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Avoid These Common Mistakes When Visiting Japan

by Eugenia Lazaris

Dec 11, 2023

© Sean Pavone | Dreamstime.com

Destinations / Asia

A trip to Japan can be a dream come true for some, but it can also be a stressful source of confusion for travelers not familiar with the culture. Japan is a country holding traditions, customs and etiquette in high regard. Knowing some basic ins and outs of Japanese society can not only save you from some potentially embarrassing situations, but it can also go a long way in making your trip a successful one.


Don’t Assume English will Help You

While most Japanese people know at least a few words of English, it isn’t commonly used, and many who do know English aren’t comfortable using it. Guidebooks have some helpful phrases you can practice ahead of time, but be sure to arm yourself with a good translator app. In any country you visit, locals notice when you make an effort to learn at least a few words of their language. It is not only easy to do but it also fosters mutual respect and can help you have a much more authentic and rewarding experience.


Don’t Rely on Credit Cards for Everything

Credit card use is becoming increasingly common throughout the country, and they are accepted at all major hotels and stores, but they still aren’t accepted everywhere, especially in small establishments and in some very rural areas. In large cities like Tokyo, you can take advantage of Japan’s status as a very technologically advanced country and use alternative cashless payment options that work through your mobile phone. You will see signs at establishments letting you know which options (often there are many choices) are accepted.


On that note, when paying cash, don’t simply hand it to the cashier. When it comes time to pay, you will be presented with a tray to place your money on. You will then receive your change on the same tray. This is considered more polite than exchanging money by hand and cuts back on hand-to-hand contact.


Skip the Tip

Unlike the United States where tipping culture has taken on a life of its own, tipping simply isn’t done in Japan. Not only is it not necessary, but you will also likely offend someone if you try to tip them for a job well done or a particularly good meal.


Don’t Even Think about Skipping the 7-11

In the United States, 7-11 is strictly regarded as a convenience store. The same is true in Japan, but it is also so much more! Visiting a 7-11 in Japan is like a rite of passage for tourists, as you can find literally everything you might need, including currency exchange machines and hot meals that actually taste really good. If you want to buy something that needs heating, the staff will be happy to help you in the store and provide all the necessary utensils to enjoy your meal.


Even if You Don’t Take a Train, Be Sure to Visit a Train Station

Train stations in Japan are an experience in and of themselves. They can be a bit overwhelming if you aren’t prepared, so be ready for large crowds of people (the train is one of the most popular and affordable methods of transportation, especially in large cities), enough shops, and plenty of restaurants and eateries to melt your mind. From a farmers market-style egg stand inside Tokyo Station to a glass box suspended over a sea cliff at Hitachi Station in the Ibaraki Prefecture, Japanese train stations are a must for visitors.



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