This is a quick little Appendix post to our Planning A Trip to Japan series, as requested by Kathleen 🙂 Lemme know if you guys need more tips for stuff I haven’t covered in this post 🙂
Always bring cash.
Although major hotels, restaurants, and department stores accept plastic, cash is king in Japan. So where ever you’re headed — whether it is Harajuku for clothes or Akihabara for figures and electronics, bring enough hard currency to cover your expenditures.
Be warned however that money changers are harder to find in Tokyo than — say, Manila, Bangkok, or Singapore. There may be a few here and there, but they are so rare that they are often difficult to spot. Their rates are also much, much worse than what you expect, if you’re used to having currency changed at local money changers. Your best bet is going to a bank and asking if they have money changing services, enquiring at your hotel’s concierge desk, or checking with the customer service kiosks of major malls and department stores.
Ask a shopkeeper or salesperson for assistance when inspecting purchases.
Unless it has been labeled “Sample” (見本) — which means you are free to open and peruse the inside of the item, if you want to see the contents of an item wrapped in plastic ask a shopkeeper to open it for you. If you open an item for a “taste test” or “smell check” without the explicit agreement of the shopkeeper, you will be obliged to purchase the item as it has already been “spoiled” and cannot be sold to another customer.
Do not haggle.
Sticker prices are law in Japan — unless the store offers a price-match guarantee (meaning they will match or even lower the price based on how much their competition is charging for the same item), do not ask for a discount even for bulk purchases. If you do intent to haggle do it in the more touristy neighborhoods of Tokyo like Asakusa; prices there are over-inflated anyway so the storekeepers are willing to give a little leeway to customers as long as they purchase something.
Unless you are in a fast food joint, always wait to be seated.
Do not just walk into a restuarant and snag the first empty table you see — wait at the door for someone to check your party in and seat you at a table; even casual dining joints have hosts to facilitate seating. Cutting a line is one of the worst things you can do in ultra-polite Japan, where queueing for a popular restaurant, cafe, or deli is an everyday affair.
When eating in a fast food joint, remember to clean up after yourself.
McD’s, KFC, Mos, Freshness — there is a huge selection of low-priced fastfood joints in Japan. Part of the reason they are able to keep costs down is because guests wipe up their tables, toss their trash into bins, and stack their trays at the counter themselves. Unlike in the Philippines, Japanese fast food joints do not hire extra staff members to clean up after guests, thus keeping costs down and passing on the savings to their customers.
Do not tip waitresses, doormen, or concierge staff.
Although some hotels and restaurants catering mostly to foreigners allow their staff to receive tips, tipping is generally not done in Japan. Excellent service is part and parcel of Japanese hospitality and some service providers may even feel insulted by tips. If you are truly delighted and would really like to leave a tip, do it as discretely as possible such as tucking it into a small white envelope or a clean piece of white paper.
When taking a cab, do not open or close the car door by yourself.
Japanese cabs have an automatic door mechanism — just wait for the cabbie to open the door for you, then climb in, and then wait for the door to close. If you manually open or close the door by force, you might jam or break the mechanism, costing you a small fortune in repairs.
When riding a packed train, let departing passengers alight before getting on.
Don’t fight the tide of people trying to get off a train; let them alight first before you get on. If you are already on the train but are standing somewhere near the doors, you must also alight and wait on the platform to let fellow passengers depart. Once they’re gone, just get back on alongside the newer passengers. This method is especially useful during rush hour in keeping you from getting squished to within an inch of your life.
Do not carry your backpack on your back inside a packed train.
Take your backpack off and stow it in one of the train’s overhead racks. If those are full or if you can’t reach them, put it on the floor between your legs, or let it rest on your toes while you hold on to one of the straps. Just don’t put it on your back — the extra room your backpack is taking up behind you could be enough to squeeze in another passenger or two.
Smoke only in designated places in restaurants, cafes, and train stations.
Nicotine is Japan’s drug of choice (followed by alcohol as a close second), but you rarely see butts strewn across the street the way you see it even in the poshest neighboorhoods in Manila. This is because most people only smoke in designated areas where there are plenty of ashtrays and garbage bins.
Those who smoke outside of the designated areas on the other hand carry pocket ashtrays where they keep their ashes and used butts until they get to a proper garbage can. Try to do the same to avoid getting fined — although the good news is even if you get caught, the fines are not as horrible as those in Singapore.
Wear a face mask if you have a cough or a cold.
Wearing a face mask if you have a cold is one of those weird Japanese etiquette things that would seem completely pointless in other countries. However, to the Japanese it’s a concession to the health and welfare of everyone else living around you in such a densely populated city. So yeah, don’t go spreading your germs around if you’re sick — wear a mask, keep a pack of tissues on you all the time, and don’t forget to use a hand sanitizer after you blow your nose.
When using an escalator, stay on the right side if you want to keep standing.
Train station escalators are super hectic during rush hour, so commuters have devised a system to boost efficiency: if you want to keep standing and let the lift take you up, stand on the left side; if you want to climb up the escalator to save a few seconds off your commute, stay on the right side and keep going. If you are in Osaka however be warned! The system is reversed in Kansai — you climb on the left, and stay on the right 🙂