Japan is a wonderful country with an intriguing culture. To ensure that you have the best time possible while you’re away, here are some of our top tips and insights for anybody travelling to Japan on holiday.
Hotel rooms are often small, especially in a ryokan. However, they are equipped with all of the amenities you need
A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn and staying in one is an excellent experience of traditional culture and hospitality. A few things to note are:
- Floors in the main areas are covered with tatami, a traditional mat
- The beds are futons laid on the tatami. Some ryokans have Western-style rooms, however, if you want to mix it up
- You must always take your shoes off upon entering any house in Japan and swap for slippers, but to walk on tatami you must also take your slippers off
- Generally you will wear a yukata - a kimono arranged for you in your room - when you go to the bathroom, for dinner or to stroll around the ryokan.
- Breakfasts tend to be traditional Japanese breakfasts which are savory, including dishes such as miso soup, tofu, fish and nori (seaweed)
- The ryokan will likely have a communal bathroom with an onsen bath which are split into male and female. You may also have your own shower or bath, but some rooms may only have a toilet and sink
Ryokans have set schedules for meal times etc so be sure to check your daily schedule to avoid being late
Generally speaking, Japanese people don’t carry their luggage around with them. Instead they will pay for a service that sends their luggage between points such as between hotels, it’s called Takkyubin. For a fee of around £15-20 per bag, your suitcases and bags will be sent directly to your hotel the next day (or the day after if outside of the main island of Honshu). You can book directly with your hotel concierge. It’s a very reliable service so don’t worry about your bags being lost or damaged.
The subway is easy to use once you get the hang of it but it can be tricky to grasp at first. Employees at the stations are very friendly, and machines have an English language function, but it’s a good idea to check with your hotel concierge ahead of time as not everybody working at the stations will speak English. A very important thing to note is that many stations have more than one exit, with some even having up to 60. Check the signage for your exit (or ask a staff member) as taking the wrong exit may have you in a very different part of town than you wanted. The subway gets busy during peak hours and there is often very little space within the cabins as people find the smallest gaps to fit in, but the service is very reliable and always on time.
The JR Pass can save you a lot of money while travelling by train in Japan, but it can’t be used on all trains, so check online or with your hotel concierge beforehand. The JR Pass gives you access to the Yamanote Line, the Tokyo subway circular line that connects most tourist sites, for example, but it can’t be used on the Shinkansen bullet train.
People often book their tickets ahead of time as it’s very popular and you’ll want to reserve your seats but it is possible to get a ticket on the day.
Other Transport Cards
Suica or Pasmo cards (or an Icoca card if you start the trip by the Kansai region) can be pre-loaded with Yen for you to travel around. Each time you tap on to a terminal to enter a subway or bus the card with be debited. They’re accepted in most major cities in Japan.
Tipping isn’t expected in Japan at all, even at high-end restaurants. It is customary to leave a small tip for a local guide but this is entirely at your discretion.
There are lots of ATMs in Japan to withdraw money and the post office ATMs and 7/11 ATMs always accept foreign cards. Always carry some cash on you as small shops and eateries only accept Yen.
If you’re looking to hail a taxi, look for a green light which means they are free. If a light is off it means that they already have passengers. Doors automatically lock so wait until you have full stopped to open them. The boots of the taxis tend to be quite small so you may have to take a couple if you have a lot of suitcases. As not everybody speaks English, it’s a good idea to take the card of the place you are going to/returning to to show the driver so that they can see the address in Japanese, or even call the telephone number to get confirmation. Always ask for a receipt for payment, it can save your life if you ever forget an item in the taxi: the company name and telephone number of the taxi with the vehicle and driver number are shown on the ticket.
It’s frowned upon to smoke while walking in the street. Places will usually have a dedicated smoking area.
Generally speaking, people will make reservations for their meals in restaurants. It’s important to be on time, otherwise you may lose your table and potentially incur a cancellation fee. Don’t be alarmed if the staff shout to welcome you to the restaurant, or to say goodbye; just a smile in return is fine.
Dishes will be served when they are ready, rather than everybody at the table receiving their course at once.
- Punctuality is very important in Japan and it is considered very disrespectful to be late
- Anybody older than you should always be respected
- Don’t shout or swear
- Manners are very important and saying excuse me, please, and thank you in Japanese will go a long way