10 Tips for your first trip to Japan
Your first time in Japan will blow you away! It’s an absolutely jaw dropping wonderland. The size and scale of Japan can quickly become overwhelming. Here are a few quick tips we’ve found essential while living/traveling around Japan.
1. Nobody speaks English and don’t bother learning Japanese!
Those 2 hours you spent laughing at the funny things you can say out of the Lonely Planet phrase book will be good for a few laughs but that’s about it! Don’t bother trying to speak Japanese to a Japanese person, they will assume you SPEAK Japanese and reel off at you as if you can understand them. The only things you should bother to learn are “Where are the toilets?” and “Where is the nearest train station?”
Nobody, let me make this clear, NOBODY speaks English! Those who do are usually too afraid to point you in the wrong direction so they will apologize and scuttle away, then there are the people that have no idea what you are saying but will point you in any direction just to get rid of you.
Having said that, you quickly get used to the fact that your communications skills are reduced to that of a couple of pre-schoolers watching Dora the Explorer. Many restaurants have English menus, or at the very least, picture menus.
Trains and train stations will have English signs, generally they are electronic and part of a loop, so keep an eye out for those.
2. Prepare to become a smoker
Japan is extremely smoker friendly, if you are sensitive to smoke then make sure you come prepared! Make sure you book your hotel room on a non-smoking floor, and if you take the Shinkansen make sure you sit at least two cars away from the smoking car.
3. Bring Cash, Don’t rely on Plastic
Make sure you take enough cash with you, as a lot of Japanese ATMs do not accept international cards. If you do run low, most major banks will allow you to withdraw, and all 7/11s have international ATMs with English instructions.
4. 99 yen shops will rock your world
Forget the seedy bargain basement shops in the western world. 99¥ shops in Japan are almost identical to the other convenience stores, you can get almost anything there for 99 yen most even have fresh baked goods, you can even grab yourself a 99Y umbrella if you get caught in the rain!
5. Bring comfortable shoes
Leave your Converse All Stars at home and invest in some high quality well fitted walking shoes, Public transport in Japan is great but it’s huge and you will more than likely walk more in the first day than you have all month!
If you’re struggling to find somewhere to go, don’t be afraid to do a bit of exploring and ask the locals. If you’re not having much luck, try and meet other tourists or expats, chances are they will know the happening places that wont leave a hole in your pocket.
Before you go out drinking, break your ¥10,000 notes into ¥1000 notes before a night on the Saki, after a few drinks you’re likely to stop double checking the notes for the extra 0.
The Japanese rail service generally does not run between 2am and 5am, Most people stay out all night and catch the first train home as taxis are super expensive, It can be a fun experience taking the first train home, they are packed full of party goers.
7. Watch out for scammers
This caught me completely off guard, if I hadn’t been warned it would have been easy to get sucked in by these guys. Hustlers will work solo and in teams to get you into their “bars”. They appear quite nice and friendly, offer you free drinks and come across pretty legitimate, but once they get you in their bar those free drinks come with a hefty price tag which you will have trouble disputing with 5 6’4″ illegal immigrant scammers.
When you get hustled by one, just look straight through them as if they don’t exist. If they start walking next to you just say, “no thank you”, It is very tempting to get angry at these guys but that is the worst thing you could do, 1 dude will turn into 10 before you can say onigiri!
8 Hire A Bike
As they say ” When In Rome”! Find and information booth and find out where you can hire a bike! Dirt cheap, it will be one of the best things you do in Japan and it will provide some much needed relief to your feet. Try to get someone with local knowledge to ride with you if you can, although there’ll be no dramas if you just stick to the city areas. Mark on your map where you hired the bikes from though!
Do not be tempted to steal a bike, someone once told me the majority of police time in Japan is spent investigating bike theft. They do take it quite seriously and all bikes are fitted with tags to identify them.
9 All you can drink fun
A lot of karaoke places and Japanese bars will have deals where you can drink as much as you can for 2 hours for as little as ¥1000.
10 Go to a “Gaijin Bar” on your first night
Go to an information counter at any of the larger train stations and there should be some English language mini newspapers or magazines full of foreign owned and staffed bars and pubs. These are the best places to meet locals (who can speak English, re: #1) and other foreigners (gaikokujin or gaijin) who will be more than happy to suggest more places to see or things to do. Be prepared for familiar surroundings with little Japanese culture because these establishments are generally in business to offer Japanese people a western style experience.
That’s it for now, we hope you find this useful! If you have any other questions, hit us up in the comments and we will do our best to answer them!