and can be used in various contexts.
The key here is that, if you are a foreigner, this polite word can be used when speaking to show that you are trying to seem polite, sincere or apologetic. I have found that if you use this word when asking for and receiving help, Japanese people always respond well.
2. Speaking English vs Speaking Japanese
A foreigner in Japan who decides to launch into broken and badly pronounced Japanese, will often be less successful than just choosing to speak plain English slowly. Particularly in large city centres, many locals appreciate the chance to practice and use their English. Most Japanese have some basic English knowledge. English is taught in public schools and lessons even occur on weekly free to air television.
If you need directions try asking a local slowly with animated English, you will often find that an English speaking Japanese person is closer than you realize.
3. Konbini’s and the QQ ( or 100 yen stores)
In Japan you will find an incredible convenience store eco-system, there are more than 55000 across the country. From Family Mart, to Seven Eleven to Lawson and of course the legendary QQ or 99 yen stores.
These mini-supermarket-type shops are open 24 hours and have any emergency item a traveler may need (within reason). Food, coffee, heated pasta, photocopiers, ATMS, toilets, wifi and rubbish bins. They can all be found within walking distance of most locations.
The QQ’s or 99yen shops are even better. They stock many convenience store items along with random hardware items and basic clothing. Some even have fruit, meat and vegetables. Most Konbinis are clearly marked on Google maps.
4. Train Etiquette
In trains you should never talk on your cell phone. If you do take a call, make it short, speak quietly or even cover your mouth. You can ignore these customs, but cell phone conversations are generally seen as quite rude when travelling on a train.
There are also women-only and elderly-only sections on trains. You can spot these sections by the colorful stickers and signs within the train. Men often mistake their way into female carriages, it is not a crime, but you should calmly leave for obvious reasons.
Try not to stare at folk for too long, this is quite a universal rule. Also give your seat to the elderly or anyone in need, again quite a universal rule. Conversation is acceptable but should be kept to a reasonable volume.
Japan’s trains are a modern wonder. Passenger etiquette is an expectation that gels with the engineering and organisational brilliance of the Japanese transit system. Make an effort to get into the groove and you will soon be dreaming of distant worlds as you watch the neon fly by.
5. Yamato or Ta-Q-Bin – relieve your back and transport luggage
The trains in Japan are incredible and reliable. However, standing at a terminal and walking through gates and subways with large luggage can be hard work.
If you have large luggage and are trekking across country on trains, you can send your items with a company called Yamato or Ta-Q-Bin. This well known and massive luggage transfer business is a life saver if you have large items that need to go from A to B or to the airport. You can even store items at certain pickup locations at a time. It’s decently priced as well.
So if you have a long Japan trip planned, definitely look into using Yamato, it will save you time, hassle and a sore back. Take a day pack and use it while you send your luggage from Tokyo to Osaka etc…..So much easier and more pleasant when you can travel light. Yamato have English speaking staff and offices at the main airports.
I think many folk feel that Japan is slightly strict or overly formal. The truth is that the Japanese go out of their way to be accommodating, and sometimes foreigners take this kindness for granted. The Japanese are very patient, try to return the favor.
Being Gaijin (a foreigner)
No matter how good or bad your Japanese is, you will always be seen as a foreigner. Take solace in knowing that as much as you stand out, you will also be invisible.
Japan’s population density causes it’s cities to swarm. However, there is order. This order comes from a social structure that is 1000’s of years old. Enjoy participating in the Japanese confucian system. Try to blend in as a wise and polite guest.
Watch the locals closely and learn from their patience. In the quieter moments of your journey you will begin to recognize the hidden secrets of this most unique and welcoming culture. It is one that I have never ceased to learn from, and be humbled by.
He has worked as a private contractor in education and technology with Yoobee ACG Auckland & Wellington, REINZ, MClass New Zealand and HMI Technologies. Jared works with several design and dev-development contractors under the Veratech brand.