I love Asia and always wanted to go to Japan since I was a teenager. A few years ago, that dream came true. Japan was everything I ever dreamt of and more, but there were a few situations when I wished I would have known about certain aspects of Japanese culture and being a tourist in Japan before the start of the holiday.
So here are my top three things that you should know before heading off to Japan!
1. NO ONE SPEAKS ENGLISH (ALMOST)
I went to Japan and was expecting that people would speak English. I mean who does not? English is the world language and I have travelled to many countries and was always able to communicate to locals.
I try to say a few things in the local language and try to make an effort, but if that does not work at least I can always go back to English as everyone speaks a few words.
Well this is not necessarily the case in Japan. So be prepared to communicate with your hands and feet or maybe nowadays mobile translation apps. Japanese are among the friendliest and most helpful people I have ever met and they will always try to help you even if they do not understand 100% what you are saying. Still the language might create a small barrier for some people.
2. MOST OF THE SIGNS AND INFORMATION ARE IN JAPANESE
It is difficult to find your way around a city that you are not familiar with and that you are visiting for the first time. However, it is even more difficult when all the signs are in a different language that does not use the Latin alphabet and all the letters at first sight look the same! I found it sometimes challenging to find my way around the cities, but hey when you are visiting a new destination every way is the correct way, right?
Many food outlets and tourist attractions will not have information available in English. If you want to read more about a particular sight while you are visiting it, I would recommend taking the sightseeing guide with you or print something out in advance. I visited Sensoji Temple, one of Tokyo’s most famous temples and nothing was in English, except the bad fortune I got from it!
In terms of food and drink, I hope you do not mind not knowing exactly what you are eating. The food is super tasty and half the fun of visiting a new destination is trying the local cuisine, but in Japan you just need to buy the food and try it to find out if you like it or not as almost nothing is labelled in English. Few traditional restaurants will have menus in English. However, most of them have pictures so you can guess more or less what it is you are choosing.
3. CREDIT AND VISA CARDS
If you are planning to pay most of the entrance fees for sights, restaurants, hotel bills etc with your credit or visa card, be prepared that these might not be accepted. Japan has its own credit/debit card system and foreign cards are sometimes not unlocked or connected to it. Hence the cards will not be accepted.
I always have cash with me, but Japan was the first country where I had to get extra cash out from an ATM as my credit card was not accepted at many places, even famous tourist attractions. Therefore, I would recommend to take extra cash with you or have a credit card that let’s you take out cash at no extra cost or a small fee. Just in case.
Have you encountered same or similar situations, possibly in other countries?