Tips for Tourists to Japan
Planning a getaway to Tokyo? Or a tour through the streets of Osaka? Perhaps you plan to see the wonder that is Mount Fuji. No matter where your destination is within the island of Japan, follow these Japan tourist tips to get the most out of your vacation.
Learn the language
First of all, it’s good to know the language people speak in the country you’re visiting. If you’re planning your trip way in advance, try to take a class in Japanese to get your feet wet. You’ll be able to communicate with the locals and it will instantly set you apart from other tourists.
It’s likely, however, that you don’t have a whole semester to take a class, and that’s okay. Most people don’t have the time to learn an entirely new language for every vacation they go on. What you can do instead is buy yourself a travel-sized Japanese to English phrasebook. With some minor studying, you will at least get to know the basics for communicating in Japanese, like o-negai shimasu (please), sumimasen (excuse me), or eigo o hanashimasu ka (do you speak English). There are also apps to download for free or purchase.
Putting in that extra effort to get to know the language could mean that people warm to you faster. On top of that, you’ll feel so much better talking to locals knowing that you can at least show politeness in their language.
Unlike Chinese, Japanese isn’t a tonal language either, so getting the hang of the pronunciation won’t be quite so hard!
Know how to dine with grace
Customs surrounding food is of great importance in Japan. Things that are a no-no in the United States might just be standard practice for the Japanese.
For example, when eating soup or noodles, try to be as noisy as possible. You’ll find that slurping is actually expected of you, and no one else will be holding back.
Conversely, things that might be considered polite or normal in the U.S. are the opposite in Japan: don’t ever wave your chopsticks around your plate deciding what to eat next. Chopsticks are to be respected, and they should only be used for eating. Never try to get anyone’s attention by waving them in the air, and never, ever leave them sticking straight up out of your food.
In addition, when pouring drinks for others at the table, make sure you let someone else pour your drink for you. That’s how things are done in Japan, and knowing them is the first step to respecting them.
If you get these dining practices down, you will impress your Japanese friends with your etiquette and be experiencing the true Japan experience. Head to a nearby Japanese restaurant and practice!
Brush up on the culture
Customs surrounding food are not the only ones you should know before going to Japan.
In fact, no matter where you’re traveling to, you should always make a point to do some research into the customs, beliefs, and traditions of the people that live there. This will help you avoid any embarrassing misunderstandings because, for example, you will already know that it’s customary to take your shoes off when entering someone’s home in Japan. You won’t have to figure it out after traipsing mud and dirt all over their spotless floor!
Lonely Planet lists some of the essential Japanese do’s and don’ts to help inform you for your travels. Things like bowing to new acquaintances, bringing along small gifts for host families or friends you make, and using two hands when giving and receiving cards are just a basic introduction into Japanese customs. And while they may seem like minor things, you would be surprised just how much not doing them can offend someone.
Imagine if you were introduced to someone new and you extended your hand for a handshake, but the person just stared at it and walked away. You might be a little offended, and even think that the person didn’t like you and wanted to intentionally be rude. Well, the only way to avoid being the rude one is to know the small customary acts of the culture.
But, if indeed you should find yourself in this kind of situation, don’t worry about it too much. Just be sure to apologize profusely and ask what it is you did wrong, and people will likely forgive you. After all, misunderstandings are kind of the bread and butter of traveling, so brush it off and continue on to the next adventure!
Most of all, understand that Japanese culture is generally quiet and orderly. You won’t find people crowding and pushing to get on the metro, and when they are on the metro they won’t be having loud conversations with their friend. This is perhaps one of the biggest differences between U.S. culture and Japanese culture, so it’s good to try not to be the cliche uncouth tourist laughing as loud as they can on the bus.
Researching the culture you’re going to visit can be so exciting. Just knowing that people live in such a different way from you is thrilling, and knowing that you will personally experience their way of life is even more incredible. Don’t take the opportunity for granted, because there are many people who never get to travel outside of their hometown.
So follow these Japan tourist tips, arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible, and get out there and explore!