In Japan, there’s a very clear difference between indoor footwear and outdoor footwear. Not wearing shoes in the house is common knowledge in Japan. Failing to take off your shoes can make a guest seem inconsiderate, disrespectful and even a little dirty. Generally, shoes are taken off before entering anyone’s home, but it also applies to hostels and hotels, ryokans (a traditional-style Japanese hotel) and inside some temples and shrines; even some job offices enforce the no-shoe rule, though it’s rare. To avoid having to share sometimes stinky and ill-fitting communal slippers, it’s a good idea to pack your own. Nothing too fancy, just simple slip-on, slip-off ones that you can easily pack in your bag will do.
For decades, Japan and tattoos have a tricky and at times even tumultuous relationship. Thanks to the historical associations between tattoo brandishing and the yakuza (Japanese mafia), showing off your fresh ink has been in the past a pretty surefire way to cop a few sideway glances and maybe even be kicked out of certain establishments. One particular establishment that in previous years was a proper no-go for tattoos was the Japanese onsen, aka public bath.
Given that you’re required to be completely naked in the communal baths, hiding tattoos is impossible so if you had a tattoo, usually it meant no onsen. These days, as the country has become a little more international in terms of visitors and cultural ideologies, so tattoos have become more widely accepted. Generally though, if you do still want to swim in a public pool or visit the onsen it’s encouraged and sometimes enforced that visitor cover their ink as not to offend those with more conservative ideologies. Depending on their size, band-aid style plasters or bandages will do the job just fine.
Even though it’s considered a country of great technological advancement, Japan really marches to the beat of its own drum, meaning there are plenty of little quirks that probably don’t make sense to outsiders. One, for example, is that flip phones and fax machines are still used regularly and another is that cash is still the main form of payment. In most other places, it’s easy to get around using a credit card, but here in Japan cash still rules. Luckily, Japan is a safe country, because it’s not unusual for people to carry the equivalent of hundreds of dollars on them to get through the week. Many places may only accept cards at a certain time of day, and if you’re in the countryside, it’s a lot rarer. So to save the headache, get out a whole stack of cash.
In English, omiyage means gift or souvenir that you give to family, friends, co-workers or other acquaintances after returning from a trip. It’s a little ritual that does take a bit of getting used to, but if you do it right it’s also a great way to be the most popular friend in the office or social circle. Because it’s actually pretty serious business here, in Japan many tourist hot spots have well-stocked omiyage stores near their popular sites, so you don’t really have to go out of your way to find something. However, if you’re visiting from overseas and perhaps staying at a friend’s or acquaintance’s house while in Japan, you should consider bringing something from your home country or travels as a omiyage of sorts. In terms of what to get, it’s best to get something that’s not too extravagant and easy to share like some individually packaged chocolates or sweets.
One of the biggest surprises when travelling through Japan is just how quiet the commutes on the country’s transportation are. Like many other things in Japan, riding the train is an exercise in nuanced politeness, and there are a number of rules and etiquette understandings that you’ll quickly come to realize. There’s a rather well followed ‘no talking on the phone’ rule that is applied through the country’s transport system.
Though in many other countries it may seem normal, quickly answering that important call while in transit is a huge no-no. You may not get fined, but you will definitely be the least popular person in the carriage. Some other faux pas are playing music from your phone and letting music leak from your headphones when you’re rocking out too hard, so it’s safest to pick up a pair of noise cancelling headphones if you do like to play your music loud.
The voltage in Japan is 100 volts, which is different and a lot lower than in North America (120V) and continental Europe (230V), which means if you are bringing over gear that needs a serious power surge, it’s worth looking into your adaptor options. However, if voltage isn’t an issue and you’re coming from North America or have a North American adaptor it should work just fine in many Japanese outlets, as they’re essentially identical. If you forget, don’t worry, you can also find them at one of the many Bic Camera mega-electronic stores located throughout Japan.
The country’s pharmaceutical world is highly regulated and unless you have a strong grasp of Japanese, getting medicine as a visitor in Japan can be a little trickier. But one important thing is to always do your research before packing your bag. Medicines are classified into five categories in Japan: general, narcotic, psychotropic, stimulant medicine or a medical device. Really depending on the classification, and amount, you could be required to apply for permission/certification before bringing it into the country, so it’s always best to check. Most Japanese embassy sites will have information on how to do it, so it’s not too difficult.