There are quite a few tips & interesting facts one should know when traveling to Asia, especially Japan, which all the guide books will not tell you.  I’ve decided to write them here.  These tips will really come in handy while traveling in Japan… & will help you adapt to the local culture (& not stick out like a sore thumb).

  • When using an escalator, it is polite to stand neatly on the left side to let pedestrians walk on the right side.
  • When using an elevator, it is polite to move to the back when people are entering.
    • Also, it is polite to step out when people are exiting then step back in, so people in the back can get out.
  • When walking on the street, it is (in a way, sort of) an unspoken common practice to not eat or drink while walking in public.
    • Have you noticed there are almost NO trash cans on the streets?  That’s because most people don’t eat/drink in public, which avoids public littering.  Most people keep their used wrappers in their bags, then dispose of them at convenience stores or supermarkets all at once to keep things orderly & tidy.
  • While riding the metro/JR trains, it is a common practice to silence your cell phones & keep them on “manner mode” (no sound, only vibrate).
    • Most people avoid talking on their cell phones while on public transportation.  Communicating by email is the most common practice in Japan.  All cell phones use a private emailing service which is different than your PC email.  Each person has their own unique cell phone email address which is used pretty much the same way Americans use text messaging…but with more detailed features/settings.
  • When you are walking on the street, it is an unspoken common practice to walk on one side of the sidewalk, following the same direction as the flow of traffic.  For example: if you are traveling North, you keep to the left side of the sidewalk & the other pedestrians going South keep to the right side of the sidewalk.  Also, it is common practice to move out of the way if someone is walking towards you.
    • Most people walk on specific sides of the sidewalk/road, depending on which direction they are headed.
  • On public transportation, there are select seats (close to the doors) that are designated for pregnant women, mothers with infant children, elderly citizens & handicapped persons.  Try to avoid sitting in those seats as much as possible, even if you’re leg muscles are on fire & your feet are about to fall off.
  • Most restaurants these days have English menus (or lots of colorful pictures you can point at).  All you have to do is ask.
  • Don’t be afraid of the language barrier.  Most people (especially employees at the shopping malls) can speak basic English…like one or two sentences to get by.  In recent years, there has been a pretty big wave of International tourists flooding Japan, so don’t be surprised to hear a good amount of English while you are traveling.
  • Almost every single shop WILL NOT allow you to take pictures of their storefronts.  Some shops will post “No Pictures Please” signs.  Otherwise, it’s just an unspoken common practice.  I guess this is one way to avoid bootlegging.
  • Almost all shops open late & close early (compared to American mall hours).  Most places open around 11am and close around 8pm.  Few shops close later than 9pm.
  • Restaurants promptly begin breakfast at 7am & promptly end breakfast at 10:30am.  Lunch starts promptly at 11am & ends promptly at 1pm.  “High Tea” a.k.a. tea time begins at 1:30pm & ends at 5:30pm.  Dinner begins at 5:30pm & ends at 9pm or later.  It’s mostly restaurants & cafes that stay open very late.  Most restaurants & bars stay open until 2-3am.
    • Taking afternoon breaks for a tea/coffee & cake set is a common practice in Japan.  I would suggest you try it at least once…since it’s so hard to miss eating the delicious cakes & pastries!!