If you are thinking of visiting Japan first time, prepare for a bit of culture shock. Culture shock is not just the feeling of being displaced. It involves a fundamental adjustment to Japanese etiquette. Fortunately, you can learn what to know before visiting Japan.
A Few Basic Japanese Expressions
Nobody will expect you to be fluent. But when visiting Tokyo, you should know a few very basic expressions. A Tokyo travel guide might tell you a few Japanese greetings and polite gestures, such as the term irasshaimase, which means “Welcome.” If you want to tell a waiter that you enjoyed a meal, say gochisou, prompting him to give compliments to the chef. If you want to say “Thank you,” say arigatou. These and a few other terms will be essential in Tokyo.
A Few Things Not To Do In Tokyo
There is a trigger inside of westerners that prompts us to say “Hello,” to everyone we see, to return a greeting or to leave a tip. They do not do that in Tokyo. While it might feel impolite at first, you will look out of place if you greet everyone on the street. Further, tipping in Japan restaurant is not the norm. There will be a fee in the bill for your service.
Etiquette of Transportation In Tokyo
People typically take the subway around Tokyo. But there might be a few social norms that westerners would not expect. For example, it is considered impolite to talk on the phone for more than a few seconds on the subway. Other norms are more obvious and shared by western countries. Smoking on the subway is typically considered poor manners and illegal throughout the country. Surrendering your seat for people who need it more (elderly, pregnant women, children) is also expected.
“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”
― GUSTAVE FLAUBERT
Don’t Expect English
There might be a few English signs or public announcements in packed areas. But as a rule of thumb, when you go into restaurants, stores or tourist attractions, it would be wise to expect that most people will not speak English. For that reason, you should ensure that you have your smartphone with you so that you can look up information, words or even use it to speak a Japanese phrase for you.
What Can We Do In Tokyo?
Since you are unlikely to encounter much English while you are in Tokyo, you should research tourist attractions that you might want to check out before leaving. There are plenty of historic sites that will provide some insight into the culture. Visit a historic temple. Japanese religious practices are pretty different from what a westerner would expect, so it might be intriguing to see.
For nightlife, check out the Roppongi. There you will find an art museum (which again will provide a glimpse into this culture), some shops, and even dance clubs. Also if you need the embassy, this would probably be where to go (depending on where you are from).
Know The Best Places To Stay In Tokyo For Tourists
There are a lot of places in Tokyo that are close to the airport and transport connections. Most tourists want to stay in Tokyo hotels first time close to nightlife and transportation without being concerned for their safety. Shinjuku is usually where the tourists will go. If you find a centrally located hotel there, you might encounter some kindred spirits traveling the world. Shibuya would be another good option, but one of the downfalls is that there are not as many hotels and tourists report too many teenagers.
Overall, just do research. Know everything you need to know about Japan and you will get the most out of your trip.