10 things to know before going to Japan
Like every other country, Japan has its own set of unique characteristics, on top of having a different language on its own. Here are 10 things to know about Japan before going to make it more convenient for you in your travels.
The most widely spoken language within Japan is Japanese. However, there are a large number of dialects but the Tokyo dialect is considered the standard Japanese. Ryukuan languages, part of the Japonic language, are spoken in Okinawa and parts of Kagoshima in the Ryukyu Islands. There is also the Ainu language, spoken by the Ainu people who are the indigenous people, in Hokkaido. There are also languages such as Orok, Evenki, and Nivkh which are spoken in the formerly controlled southern Sakhalin. These languages are becoming more and more endangered and are even classified as so by UNESCO.
Not many people in Japan can handle conversational English, although many would be willing to help you. Most hotel clerks and tourist centers can have a little bit of knowledge, mostly toward the tourist sector. You can get by going around in Japan with just English, as all the signs in the railways, bus stations and explanatory boards have English available as well. Nevertheless, as long as you aren’t heading to those rural areas, knowing a few standard Japanese phrases will get you through most of your journey through Japan.
Nihongo ga wakarimasen
Eigo o hanasmasu ka?
_____ wa doko desu ka?
Kouban - Police Station
Konbini - Convenience Store
Hoteru - Hotel
Toire - Toilet/Bathroom
Ikura desu ka?
_____ wa arimasu ka?
I don’t understand
I don’t understand Japanese
Can you speak English?
Where is _____?
How much is it?
Do you have _____?
I don’t need it
The Japanese culture was heavily influenced by China in the early years, after which they cultivated a distinct Japanese culture by isolating themselves from the outside world during the Edo era. After the fall of the Edo era, Japan opened its doors and adopted cultural practices from all over the world and mixed them with existing practices. Over the years, almost all aspects of Japanese culture has been influenced by Western culture. The Japanese hold their traditions sacred and many celebrations take place throughout the whole year, including big ones such as New Year’s Day (January 1st) and the Golden Week (4th week of April).
The Japanese practice either Shintoism, a Japanese religion, or Buddhism, mainly from China. Shintoism focuses mainly on ceremonies and rituals and one of the goals is to maintain a connection between humans, nature and kami, which is a deity or spirit that is present throughout nature.
The Japanese traditional clothing is a Kimono. A Kimono literally means “thing to wear” but over the years the traditional costume that is made of silk has come to be used only during ceremonial or formal events such as weddings. You may sometimes see them worn near traditional landmarks for photography by locals and foreigners alike. The Yukata, also known as the Kimono that is worn in summer, is made of a different material, cotton, which is cooler and more breathable. The Yukata can be seen even on streets worn during the Summer by many locals.
The official currency of Japan is the Japanese Yen (円 in Japanese, ¥ symbol in front; JPY currency code and also abbreviated as JP¥). Bills come in 1,000 yen, 2,000 yen, 5,000 yen and 10,000yen denominations and coins come in 1 yen, 5 yen, 10 yen, 50 yen, 100 yen and 500 yen denominations. Foreign currencies are generally not accepted within Japan except for major international airports.
Although cash is still the preferred payment method in Japan, having a reputation of being a cash-based society, credit cards are also widely used in due to gradually changing trends. However, when visiting various tourist sights with entrance fees, smaller restaurants and small shops, cash is usually the only way to make payment. If you’re traveling on buses and trams without a transportation card (Suica/Icoca), you would need to prepare cash as well, preferably in smaller coin denominations.
Credit cards can be safely used in most big cities in hotels, departmental stores, mid to high-end restaurants, outlet malls and retail shops.
4. Weather & Clothing
There are four different seasons in Japan. Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Depending on which area that you might go, the weather differs greatly. The Summers and Winters in Japan are harsh and require special attention to skincare and attire to prevent any discomfort and accidents. In the tables below, are the average temperatures, humidity levels and precipitation levels during the different seasons. Ensure that you prepare accordingly!
5. Time Difference
The time zone that is being observed in Japan is Japan Standard Time or JST, which is 9 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT +9). Japan does not operate Daylight Saving Time (DST) and it stays on Standard time all year round.
The voltage in Japan is 100 Volt, which is different from North America (120 Volt), Central Europe (230 Volt) and many other regions of the world. The electrical plugs and outlets that are used in Japan resemble the North American ones, two or three plat pins, more commonly known as type A and type B.
7. Public Transport
Public transportation in Japan is very efficient, especially within metropolitan areas and between large cities. Japanese public transportation is known for its punctuality, impeccable service and a massive amount of users. You can travel inter-city via trains or airplanes, and within cities you may use the railways, buses, cars and taxis. Public transportation is clean, reliable and very comfortable and it’s a lot less complicated. The Shinkansen, Japan’s bullet train, runs through many of the major cities in Japan and is a very comfortable and fast means of transport between cities. City buses, however, are rarely used within large cities such as Tokyo or Osaka due to the efficient railways and metro networks.
Tokyo has two different train cards that can be recharged and used over and over again. These are IC cards and one is called Pasmo while the other is Suica. They can be used on public buses, airport shuttles, intercity and overnight services and trains. They can be used at many convenience stores such as 7-Eleven, Lawson and Ministop, coin lockers and vending machines.
The tap water in Japan is drinkable. The national water infrastructure and purification facilities are very well-maintained and reliable, so the tap water is of good quality. Bottled water is also readily available in Japan at convenience stores or vending machines for purchase if you are not comfortable drinking tap water.
9. WIFI Access
The thought on every millennial’s mind when they travel to a country: Is there going to be Wifi readily available? It is extremely easy for tourists to get internet access in Japan.
Wifi is relatively common in Japan; all hotels and most ryokan will have wifi provided with the rooms and it is usually free. A few places may charge for Wifi or may only have LAN cable internet access points. When you’re out, many restaurants, cafes, bars and many public spaces do provide Wifi. Many cities in Japan are also adding public Wifi in major downtown areas. Wifi in Japan is also almost always super-fast and very reliable in connection.
Other than that, you can buy data-only SIM cards from airports, convenience stores, electronic stores or from third-party providers. No ID is required to purchase them but some cards do require a brief registration process which you can do on your phone with the instructions provided. Having data SIM cards would mean you can use data to make calls via Skype, FaceTime or WhatsApp without incurring any roaming charges.
You can also rent pocket Wifi routers (also known as portable Wifi router) which are preferable to families and groups as everyone can log onto the same unit. They usually offer more data than a SIM card and you can rent them from various companies in Japan over the counter at arrival halls of major airports, have them delivered to your first night’s accommodation.
10. Emergency Numbers
Emergency telephone numbers can be called from public phones, mobile phones and home phones. Neither money nor pre-paid telephone cards are required when making an emergency call. If you’re calling from anywhere outside of Tokyo, there is no guarantee that English will be spoken on any of these emergency and helpline numbers.
Ambulance / Fire
Tokyo English-speaking Police
Tokyo Emergency First Aid Association
Some useful Japanese words to know in case of an emergency:
My address is __________
My telephone number is __________
I have a broken bone
I am burned
I have chest pains
I have a high fever
I am injured
I am sick
Watashi no jusho wa __________ desu
Watashi no denwa bango wa __________ desu
Hidou yakedo desu
Mine ga taihen kurushii desu
Kou netsu desu
All these information should prepare you for your travels in Japan.
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