First trip to Japan? Don’t Make These Mistakes

by Gavin Darvell

Alien in an alien land! Well, that’s what it feels like when you make your first trip to Japan! Really, it’s a place that is so vastly different it’ll take a few days to adjust! And not just because of the jet-lag. The culture, food, the surroundings…the smells! Trust me, I’ve experienced it, as have many, many others. But what an experience to have!

Japan is gearing up for the Olympics this summer. A feast of sport for all to enjoy. So, naturally many new visitors will be heading to the Japanese shores to take in the sport and enjoy all that Tokyo, in particular, can offer. So, if it is your first trip to Japan, then follow these tips, don’t make the mistakes and you’ll be doing just fine.


1. Eating Out


Japanese food is delicious, think sushi and noodles for starters! I mean what’s not to like. If you’re eating rice, which with most Japanese dishes you will, then please don’t stick your chopsticks upright in the rice bowl. It’s seen as symbolising death and also bad luck. Place your chopsticks next to the bowl, and no offending will take place.

Another top restaurant tip is that you really mustn’t tip when you leave. It just isn’t part of Japanese culture. So, at least that’s one less thing to worry about. Enjoy the food, enjoy the restaurants and their atmosphere and then leave without worry.


2. Out and About


If you’re talking with someone or asking them a question, which you might as Tokyo is a vast place (20+ million residents for starters) and getting lost can easily happen. We’ve all been there! So if you’re asking for directions just make sure you don’t point at them with your forefinger. It’s seen as extremely rude. Nod your head or use your whole hand to make your point (sorry, for the pun!)

Also, don’t assume that everyone knows English. They don’t and although almost all signs are in English (and Korean) that doesn’t mean everyone can converse with you. They will, of course, try to help you, no matter how excellent or bad their English language skills are.


3. Heading Indoors


At some point, you’ll head into a building or home that’ll require you to take your shoes off. Many restaurants will, as of course, will visiting temples and family homes. You’ll often be provided with slippers and a place to put your shoes. No-one is going to run off with them, so don’t worry.

If you decide to try out a public bath or onsen (hot spring) be prepared for two things really. Oh, you really should try them, it’s bliss. Firstly you must wash before going into the public baths. Usually, soaps and showers will be provided or next to the bathrooms. And secondly, you’ll probably have to be naked! Apart from a little drying towel. Don’t worry, facilities and baths are segregated, so no need to be embarrassed, just go with it.


The list does go on but if you’re visiting as a tourist, follow these few simple steps, and you’ll be more than comfortable. Japan can feel an overwhelming, alien place. Customs and attitudes are very different, but they are a friendly nation, always ready to help. The first trip to Japan can seem a daunting prospect, but with a little knowledge, before you leave, you’ll be prepared to embrace this incredible country.

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