Japan is a fascinating country for almost everyone, even the Japanese people can get confused on their home country. Japan is not just a country that you just learn the basics and you're good to go. Foreign travellers learn more than average just in case of surprising situations. The rules in Japan are super complicated that experienced world travellers can get confused on their etiquette. Even people that learned Japanese culture will be confused when they go to Japan.
Here are 12 things and tips about Japan that can make your time in Japan a lot more comforting rather than slightly embarrassing:
1. A Little Japanese Can Go a Long Way
While yes, the Japanese language is one of the hardest languages in the world, it's better to learn just a little of it before going to Japan. It's common courtesy for the Japanese people. Words such as arigatou, sumimasen, and even kampai can help your journey in Japan become a lot more memorable. If you don't know any Japanese, at least bring someone that knows some Japanese language...(ᗒᗜᗕ)՛̵̖
2. Learn How To Use Chopsticks
Chopsticks are not only a Japanese official utensil but for almost the entire Asian continent. Japanese people sometimes assume that Westerners aren't really good at chopsticks, but in reality, most of them can handle it quite well. It's best to know how to do it in your home country before going to Japan.
3. Being Naked Is Not Bad At All
In Western countries, being naked is not always a good thing because of indecent exposure. Japan's the same thing, but since they're more conservative, they even cover themselves at the beaches and pools. However, in onsens, it's completely OK to be 100% in the nude. And yes,... no swim trunks are allowed in onsens.
While it can be scary and uncomfortable to be naked with a bunch of strangers, take a deep breath and relax. The reason is that mostly the strangers don't really care about it. After about 5 to 10 minutes, everything will be fine. It can help foreigners be more comfortable in their own skin.
4. Being Stared At!
For almost all Westerners coming to Japan, you will be stared at! It might be a weird or scary feeling for Japanese people to unintentionally stare at you, but the majority of the times it's super harmless. Whenever Japanese people stare at foreigners, it's more of a curiosity rather than a fear. Just be friendly and smile to them if you caught someone staring at you, then they'll be calm and friendly back.
5. An "Interesting" Word: Gaijin
Japan's most well-known word for international travellers: gaijin. The real meaning of the word is gai- outside and jin- person. So, the literal meaning of the word is an outsider, but many people associated it with a foreigner. Gaijin is a controversial Japanese word because it can be both an affectionate feeling and a xenophobic feeling (meaning scared of foreigners). The best way to react to it is to be positive and smile. The more time foreigners smile and are friendly, the less xenophobic the Japanese people will become.
6. Japan is not small
Many people assume from the world map that Japan is a small island country. However, when comparing to other countries, it's not really as small as they think. The country itself is bigger than most European countries, half the size of the UK, and even part size of the United States. Hokkaido (Japan's northern-most region) is bigger than Austria.
7. No tipping
In the United States, it's almost mandatory to tip the waiters for a job well done. In Japan, it's prohibited to tip any of the waiters because it shows favoritism. Japanese restaurants support equal pay and respect for all waiters.
8. You Will Make Mistakes!
Don't wear shoes inside a Japanese home! Never pass food with one chopstick to another, point them at someone, nor stick them upright on your rice. Slurping noodles, no-loud talking on the phone, don't blow your nose in public, always bring gifts to someone you're visiting... The list goes on and on, and those were just the main ones to know. There are tons of rules and etiquette to learn about Japanese culture that it's super common for even foreigners that know Japanese culture for their entire lives will make mistakes! So, it'll be a complete miracle to not make one mistake on your trip to Japan.
9. However, You Will Be Forgiven!
One of the great things about being an automatic outsider in Japan is they're almost always be forgiven whenever they make mistakes in Japan. The reason is that Japanese people know the rules are too many for foreigners to handle. So, as long as their mind is open to new things, then the Japanese people would love to help out.
10. Pocket WiFi or SIM Card Are Your Best Friends!
While yeah foreigners can get free WiFi in coffee shops, airports, and hotels, it's kinda hard to find it sometimes or even expensive to get it for a short amount of time. So, in order to save time, money, (and/or probably embarrassment), try getting a Pocket WiFi or a Japanese SIM Card so getting Internet connection will be super easy rather than walking to many places.
11. Just Because There's Low Crime, Doesn't Mean No Crime
Japan is always known for being one of the safest places in the world with extremely low crime rates compared to most Western countries. However, don't underestimate it. Just because Japan has extremely low crime rates, doesn't mean you can let your guard down. Life is unexpected, and every person is completely different. So, it's best to keep your guard up so nothing bad will happen at unexpected times.
12. Please be respectful
Japanese people are one of the kindest and friendliest people in the world, and they are doing whatever they can to make sure that everyone is happy and safe in Japan. But, becoming a jerk and being rude and disrespectful to the Japanese people is a complete no-no. Some Japanese people haven't seen foreigners often or at all, so having even one bad experience with a foreigner will make them think all foreigners are rude and disrespectful. Plus, all foreigners are unintentionally representing their home country. So, don't be that arrogant foreigner and treat Japanese people how they wanted to be treated: with respect and love.
Do all of the tips before and during your time in Japan, and you'll have an amazing time!