Japan is an exciting country packed with things to do and places to see. But before you pack your bags, there are some essential Japan travel tips that you need to know! We’re sharing all sorts of helpful advice for traveling to Japan as well as some interesting and fun facts about Japan that’ll help you appreciate your time there even more!
Before you hop on that flight to Japan, there are some things you should know. This country has a complex culture, and there are definitely some manners and “norms” you should be aware of.
There are so some Japan-isms that will leave you scratching your head… like, what are all those buttons for on Japanese toilets anyway?!
Don’t worry, we’ll give you the scoop in this article!
We’ve rounded up some things to know before your trip to Japan — from tips that’ll come in super handy during your travels to fun facts that will blow you away — you’ll definitely come away from this article with some new Japan knowledge under your belt.
This article is broken down into two sections:
Resources for planning your perfect Japan trip
- Best Time to Visit Japan: When to Go & When to Avoid
- Japan Rail Pass: Where to Buy & Is It Worthwhile?
- Trip to Japan Cost: Tips for Budget Travel in Japan
- Japan Pocket Wifi vs. Japanese SIM Card: Review & Comparison
- Best Japan Travel Apps
- Ultimate Japan Travel Guide: Everything You Need to Know for Your First Trip to Japan
Helpful tips for traveling to Japan:
These are tips and useful info that will actually help you along your Japan trip.
1. There are few trash cans on the street
After hearing this, you might be surprised to learn that even though there is a shortage of garbage bins, there is very little litter in Japan.
Cleanliness is a big part of Japanese culture, which is reflected in the (mostly) litter-free streets.
So do as the Japanese do, and hold onto any wrappers until you find a bin. There are typically trash cans at convenience stores, meant for customers to dispose of their garbage.
2. Avoiding plastic waste takes work
On the surface, Japan seems to be environmentally conscious: there are recycling bins every so often and the streets are very clean. But as soon as you stop into a convenience store, you’ll notice that this country, like much of Asia, relies heavily on plastic packaging. And the super unnecessary kind, like plastic wrappers around single bananas.
As a traveler, there’s not too much you can do to change this, but you can reduce your own waste by packing items that’ll help you turn down single-use plastic items.
Here are some items we’d recommend packing:
*Yes, you can fill up from the tap and drink the water in Japan!
There’s an app called MyMizu that has a map of refill stations (mostly in larger cities, but I’m sure they’re expanding it as data is available).
Check out our eco friendly packing list for some more ideas!
3. There is a language barrier, but…
…you shouldn’t be too worried about it!
One of the things we get the most questions on is the language barrier in Japan. And after reading guide books and articles online, it can seem like traveling in Japan without speaking Japanese is impossible. But that’s far from the truth.
Honestly, we didn’t feel like the language barrier was too bad. (That said, we’ve spent a cumulative 3+ years living in and traveling through Asia, so we are used to language barriers.)
It is always respectful and recommended that you learn a few helpful words or phrases in the country you’re visiting, but we want to point out that it is possible to have a fantastic trip to Japan without having mastered the language.
This should put you at ease:
All major signage in train stations is in Japanese and English
In the event that you have a question, go to the JR counter and speak to an employee. They should have a translation device, which will help in the event that they aren’t confident with their English skills.
Often times restaurants have English menus (some even have pictures!)
Hotel staff usually speak a bit of English
At most restaurants there is at least one staff member who will be able to communicate with English speakers
Oh, and the Google Translate app is literally the BEST THING EVER. Read about more apps we recommend downloading for your trip to Japan!
Japanese people, in general, are very polite and kind. While they may not approach you, if you ask for help they will usually do their best to assist you or point you in the direction of someone who can help.
Learn a few words in Japanese, as it will show you’re trying. And be patient. Remember, you are a guest in another country, and while some people may know a bit of English, it is not their first language.
Helpful words & phrases in Japanese:
HELLO: Konnichiwa (also means “good afternoon’)
GOOD MORNING: Ohayō gozaimasu
THANK YOU: Arigato gozaimasu (the “u” on the end of the word is almost silent)
EXCUSE ME: Sumimasen
If you take one thing away from this point, I hope that it’s this:
There will be a language barrier while traveling in Japan, and you can’t expect people to speak English. BUT, it is definitely possible to communicate with simple vocab words, the Google Translate app, and a bit of patience.
4. There is more to Japanese cuisine than sushi and ramen
Before our first trip to Japan, our knowledge of Japanese cuisine started and ended with sushi and ramen. We didn’t know much else about it. But we’re here to tell you there is SO much more to this cuisine.
Check out our guide to the best foods to try in Japan, which even has a checklist you can download so you can make sure you don’t miss any foods! The more you know before your trip, the more you’ll be able to try.
5. Vending machines really are everywhere!
You’ll see vending machines EVERYWHERE. We even bought an iced coffee from a vending machine on a street corner in very remote towns on our Kumano Kodo trek, where the population couldn’t have been more than a couple hundred people.
And in the big cities, like Tokyo and Osaka, you’ll find vending machines on just about every city block, selling anything from the ordinary — sports drinks, coffees and snacks — to the unusual — electronics, small toys, and DVDs.
There are even rumors of used underwear vending machines… we never saw them (or even looked for them!), but there’s no doubt you’ll see quite the variety of vending machines in Japan.
Interesting to know: One Japanese man explained to us that seeing all the vending machines is proof that Japan is very safe. If it were unsafe, there’s a good chance they’d be broken into.
6. Manners are a big deal
Etiquette is important in Japan, and it’s a good idea to read up on some Japanese manners before your trip so you don’t embarrass yourself or offend someone.
Here are a few manners to keep in mind:
Instead of pointing with one finger, use your entire hand.
Avoid physical touch, like hugging, until you know if someone is comfortable with it. Also, public PDA is kind of a no-no.
Don’t eat while walking.
Be quiet on public transportation and avoid taking phone calls if possible.
Related: We’ve compiled some important manners to keep in mind while eating and Japan train etiquette which you can find in the linked articles.
7. Don’t tip
While it is a common practice in North America, Europe and many other part of the world, tipping is not part of Japanese culture and can be seen as mildly rude in some instances. The Japanese believe that good service is expected (whether it be at a restaurant or tour) so there is no need to add extra money in the form of a tip.
Try to show your appreciation for a meal or tour by verbally thanking the staff, cook or guide. Leaving a review is always helpful so other travelers know what to expect.
8. Forks are few and far between
You’ll want to practice your chopstick skills before your trip to Japan because it is the utensil of choice, and very rarely will you find forks.
Hint: Chopsticks also make a great souvenir from Japan!
9. Japan is not as expensive as you might think
We’ve traveled extensively around Asia, and it’s true — Japan is one of the more expensive places we’ve visited in this region of the world. That said, it is still possible to travel Japan cheaply.
You can find budget accommodation in hostels, capsule hotels, or even Airbnbs (click here for $55 off your first stay on Airbnb). You can save money on food by eating at convenience stores, cooking some meals yourself, and planning out “splurge meals”. Cut transportation costs by getting the JR Pass, and enjoy all sorts of free things to do around the country.
Bonus! We have loads of info on how to book Airbnbs, red flags to watch out for when booking, and our favorite Airbnbs in our Airbnb article. Plus, we’ll give you our Airbnb coupon code for up to $55 off Airbnb.
Traveling to Japan doesn’t have to be crazy expensive. We’ve rounded up some of our top tips for traveling to Japan on a budget.
Moral of the story: If Japan is a country you’ve been dreaming of visiting, don’t let costs inhibit or deter you from making your dream a reality!
Related: We’ve got tons of super practical tips to show you how we afford to travel!
10. Be careful with coins
Some of those yen coins are worth almost $5 USD! I don’t know about you, but I typically throw coins around without much care — I mean, it’s no big deal if I misplace 12 cents… But in Japan, losing a handful of coins could add up to big money.
While on a train, a bunch of coins fell out of Ben’s pocket and we had to get down on our hands and knees to find them all before our stop. When we counted them all up we realized we nearly lost $24 USD in coins. Yikes!
When traveling in Japan it’s a good idea to have a coin case to keep them secure.
Tip: We met another traveler who had two coin purses — one for the large coins and one for the small ones to keep them organized.
11. You’ll want cash AND credit cards
Many places in Japan accept foreign credit cards with now problem. And if you have one with no foreign transaction fees that earns good rewards, you’ll definitely want to bring it along and use it as much as possible.
That said, there are still small shops, restaurants, and even guesthouses that only accept cash, so you’ll definitely want to have some Japanese yen on hand.
Insider Tip: We always get foreign currency by withdrawing from ATMs, as it gives you the best exchange rate. To avoid those pesky ATM fees, we use our Charles Schwab debit card, which reimburses all ATM fees at the end of each month. It is the BEST card ever!
12. Japan is safe
Like, very safe. Of course, you’ll still want to use common sense on your travels in Japan, but the chances of you encountering any dangerous situations or theft are very slim.
We’ve known people who have left their wallet on a crowded subway in Tokyo, only to have it hand-returned to them hours later. The thing we had to get used to was being mindful of our belongings when we returned to the US after our trip to Japan!
Related: Here are some essential travel safety tips you should know before any travels!
13. Getting a Japan Rail Pass is probably a good idea
Essentially, if you plan to visit more than 2 cities during your trip to Japan, the JR Pass will almost definitely save you money.
We have a whole article detailing it and even a quick way to calculate whether or not it will be worth it for you… but chances are it WILL.
Good to know: A JR Pass is essentially the same price as a roundtrip ticket from Tokyo to Osaka. So many travelers in Japan will save lots of money by getting the pass. Also, we didn’t know this until we were in Japan, but Japanese citizens actually cannot get this pass, and therefore pay a lot more than most tourists for train travel.
14. Book your major train routes ahead of time
Many popular routes get fully booked up, so don’t wait until the last minute to reserve seats. For example, we had to stand for the 1.5-hour ride from Hiroshima to Osaka because we didn’t book our tickets in advance.
When you have the JR Pass, all train routes are free (there are a few lines that are not included, but you really don’t have to worry about those). We’d recommend on your first day in Japan, to go to the JR ticket counter at the train station and reserve all your seats for your routes at once. You can always change your time and book another ticket later, but it’s good to have seats reserved.
If your route is fully booked, on every shinkansen train (bullet trains) there are a couple of cars that are for passengers that don’t have reserved seat. However, there is a high chance that you’ll be standing for that ride.
15. There are lots of interesting hotel options
While traveling in Japan, you might want to try out a few unique hotel stays that you can find only in Japan.
Ryokan: This is a traditional Japanese inn that typically provides guests with robes and meals. There is often times a shared bathroom and onsite onsens that can be used by guests.
Capsule Hotel: Made to maximize space in crowded cities, capsule hotels provide guests with privacy and an affordable stay. However, don’t expect to stand up in your pod! Staying in a capsule hotel is definitely a Japanese experience to try out on your trip!
Robot Hotel: There are even hotels run by robots! Like we said, #OnlyInJapan
16. Japan has 4 distinct seasons
Before booking your flight, be sure you actually understand what the weather in Japan will be like when you’re there. This country has four very different seasons, and the climate varies quite a bit from north to south.
Winter: Temperatures can be mild to very cold, depending on where in the country you’re traveling. You’ll find snow in many parts of the country as well.
Spring: Comfortable temperatures and the famous cherry blossoms bring lots of travelers to Japan, making it one of the most crowded (yet beautiful!) times of the year.
Summer: This season is hot (like really hot!) and humid, rain and typhoons can be expected.
Autumn: Beautiful fall foliage and comfortable temperatures, early fall can see typhoons.
Related: For an in-depth guide on the seasonal weather patterns and other factors, check out our complete guide on the best time to visit Japan.
17. Japan has excellent skiing
Who knew?! Well, I suppose a lot of people, but I was not one of them.
Ben and I snowboard and even spent a winter season working at a ski resort, so we love us some good powder. And as it turns out, Japan has some of the best in the world!
If you’re a snow bunny, you might want to plan your trip to Japan during the winter months so you can enjoy the world-class skiing!
18. Onsens are fantastic, but there are some rules you must follow…
Soaking in an onsen should definitely be on your list of top things to do in Japan!
Hold up, what is an onsen, exactly?
Onsen: a Japanese hot spring with a bathing facility
Japan has a lot of volcanic activity, meaning there many onsens to choose from all around the country!
But before you start shedding your clothes, there are some important rules you should know so you don’t embarrass yourself…
Basic Onsen Etiquette:
Shower before you get in, often times it’s at a shower where you will sit on a stool and rinse yourself off.
Unless otherwise noted, do not wear a bathing suit.
You can bring a towel into the bathing area, but don’t let it touch the water (many people put it on top of their head).
If you have long hair, tie it up so it doesn’t touch the water.
Know the onsen’s policy on tattoos. Many onsen do not allow guests with tattoos, so you’ll have to seek out onsen where it is accepted or opt for a private onsen facility.
Alternative: For those of you who just can’t get over the whole naked in public thing (I get it!), you may want to consider staying at a ryokan with a private onsen. This means you can reserve a time slot for yourself (and a travel partner if you wish).
19. These apps are HUGE lifesavers in Japan
We have a whole article detailing all the apps you should download for your trip to Japan, but the 2 best ones that you NEED to download are:
Japan Official Travel App
You will thank us because they will come in so handy during your trip!
20. Japanese Toilets are reallllly nice
You’ve probably heard about Japanese toilets, and what the rumors say is true!
There are all sorts of buttons that perform different functions. For example, one button may play waterfall sounds or music to cover up, ummm, some other sounds you may not want the person in the next stall to hear. Other buttons will trigger a bum wash and can be set at varying pressure strengths.
All those buttons can be a little intimidating at first, but try them out (locate the STOP button first) and take advantage of those fancy toilets while you can. Because you surely don’t have those fun features at home!
21. It’s difficult to be gluten-free in Japan
While the abundance of rice may make you think Japan would be an easy country for gluten-free travelers, that’s simply not the case. Soy sauce and other wheat-based seasonings are an integral part of Japanese cuisine, making it hard to avoid gluten.
Click here for more info on gluten-free travel to Japan.
22. Everything in Japan is super punctual
In Japan, it is seen as rude to be late, and thus, everything in Japan is run very strictly according to the clock.
This means trains leave exactly as scheduled and guests are often asked to show up to guided tours 15 minutes in advance. If you have a tendency to be late (I’m right there with ya!), be sure to pay extra careful attention to the time during your trip to Japan.
23. Coin lockers make things easy
Nearly every train station has lockers which you can use to store belongings for a reasonable price. There are usually different sizes available, so you can store anything from a purse or small daypack to a large suitcase.
This is handy when you need to check out of your hotel but want to spend the day exploring.
Insider Tip: If you have a suitcase that you don’t want to bring with you on the train, there are luggage transport companies that can get it to your final destination for you!
24. Japan has an obsession with all things CUTE
Kawaii is Japanese for “cute,” and there is an entire culture built around this concept.
Purikura: One way to partake in the kawaii culture is to hop inside a Japanese photo booth, or purikura. You will have the chance to cute-i-fy your picture by adding fun backgrounds, makeup, and stickers. Oh, and expect your eyes to be enlarged, your skin to look flawless, and you jawline shrunk so you look extra “CUTE”.
Harajuku: This neighborhood in Tokyo is the epicenter of all things kawaii. You’ll see rainbow-themed foods, costumes, and super cutesy fashion. Definitely an interesting place to check out while in Tokyo.
Theme Cafes: There are all sorts of theme cafes, but that exemplifies the kawaii culture is the Kawaii Monster Cafe. Remember, you’re not going for the food, but rather, for the experience.
25. Shrine vs. Temple
Before traveling to Japan, it’s very useful to know the difference between a shrine and a temple. Here is a general guide to help you:
recognize them by the tori gates
purification fountain (called chozuya) with ladles
How to visit a Shinto Shrine in Japan:
There are two locations where you need to do something:
1. Chozuya, purification fountain
Bow slightly in front of the torii gate
Approach the chozuya (water basin covered with a roof)
Fill up a ladle with water using your right hand and rinse your left hand, and then your right hand.
Fill up a ladle with water using your right hand, pour water into your cupped left hand and bring the water to your lips and rinse your mouth. Don’t put the ladle to your lips and don’t spit back into the basin.
Lastly, lift the ladle vertically, letting the remaining water clean it for the next person.
2. At the Shrine (where you pray)
Toss a coin in the box in front of you (small coins are okay)
Ring the bell (if there is one) two or three times to tell the gods you are here
Deeply bow twice
Say a little prayer, or pay you respects
Deeply bow once
large incense burner
statues of Buddha
sometimes a graveyard is attached
How to visit a Buddhist Temple in Japan:
If there is a water purification pavillion, follow the same steps as at the shrine
Purchase a bundle of incense from the temple
Light the bundle and wave it slightly to extinguish them
Put the bundle in the incense burner and wave smoke towards you. Smoke is believed to have healing power.
Approach the temple, bow slightly
Toss a coin in the box in front of you (small coins are okay)
Ring the bell (if there is one) 2 or 3 times
Bring your hands together (DO NOT Clap), and pay your respects
26. Getting Internet is easy
Staying connected to the Internet is very useful when traveling in Japan. And not just because you can post your pretty pictures to Instagram to make all your friends jealous…
Having Internet connection will make your travels SO much easier when it comes to translating Japanese writing and getting directions for the notoriously confusing train and metro systems. Trust me, having translating and navigating abilities in Japan is an absolute LIFESAVER.
The two best ways to stay connected is with a SIM card or via a hotspot. The best option is going to totally depend on your needs and budget, and we’ve compared them here so you can choose the best one for you.
27. Take your shoes off
When entering guesthouses, homes, holy sites, and some stores, you will need to remove your shoes. This is typically indicated by floor that is different levels — either raised or lowered once you enter.
Usually there are indoor slippers that you can wear once you remove your shoes. The exception to this is in rooms where the floor is tatami mats — a delicate traditional flooring made of rice straw. These are common in traditional guesthouses and teahouses, inside which you can wear socks.
Also, some guesthouse have bathroom slippers. Yes, you read that right, shoes for the potty. Typically they will be sitting just inside the bathroom door and you’ll leave your indoor slippers outside of the bathroom.
28. Theme cafes are a big thing!
Japan is known for all things quirky, and this applies to restaurants and cafes. The famous Robot Restaurant, with its laser beams, giant robots and scantily clad performers, is an example of something you can only find in Japan. As is the equally famous “Kawaii Monster Cafe”, which is basically just a combination of all things rainbow and cute.
But the theme restaurants don’t stop there, and it’s important to beware and do a little research before patronizing them. Some of these theme cafes have a dark side. For example, many of the animal cafes (hedgehog, owls, sheep, etc.) do not have a safe and healthy environment for the animals. Also, there are anecdotes of young waitresses being exploited in the infamous “maid cafes”.
And no matter which cafe you go to, just remember, you’re not there for the food, which is usually sub-par. And it’s also worth noting, you’re paying for the experience as well!
29. Convenience store culture
Convenience stores are big deal in Japan.
And the food options in Japanese convenience stores is much larger — and less sketchy — than in most other places around the world. I mean, I would NEVER get sushi from a convenience store in the US, but I definitely did just that in Japan. And it was good!
You can literally eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and all your snacks too!) from convenience stores. The most popular chains are 7-Eleven, Lawsons, and Family Mart, and you can find them on just about every city block. No joke.
I will say that at the end of the day, the food you’ll find — while good — is still processed, packaged food. Some people claim they would live off of convenience store food in Japan. I am not one of those people!
I did enjoy it in moderation, and loved being able to try some super quirky treats, like Sugar Butter Sand Tree Cookies, which are weirdly delicious and familiar-tasting!
30. Fresh fruits & veggies are few and far between
It might be good for some travelers to know that you should be prepared to go without a ton of fresh veggies and fruits for a while. We usually eat lots and lots of fresh vegetables and fruits, so we felt a bit “heavy/bloated” during our time in Japan.
You’ll find some vegetables cooked or fried in your meals or a shredded cabbage “salad” on the side, but not too much more than that. And fresh fruit is pretty expensive, so it’s more of a treat than a typical snack.
We had been living in Bali for 3 months before our trip to Japan, where our daily diet consisted ofgiant fresh salads and smoothie bowls. Let’s just say that Japan is a lot more heavy on the rice, noodles, meats and seafood than on the fresh veg!
If you don’t eat that much fresh produce regularly, you might not notice too much of a difference.
Tip: Also, while convenience stores are great, and just that — super convenient! — I found it hard to find healthy snacking options. Next time I travel to Japan, I’ll pack some dried fruit (not covered in sugar), nuts, protein bars, etc.
31. Know about the Suica and ICOCA Cards
These are essentially the metro cards in Japan (Suica is for Tokyo and the surrounding area, and ICOCA is for Kansai region).
They will save you money on each trip, and are more convenient than having to purchase a ticket each time. I recently found out that you can get an app on your phone, which would be nicer than having a physical card!
But if you want a physical card, you can purchase the card from a ticket kiosk in most stations starting at 1,000 yen. There is a 500 yen deposit, but you can get this refunded once you are done traveling in that region at any major JR Station.
You can use your card for purchases in convenience stores, which is handy when you don’t have cash. You cannot get the ICOCA card refunded outside of the Kansai Region, and likewise you can’t get the Suica card refunded outside of the greater Tokyo Metro. However, both cards will work throughout Japan.
32. Pack light for Japan
We actually broke this rule, as we had been living in Asia for a year and were in the midst of bringing all our stuff back to the US.
But trust me when I say that carrying big backpacks or suitcases through crowded metros, trains and intersections is NOT fun. We found a luggage transfer service that was able to send the luggage we didn’t need from Osaka to our hotel in Tokyo and store it for us. It was super simple and cheap! I’m sure there are more services out there, but it was a little hard to find when we were searching.
33. You can’t see/do everything…
This can be a hard one to come to terms with, especially when you see all sorts of posts and advice. It can honestly get overwhelming (been there!). Just know that you’ll need to narrow down and prioritize the things you really want to do.
If you don’t get to everything — you likely won’t, there are ENDLESS cool things to do in Japan — you can always come back for a second, third, seventh visit down the road.
34. Planning is your friend in Japan
We usually love to travel with a lot of room for flexibility. However, unless you’ve got a lot of time to travel around Japan, planning your route and accommodation in advance is going to help you maximize your time.
Add in some “flexible” time where you can just wander or relax, but our advice would be to come with a pretty solid plan (even if you don’t usually travel this way).
35. Bring comfortable walking shoes
When people say you’ll be walking a lot in Japan, they ain’t lying! We walked an average of 10 miles (16 km) each day, so comfortable shoes are a MUST.
36. Cover charges at Izakayas
Even though you’re not expected to pay gratuity in izakayas, it’s good to know that many establishments charge what’s called a otōshidai, or a “cover charge”. Sometimes you’ll be given a small (aka TINY!) dish, otōshi, for which the charge is attributed on your bill. However, it’s really just an extra fee for the seat you are occupying.
Usually it’ll be between 200 – 500 yen. It’s good to expect this so you’re not confused when your final bill comes.
37. Splitting is usually a no-no…
Sometimes when we’re traveling on a budget, we like to split one large meal. Often times, we don’t feel the need to order two full entrees, plus, it cuts our food costs in half.
However, this is usually considered rude in Japan since seating is often limited and you are taking up a spot in the restaurant. So for instance, it would be frowned upon for two people to go into a ramen shop at a busy hour, and only order one bowl of soup. If one party doesn’t feel like eating, it would be best to wait outside (I know, I know!).
An exception to this would be if you go at an off-hour, say 3 in the afternoon, when a restaurant is less busy. You can ask if it’s okay to split one meal. We did this once at a restaurant where they served large seafood dishes. The restaurant was pretty much empty in the middle of the afternoon and we just wanted a light meal, not 2 huge entrees. They said it was fine, but I wouldn’t have done this at a busy time of day.
Note: When we say this, we don’t mean you can’t try each other’s meals — we did this ALL the time — and find it the best way to taste as many dishes as possible.
38. Be prepared for a lot of cigarette smoke
Smoking is allowed inside many restaurants and bars, and I guess I forgot what it’s like to be in a small space with others smoking. Just another thing to be aware of!
Fun Facts about Japan
This is just for fun! Ever wonder how many islands actually make up Japan or where ramen comes from? We’ve got those answers as well as some other fun facts about Japan.
38. Japan is made up of more than 6,800 islands
Crazy huh?! The archipelago of Japan is actually the 4th largest island nation in the world.
While many people know of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, and Honshu, the most populous island which is home to Tokyo and Osaka, many of the other islands are forgotten.
Though there are thousands of islands, only about 430 of them are populated.
Fun Fact: Being an island nation, scuba diving is actually really nice in Japan, but not a lot of tourists think of Japan as a diving destination. This means that dive sites are less crowded and marine life is in good shape! Check out our ultimate guide to diving in Japan for tips on where to go diving and how to plan your dive trip.
40. Yukata vs. Kimono
There are a few distinct differences when it comes to fabric, occasion and season. Yukata is commonly made out of cotton and typically only have one collar, making them a lighter attire. Kimono are usually made of silk and have two collars, making them warmer and heavier.
Yukata and kimono are worn for different occasions. Kimono is the more formal attire and is worn for weddings and graduations. Yakata is less formal and is usually worn around the house or outside during the hot summer months.
Guesthouses in Japan typically have a yukata in your room for you to wear around the building. If you would like to rent a kimono for the day, you can find fitters in most cities.
Important to know: Whether you’re wearing a kimono or a yukata, it’s important to know one thing — the left lapel must be worn over the right. This is because deceased people are dressed in a kimono with the right side over left for funeral ceremonies.
41. Many Japanese people sleep on the floor
Traditionally, Japanese people don’t sleep on beds, as is common in the West. Instead, they sleep on futons.
No, this is not the same kind of futon (a.k.a. couch that turns into a bed) you used for sleepovers in your parent’s basement growing up…
Japanese futons are essentially a very thick blanket that serves as a mattress, paired with a duvet blanket and a pillow. All three items can be folded up and stored in the closet to save valuable space during the daytime.
If you plan to stay in a ryokan or smaller guesthouse in Japan, you should expect to sleep on a futon. Typically more modern hotels will have Western-style beds.
Good to know: Traditional Japanese pillows are stuffed with beans, and you may encounter these a few times on your travels in Japan. They are much more stiff and lumpy than pillows you may be used to, so if you’re worried about it, you may want to pack a travel pillow.
42. Some famous Japanese dishes come from a time of poverty
Food shortages after World War II meant rice was scarce. US entities brought in wheat flour, which led to the creation of fried dishes such as kushikatsu, karaage, okonomiyaki, and takoyaki. Ramen was also increasingly popular during this time. This was a cheap way for people to fill up even during times of food shortage.
43. There’s a market for “Luxury Food”
This might sound ridiculous, but there is a trend of luxury food in Japan, and wealthy people pay big dollars for rare items like square watermelon and specialty grapes and cantaloupe, some of these bringing in tens of thousands of dollars!
So what do people do with these so-called “luxury foods”? Well, they typically don’t even eat it themselves, but instead give it as a gift. Umm, I’d prefer a plane ticket, thank you very much!
44. Japan consumes more fish than any other country
In fact, 7.5 billion tons of fish are eaten per year, which is nearly 10 percent of the fish caught in the world.
45. Ramen and Sushi are NOT originally Japanese
Now before I start any wars with that statement, let me clarify by saying that ramen and sushi, as we think of them today, are totally Japanese. However, many people may be surprised to know that these famous dishes actually came from other countries.
Ramen came from Chinese settlers and sushi was an invention of working-class people in Southeast Asia as a way to keep fish fresh for longer. Over time, Japanese people have put their own flavors and spin on these dishes to make them uniquely their own. But it is important to recognize that the concept came from elsewhere.
Sushi and ramen are just two examples — many other dishes that we think of as “Japanese” came from other regions as well.
46. Sumo Wrestling
Sumo wrestling has origins dating back over 1500 years and is connected to the Shinto religion. Wrestlers, also known as rikishi, are required to live together in a communal training stable. They practice everyday and live a very traditional lifestyle.
While sumo is of Japanese origin, many sumo wrestlers are not from Japan. Some of the highest ranking rikishi are from Mongolia, Georgia and Bulgaria.
Go to any city train station around rush hour and you’ll quickly notice a sea of men dressed in essentially the same thing — drab black dress pants and white button-down shirts (pale blue if they’re feeling spicy!) and a jacket in the colder months.
Salarymen is the term used to describe white-collar workers. In Japan, it’s very common for young men (and women) to get a job out of university and stick with that company throughout their entire career.
Another characteristic of the salaryman is that they work long hours. In some Asian cultures, putting in long hours is seen as showing loyalty and productivity. There is often pressure to go out drinking after work hours, making it a difficult work-life balance for many salarymen. This has come into scrutiny in recent years, as high rates of suicide or health issues have come into the public eye.
Are you planning a trip to Japan?
We have TONS of resources on travel in Japan and destinations throughout the country. Check out our Ultimate Japan Travel Guide for all the answers to your most burning questions, or read some of our favorite articles below.
Ultimate Japan Travel Guide: Everything You Need to Know for Your First Visit
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