So my last post was all dedicated to transportation. I originally wanted to condense everything into one post, but the transportation took so much room I decided to space it out to make things easier to read for viewers. So if you are looking for tips regarding the train systems, buses, and subways, please refer to my other post.

This post will focus on tips for spending every day in Japan.

Yen, Tipping, and paying for stuff. 

Yen and Credit Cards

So first off, I do recommend that you exchange some of your money to yen in your home country before your trip. This will help make sure you get a descent exchange rate for your money. You can do this at your local bank, just be sure you have an account with them, or at a currency exchange center. If you exchange at a bank, depending on your bank, it may take a little bit to come in, so be sure to do it early. Often currency exchange places will have the money on site, but will charge a higher rate than banks will. So if you waited too late, then you may have to just put up with that.
When exchanging, some places will ask if you want your money to be in large bills, small bills, or a mix of both. I got a mix of both because I didn’t know what to expect, but I discovered that I would have preferred small bills instead. This is because a lot of street foods, vendors, and ticket machines don’t cost a lot, and so I used my small bills more than the large. And would have felt bad if I used a 5000 yen bill to buy a 500 yen food item.
Also even though Japan is big on technology, there are still quite a few places that only takes cash. What I found the most convenient for me is if I was somewhere that takes card, I use my card and saved my cash for the places that only takes cash.

If you find yourself needing more cash, the best thing to do is to go at any 711 ATMs (yes those exist over there) and use that to withdraw cash from your debit/credit card. This will give you the best “bang for your buck” deal in terms of exchange rate.

Yen coins go from 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 and 500 coins. Through your trip, you will probably find that you may end up carrying a lot of coins unless you’re very conscious of spending your coins. This is the reason why Japan has a bunch of those small coin purses. They’re a neat thing to have so if you like to get one of those, they will definitely come in handy for your trip. If not, bring maybe a small plastic bag or a change purse from your home country. Just trust me on this, it will definitely be convenient.

For credit cards, most of the places in Japan already use the chip readers. They also will not accept your card unless you sign the bank of your card first. (In the States, I have never encountered any places that makes sure you signed)
Be sure that the card you use does not charge you a foreign purchase fee. For me, I got myself a travel credit card at my bank. I would suggest to do that, or some banks won’t charge for foreign purchase either such as Charles Schwab. Just check with your bank before you leave just to be sure.

 

Tipping 

The Japanese people believe that the price they put on something includes everything, the product and the service. They feel that anything extra is a “hidden fee” and would be insulting if they took extra money from you. In other words, if you go eat at a restaurant, and they change you $1000 yen for something, you are expected to only pay the $1000 yen. Tipping them means that you’re telling the workers that you did not enjoy your experience and are giving them extra money to do better next time. I know it’s a reverse psychology than in Western Culture that sees tipping as a sign of good service, but for Japan, that is not the case. So even if you get amazing service (which you most likely will as Japanese people are amazing in the service department), do not tip your waiters/waitresses. Just be thankful to them for their hard work. Now sadly, taxes does exit in Japan too. Not everywhere will charge tax, but some will.

 

Bathrooms

MUST READ

This one is a very useful tip for all foreign travelers to Japan. If you need to use the restroom, make sure you use it at the train stations. One of the biggest reasons is because some of the public restrooms of Japan is the squat style toilets, which if you don’t know what that is, think of it as a hole in the ground and you have to take your pants off, squat down and do your business like that. If you’re not a fan of that, then best to use the restrooms in the train stations as most will have the western style toilets. And not just any kind, all of the toilets I’ve encountered were the new technological style toilets with heated seats and water bidet sprayers. One thing to keep in mind, they do not have the tissue paper seat covers. You can choose to try to ignore the fact, or use toilet paper to cover the seats. Also most restrooms will only have a sink. No paper towels or air blowers to dry your hands, and no soap. So it is best if you either carry dry soap, or hand sanitizes with you, and a handkerchief to dry your hands.
Also not all restaurants or eating establishments have public restrooms, so be sure that if you feel even the slightest urge to use the restroom at the train stations, use it because it may be a while before you can use one again.

Language Barrier

Though there are a good number of establishments and people in Japan that knows some English, you will find yourself more often then not encountering people who don’t know your language at all. However don’t feel discouraged as the Japanese are very friendly to tourists. A lot of restaurants will have English menus or at least pictures, so if anything you can always point to a picture and put up your fingers as to how many orders of that item you want.
Even so, if you can, try learning a few phrases to help you get by. I will put a few of them down here to help you out.
I’ll space out the words to help with pronounciation, keep in mind the letter “i” by itself makes the i sound such as in the word ichy, and not like the the i sound in iPod.
Japanese – English
Kon-ban-wa – Good Morning
Kon-i-chi-wa – Good Afternoon
A-ri-ga-to  – Thank You
A-ri-ga-to  Go-zai-ma-su – Thank you very much
Hai – Yes
I-ku-ra  De-su-ka – How much?
America-jin  De-su – I’m America. (This one helped me out when people kept thinking I was Japanese )

It’s helpful if you can at least count to 10 in Japanese, though I only really used the numbers 1 and 2. But not bad to know.
Ichi – 1     Roku – 6
Ni – 2       Nana – 7
San – 3    Hachi 0 8
Yon – 4   Kyu – 9
Go – 5      Ju – 10

Alternatively, you can also just use your fingers. It’s the universal language.

Manners

This one I want to stress a little bit because this, I feel, is the most important in terms of being respectful to the Japanese and its culture.
Like I mentioned in my previous post about the trains, make sure that you wait in line to enter the trains, and wait for people to exit before entering. Also silence your phone and do not talk on your phone while on the trains. Also if you are talking to someone next to you, just keep your voice to a minimum.
The Japanese believe in being mindful to others and being courteous. Just make sure that your actions are courteous to other people.
When you’re going up the  escalators, if you want to just stand, move to your left so others can pass you on your right if they prefer to walk or are in a hurry. Do not block the escalators. When going on the stairs, particularly when it’s busy, stay on the corresponding side so that there’s room for people to go up and down safely. If anything, just follow the trend of the crowd and you will be fine.

When ordering food, Japanese restaurants rarely, if ever, do substitutions. If you feel you absolutely need something altered, do no more than 1 change. Anymore, and they’ll wonder why would you even want to order a certain dish if you just want to change it. The safer bet is to just accept all food items as is, and if you don’t like something of a certain dish, just order something else unless you’d like to come off as a snooty tourist.

Some museums will not allow pictures. And I so quite a few tourists breaking that. There are usually workers around who will ask you to delete the photo, or stop you if they see you. But still, please be respectful. It is also considered rude to take photos or videos of people without their permission. Of course this doesn’t mean you can’t take a picture of yourself in front of a castle because there are people in the background. This more applies to people trying to make videos of their trip and deliberately focusing on the people. If you must, at least try to make it look like you’re trying to take footage of the buildings or something in the background. Some of the people will either try to block their face, or look at you funny. They won’t do anything rash like yell at you or try to take your camera away.

My closing statement on this is that the Japanese are very respectful and mindful people, and it is all ingrained into them. They will keep in mind that you are a tourists and try to be respectful in that some of their customs are different than what you are used to. However, having been treated so well by the Japanese, I feel that the best way to be thankful back is to be respectful of their customs. So please, just be mindful of how your actions could affect other people, and just be courteous.

 

Sakura Trees (Cherry Blossoms)

I believe the seasons where the cherry blossoms bloom is between somewhere in February until Mid April. The blooming trickles downwards from North Japan to South, meaning the northern part of Japan will bloom first and work it’s way downwards. Just something to keep in mind if you are trying to plan your trip around seeing the blossoms, like I did.

 

Japanese Holidays

From what I have seen, there is a lot of traveling around Japan, so it may be a good idea to look at Japanese Holidays while planing your trip. One such example is Golden Week, which I believe takes place at the end of April, where a majority of Japanese workers all get a week off of work. So if you travel during this time, places and attractions may get really busy, but there are also food festivals and public events during these holidays as well. So there are trade offs for traveling around both occasions. I visited and left Japan just before Golden Week, for example, and slightly regretted not being able to see some live shows and festivals that were being planned for Golden Week. However, I was happy to not be in Japan to face the crowd that would have came from that either, so for me, I preferred not being in Japan for that. That is just me, plan your trip to your taste and interests.

 

Littering

One of the best things about Japan is its cleanliness. The people do not litter or spit gum onto the floors, and believe in keeping their country clean. They believe that you take your trash home with you to throw away, not leave it for someone else to deal with. There are not a lot of public trash cans for you to throw your trash away. Because there are a lot of drink vending machines on the streets, you will see a lot of recycling bins, but nothing for general trash. So if you have trash, hold it with you until you reach a train station or where you’re staying. Train stations will have trash cans. It is also rude for you to litter and if caught you can get fined. So please be respectful of this and do not litter.

 

Safety

Japan is one of the safest places in the world, and has one of the fewest crime rates as well. So safe, that you will often see young children riding the trains or on the streets by themselves. So you don’t have to worry too much about getting mugged, or worry about carrying a lot of cash with you. Although I wouldn’t recommend flashing your money around for the world to see, and still be a bit cautious around shady areas. But for the most part, you are safe in the country.

 

Business hours of operations

If you are in the States at least, if a business says that it closes at 10pm, they will not start trying to kick people out until 10pm exactly. In Japan though, they’ll start trying to kick people out at around 9:30. I assume it’s a courteous thing, but either way, keep that in mind when planning your trip if you plan on going somewhere in the evening time.

 

Walking around

This one is for the ladies out there. Especially if you are planning a long day of walking around and exploring Japan, please do not think you can last in healed shoes. Trust me, even if you think your tennis shoes clashes with your outfit, your feet will thank you at the end of the day. If you like, invest in buying sole comforters. They will definitely help your feet and legs deal with the intense amount of walking you will do. Also be prepared for blisters.

 

Disneyland

This may seem strange to put in a section about Disneyland, but I felt I had to mention this. You can not dress up like a Disney character if you go to the Disneyland in California or Disneyworld in Florida. However, I did spotted someone dressed just like Belle at the Tokyo Disneyland. So I do think you are allowed to dress similar to a Disney character there. There are even days devoted solely to cosplay and dressing up, such as on Halloween. Japan culture is very big on cartoons, anime, and dressing up so I think that’s why dressing up isn’t seen so much as a taboo there.

 

Here is a link to a YouTube video that I liked. The Channel is called Rachel and Jun, and it follows a couple living in Japan and their adventures through the country. I found a lot of their videos informative, and also great for getting some ideas for your trip. They’ve explored a lot of locations that are not popular tourist attractions as well. I am definitely, going to go to some of the locations they’ve explored on my next trip to Japan. So check out the video, check out their channel, and if you like them support them. I swear they did not sponsored me to say this. If you comment on their videos saying “Andy sent us” they will have no idea who you’re talking about. I just like their videos and want to share it with readers everywhere.

 

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