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5 Things You Need To Know Before Visiting Japan

Travelling in Japan reveals a new story every minute. I’ve never been anywhere that respects tradition as much as modernity; you can be praying for your fortune at a temple one minute and watching giant robots battle to save earth the next. We’re talking about a country that has 5.5 million vending machines and trains that move at 320 km/hour yet frowns about walking while you’re eating.

I’ve been to Japan 3 times in the last 2 months and I’m sure I’ve barely scratched the surface of its idiosyncrasies. For anyone planning a visit here are 5 quirky things I think you might like to know before your first visit.

5 Things To Know Before Your First Visit To Japan

1. You’ll Need Cash

For a country that’s pretty good at making life cushty I was so surprised at how many places don’t accept card payments – not even the ticket machines at train stations.

If you’re planning to take public transport as soon as you arrive it’s best to come armed with cash instead of flapping around the airport looking for an ATM. (I speak from experience.)

Also be aware that not all ATM’s accept foreign cards and they don’t all have an English language button either. Your best bet is to head to a 7-11 whose machines tend to be foreigner friendly.

2. There’s A Form For That

Another element about travel in Japan that surprised me was the constant form-filling – for a country so forward-thinking and efficient you’ll be surprised at how many forms you’ll need to complete.

Aside from filling the usual arrivals card at the airport you’ll also need to fill out a form before you can exchange notes at the currency counter and you’ll be asked to fill another one in with all your life details if you’re looking to buy a rail pass.

(On the upside tourists do get discounted tickets, including on the Narita Express, so keep your passport handy for proof of nationality. See Easiest Options To Get From Narita Airport To Shinjuku, Shibuya And Shinagawa for more information.)

3. Eat Where You Buy

I made a rather embarrassing cultural gaff in Osaka when I purchased some (mighty fine) Japanese Fried Chicken from a take away stand in Dotobori and then walked off down the street while munching it.

Although I’d like to think the announcement over the public speaker wasn’t just for my benefit, I was horrified to hear a broadcast asking that visitors not eat as you walk down the street, just as I tucked into another mayo covered morsel outside a souvenir shop.

As the announcement went on to explain, you are requested to consume any take away food you buy directly in front of the stall where you buy it, not while you’re window shopping. This explains why I saw so many people hanging around after they’d received their orders! Oops.

Heading to Japan for the first time? Check out this awesome Japan two week itinerary by An Adventurous World.

4. Play A Jingle When You Tinkle

The techy Toto toilets in Japan that will warm, wash and dry your bottom for you are pretty famous but did you know that many public toilets have an additional function that it’s polite to press too?

The sound button (sometimes a jingle and sometimes the sound of gushing water) is designed to cover the noise of your business. It’s considered polite to use it in public toilets – especially if you’re going for a number twosies.

5. No Onsen For Tourists With Tats

I’ve written a fair bit about onsens lately as I find the Japanese concept of soaking naked with strangers in boiling hot water absolutely fascinating. (It’s actually a far more rewarding experience than this attempt at wit makes out – read all about it here.)

What I didn’t know before my first soak in one though is that, especially in traditional onsen, you are not allowed to bathe if you have tattoos. (An ancient rule, apparently, due to the link between tattoos and gangsters). Even though the butterfly on your back you had inked aged 18 has nada to do with the Japanese mafia the rule still stands today that you need to cover (with a plaster if possible) any visible* tats or you may be refused entry to the bathhouse.

*I say visible but you’re naked so not sure what that leaves really.

Have you been to Japan? Did any of the customs catch you out?

You may also like:

6 must-visit places in Tokyo 

Tokyo without tourists – 5 places where it’s you and the locals

25 fun things to do in Tokyo

Japan bucket list: places and experiences not to be missed


About Author

I'm a full time blogger with a passion for travel and interiors. A travel blogger for 12+ years, I took a course on interior styling during the pandemic when travel was not an option. I now run 2 Instagram accounts - @jayneytravels, which covers authentic, affordable luxury escapes and @ourtravelhome which is all about decorating our new build home with a modern rustic style.


  • Angie Silver
    February 22, 2017 at 10:15 am

    One thing that surprised me was that I wasn’t as surprised as I thought I’d be!! I actually wrote a post on it (big apologies for link dropping but I hope you like it!)

  • Charlie Elliott
    February 22, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    This is so helpful! I’m going for the first time in September and normally I just take a credit card and minimal cash so now I’ll be more prepared!
    Charlie, Distracted

  • Nancy
    February 23, 2017 at 10:11 am

    Absolutely amazing photos! Japan has always been on top of my list, just need to take a month off and then I can explore the whole country…it still won’t be enough I know…

  • Megan
    February 24, 2017 at 1:38 am

    I’m surprised the lack of ATMs is still a thing. It’s been nearly 10 years since my last trip to Japan and it was an issue then. I really would have thought that would have improved – but then Japan often doesn’t make sense at all 🙂

  • Camila @ AdventitiousViolet
    February 28, 2017 at 6:35 pm

    This is so useful! Thank you! I never knew about the forms, or the cash!

  • Becky
    March 25, 2017 at 4:13 am

    This is great info to know for when we plan our trip to Japan. It’s interesting to learn that you have to eat the food where you buy and can’t walk around eating. I had no idea that you couldn’t walk around and eat. It’s also good to know that I’ll need cash on me.

  • Clazz - An Orcadian Abroad
    May 6, 2017 at 9:52 am

    This is interesting, lots of things I’d never thought of! Particularly not being able to walk away with takeaway food.

    • Jayne Gorman
      May 7, 2017 at 1:22 am

      Yep, it’s something I didn’t know about first time around!

  • Georgina Goodman
    May 8, 2017 at 10:53 am

    Great post! I would love to visit japan one day

  • Jade D'sa
    July 12, 2017 at 5:44 pm

    Gosh this is so helpful! I didn’t know any of these had to be done (or not) in Japan!
    Not being able to walk with takeaway food is strange, but hey, laws of the land and all that!

  • […] 5 things to know before you visit Japan by Jayne at Girl Tweets World […]


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