Planning your trip to Japan? Want to know the rules of etiquette when entering a Japanese shrine? Don’t know if you can bring your medicine with you? Below are some tips that can help you better enjoy your trip and understand a little more about the Japanese culture.
1. Health Care
Japanese hospitals are of a high standard but unfortunately depending on what kind of treatment you need the cost might be high. Japan doesn’t obligate you legally to do a Health Insurance but being prepared is never a bad thing. Make sure you get a travel insurance before arriving. When you bring your own medicines to japan you might have to apply for Yakkan Shoumei, a certificate that allows you to bring medicine in Japan. But in many cases, depending on the drug and the amount you are bringing the Yakkan Shoumei is not necessary. The ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare of Japan has a Q&A in their web page explaining what kind of medicines you can bring and the allowed amount.
2. ATMs and Credit or Debit Card
Many ATMs in Japan don’t accept the withdraw with cards issued outside of Japan. The exception being ATMs found at post offices, international airports, major department stores, and convenience stores such as 7-Eleven and Family Mart. These ATMs allow you to withdraw cash by credit and debit cards including: Visa, Mastercard, American Express and others. They also provide a menu in English and a few other foreign languages. Also, call your bank and make sure that your credit or debit card can be used abroad. Some banks might block cards used abroad is important to check every information concerning international usage so you don’t have any surprises after your arrival.
3. Free internet access
In recent years Wi-Fi networks for free use by foreign tourists have become more and more common and available in Japan, especially in the biggest cities. If you are in Tokyo you might find networks at international airports, major railway stations such as the Yamanote Line stations, coffee shops, fast food chains and convenience stores. Don’t know where to find an Internet Wi-Fi spot? Go to the nearest 7-eleven convenience store you see!
4. Japanese Voltage
Differently from many regions in the world, Japan’s voltage is 100 Volt. Which means that certain equipment, such as equipment involving heating (hair dryers and so forth), may not work properly or even get damaged. You might also check equipment voltage when buying electronic devices in Japan. Some stores sell electronics specific to foreign tourists, be sure to check it before making the purchase.
Japan is famous for its convenient and fast trains, public transportation in places like Tokyo are so good that you can easily avoid using a Taxi (which is much more expensive). Tokyo's most prominent train line is the JR Yamanote Line, a loop line which connects many of the touristic spots in the city. If you are planning to go to use the Shinkansen to visit different cities, you should probably buy a Japan Rail Pass before coming to Japan. A JR Pass, is a joint offering of the six companies comprising the Japan Railways Group (JR Group), is the most economical way of travelling throughout Japan by rail and you can also use it inside of cities through the JR lines such as Yamanote Line in Tokyo. You can also purchase a Prepaid IC card such as SUICA and PASMO to use the subway lines. Prepaid cards don't give you any discounts, but you can use it to ride virtually any train or bus in Tokyo and many other major cities.
Learn more about the JR pass here.
6. Tipping in Japan
Tipping is not a common custom in Japan, and for the Japanese might also be considered rude. If you attempt to tip someone it will most likely be politely refused. For the Japanese, if you have received the service for what you paid for, you shouldn’t need to pay more. Remember when you go to a restaurant, or take a cab: there’s no need for tipping in Japan.
7. Visiting a Shrine
When visiting a Shinto Shrine in Japan you’ll observe a purification fountain near the shrine's entrance. To perform the purification ritual, you should, take one of the ladles provided, fill it with water and rinse both hands, transfer a little bit of the water into your hand and rinse your mouth, afterwards spit the water beside the fountain and put the ladle back in place. You shouldn’t transfer the water directly from the ladle into your mouth. It might also be a good idea to observe other people doing it before you try. To pray or ask for fortune at the offering hall, throw a coin into the offering box, bow twice, clap your hands twice, pray for a few seconds and bow once more.
8. Shoe etiquette
Japan have a tradition of removing shoes before entering homes and other indoor places. Some restaurants might have a no-shoes policy and, in such cases, they may provide slippers and a locker for your shoes. In this case, the restaurant might also have slippers specific for use in the toilet area. Easy to take out shoes could be useful in those situations. Normally, those restaurants also have a chair and a wooden shoehorn at the entrance of the eating area to help you out.
Toilet in Japanese is called Toire and Otearai. It is generally more elaborate than toilets in other parts of the planet. There are two styles of toilets commonly found in Japan: the old style squat toilet, and the regular western style toilet. In a western style toilet, you might find the famous Japanese electronic toilet. Probably the number one thing to know is where the flush button is. Sometimes you'll see an automatic sensor, other times a handle. The handle might have two kanji: 大 and 小. When you switch the handle in the direction of 大 is a "big flush" and 小 a "small flush" (the purpose of the small one is to save water). However, the flush buttons can also be in a square panel, the word 流す (Nagasu) means flush. If you see a hand sensor, remember you have to hold your hand over it for a little bit until the toilet flushes. Other functions found in the Japanese electronic toilet:
10. Useful Japanese words
The first time I’ve been in Japan, before arriving I thought that every Japanese could communicate in English. It might be true that in touristic places they might do it, but knowing a few words in Japanese could be really useful in some situations. Check out below a few words we recommend you should remember:
- Eigo - English
- Hai - Yes
- Iie - No
- Doko? - Where?
- Ikura? - How much?
- Tabemono - Food
- Nomimono - Drink
- Konbini - Convenience Store
- Toire - Toilet
- Eki – Train Station
- Kippu - Ticket
- Sumimasen - Excuse me / Sorry
- Gomen nasai - I’m sorry
- (Domo) Arigato - Thank you
Japan have deeply entrenched traditions and looking into such cultural expectations before your arrival in a different country can help you in the moment you experience a different culture. Being prepared is also a must. Remember those tips and enjoy your trip! Have you visited Japan before and would add something else?