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Planning a trip to Japan? You’re in for an incredible adventure! I’ve been around the world and I can say that it’s my favorite place on Earth! The people are kind and respectful, and there’s so much to see and do. As is the case with any destination, though, you should always do some research before you head to the airport. Obviously, I can’t list everything and we’ve already discussed what to pack, but here are 11 things you need to need to know before visiting Japan.

Allergies

Whenever you explore somewhere new, you will be exposed to things you’ve never encountered before. This is especially true when it comes to allergens, whether in the food supply or airborne. While I have some mild reactions in North America, there are things in Japan that made it seriously hard for me to breathe.

According to the Tokyo Internal Communication Committee, hay fever is very common and typically causes sneezing, runny nose and itchy eyes. This is because there are as many as 60 different plants that can cause pollen allergy. The most common ones are seasonal and emerge as follows:

  • Japanese cedar sugi (February – April)
  • Japanese cypress hinoki (mid March – early May)
  • Rice plant ine (May – mid July / mid August – mid October)
  • Ragweed butakusa (mid August – October)
  • Artemisia yomogi (mid August – October)

If you have a known pollen allergy, speak to your doctor ahead of your trip so that you’ve got any medication you need to stay healthy and comfortable as you travel.

Face Masks

The Japanese wear face masks for many reasons, and we are grateful for that. This post was written prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and is more relevant than ever. Who could have guessed that face masks would become such a big part of our global society? 

10 Things You Need to Know Before Visiting Japan

Not only can these prevent the spread of illnesses such as the common cold or flu, but they can also provide protection against allergens. You can opt for disposable ones or you can pick up something that is reusable. Either way, face masks are easy to find in just about every Japanese convenience store!

Hand Washing

On the train, in food courts, restaurants and even fast food joints, you’ll probably notice standalone sinks waiting to be used. In Japan, it’s customary to clean one’s hands prior to eating for sanitary reasons, and really it’s just a good idea in general when you’re traveling.

10 Things You Need to Know Before Visiting Japan

We absolutely loved having sinks located so conveniently so we could get the grime off our fingers before digging in to a delicious curry or even McDonald’s.

When sinks aren’t available, such as when you purchase quick food items at a convenience store like Lawson or 7-Eleven, you’ll be provided with hand wipes. Amazing!

Toilets

Anyone who has visited Japan will have a lot to say about the toilets. Let’s just say that they take this aspect of personal care very seriously! Whether you’re at the airport, hotel or a private residence, most toilets will have heated seats, several bidet functions and even the ability to “freshen the air,” if you know what I mean.

Japan toilet

While you will find some more traditional squat toilets from time to time, the majority look similar to those you’d find in North America. In public, many include a disinfectant spray that can be used to clean up the seat before sitting on it. We loved it! Also, some women’s bathrooms (like this one in Hiroshima) include little urinals to make it easier for potty breaks with boys!

Rain

It can get pretty rainy in Japan, especially if you visit between early June and mid-July. We’d had really good weather up until one particularly blustery day in Tokyo as we headed up to Mount Fuji. Although, we had a small umbrella with us, it wasn’t enough to protect us both.

Tokyo Japan Rain

Fortunately, it’s very common to see people well-protected by raincoats and ponchos in Japan. Even better — they sell them for cheap at most convenience stores. We were able to grab two along with some warm drinks for just $11! So, if you aren’t prepared for a downpour, just hit up a 7-Eleven, Family Mart or Lawson and they’ll have gear to protect you from the elements.

Eating and Drinking in Public

In North America, we see people driving or walking down the street while eating all the time. You will not see that in Japan, though. In fact, it’s considered quite rude and you’ll even see signs warning you against the practice in some areas.

Japan McDonalds

If you purchase McDonald’s or Starbucks, for example, you’ll be expected to either sit in the restaurant and consume your purchase, or carry it in a bag until you’re at home, work or in your hotel. You can also try to find a bench to sit and eat, but we didn’t see many.

Garbage Cans

When you’re out and about, you will not see many garbage cans. In fact, outside of restaurants, shops, hotels and trains, we didn’t see a single one. Not in Tokyo, not in Osaka, not anywhere. You’ll need to be strategic about waste, which we think is actually pretty awesome. After all, if you’re not supposed to eat or drink on the go, what kind of waste are you really producing?

Vending Machine Japan

If we bought a corn dog at Lawson, we ate it at the store and threw away the wrapper before leaving. If we purchased drinks from the vending machine, we drank them right away, recycled the bottles then went on our way. You might even find this change preferable over time — we actually missed this when we came home!

Quiet on Transit

Whether you’re on a train, plane or bus, you will want to be mindful of the volume of your voice. In Japan, it’s customary for people to use their time in transit to relax (or even nap!), so it’s important to be respectful of those around you. If you’re chatting with a companion, for example, keep your conversation hushed in order to avoid bothering fellow travelers.

10 Things You Need to Know Before Visiting Japan

On the Shinkansen (bullet train), if you need to use your phone you’ll find small rooms that are designed for mobile phone calls. When you’re in your seat, keep your device on silent to avoid being disruptive. Instead, use that time to quiet your own mind or even enjoy something from the snack cart.

Smoking

You won’t see a lot of people smoking in Japan, but when you do, they’ll be in a tiny smoking room. These are located at hotels, on trains, at malls… just about everywhere. You won’t, however, often see it just happening in public.

When my daughter and I were at Shin-Osaka Station, though, we stumbled into a restaurant and were shocked to realize we were surrounded by smokers just as our food arrived. We ate our meal quickly, and learned to look for signs before assuming all eateries are smoke-free!

Cash

On your adventures throughout Japan, you’ll encounter some situations where you need cash. While we definitely were warned about this ahead of time, we quickly realized it wasn’t a big deal in most places. In fact, we only encountered one place that insisted on being paid in cash.

Japanese Yen

While having yen did make certain transactions easier, almost everywhere gladly accepted a credit card, if needed. Fortunately, we had Yen with us most of the time. Still, it was good to know that we could use our Visa card if we had to.

Respect Your Chopsticks!

Aside from serving as eating utensils, chopsticks hold cultural significance in Japan. As such, it’s important to treat them with respect. Of course, there’s no way to know this unless you do some research, which is yet another reason why reading these types of posts is important!

Here are some quick things to keep in mind:

  • NEVER (and I mean never) stick your chopsticks into your bowl or rice and leave them standing upright. This is associated with funeral rites and is considered very rude.
  • Avoid using chopsticks to point at things
  • Don’t wave over food with your chopsticks
  • DO read chopstick etiquette guides to get prepared for your trip!

There are many things we could share about traveling to this great country. For now we’ll just stick with these 10 things you need to know before visiting Japan. 

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