Planning a Trip to Japan - and How to Behave Respectfully

by : Stuart Cheese

In my capacity as the UK Director of Operations for One World Tours Limited, I am often asked all kinds of travel questions. I personally believe that when visiting a different country that you should be respectful of your hosts beliefs and customs. So with that in mind I have put together some useful tips and basic rules that should be observed when visiting Japan.

By far the best and most efficient way to travel is by train using the Japan Rail Travel Pass for foreigners. You will need to buy an exchange order before entering Japan as you can not buy it when you are there and travel agencies in your area will be able to tell you where you can get hold of one.
You have to be eligible for the pass so if you are visiting Japan for temporary sightseeing or are a Japanese national who lives permanently in a foreign country.
On arrival in Japan go to a Japan Rail Pass exchange office or a Travel Service Center which are located in major JR stations or airports. You will need to show your passport and the exchange order and tell them the day you want to start your travels.
This pass will enable to use Japan Rail Travel, JR ferries, and JR buses.
By purchasing a green -type Japanese Rail Pass it will enable you to use the green cars (first class) without additional charges.

The Japanese are very precise when it comes to common manners and I personally believe that as a foreigner it is important to be familiar with some of the basic rules.

When visiting a shrine or temple it is common sense that you should behave respectfully. This can be observed by making a short prayer in front a sacred object. You can also show respect by so by throwing a coin into the offering box, followed by a short prayer.
In some temples you can purchase a bundle of incense which you can burn. If you have an injury or medical problem it is believed that if you fan the smoke towards the injury that there is great healing properties in this.
Some temples may expect you to remove your shoes which you can leave at the entrance on the shelves provided or take them with you.
When visiting a shrine you are expected to be in good health to avoid bringing in any impurities. So before entering a shrine you are expected to cleanse both hands with the fresh water provided at the purification fountain. People will also rinse out their mouths with the fresh water, spitting it out by the fountain. This is not compulsory however.
You will be permitted to take photographs in the temple grounds but forbidden indoors there will be signs to let you know what is permitted.

Make sure that you have tissues when visiting a public toilet as there is not always toilet roll or hand drying facilities. There are western toilets and Japanese toilets in most places and wheelchair toilets were always in stations and temple areas.

The Japanese greet each other by bowing but since they do not expect foreigners to know proper Japanese bowing rules so a nod of the head is usually enough.

Older men sometimes use it on their face in working class establishments, but they are considered rude for doing so. Also, refrain from wiping your nose on it.
Here are a few table rules for you to be aware of when dining out. You will receive a hot towel at the start of a meal which can only be used for your hands as it is considered bad manners to use it on your face.
Blowing your nose in public is also considered bad manners especially if at the dining table.
The Japanese will consider an empty plate good manners but burping is not. When you have finished your meal try to remember to place all your dishes as they were at the start of the meal. Remembering to replace the lid of dishes and replacing your chopsticks on the chopstick holder. Speaking of chopsticks there are a whole lot of rules on how to use the effectively. I have narrowed them down to the basics here.
Do not stick chopsticks into your food, especially rice nor pass food with them directly to somebody else's chopsticks. Do not use the chopsticks to spear food with. Spoons are sometimes used to eat Japanese dishes that are difficult to eat with chopsticks and knives and forks are only used for Western food.

5 What to take - Finally, here are a few things you may or nay not have thought of. Electric. If you need to bring any appliances from your country, make sure to bring a converter or plug. American appliances can be used in Japan without a converter although they will have less power. You will need a two-pronged plug and you will be able to buy converters and plugs in the airports. Better still buy one before you travel.

It is advisable to look for Citibank ATM's when attempting to obtain money as most ATM's in Japan do not accept international visa cards, etc. in their machines due to the fact that the magnetic strip on the back is much thinner than ours.
The yen is the Japanese currency unit. A MasterCard or VISA card can be used in department stores, hotels, and restaurants in major cities. If, however you are traveling the countryside of Japan, you might find that credit cards/traveler's checks may not be accepted. While it is a good idea to carry Japanese currency with you, make sure that you remain alert in areas where pick-pockets may be rife such as crowded trains etc.

Last but by no means least to avoid any embarrassing moments when following the Japanese tradition of removing your shoes, make sure that your socks or tights have not got holes in them!

Have great holiday or vacation in Japan