Japan is known to be a highly modern country filled with conveniences, but there are always ways to improve the way you travel and get around the country. You've likely read all the guides and the what-to-bring-and-do lists, but do you really need it all? Well, get ready because this is a list to help you travel comfortably and worry-free.
1. Leave the tipping at home
Ah, ‘omotenashi’ – the oh-so-difficult-to-define concept of Japanese hospitality. The word is used often to promote Japan’s outstanding service toward guests. From the honorific -sama, denoting high respect when speaking with customers or clients to the cleaning staff on the Shinkansen bowing as they exit to allow passengers to board, omotenashi is real.
At its most basic, omotenashi is about offering the best service without expectation of reward. And that includes tips. That's right. There really is no expected tipping in Japan. If it does occur, it's formal, done with a decorative envelope instead of cash passing hands. So while you may wish to tip a guide or service provider, it isn't necessary and certainly not expected.
Do remember that house gifts to friends—especially if you are staying with them—are most certainly welcome.
2. The tourist, the trip, and the wardrobe
Oh, boy! What to pack. The bane of every traveler’s preparation. First of all, know the season and have some idea of the weather during your itinerary. Spring is between March and May; the weather is cool and perhaps a bit rainy. The summer months from June herald the arrival of the rainy season. The rains slow down during August (until typhoon season in September), but it’s hot and humid the whole time. You’ll want something light and breathable. For the autumn months between September and November, you’ll need something for the light wind and cool nights. Between December and February's winter months, more is best.
But when packing your clothes, less is more-more space for souvenirs, gifts, and goodies on the return trip! Three or four outfits will usually get you through a one or two week stay as long as you have access to a nearby coin laundry, available at hotels and in most areas. Remember: if you're staying at a hotel, you can forget the toothbrush, Q-tips, razors, and towels. It'll all be part of the room amenities, or you can ask at the front desk.
3. Fancy footwear will leave you tangled
We’ve just covered clothing so why another section for footwear? Well, it’s because you could be taking off your shoes a whole lot. Most Japanese houses and many restaurants, clinics, and other establishments have a ‘genkan,’ which is basically a small foyer or entryway for taking off and putting on shoes. Forget the one-legged hopping and overly complicated footwear. You want shoes that you can easily slip in and out of, or at least are quick to lace up.
In addition, make sure that you are wearing socks. Going barefoot in many establishments is frowned upon. In some cases, you’ll be given guest slippers. Here too, socks are appropriate. Sorry flip flop lovers and people who hate socks with sandals—cover those feet.
4. Lugging luggage is overrated
We’ve discussed traveling light, but how about we travel even lighter and leave our luggage worries behind? LUGGAGE-FREE TRAVEL is the best way to get around Japan hassle-free.
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No matter where you decide to go in Japan, you'll be burden-free-no more coin lockers, towing luggage upstairs and elevators, or cramping up restaurants and shops. And if you end up buying too many souvenirs, have your suitcase and box of goodies shipped back to the airport for check-in. How convenient is that?
5. Open minds and remove that screen
It might seem trite to say, but leave your expectations of Japan at home. Many people have an antiquated image of Japan in their mind, one of geisha, ninja, samurai, and anime everywhere. While you can certainly find those things (or at least museums for them) they're not the end-all and be-all of Japan. There's much more to Japan than what is often shown. Explore everything Japan has to offer with an open mind.
Speaking of an open mind, it'd be remiss not to mention the eyes. With our technological-driven lives these days, it can be difficult to look away from the many screens in front of us. But do look up. Even if you're just riding the train, using a smartphone the whole time will guarantee you missing out on some incredible moments. Who knows? You might even find a local gem not found in a guidebook while you wander around without GPS. Experience your visit to Japan without a screen between you and the country.