If you're heading to Japan for the first time, then you've started in the right place on the JapanTravel website! However, there are a few other important things to consider before you set off in search of onsens, bullet trains and sumo!
1. Book ahead when travelling in peak tourist time
If you're planning to travel during the busiest times of the Japanese calendar (think Golden Week, Cherry Blossom Season...), you'll need to book accommodation months in advance, or else you might find yourself without somewhere to stay!
2. Pack some name cards
If you're going to be mingling with business people, companies and organisations, you'll need to have some name cards ready. It's always awkward when someone gives you theirs and you don't have one to give in return!
3. Come bearing gifts
When making friends in Japan, it's a great idea to have some small tokens from home to give to others. Good choices include wrapped sweets or chocolates that are specific to your home country, or gifts such as keyrings or bookmarks. Think about what kind of small gift YOU'D like to receive from a foreigner, and try to choose something thoughtful.
For example, when I travelled to Hokkaido from Australia, I brought mini koala key chains that were a big hit with the university students I met there. For the host family I stayed with, I brought a picture book and some Australian Animal Chocolates for the kids, as well as a tin of biscuits for the adults. I made sure to carefully and neatly wrap these gifts before presenting them.
4. Don't rely on credit cards
Japan is a cash economy, so don't make the mistake I did of expecting to be able to use my ATM card everywhere. Many places will accept cash only, and when you're travelling around, it can be troublesome to find an ATM. Bring enough cash with you to last at least a week, and keep and eye out for post offices and 7-11 shops, which is where you can usually find an ATM.
5. Learn some nihongo before you go!
While you might be able to get by with 100% English during your trip, it ALWAYS makes a great impression if you can manage at least a few words in Japanese. Learn "thank you" (arigatou gozaimasu) and "excuse me" (sumimasen) as an absolute minimum!
Saying a few words of Japanese will help the people you meet to feel more comfortable about talking to you, and will also make them feel really proud to be Japanese! Instant good impression!
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In the last few years, I've travelled more than some people do in a lifetime. I've covered four continents, ten countries and more kilometres of train travel than I thought mentally endurable. Japan for me is a home away from home. It's the land I yearn for, and it calls to me from across the ocean. In 2017-2018, I'm living, studying and working in Japan!