Japan is a popular destination for Western travelers; this exotic country holds a unique experience for you! But there are certain things to be cautious about before you take off.
Japan is more “Western” priced than “Asian”
Especially if you are going backpacking or have visited other countries in the region before, you will be surprised about the prices waiting for you in Japan. A meal in an average restaurant will cost you 2000-3000 Japanese Yen (15-25 USD), while in Thailand or China it would be half the price. Withdrawing money or using your credit card can be a problem. Some ATMs and shops do not take western cards, so be cautious. Before you enter a shop or a bank ask whether your type of card is accepted. However, the ATMs located in post offices usually accept western cards, and you can withdraw money at every 7-eleven convenience store. Always carry some cash with you, especially when visiting rural Japan, and for transportation purchase a Suica or Pasmo card that you can top up with money, so you can easily tap in at metro and train stations and don’t have to buy separate tickets each journey.
Unfortunately, in Japan many do not speak any other language than the local, which can get very frustrating. Bring a pocket dictionary or download an app to your phone, it will come in handy! When you’re asking for directions ask the people to write it down for you so you can check on the metro, and maps, if the characters match, as signs and stations are not always written in Romaji, the Latin alphabet. But don’t let this discourage you from asking for help, Japanese people are very kind and helpful and even without speaking the same language they will do their best to help you out!
Tidiness and personal hygiene
Japanese people are very clean in all paths of life, but things can be confusing for first time travelers. We have all seen pictures of people walking around in face masks; this is not only used to protect themselves against the pollution but also to protect their peers when they are ill. So if you get ill in Japan, go to a conbini, a convenience store such as 7eleven, and buy a face mask yourself, the locals will appreciate! Tidiness is important in different areas as well, many Japanese would carry their own little towels to dry their hands in public bathrooms, or help them cool down during the hot summer days. Additionally, taking care of the environment is extremely important. If you walk around the shopping streets before opening time you will see that the shop owners clean the streets in front of them. You also won’t find many trash bins on the streets as in Japan recycling is very important, so you are kindly asked to take your trash home and recycle if you can.
Before you plan your visit to Japan it is good to look up the forecast. Japan has 4 seasons but because of the geographical location of the islands weather may vary depending on where you go. On Honshu, the main island, you will experience a European climate with mild winters, but extremely hot summers, as it is a very humid country. But if you are traveling to Okinawa in the summer, or Hokkaido in the winter you will have to pack a bit differently.
Getting around in Japan
There are numerous trains and metro lines in any big city across Japan. All lines are color coded, but do take sometime to learn some locations: where you are staying, and where is the city center. During rush hours trains can get very busy and crowded, so you better avoid those hours, although traveling on a crowded train is somewhat part of an authentic Japanese experience. Public transport usually does not run at night, so check the times before you leave. But don’t worry,there are many taxis you can take with a starting price around 6 USD and additional 2.50 per kilometer.
You can get information in English about the subway lines in Tokyo from here: http://www.tokyometro.jp/en/index.html
Safety in Japan
Even though Japan is considered to be a very safe country, there are places where is good to be cautious. After dark it is good to take care the Shinjuku Kabukicho, or Roppongi. Especially for female travelers visiting these locations alone might be dangerous. Getting groped on busy trains is not unusual; therefore there are women only carriers in certain trains and metros during peak hours. As a solo female travelers take these trains, and as a male look out for not getting on the train in the wrong carriage.
Thumbnail image is from Flickr