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The Japan travel hacks I wish I knew before visiting

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The Japan travel hacks I wish I knew before visiting

Make your first visit to Japan go off without a hitch by doing as the locals do, and following these top tips for success.

Claire

Claire

Published on 07 Jul, 12:00

Traveling to a new country for the first time can be a little bit daunting but with some advanced preparation and insider knowledge you can make your trip go like a breeze. Here are some things I wish I knew before visiting Japan.

1. Cash is King

I've lost count of the number of times I've entered a shop in Japan, filled up my basket with things I wanted to buy, went to the cash register, scanned through all the items and presented my credit card, only to be met with "Sorry! Cash only!".

Coming from a country where hardly anyone carries cash any more, this was a big culture shock for me - and especially so when I consider Japan has a reputation as a technologically advanced country. But it's true, even in a big city like Tokyo, cash is still king.

These Japanese Yen notes and coins will become very familiar to you after a few days of shopping and eating in Japan, when you discover that cash is king.
These Japanese Yen notes and coins will become very familiar to you after a few days of shopping and eating in Japan, when you discover that cash is king.

Many restaurants operate with a ticket vending machine system where you insert your money and press a button to disperse a ticket for the dish you want to buy, and these machines are cash only. It's especially true that the more rural the area you visit, the less likely you are to be able to pay with anything other than coins or notes.

Some stores in cities are starting to embrace more convenient payment options such as PayPay thanks to a generous government cash back campaign some time ago but there is no guarantee that every store will have that option.

So, to avoid disappointment at the cash register, make sure to visit the ATM and take out some cold, hard cash before you go shopping.

2. Wear slip-on shoes

I knew before coming to Japan that I would be covering a lot of miles on foot while sightseeing in the cities and walking from one tourist destination to another. So with that in mind I made sure to pack only the most comfortable trainers and walking shoes - no high heels for me!

Wearing my usual trainers in Japan meant I spent much of the day bending down to untie and retie my laces - in restaurants, temples, and clothing store fitting rooms.
Wearing my usual trainers in Japan meant I spent much of the day bending down to untie and retie my laces - in restaurants, temples, and clothing store fitting rooms.
But it turns out that high heels might have been more practical in at least one regard - they can be slipped on and off easily without any effort.

My shoes - on the other hand - required me to untie and retie the laces every single time I took them off and put them on.

And there were so many times when I had to do just that, from entering some temples to eating in restaurants with tatami seating areas to going into clothing store fitting rooms. Do as the locals do and wear slip-on shoes to save time and effort at all of these places.

3. Bring a bag

Picture the scene. You're feeling a little tired and lacking in energy from a morning of sightseeing in Japan. Naturally you want to grab a drink or a quick snack to give yourself a little energy boost before carrying on with your day.

After finishing your snack you look around for a trash can to throw your empty bottle and wrappers - except, you can't find one anywhere. What gives?

Can you spot the trash can on the side of this vending machine? In Japan, drinking your vending machine soda or water right away and depositing the empty bottle or can when you are finished is quite common.
Can you spot the trash can on the side of this vending machine? In Japan, drinking your vending machine soda or water right away and depositing the empty bottle or can when you are finished is quite common.
Surprisingly, compared to many other major cities around the world, Japan has relatively few trash cans for public use and the ones it does have can be hard to find. Which means that you end up having to carry your trash in your hand or put it inside your purse or backpack and risk dirtying the other items inside, until you do find one.

Stores in Japan now charge for plastic bags too so if you didn't pay for one when buying your snack it can result in a real problem. Do yourself a favor and be prepared by popping a plastic bag in your purse before heading out and avoid finding yourself stuck in this predicament.

What do you think? Are there any other things you wish you had known before visiting Japan that could have saved you some trouble? What top tips would you share with fellow travelers?

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Claire

Claire

Irish girl living in Tokyo, enjoying the mountains and nature that Japan has to offer.

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