I love Japan because of it’s crazy, quirky clash of traditional and modern. Japan is not like any other country I’ve been to and because of that, there are many myths surrounding what it’s like to travel to Japan. When you have a country like Japan that has so much to offer in the way of culture, food and experiences it can be overwhelming to know how you’re going to fit into all that. Do you need to like seafood? Will you have to sleep on the floor? Do you need to speak Japanese? These are some of the questions and more that I’ll be answering today in my
11 Myths Busted About Travelling to Japan.
myth #1 – Do you need to speak Japanese?
Before I went on my trip I had read so many comments and posts online that nobody in Japan speaks English and that it will be a struggle for non-Japanese speakers. Let me clear it once and for all – YOU DON’T NEED TO SPEAK JAPANESE! My partner and I had absolutely no issues speaking in English at restaurants, shops, hotels and sights. We found that either the staff could speak a little English or everything had pictures so you could just point at that (mostly in restaurants). It is great if you want to take the initiative and learn the basics because you will find Japanese people appreciate it.
MYTH #2 – is it difficult catching trains in Japan?
This ties in with the above myth because we saw at nearly every train station they had the English names of the stations and trains. We had zero issues with catching trains in Japan because of a couple of reasons; signs were in English, we used Google Maps which told us the exact Platform to go to and if you did get confused the train station staff would be more than obliging. With the coming Olympics, Japan is stepping up and working hard on making their train systems ‘tourist friendly’.
MYTH #3 – WILL I STAND OUT BEING A TOURIST?
Unfortunately yes you will. I was walking around in my favourite anime shirts and kawaii hairstyle accompanied by 6.1ft white boyfriend, so yeah let’s say we stood out. Japan is a very insular country so there is barely any cultural diversity. When we were taking photos, my boyfriend was approached by a man and asked if he could take photos together. I can only now think that somewhere in Japan, photos of my partner are being passed around in a Japanese office.
Saying that though, standing out being a tourist in Japan isn’t a bad thing! Unlike other countries that use scams on obvious tourists, Japan is quite inviting and pleased that people have come to visit their country. Of course, you need to make sure to
- be respectful
- don’t get drunk in public
- be obnoxiously loud
- always check with staff first before you take photos!
MYTH #4 – I CAN’T USE CHOPSTICKS
If you’re from the Western country most likely you didn’t get raised using chopsticks (unless your parents are awesome). Don’t let this stop you from going into Japanese restaurants as they will most likely give you a fork and knife because you’re a foreigner. However, it’s never too late to learn a new skill! I practised for a good year before I went to Japan and I’m proud to say I didn’t drop any sushi into bowls of soy sauce.
Myth #5 – I don’t like seafood, will I be able to survive in Japan?
Japan is most famous for its sushi and prides itself on using the freshest and quality fish. While it’s a shame to not try fresh sashimi, you can definitely survive on that many other dishes that are on offer! You can get your fill of curry, ramen, soba, tempura, hot pot, katsu, steak, udon and much more. Honestly, you could try a different dish every day that’s how many dishes Japan has to offer.
myth #6 – is Japan safe? will I get attacked by Yakuza?
Japan is a very safe country to travel to as overall they have a very low crime rate and are considered to be the third most peaceful country in the world according to Global Peace Index.
You don’t really need to worry about things like scams, theft or staying away from certain areas. However, you should always exercise precaution and keep an eye on your valuables. Don’t worry about the yakuza as there is a minute chance of running into them. There aren’t areas you need to stay away from and if you’re following the tourist path then you will be clear. What I would recommend is keeping in mind what is happening in the political world and natural disasters, I like to use the Smart Traveller website to get the latest information.. Always make sure you have travel insurance before you go in case of a worst-case scenario like an earthquake, tsunami or snow storm.
MYTH #7 – IS IT OK THAT I HAVE A TATTOO?
Japan is very strict when it comes to tattoos because of their strong association with the yakuza. They are starting to be more accepting of it because more and more young people are getting tattoos. If you’re a foreigner you won’t receive the same stigma as the Japanese are aware that in Western countries it’s a popular thing to get. The only time it would stop you is you were visiting a hot spring (Onsen), pool or the beach. Many of these places have strict ‘No tattoos’ policies so please check before visiting.
MYTH #8 – IS IT CULTURAL APPROPRIATION IF I WEAR A KIMONO?
Kimonos are so special and a quintessential part of Japanese culture. In Australia, we are becoming more aware of what is cultural appropriation. A few years ago there was a big protest at an art gallery in Boston which allowed visitors to try on kimonos and take photos. When it comes to wearing kimonos in Japan you definitely don’t need to worry about cultural appropriation. I found that Japanese people were very happy to see us in kimono, with many coming up to us and giving us compliments. Many kimono rental shops specialise in rentals for tourists as it’s a widely accepted form of tourism. If you want to know more about wearing a kimono in Japan, you can read my guide here.
MYTH #9 – IS IT DIFFICULT USING A JAPANESE TOILET?
Japan really knows where it’s at when it comes to toilets. At first I was afraid, I was petrified but now I can’t live without using a Japanese toilet. Toilets are ahead of the game with many buttons to choose from. How did we know how to use one? All I can say is press a whole bunch of buttons until you figure it out. Nothing is going to geyser you off the loo, worst case scenario is you will get a more intense cleaning.
MYTH #10 – WILL I HAVE TO SLEEP ON THE FLOOR?
In Japanese homes people tend to sleep on futons on the floor because of their small living spaces. It’s easier for them to have bedding that can be folded up and packed away instead of a bulky bed. If you are staying in a hotel or hostel you will most likely have a Western bed. With certain places, you can request to stay in a Japanese room and if you are staying in a Ryokan (Japanese Inn) you will get a futon. I would recommend spending one night at a Ryokan and trying sleeping on a futon. If you want to learn more about the different types of accommodation that Japan has to offer check out my guide here.
MYTH #11 – DO I NEED CASH IN JAPAN OR CAN I USE MY CREDIT CARD?
Japan is a predominantly cash-based society so it is highly recommended that you have enough cash to cover your trip. Not many restaurants or shops take card due to Japanese banks applying high transaction fees. Credit cards can be used at major shopping outlets and hotels if you don’t feel comfortable taking large amounts of cash. My tip would be to get cash out at the airport as that’s where you will find the best exchange rate.