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Tips for traveling to Japan the First Time

Japan, the country famous for its peculiar culture, beautiful cherry blossoms, amazing food and vending machines. There’s probably not a single person in this earth who doesn’t know this country but there are many who haven’t been there. If you are one of those people, I suggest you start planning your first trip now. As someone who has been to this amazing country countless of times, I can say with confidence that you will not regret visiting the country of the rising sun – and you will definitely want to go there more than once.

However, you ought to know a few things before you go. Since Japan was an isolated country until the latter half of the 19th Century, there are many rules and customs unknown to the foreign world. Japanese are still rather conservative and there are some rules you never want to break.


In order to have an enjoyable trip and to not make a fool of yourself, take a note of these 5 surprisingly simple but rather unknown tips.

Ginza street in Japan

1. Take your shoes off when going inside.

You probably have heard of this one before and you might even come from a country where it is normal to take shoes off when entering a house. However, did you know that in Japan you should also take off your shoes when trying on clothes in a store and when entering a traditional restaurant? I suggest you to always wear clean socks with no holes in them since you never know when you will be asked to take your shoes off. I learned this the hard way – nowadays, I always carry socks in my bag whenever I’m wearing sandals or ballet shoes.

2. Don’t pass food from chopsticks to chopsticks.

This is not one of those funny mistakes that make Japanese people around you laugh – it probably only makes them want to get away from you as soon as possible. In Japanese funeral, there is a custom where bones are passed from chopsticks to another. This custom is only practiced in funeral and is never used for food – or even items, so I’d suggest to refrain from playing any “let’s try moving items with chopsticks” games. Therefore, it’s extremely rude to pass food directly from chopsticks to another. Holding food with chopsticks and cutting with another chopsticks falls under this rule as well.

3. Do not play your own music out loud in restaurants/supermarkets/anywhere.

This might be considered a rule in your country as well but there are surprisingly many travelers who seem to not know this is not acceptable. I recently saw a tourist sitting at the counter of the sushi restaurant, watching a rather questionable Youtube video – right in front of the chef. Needless to say, the chef didn’t look too happy.

4. Do not go around speaking to Japanese in super-fast English and expect they understand.

But also do not underestimate the language skills of Japanese people. They might actually understand and they might even want to speak English with you. Still, no one is happy if you just go and start talking before even asking if they wish to hear what you want to say. They might also be busy, you know.

5. Do not expect customizing orders is always possible.

I understand if you can’t eat raw fish or hate onions or carrots. It’s also perfectly understandable that sometimes you wish to eat something that has something you hate in it and you would like it removed by chef. However, in Japan, this is often not possible and you will receive surprised reaction from the staff. Sometimes, they might customize your order – sometimes they might say okay but you will still get the onion pickle you wanted to have removed. As a principle, always do your best to find a dish (and a restaurant) that you can eat it as it is in a menu.

There are a lot of other rules and customs as well but just by knowing these is a good start. In case you have already been Japan and these kind of tips feel like common sense to you, be in a look-out for my future article on tips for experienced Japan travelers.


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