With rich culture, delicious cuisine and a beautiful language, Japan is unlike any other destination you’ll visit. And while the major tourist destinations are seeing plenty of visitors from abroad, the Japanese have a strong sense of pride in their culture. So if you want to impress the locals and fit in, do like the locals do—here are 10 tips to avoid looking like a tourist in Japan!
1. Dress up
Don’t get the tux out just yet; locals don’t dress up that much. But they do dress up more than in most other cultures. Business casual isn’t big in Japan and yoga pants are only appropriate when you’re going to yoga class. In summer, many people choose to wear longer skirts or slacks instead of shorts, and few wear tank tops. Pack clothes that aren’t too flashy and make sure they’re appropriate for the activities and the season you have planned. Bring a dressier outfit if you plan on eating somewhere nice.
2. Wear slip-on shoes
On a similar note, pay close attention to the footwear you bring. In traditional restaurants, certain attractions and in hotel rooms, you’ll be asked to take off your shoes upon entering. While flip flops are a big no-no for most occasions (save for a trip to the beach or a midnight run to the conbini), comfy ballet flats, loafers, boat shoes, or even a nice pair of slip-on sneakers are practical options. You might also notice that open-toed shoes and sandals are uncommon. This is because you can’t wear socks with them. Socks are standard in Japan so you won’t be barefoot when you go somewhere and need to take off your shoes.
3. Take a seat when you eat
Eating while walking is considered a bit rude. Do yourself a favor and take a seat at a restaurant. Ballin’ on a budget and need to get lunch from the conbini? Eat in your hotel room or find a bench. Some grocery stores have seating outside where you can eat your bento.
4. Be mindful on the train
Millions of people use the train every day in Japan. So, some train etiquette is pretty understandable to be courteous to other passengers. Avoid eating on the train. Aside from shinkansen rides and other special trains where ekiben (train bento) are common, eating on the train is rude. If you need to eat, choose something that doesn’t smell or leave crumbs. Never leave your trash on the train. You should also avoid phone calls on the train. If you get a call, you should tell the caller you’ll call them back or get off at the next stop to finish the call. And never talk loudly. Learn to use an ‘indoor voice’.
5. Opt for a smaller bag
When walking around the city, choose a smaller bag like a purse, a tote or a crossbody bag. Locals don’t use large backpacks because they’re cumbersome—especially in crowded areas like trains. If you love the usability of a backpack, go with a smaller and more stylish option. And make sure to hold your backpack in front of you while riding the train.
6. Tap for trains
If you’re forgoing the JR Pass route, make riding the trains a breeze with an IC card like the Suica or Pasmo. These plastic cards work much like London’s Oyster card or Hong Kong’s Octopus card. You fill the card up with money and can just tap it to enter and exit trains and buses. IC cards can also be used in other places places including taxis, conbinis and grocery stores.
7. Learn basic phrases
Nobody, least of all locals, expect you to be fluent in Japanese for a two-week trip. But knowing a few basic phrases can help you get by and make friends along the way. The Japanese are quite shy when it comes to speaking English, so saying something as small as ‘Konnichiwa’ can make a huge difference in how you’re received.
Ohayou Gozaimasu - Good morning
Konnichiwa - Good afternoon
Konbanwa - Good evening
Arigatou Gozaimasu - Thank you
Sumimasen - Excuse me/I am sorry
Ikura desu ka? - How much is it?
___wa doko desu ka? - Where is…?
8. Carry cash
While many larger stores have begun to accept credit cards, many smaller shops still do not take them. So, always remember to carry some cash on you. You can find currency exchanges at the airports and throughout the city, or you can withdraw from 7-Eleven atms.
9. Keep calm and shop
If you plan on going shopping during your trip to Japan, you’ll quickly notice that shopping is very different. The staff call out “Irasshaimase” (Welcome) frequently, but you don’t need to reply to them. They may also follow closely behind you in case you need assistance. Just keep calm and shop. If you need help, the staff will be right there for you.
10. Embrace the crowds
Crowded train? Hop on! Admittedly uncomfortable, crowded trains are part of everyday life in Japan. So, embrace this modern facet of Tokyo culture, hold your bag in front of you and politely squeeze yourself into the car. Unless you have a suitcase—in that case, don’t get on a crowded train. That would be rude. If you’d rather skip the crowds, then avoid public transportation at rush hour and take a taxi.
Photo credit (main image): Mahathir Mohd Yasin / Shutterstock.com
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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