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  • A collage of pictures from Japan encircling the words Welcome to Japan.

    Essential Tips for Visiting Japan

    Max Kang

    Is Japan on your travel bucket list? Being both rich in culture and food, Japan seems like a paradise, but it comes with devious tricks tourists must worry about. It is important to understand precisely how to “survive” Japan as a foreigner. These are five crucial things to be aware of when visiting this proclaimed sanctuary. After these tips you will be able to embark on the culturally nuclear landscape of Nihon, いらっしゃいませ (welcome).

    Tip #1 - Language

    The number one issue that you may face when traveling to any new country is the language barrier. Often it will be hard to understand basic signs and Google Translate will prove to be less helpful than you anticipated. Your strongest tool will be to develop a strong sense of imagery to provide context for many situations. Japan will often have signage written in English if you are close to Tokyo, but some areas will exclusively be in hiragana, katakana, and kanji.

    Tip #2 - Monetary Exchange

    When purchasing goods, it's important to remember that Japan’s currency is largely translated to coins, with each representing 1, 10, 50, 100, and 500. The paper currency is uniquely paired often with coins to reduce the amount of change for the cashier to provide and for you to carry. For example, to pay 2,310 yen and you have a 5,000 bill, you should put down 5,310 to get back 3,000 exactly. I highly recommend investing in a small coin satchel or purse to maintain sanity when traveling.

    Tip #3 - Weather Dismay

    Japan is notoriously humid and dry, so prepare for consistent heat spells and devastating weather. Furthermore, Japan’s location as an island forces constant typhoons and waterfalls in almost every region. It should be expected to see the sun and rain together, which does mean there are at least rainbows to raise your spirits around the weather.

    Tip #4 - Prearrival Paperwork

    It is critical that before you land in Japan you fill out the forms regarding your residency and history as it will make landing smoother. Otherwise, you may be forced to wait in a line for hours with other unsuspecting tourists. This also applies for the return home as they check to make sure you haven’t smuggled anything illegally or in excess. Check for online options to complete the necessary paperwork.

    Tip #5 - Subway Surging

    Driving rules are critically different in Japan so if you intend to travel, you will need to learn the subway. There are several different stations at which someone can take different subway lines; the most common one in Tokyo is the “Keio” line. An example route would be if you are in Sengawa and wanted to arrive at Shibuya, you would have to take a train to Meidaimae and then towards Shibuya. You cannot directly go from Sengawa to Shibuya due to how the stations are formatted.

    Most maps will have Japanese characters, but English lettering above them, so do not worry about memorization. Also, instead of tickets being named, they are determined by the amount of money. For instance, it may say ¥140 for Meidaimae, so you would go to the machine and purchase a ticket for ¥140 if you wanted to take a route involving Meidaimae.

    Understanding these fundamentals will help you ease into the odd and entertaining culture that is Japan. Regardless, if you ever need help, many local citizens and workers are nice or know some bit of English. If you want help, say the phrase “Sumimasen” before you ask your question to at least get their attention.

    Good luck and remember to enjoy your time! The food alone makes all the travel struggles worth it!

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