5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going to Japan

We debunk some of the most common misconceptions would-be travelers have about Japan. Before you dis the destination for assuming it's too difficult to travel, here are five things to know.


Photo © Richard I'Anson

Many people believe Japan is one of the world's most expensive countries to travel. But it's actually often cheaper to travel in Japan than it is to see North America, Western Europe, and parts of Oceania.

Others think that Japan is impenetrable or too difficult to get around and communicate. The reality is, with incredible train networks connecting cities and advanced technology all around, Japan is one of the easiest countries to explore.

1. Book ahead and manage your money

On weekends, hostels and hotels in Tokyo fill up. If you're the type of traveler who waits until the last minute to make reservations, that might backfire if you're traveling in Tokyo. The backup? Capsule hotels are everywhere, and usually have capsules available at the last minute. But it's best to plan ahead to ensure you get the accommodation you want.

Despite all the technology in Japan, accessing money via ATMs can cause grief for travelers. If you ever get stuck without having Japanese Yen on you, head into any 7/11 and your card is almost definitely guaranteed to work.

ATMS are almost as common as vending machines in Japan. Unfortunately, most of these do not accept foreign-issued cards. Even if they display Visa and MasterCard logos, most accept only Japan-issued versions of these cards. Be sure to plan your spending money carefully so you don't end up dead broke in the middle of your stay.

2. Think twice before visiting an animal cafe

Cats, hedgehogs, penguins, lizards, and owls are the subject of many cafes around Tokyo. But, just how animal-friendly are these businesses? Animal cafes popped up because most residential homes or appartments in Tokyo are tiny and not suitable for pets. So, what better way to get your fix of cuddles than in a cafe that has all the furry friends you could ever want?

Well, the downside to these cafes is that there have been allegations that dodgy practices are taking place, including overcrowding, minimal veterinary care, and confining these animals to environments that just aren't natural – an owl, inside a cafe? Seriously?

Owl cafes are among the worst offenders, and animal rights groups have spoken out against them.

Before you visit an animal cafe, do your research to make sure the owners are doing everything they can to take good care of their pets, and if you do go to a dodgy one, report it.

3. Grab a paper map

Names of locations in Japan are often only in Japanese, and addresses can read chaotic to travelers. Download an offline map while you have internet connection, and use this to help navigate to places that are difficult to find.

In the case that your phone battery dies while you're out, it's really handy to keep a paper map with you, and mark where your accommodation is so you can navigate your way back safely. If you get lost, point to the location on the map and perhaps a local might be able to draw directions on the map for you. On that note, keep a pen handy, too.

4. Be prepared for earthquakes

Whether they are minor or major, approximately 1,500 earthquakes hit Japan each year. If you're unlucky enough to experience a bad one, crouch under a piece of sturdy furniture. It's a myth that door frames are a safe place to be, as these are no longer built like they were in the early years of construction. Hiding beneath a bed is a great place for protection, but if debris falls all around you, it may be difficult for rescue teams to find you. If you are trapped, save your energy and wait to hear someone approaching – yelling out while nobody is around will just waste your voice.

Tip: medical treatment is expensive in Japan, and payment for doctors visits and hospital admission is required in advance. It's important that you purchase a good travel insurance policy before you go, and read the policy wording carefully to make sure you're adequately covered.

5. Lack of rubbish bins

Our podcast producer, Kim Napier, says she wishes she'd known there aren't many rubbish bins on the streets of Japan. She spent most of her time in Tokyo carrying empty drink containers because they had to search hard for bins. Kim's advice is to carry a daypack, where you can specifically keep your rubbish and dispose of it properly when you get the chance.

Bins are strategically placed, so ask your accommodation or a local if they can tell you where to find bins. "Trouble is, even when you ask a local where the bin is, you've got to walk ages to find one. They may say 'the park', but that could be blocks away or 'the train station' but bins aren't always there."

Related articles

Travel Insurance

Ready to reconnect with the world?

Whether you’re planning your reunion or your escape, let us help you travel safer and smarter with 24/7 Emergency Assistance and coverage for 150+ adventure activities.

Get a travel insurance quote


  • Meredith said

    After losing her passport while traveling in Japan my mother and I found ourselves in a police station trying to ask for help in getting a new one. Luckily we had a hotel employee with us who was able to speak to an officer who spoke no English and translate for us the way to obtain a new one. The officer even drove us to the American Embassy.


  • Helena Wilson said

    I regards to point two... My partner and i recently travelled in Japan and did not have a single issue with ATM's. They are as common as 7/11. Almost every single 7/11 now has an international ATM available in it. As do 90% of post offices. Not once did we have a problem withdrawing cash, not even in the smallest of towns!


    • Tanya Knapp said

      Thank you so much! That point had me concerned; I am single female traveling alone I rarely care a lot of cash even when abroad, I have not needed to since the mid 90's but this is my first trip to Japan - ever!

      Thanks much...


  • Marilynn Smith said

    This is the safest country I have ever traveled in. It is wonderful to know that the Japanese people will go out of their way to help you. I had a young couple walk at least 6 blocks to the right bus stop so i could get back to my hotel. Trains are easy to use and cheap, you do not need to buy in advance except for the bullet train. This is a must see country!


  • vanessa lee said

    learn to speak japanese before going to japan


    • Mark said

      Good luck with that so on average i have the chance to see like 4 countries in my life time by your logic.


  • Zak Darken said

    Yea! make sure to spend the 7 plus years it takes to learn a foreign language before going to another country. Lol really?


  • Santhosh said

    Going to Japan in any case ought to be on the grounds that the spot is mind boggling. An aggregate society stun. Also, I am stating this subsequent to seeing a wide range of spots. The general population are neighborly and courteous, and make a special effort to help out you, regardless of the fact that they don't communicate in english. The nourishment is wild. All that stuff you considered attempting some time recently, you can discover it there. Well perhaps not human tissue, but rather then you ought to be bolted up some place if that is the thing that takes your extravagant for a nourishment treat.Onsen (hot springs) are all over the place and are an unmistakable part of the way of life. Any nation where scrubbing down in hot springs as a national side interest is a place.many individuals trust that Japan is one of the world's most costly nations. Truth be told, it's less expensive to go in Japan than in a lot of North America, Western Europe and parts of Oceania. Others believe that Japan is impervious or even out and out troublesome. The truth of the matter is, Japan is one of the simplest nations in which to travel. It is, basically, a spot that will remind you why you began going in any case. http://buddycab.in


  • Kc said

    You should know at least some of their language before you go there, even if it's just common phrases and simple words. I mean, think about it. Do you get upset at people for not knowing your language in your own country? You think, "well if they're gonna be here, they should know our language!" They probably feel the same. Besides, it's professional and shows your drive. I self-taught myself Japanese, and despite what you might believe, it did not take seven years.


  • Outspoken Photographer said

    This is an awesome post! We read this carefully before we went to Japan. It help us a lot. Thanks :D

    Watch my 2 best friends (8 years) and I recently just went to Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto (14 Days) # BestfriendGoals
    Check out our travel video.
    10 Things you should know about JAPAN
    Part 1
    Part 2


  • Karen Leanne Sandberg said

    Things to do before going to Japan first know all languages in Japanese is an East Asian language spoken by about 128 million people,primarily in Japan.Although Japanese is spoken almost exclusively in Japan,it has been spoken outside.As a result, many elderly people in these countries can still speak Japanese.If you would like to know phrases of Japanese continued reading and writing for good skills helpful guide most Japanese been studying and suddenly I found one that everyone speaks in "Japanese selection tips to communication with Asian foreigner while they have for new coronations".Japanese is kindly,polite,friendly,they are shy around make new people with local friends have chance meeting to Japanese purposely.


Add a Comment