When we visited Asia for the first time earlier this Summer, we had no idea what to expect. We have done quite a bit of traveling, but it was unlike any place we had been before.
Usually anywhere we go people can speak English, and if not we can figure out a few words on signs to be able to figure out what is going on. This was a whole new world. The signs were in symbols, we were by far the tallest people around, and we had no idea what the foods were that we ordered. It was culture shock for sure, but in the best way.
We so enjoyed our time in Japan, but would have felt more confident upon landing if we had known a few things, so here are my tips for first-time travelers to Japan.
What to know before your first visit to Japan
1. If you type in your “to” and “from” destinations to Google Maps, the app will tell you how much your subway ticket will cost along with your route. This is extremely handy since the signs are primarily in symbols and the price depends on what line you are taking and how far you are going.
2. They eat sushi for every meal, including breakfast.
3. The weather is very tropical. We should have guessed this as it is an island, but it hadn’t really dawned on us. During our visit we were greeted by humidity and frequent rain showers.
4. A lot of places don’t believe in AC. In two separate places we stayed in Tokyo, the thermostats only went down to a certain degree level which was comparable to about 70 degrees Fahrenheit (“room temperature”). After being out in the humidity all day, it was not the welcome relief we are so accustomed to but we got used to it.
5. Sushi is about the same price as it is in the US. I had presumed that being so close to the source it would be significantly cheaper, but did not find that to be the case.
6. At least in Tokyo, apartments are TINY. We could quite literally touch everything from the bed of the AirBnb we rented, and from what we have heard that is very common for apartments in the city.
7. Japan’s currency is primarily coins so be prepared with a coin purse or deep pockets.
8. Tokyo is expensive!!! Kyoto was reasonable for a foreign city, but Tokyo was even pricier than New York City.
9. They do not eat or drink while walking. If you are in need of a snack between meals, try to be respectful and eat discreetly or find a bench to sit on while you finish.
10. They have quite the coffee culture, with so many unique shops all over. If you are dairy-free or lactose-intolerant like me, every shop I visited had a soy milk option! (No luck finding almond milk anywhere, though.)
11. Try to keep your conversations at a low volume on the subways as they are very quiet. Pretty much everyone is on their phones, except unlike the US, they weren’t texting or on Instagram, they were all gaming!
12. Always wait for the pedestrian light to turn green, even if there are no cars in sight. While we are accustomed to running across the street any time there is an opening, they respect the rules and wait.
13. Pay very close attention to train times, particularly if you have paid for the expensive bullet train ticket between cities. Other trains will come that make more stops along the route. However, if you have paid for the bullet train you want to make sure you specifically get on the train that makes the fewest stops. We accidentally got on a train that came a few minutes before the bullet train and our hour and a half ride ended up taking over three hours. And we had paid for the bullet train, womp womp.
14. You will find a 7-Eleven on nearly every street corner and they are a legitimate option for food and groceries. Compared to ones in the US, they are more like a market. Read: you can find fresh hand-rolls for about $3! We had been told this beforehand and found it to hold true.
If you’ve ever been to Japan, do you have any other tips you picked up on your visit?