Dining, shopping, travelling… Useful travel tips in Japan

Dining

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I was charged for Otoshi (a small appetizer) at an Izakaya restaurant

Otoshi (a small appetizer)

At most Izakaya restaurants where you can enjoy dining and drinking, Otoshi or Tsukidashi, a small portion of a some kind of food, is served at first. It usually costs several hundred yen and in Japan, and is considered as a part of cover charge. You can turn it down at some restaurants, so if you do not want it, ask the restaurant. At a high-class restaurant, fees for the table and service may be charged in addition to the cost for your meal.

I was charged a cancellation fee when I cancelled my reservation at a Ryotei (Japanese-style restaurant)

Kaiseki Ryori (Japanese full-course meal)

High-class restaurants and Ryotei (Japanese-style restaurants) that serve Kaiseki Ryori (Japanese full-course meal) require a reservation in advance. Because they prepare seasonal ingredients, they charge a cancellation fee for the last-minute cancellation. So you should check their cancellation policy when making a reservation. Many restaurants charge a cancellation fee from a day or two before the reserved date, but some restaurants charge it from a week before.

I tipped, but they did not accept it.

There is no tipping custom in Japan, so you do not need to pay any other fee except the price shown on your receipt. No tipping is necessary for a taxi or a hotel, either.

I was having food and drinks at a restaurant that I brought in from other store and I was told it is not allowed

In most restaurants in Japan, it is not good manners to bring in food and drinks that you bought at other store.

I don’t know how to use a ticket machine

Put Japanese money into the machine, push the button of the meal that you want to eat, and a meal ticket will come out. You just give it to the restaurant. When the machine does not accept 10,000 yen bill or 5,000 yen bill, ask the restaurant to break it.

Shopping

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I touched seafood and was told it is not allowed

Fruits section

Do not touch the seafood displayed in store directly. Seafood is easily damaged and it could also cause sanitary problems. Handle fruits and vegetables such as strawberries and peaches with care as well.

I opened a product and was told it is not allowed

You must not open the product package before you buy it in Japan. If you want to check the inside of the package, ask a shop assistant. It is not allowed to open any of the products or to eat and drink it before purchasing, so please be careful.

I entered a store to shop while eating and drinking and I was told it is not allowed

Most shops prohibit eating and drinking inside except for gum and candy.

I couldn’t use a credit card to pay

More and more stores are starting to accept credit cards recently, but private shops still mainly accept cash only, so it will be a good idea to have some cash ready in yen.

Cautions when shopping at duty-free shops

Liquid products such as drinks and cosmetics have to be checked in at the airport as it is limited to carry them onto international flights. Liquid products purchased at duty-free shops in town must also be packed in your check-in luggage.

Travelling

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I can’t tell JR from private railways

Ticket gate of JR

JR is a railroad company group that has a railroad system almost all over Japan. “Japan Rail Pass”, available only for visitors from overseas, is a convenient and economical pass that you can use for all the JR lines except some Shinkansen lines. The entrance and the ticket gates of JR stations have the JR marks or signs. Big cities across Japan also have private railways and subway lines in addition to JR lines. You cannot use Japan Rail Pass for these lines.

I was charged for a limited express fee on a limited express train

For JR limited express train, you need to pay limited express fee in addition to the fee for the ticket. On the other hand, some private railways do not charge a limited express fee even for a limited express train, so you should check it before getting on the train.

It is inconvenient to buy a ticket every time

IC cards for public transportation

If you purchase a chargeable IC card for public transportation and charge money on it with a machine such as a ticket machine at a station, it is very convenient as you only have to put it close to the sensor of the ticket gate compatible with IC cards to automatically pay your fare. Though every railroad company issues their original card, it can be used interchangeably for most railways. Deposit (500 yen) is required to issue an IC card.

I don’t know how to use local buses

Numbered ticket machine and stop button
Numbered ticket machine (left) and stop button

Stand in line at a bus stop and when a bus comes, check its destination and get on. There are two different systems for paying: advance payment and later payment. For advance payment, mostly you pay a flat rate no matter your stop. For later payment, generally the fare differs according to your destination. And you have to take a numbered ticket first when you get on. The fare for each number is displayed on the electric scoreboard in front, so you put your fare and your numbered ticket into the fare collecting box next to the driver when getting off. No change is given, so if you do not have small change, you need to exchange money in the bus before you pay. Some buses accept IC cards for public transportation for payment. When you want to get off, push the button on the wall or handrail when you hear the announcement of the bus stop that you want to get off at. This button signals that you want to get off.

Communicating

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How available is Wi-Fi?

In big cities, the number of hotels equipped with Wi-Fi service has increased and Wi-Fi is starting to be provided at stations, malls and shopping streets as well. Public free LAN spots that visitors from overseas can use for free are increasing across Japan.

Can I use a SIM card?

Prepaid-type SIM cards that allow you to call as well are being sold and mobile Wi-Fi routers are being rented out at major airports. SIM cards are also being sold at major electronics stores in town.

Bath and restrooms

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I don’t know how to bathe at a public bath house

Sento (public bath house)

Refer to the following links for the steps and manners when taking a bath. Those with tattoos may not be allowed in public baths, but some bath houses allow tattoos if they are covered with something such as a covering seal.

The way I used a restroom caused trouble

There are Japanese-style and western-style toilets. There are fewer Japanese-style toilets recently, but when using a Japanese-style one, squat facing the hood (usually opposite the door). Make sure you use the provided toilet paper. After you use the toilet paper, throw it away into the toilet and flush it. Do not flush anything other than toilet paper. For western-style toilets, most of them are a flush toilet with many other functions.

Emergency

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How do I handle unexpected illness or natural disaster?

Refer to the following links for emergency situations including unexpected illness and natural disasters

What is taken for granted in your country does not work in Japan sometimes. Understanding Japanese customs and culture will make your trip in Japan a more pleasant one.