5 Things A First Time Visitor To Japan Should Know
Japan is a fascinating country full of incredible attractions for everyone to enjoy. Whether you're interested in seeing Hiroshima, Shirakawa-go houses lit up at night, the vibrant life of Tokyo or taking a bike ride through the rice paddies, there are plenty of things for you to do. However, there are a few things that every first visitor to Japan should know in order to make for a successful trip and one that's as hassle-free as possible.
Visas & Healthcare
In order to enter Japan you will need to have all of the proper paperwork so you can ensure that your trip to the Land of the Rising Sun is hassle-free. Visitors from most European countries, Australia, New Zealand, North America and Singapore will usually be granted a 90 day tourist visa upon entry, but nationals from other countries must apply for a visa. In addition to this, by law foreign visitors are required to carry their passports with them at all times. If you are caught overstaying your visa you may be detained and confined before being deported after which you will be banned from entering the country again for 5 years.
Unlike if you were travelling in Europe, where an EHIC would provide you with access to European healthcare if you're travelling from a country in the EU, Japan does not use this type of system. It is important to take out travel insurance when you visit Japan as this can save you a lot of money if you were to get sick or have an accident while you're in Japan.
Rubbish Bins and Garbage
In most Japanese cities and towns, and surprisingly also in Tokyo, it can be incredibly difficult to find a rubbish bin. This is because of a cardinal rule of Japanese etiquette that you shouldn't eat/drink and walk at the same time. Even though there may be a takeaway option, it is common etiquette to sit in and put your trash in the can the outlet provides. Even with a vending machine, you should take your items to somewhere private to sit down.
This is due to the Japanese philosophy on garbage that it is your responsibility and you should take it home with you.
Bring A Pair Of Slip-On Shoes
Whether you're visiting friends in Japan or you're looking to do some sightseeing, slip on shoes are a must. From entering homes, tatami-matted restaurants, temples and shrines, ryokan, onsen and more, all of these will require you to take your shoes off. Because you'll probably be taking them off a few times a day, it is much quicker and easier to bring a pair of slip on shoes with you. Sometimes you'll be given slippers to wear on hard floors, and if you visit the bathroom you may even be required to switch into toilet slippers.
If there's a wooden step up into a building, it is more than likely you will be required to take your shoes off.
This isn't as scary as it sounds, but if you're planning on travelling to an onsen - a traditional Japanese hot spa, that is the perfect way to relax and experience true Japanese culture, more often than not, there is not a swimsuit option. In some ryokan, onsen may be the only means to shower and bathe, and the rule is quite clear - remove all clothing.
Onsens are segregated by gender, and although there is a small towel provided, this is not allowed to touch the hot spring water so there is a chance that you will be stark naked in front of total strangers.
Tipping Is Considered Rude
In Japan, tipping is not mandatory and in many cases it is also not commonplace. If you do attempt to tip someone it may cause some confusion, and if you leave a tip on the table you may have the waiter/waitress come running out into the street after you in order to return the small amount of yen that you left on the table. In many cases tips may be politely refused, and can even cause offence as handing a money bill from your pocket is considered rude. From restaurants to taxis, tipping should not be done in any circumstance.