Today’s post is Part II of our four-part tips-and-tricks bible for travelling to Japan.
This post will outline some ideas to keep in mind upon arrival in Japan, some tips on how to use the trains efficiently, and some very important information on Japanese etiquette.
So. You’ve just arrived in Japan, picked up your bags, and gone through customs. Now what?
- On arrival at Haneda you will be processed through security and customs. Security officials will want to record your fingerprints and take a picture. Put your middle fingers into the machines and press the buttons down simultaneously then look at the camera to your right for a picture.
- If you’re staying near the Yamanote train line (you should!) the Tokyo monorail will take you directly to Hamamatsucho and from there you can move on to your station or hotel. The ride will cost 480 JPY.
- You can also take the Keikyu train line that will deliver you to Shinagawa station on the Yamanote line. This ride will cost 400 JPY.
- If your hotel is not near the Yamanote line you can also use the Keikyu Limosine bus service that connects Tokyo and the surrounding precincts (including major hotels) to Haneda airport. Depending on your destination this will cost between 500 – 2000 JPY.
- Try to avoid using a taxi if you can – they’re very expensive in Tokyo.
- Consider using a Suica card for your train travel, particularly if you’re not using a Japan Rail Pass (JRP). The Suica is the Japanese equivalent of the AU multirider or the UK Oyster card.
- If you are using a JRP find the train guard booth at each station and flash your pass there for entrance and exit.
- If you’re not using a Suica or JRP purchase the cheapest ticket fare to enter the train station and visit the fare adjustment machine at the other end. This ensures you always pay the right price.
- All train stations in Tokyo have adequate English signage but, if you can’t find what your looking for, a polite ‘sumimasen’ and inquiry to a stranger will get you where you need to be.
- To book Shinkansen seats find the Midori-no Madoguchi office or use the green self-serve machines (they can be used in English) that will likely be near the normal ticketing machines.
- When booking Shinkansen seats, take the time to book return trips and any side trips you might like to take, especially if your time is limited.
- When you enter the Shinkansen platform take note of your tickets carriage number and find the appropriate place to stand on the platform. Some Shinkansen are extremely long and it’s considered bad form to walk through the aisles of the carriages to get to your seat (trust us).
- If you’re planning to visit Fuji-san do some research on how to get there – Monique and I found there was no easy train line or bus route that will take you there!
- When you are eating do not ever touch your chopsticks with someone elses – this is highly inappropriate at the dinner table as it is a feature of Japanese funeral rites.
- If you want to share food with your partner or fellow travellers use the small empty plate that will be provided to pass food over to them.
- If your chopsticks arrive in a small paper or plastic cover it’s considered polite to return them to the cover when you’re finished eating.
- It’s appropriate to slurp soba and ramen noodles. It is not appropriate to slurp ‘western noodles’ (pasta).
- For the most part it’s considered inappropriate in Japan (although maybe not as much in Tokyo) to eat while you walk. If you need a snack, find a bench and sit down.
- If there’s no menu displayed outside an eating or drinking establishment you should not enter as it is likely to be a Yakuza business.
- Venture out for dinner later (say around 8.30-9pm at the earliest) as the Japanese tend to eat later.
- I’m not 100% sure if this is a real thing in Japan, but it seemed to me that between 12pm-3pm many eating establishments are closed. So make sure to factor this in to your eating plans.
- Don’t slather soy sauce or wasabi all over you food – dip the food into the sauces.
- To visit the Onsen wear the kimono and slippers that will be provided to you.
- Enter the Onsen nude and use the small body towel for a little modesty.
- Wash yourself before entering the bath.
- Onsens are designed for relaxation – do not ‘play’ in them or wash yourself in them.
- If you have tattoos make sure you cover them fully before entering as 99.9% of Onsen refuse entry to patrons with visible tattoos, even if you’re gaijin.
- If you’re a man hold your arms straight at your sides and bow from the waist inclining your head forwards.
- If you’re a woman bow in the same way but clasp your hands together at your front.
- When you’re doing every day things like receiving goods or greeting people you will receive a small head-nod as a form of acknowledgement. Make sure to return the nod.
- At most establishments in Japan you should hand money over to your server, waiter or attendant by placing it on the money tray. Handing money directly to the attendant when there is a money tray available is a breach of etiquette.
- If you do hand money directly to someone, or when you receive your change, make sure you use both hands while you’re doing it as a sign of respect.
- Business cards are a huge thing in Japan and there are all sorts of rituals around receiving and giving them. As gaijin make sure you remember at least the following:
- Give and receive the business card with both hands and bow.
- Take a few moments to inspect the card closely.
- Do not put the card into your wallet or purse until you have left the presence of the card giver.
Staying at a Ryokan/Visiting someone’s home
- Leave your shoes in the little hallway before you enter the main house. Your shoes should never touch a tatami mat!
- Don’t freak out too much if you accidentally rip one of the paper squares on a Shijo door – they’re very easy to fix and a simple admission and apology will suffice.
- If you receive a gift or want to give a gift make sure when you exchange it that you use both hands and bow.
- If you’ve received a gift don’t open it in front of the gift giver. It’s custom to open it later once you’ve left their presence.
- Head over to Friends of Friends Travel and check out my Beginner’s Guide to Japanese Phrases to get you started on your hellos, goodbyes, pleases, and thankyous.
I hope these tips can take some of the stress out of your first day in Japan and help you to experience and enjoy the culture more.
Next post: Part III – must-see sites in Kyoto
Until next time,
Kally & Mon.
[Feature Image Credit: Monique Nielsen]
[Image Credit (1): Monique Nielsen]
[Image Credit (2): Japan Rail]
[Image Credit (3): 123 Japanese]
What’s your best tip for Japanese etiquette? Have we missed anything crucial?