Japan is a wonderful country. Japanese people are very nice and kind. Food is delicious. Public transportation is convenient. You can enjoy everything from natural wonders, historical places, world heritage site, pop culture, shopping etc. However, for many of you, I am sure Japan seems like a world away.
When I first came to Japan, I barely spoke any Japanese (well, I knew the basic “ohayo – good morning” and that’s pretty much it). It took me awhile before I learn these everyday manners and that happened after I have already made some serious mistakes. Below I would like to share some with you.
1. Priority seats
In my country, I was told to give up my seat to children, woman and elderly. I always assume that it should be the same for every country.
Oh boy, I have never been so wrong.
You can find priority seats on every train, buses and even at airports and bus stops in Japan. Guess what? In Japan you don’t have to give up the seat for children no matter how small they are (except infant that came with their moms) I asked my Japanese friend why, quoted her, “children are strong. They can stand.They should learn to be tough”.
oh, I see, that explained it.
So you are supposed to give up your seats to;
- pregnant woman
- woman with infant
- physical challenged such as handicapped or having heart disease
Easily explained in the pic below;
How do you know if the woman is pregnant, (I am sure everyone have experienced this, is she pregnant or just fat? lol and you don’t want to give up the seats for the wrong person right?)
Answer : Pregnant woman usually carries this tag/badge around.
Also giving up seats to elderly seems to be quite tricky too. Many times they refused to sit. If they accept the seats it means that they also accept that they are old! You need to be careful with that as well.
If they refuse to sit, I usually tell them that I’m getting of at the next stop. Then they will accept the seat eventually.
2. Flush toilet paper
Again, it my country I was told not to flush any toilet paper. The garbage bin is provided, kindly dispose it in the bin. I did this for a couple months until I realized that the trash can I’ve been disposing the toilet paper in is not for toilet paper. They are for sanitary napkins!
Toilet paper in Japan is made to be flushable. Do not flush facial tissue, wet tissue or napkins.
Japanese toilet is very fancy too. Sometimes you might get confused… We wrote about before in our blog so if you are interested, read more here “guide to public toilet in Japan”
(Since many people asked, I’m from Thailand, btw)
3. Learn to line up
You should learn how to wait in line. Japanese people line up for everything. They line up to buy food, board the train, using public toilet and they are very very patient.
You can’t pretend to not see the line and just cut in.
You might have to line up for several hours at the theme parks or restaurant that don’t accept reservation. To be honest, I am not very good at it, I usually give up in the first 10 mins and go somewhere else.
4. Avoid rush hour
Try to avoid rush hour train in the morning (8.00-9.00AM).
It is horrible! I took the rush hour train everyday and still don’t get used to it. It’s hard enough to find a little spot to just step in let alone having big suitcases.
Once I need to go to the airport in the morning, to avoid rush hour train, I have to ship my luggage to the airport 2 days beforehand. It was a right decision. If I would to take my luggage with me, I probably would have missed my flight. There is no way I can carry that luggage on the train.
You know, during rush hour, there are several assistants at the platform. To do what? they are there to push people in the train so that the door can close. From my experience, the rush hour train to shinjuku is the most horrifying of all. Please avoid at all cost.
And you should also be aware of women in high heels. Personally I think wearing high heels in rush hour should be outlawed. IT IS EXTREMELY PAINFUL if you get stepped on esp. from the nail heels. Once someone stepped on my feet on the Yamanote-train. I cried like a baby, literately. Saying sorry doesn’t help!
5. Elevator manner
We wrote about in the our blog awhile back;
In Kanto area, stand on the left side. The right side is the “fast lane” for people who want to walk up.
In Kansai area, it’s a total opposite. Stand on the right side and leave some room for people to walk up from the left.
Read more on our blog “interesting facts about Japanese escalators”
6. Turn off the sound on your smartphone and do not use it on the train
Japanese train/bus is offly quiet most of the time despite being so crowded. The reason is because, using phone on the train is prohibited. You can text, watching Youtube, listening to music or anything you like except taking or making calls.
I have to get of the train to take the phone call several times otherwise I would just take it and said quickly “sorry, I am on the train, I will call back when I get off”. Again, I asked my friend why, she told me that, usually people speak louder when they are speaking on the phone and it disturbs other people.
I personally don’t think it makes any sense at all. If talking on the phone is prohibited, talking to friends or anyone on the train should be prohibited too. Baby crying is annoying, why isn’t that prohibited?
Also, I find out that is no need at all to use the ringtone in Japan. It used to be quite trendy in my country to have cool ring tone. In fact in Japan, I rarely use any mode on my phone except silence mode even at home.
Turn on your silent mode (or called Manner mode in Japan) when you are on the train and turn it off in priority area (I never see anyone do that btw, nobody cares, not even Japanese).
7. Price is often shown without tax
In Japan, VAT is 8% (soon to be 10% in April 2016). Most price tags show the price without tax. Many people is surprised when they found out at the cashier that the total price is higher than they expected.
8. You can buy almost everything from the vending machine
I spent a year in Europe and found that life without convenience store is quite “inconvenient”. Not to mention that shop closes at 8PM and no supermarket is open on Sunday.
Japanese convenient store open 24/7. If you can’t find one, there is always vending machine nearby. You will be surprise to know that Japanese vending machine serves hot drink, hot bento box, cup ramen etc as well. I once bought the corn soup can and miso soup can from the vending machine. So if you happen to be hungry at night and have no where to buy food, look for vending machine!
9. Reservation is needed for (almost) everything
Japanese people loves to plan. They plan the trip at least half a year ahead, reserving the restaurant 1-2 weeks prior to the day. Do not expect availability if you walk in. You might have to wait for many hours.
10. Avoid travel in high season
Major holiday seasons in japan
- New year holiday (typically end of Dec to beginning of Jan)
- Golden week (the end of April to first week of May)
- Obon or summer vacation (mid August)
Flights, trains, buses, hotels are extremely crowded and the price is at least double of regular price as many Japanese people are travelling during these periods. You can still travel if you make an advance reservation but I won’t recommend it. It is so exhausting. I often stay home and try to travel some other times.
These are 10 things I think you should know before coming to Japan. If you have something else to share for the sake of fellow traveler, comment below!