It is safe to say that tourism in Japan is booming. Over 20 million tourists from different countries visit Japan every year. According to the Ministry of Tourism of Japan, a record 24 million foreign tourists visited Japan in 2016, up 22% from 2015.
But the country does not stop there. The Japanese government has set a goal of hosting 40 million visitors annually by 2020, when Tokyo will host the Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Japan attracts tourists not only from Asian countries, including China, but also from Europe, the United States and other countries. But language barriers and cultural differences can be intimidating for some tourists, especially those who don’t know anything about the country, let alone those who don’t speak Japanese.
Below are answers to questions you may have if you are considering traveling to Japan, especially for the first time.
Q: Is it true that there are no addresses in Japan? How will I find anything?
There are addresses, but the Japanese system is noticeably different. Many streets do not have names, they are marked only with numbers, and the buildings are not arranged in order. Use the map or app to find the address you need. That’s what the natives do.
Nippon.com has a helpful article, “8 Apps to Make Life Easier in Japan” with links to apps that will make your life in Japan much easier.
Usually, stations in tourist areas have maps in two languages. Carry such a map with you so that you can indicate where you need to go if you need to ask a local for directions.
To better understand the Japanese, a little hint. When you ask about a place name or a place in Japan, put the same stress on each syllable and clearly pronounce the sound “o” (do not replace “o” with “a”, as is often the case in Russian).
Q: I can’t read Japanese. How do I recognize the train I need?
Trains and stations in Japan are marked in English. At many stations, announcements are bilingual and there is a running electronic line. Stops are numbered to help calculate distance and deal with names that may seem like random syllables.
The biggest problem is that the system is a bit confusing, so a first-time visitor to Japan can’t always figure out the best route right away. Therefore, it is better to use the application for this. English language versions include the Tokyo Metro app and the Japanese Navitime version.
And one more piece of advice: avoid trains during rush hour.
Question: Toilets in Japan are very different, too “smart”, right? Jumping jets of water, heated seats! What do I need to know?
Many modern Japanese toilets are actually easy to use. Buttons are often signed in English. And also there are pictures explaining the meaning of the function for this button. But if you do not know what is what, just do not touch the other buttons. And don’t be alarmed when the toilet lid opens automatically and flushes automatically after use.
And one more thing: toilets almost always have the option of a large or small flush. You can learn the hieroglyphs of these designations, as well as “flush”. I recommend that you familiarize yourself with the article “Technological toilets” on the Nippon.com website in advance.
But also be prepared for traditional floor standing toilets. Some public areas have both floor standing and western style toilets. Often there is a logo or inscription on the door about it. If there is a line, it is better to wait until the western-style toilet becomes free.
Q: I’m afraid to eat strange foods. How can I order food?
In some restaurants, menus with photos are displayed on the windows outside of the restaurant, or inside the restaurant you will be served menus with photos of dishes. A lot of restaurants have a glass display case on the outside with samples of plastic dishes (dummy), so you can simply indicate what you want or remember the number of the dish.
Tokyo and other major cities often have menus in English. Sometimes the waiter doesn’t immediately go to take your order. This does not mean that you are being ignored. It is considered normal to call him, usually with the word “sumimasen” – “sorry.”
Tipping in Japan is not accepted, it is considered that the service charge is already included in the bill. You usually pay at the checkout at the exit.
There are also options to buy food at small convenience food stores called “combini” where the food is of much better quality than similar stores in other countries. In the combi you can find everything from packaged sandwiches and bento to snacks and desserts. You can also always find restaurants serving tempura, udon, ramen, sushi, kare rice.
Tokyo is also a world class food city. Japan has become the leader in the number of restaurants with three Michelin stars. In total, there are 29 such restaurants in Japan (in France – 25). There are 14 in Tokyo (10 in Paris), all specializing primarily in Japanese cuisine. Another 15 are located in the cities of the western part of the country. Kyoto has 7 restaurants with three Michelin stars, Osaka has 5, Kobe has 2, and 1 in Nara.
Although in some areas it is more difficult to find traditional Japanese food than Chinese, Korean, Italian or French.
Q: Will I have to drink green tea all the time? What if I need coffee?
Do not worry! The Japanese also love coffee. You’ll find Starbucks as well as local coffee chains like Doutor and many independent cafes that serve coffee.
Q: What should I know about money?
Although in Japan you can pay with bank cards in major cities in many places, Japan still values cash, in part because the country is so safe that no one is worried when carrying a lot of cash.
Department stores and large chains such as Uniqlo and hotels accept credit cards, but be aware that you will often have to pay cash in some places as well.
And also keep in mind that 8% consumption tax will be added to the price of the goods at the checkout.
Question: I’m interested in onsen, but will I have to be naked around strangers?
Yes, it is customary to swim naked in onsen (natural hot springs, often located at resort hotels) and sento (public baths in cities). But women and men bathe separately. Pay no attention to those around you. When everyone around is doing this, the process quickly becomes natural.
To avoid drawing attention to yourself, follow the customs and rules of conduct in the onsen. Also keep in mind that people with tattoos are not allowed in the baths, as they are associated with organized crime.
Q: Will I have to sleep on the floor? Or in a capsule?
Only if you yourself want it. There are a huge number of Western-style hotels. But waking up on a futon smelling the tatami is so unusual, so why not try it? You can experience the real Japanese style in traditional Japanese hotels – ryokans.
Capsule hotels are mainly designed for business travelers, although recently they have become popular among tourists.
Q: Do I need to take off my shoes when entering the premises?
Historic houses, traditional restaurants, temples and traditional inns in Japan require you to remove your shoes. You can walk barefoot or slippers will be provided. But sometimes it is forbidden to enter barefoot (for example, if you wear sandals in summer), so it is better to bring socks with you.