Are you considering traveling to Japan? Then there are a few things you need to know to prepare for your trip.
Japan is a beautiful country in the Asia Pacific region that is known for its mild weather, stunning architecture, and unique culture.
So if that sounds like somewhere you want to explore, then you need this ultimate guide to visiting Japan.
These Japanese travel basic need-to-knows will make sure you’re prepared, so you can relax and enjoy Japanese sightseeing when you get there.
From requirements for travel to Japan, if you need to get a SIM card, whether you should use cash or your card, the weather, and Japanese tipping culture.
Along with the Japanese travel basic need-to-knows, I’ve also included a few simple Japanese phrases that will help you during your adventures.
I promise they will come in handy!
Plus, as a bonus, I’m sharing all of the cultural norms, manners, and etiquette tips you’ll need to know to make sure you’re prepared to be a Japanese tourist.
So let’s take a look at the 10 things you need to know when traveling to Japan.
Traveling To Japan: 10 Things You Need To Know
What Are The Entry And Exit Requirements When Traveling To Japan?
Currently, citizens from only a small handful of countries are required to apply for tourist visas for Japan.
Citizens from all other countries can enter and exit Japan with just their passport, as there are very few requirements for travel to Japan.
When you arrive and exit, you’ll go through customs, be fingerprinted, and have your picture taken – which is the standard process for entering any foreign country.
One big thing to keep in mind when traveling to Japan is that they have very strict rules and regulations around prescription medications.
Even many over-the-counter medications that you can get in places like the US are illegal in Japan.
I suggest checking out the US Embassy and Consulate in Japan’s informational page on what medications can be brought into Japan, and what to do to ensure your medication is not confiscated when you arrive.
If your prescription is on the ‘illegal substance’ list, you’ll need to reach out to the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare.
There is a form they require you to fill out and provide proof of prescription from your doctor, and from there they’ll approve you bringing your prescription ahead of time.
Even if you’ve done this, I suggest bringing a copy of your prescription with you, just in case.
The US Embassy in Japan also states you should be carrying your passport with you at all times, just in case you are stopped by Japanese officials.
Check Your Passport Before Heading To Japan!
Before heading to Japan, make sure your passport is valid for at least 90 days after you leave the country.
Your passport must be valid during your entire stay and have 1-2 empty pages for you to be allowed entry into Japan.
This is probably obvious, but your passport needs to be valid.
That means not expired and not previously reported as lost or stolen, without having been already replaced.
If you’ve never flown on a long-haul international flight, then you’ll want to check out my top tips for surviving a long-haul flight!
Should You Get A SIM Card?
Despite being one of the most tech-advanced countries in the world, public WiFi is not a ‘thing’ in Japan.
It’s standard in hotels to offer in-room WiFi and WiFi access in common spaces, but most cafes and stores don’t offer any sort of public WiFi.
But before you start researching SIM cards in Japan, I have another suggestion!
Instead, consider a ‘pocket WiFi’ router!
These pocket WiFi adaptors allow you to connect multiple devices and are super small and easy to carry. Plus, they keep you constantly connected – no matter where you are.
You can arrange to pick up a ‘pocket WiFi adaptor’ at the airport when you land. Which is super convenient!
There is no rental fee for these adaptors, just a daily fee, typically around 1,300 Yen a day.
Cash Or Card?
Cash or card? That honestly depends on who you ask – because it’s not a super easy answer!
Japan has always favored physical Yen over the usage of credit cards. But the pandemic has skewed that a little bit.
Physical money is known for being a bit more ‘germ-ridden’. More and more stores and small shops in Japan have started taking credit cards and other contact-less payment methods.
However, if you’re planning to visit any shrines, temples, or smaller towns and villages, you’ll want to have Yen on hand. Most of these locations still only take Yen.
Because the Japanese culture favors cash, most of the local banks offer money exchanges with no fee.
Should You Notify Your Credit Card Company?
I also always suggest alerting your credit card company before you set off on your travels.
There is nothing worse than being in a foreign country and being locked out of your bank accounts because they flagged your transactions as potential fraud!
Every bank is different of course. But most of them have a way that you can alert them of your travel plans super easily in the app!
And if you’re planning on bringing back a ton of souvenirs, make sure you check out my tips for packing light for your flight.
Do You Need Electrical Outlet Adaptors When Traveling To Japan?
The good news is, if you’re traveling to Japan from the US, the answer is no!
Japan and the US use the same electrical outlet system – so you don’t have to worry about bringing along all of your outlet adaptors!
However, if you’re visiting Japan from any other country, you’ll need adaptors.
If you’re a frequent traveler, like me, I suggest purchasing adaptors that can change and match to any electrical outlet configuration.
They are super handy to have on hand if you travel a lot, or if you’re planning to visit any of the other Asian countries nearby!
Japanese Tipping Culture
To tip or not to tip, is always the question!
In Japan, the general rule is not to leave a tip. However, there are a few rare instances where it’s considered acceptable.
Some inns may leave a small envelope in your room where you can put Yen to tip the housekeeping staff.
The only other generally accepted time to offer a tip is if you are on a private guided tour and the service and experience are incredible.
If you’re going to tip, make sure to present the tip in a nice envelope and offer it with a small bow.
Otherwise, don’t worry about tipping!
Is The Tap Water Safe To Drink In Japan?
Yes, the tap water is very safe to drink in Japan!
I suggest filling up and bringing a refillable water bottle with you when you leave for the day to enjoy Japanese sightseeing.
There are a few public water fountains in the Metro stations, but otherwise, that’s it.
But if you get desperate for something to drink during your adventures, don’t worry.
Japan is known as the ‘land of vending machines’ for a reason!
Can You Get By With Just Speaking English During Your Trip To Japan?
It might surprise you to know that very few Japanese people, only about 13% of the population, speak fluent English.
But a larger amount of the population, close to 20 – 30% can speak at least conversational English.
Typically this is enough for you to understand each other, and many public signs are also translated into English.
If you’re in a major city like Tokyo or Kyoto, you probably won’t have a hard time finding someone who speaks enough English to help you.
And at hotels and restaurants in major cities, there are typically a few people on staff who can speak English pretty well.
But in smaller towns and villages, English is not commonly understood.
I suggest learning a few simple phrases, like these, to help you during your Japan trip.
Sumimasen – can be used to mean ‘sorry’ or ‘excuse me’
Arigato gozaimasu – thank you
Ohayou gozaimasu– good morning
Konbanwa– good evening
Hai – yes
Toire wa dokodes ka? – Where is the toilet
Eigo wo hanasemasu ka? – Can you speak English?
Japan’s Fun Café Culture
Japan is a country that loves coffee. But they also love to create a unique experience.
This combination has led to a unique and fun Japanese café culture.
Sure, you’ll find plenty of ‘normal’ cafes in Japan. But no Japan itinerary is complete without a stop at one of the unique Japanese cafes!
There are so many fun-themed cafes, from Alice and Wonderland cafes, cyber cafes, maid cafes, Kawaii monster cafes, and even a vampire café.
But one of the most popular themes in Japanese café culture are animal cafes.
You can enjoy your coffee surrounded by cats or pugs, with owls flying over you, surrounded by cute hedgehogs, or even grab a drink at the bar with penguins.
BONUS: Cultural Norms To Keep In Mind When Traveling To Japan
If you’ve never been on a trip to Japan, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind in terms of cultural norms.
I’m a big believer in traveling to foreign countries with as much respect and knowledge of the local culture as possible!
So here are some tips to keep in mind when you’re a Japanese tourist!
Manners & Etiquette When Eating
Eating on the go is a no-no. In fact, in Japan, eating while walking to your next destination or on public transportation is seen as pretty rude. Because of this, you’ll find very few trash cans in public places.
So I suggest making sure you have enough time in your schedule to sit down and enjoy your meals at a store or restaurant.
Don’t rub your chopsticks together! That’s it, just don’t do it. I know it’s pretty common in other countries to break apart the disposable chopsticks and them rub them together.
But this is seen as poor manners in Japan because it implies that your host is not serving you with quality utensils.
The o-shibori is a wet towel that you’ll find at your table when you sit down to eat. The correct thing to do is to politely wipe your hands with the towel, and then place it back on the wrapper or tray it came on.
Manners & Etiquette When Visiting Temples & Shrines
Japanese temples and shrines are considered sacred religious spaces, so make sure you are respectful when visiting as a Japanese tourist.
When entering a shrine, it is customary to bow and not walk in the center path of the ‘gate’, known as a torri or Shinto gate.
Walking down the center path of the gate is reserved for the god of the shrine, and it can be considered disrespectful to ignore that.
When entering a temple, the proper etiquette is a bit more involved.
But there are a few things to keep in mind: never step directly on the threshold of the main gate and women should enter with their right foot first, men with their left.
At both shrines and temples, it is suggested to purify yourself with the available water.
When in doubt, follow what everyone else is doing during the purification ‘ritual’ before moving further into the shrines and temples.
General Manners & Etiquette Tips For Japanese Tourists
Traveling on public transportation is a quiet activity. You won’t find rowdy crowds or loud conversations happening when you’re on any of Japan’s public transportation.
Mask up when you’re sick! If you’re feeling sick, even before the pandemic, it was culturally expected to wear a mask! So I suggest bringing any extras you have with you, just in case.
Along with this, it’s considered poor manners to blow your nose in public. So try to avoid that if you can help it!
Be ready to take off your shoes. Wearing your shoes inside is seen as extremely unhygienic.
So be prepared to take off your shoes when you visit Japanese households, schools, temples, and even some restaurants.
You’ll know if you need to take off your shoes by the rows of shoes lined up by the front door.
The custom of bowing will seem pretty foreign to westerners. So when in doubt, if someone bows to you, return the gesture. It’s a sign of respect!
Where To Stay When Traveling In Japan
The Prince Park Tower – Tokyo
If you’re looking for a luxury hotel in Tokyo during your trip to Japan, consider staying at the Prince Park Tower.
This is a beautiful luxury hotel with epic views of the Tokyo skyline from almost every room.
The hotel is also right in the heart of Tokyo, close to public transportation, and they have several dining options on-site.
Book Your Stay Here: Booking.com
Candeo Hotels Kyoto Karasuma Rokkaku
The Candeo Hotels Kyoto Karasuma Rokkaku is a beautiful moderately priced hotel in Kyoto, Japan.
It is classically Japanese in décor and architecture, and it’s incredibly peaceful and beautiful.
Located in the heart of Kyoto, you’re just a quick walk or metro ride away from all of the most popular tourist attractions in Kyoto.
On-site they also have a sauna, hot tub, a shared lounge, and a bar.
Book Your Stay Here: Booking.com
Hotel 1899 Tokyo
The Hotel 1899 Tokyo is a wonderful hotel in Tokyo near several popular attractions.
Tokyo is an expensive city to stay in, but the Hotel 1899 Tokyo is very reasonably priced for the area.
It is a 3-star hotel with an on-site restaurant, a 24-hour front desk, luggage storage, and free WiFi.
The rooms are a bit on the small side, but that is pretty typical for more budget-friendly hotels in Tokyo.
However, they are very cozy, simply decorated, and very modern and recently renovated.
Book Your Stay Here: Booking.com
Packing Tips For Your Trip When Traveling To Japan
This unisex RFID-blocking concealed travel pouch is lightweight and comes in several colors. It has lots of organization to give you peace of mind.
I was never a fan of packing cubes until I tried them out! Now I am sold. These Bagail packing cubes are the exact ones I use whenever I travel.
This Anker high-speed phone charging battery is the exact one I carry with me on all of my trips.
My daughter gifted me with this FugeTek Selfie Stick and Tripod. It has Bloothtooth connectivity so it is very easy to use.
I never leave home on a trip without my Bobble filtration bottle. The 18.5-ounce size is perfect for travel and it will fit nicely in the pocket of a backpack or your purse.
Perhaps you are traveling a long distance and packing space is a premium. Then this collapsible silicone foldable water bottle would work well for you.
You will want to bring a backpack or daypack to store snacks, water bottle, phone, extra clothes, etc… This foldable water-resistant backpack would be great.
You may be traveling to Japan in warm weather, and you may want a pair of sandals to wear exploring. I highly recommend these Vionics adjustable strap orthotic sandals.
We all must protect our eyes from the sun’s harmful UVA/UVB rays. These unisex polarized sunglasses come in numerous lens colors and frame designs and are extremely affordable too.
This world traveler adapter kit can charge several devices at the same time.
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