10 Things Foreigners Should Know About Japan

10 Things Foreigners Should Know About Japan

If you have been following my updates on Facebook, you would know by now that in a week’s time, I’ll be heading to Japan for 3 weeks! I’m CRAZY excited about this trip because ever since I was a little girl, I always aspired to see and experience their culture — both the old and the new (yep, even the “odd” parts! And yep, I’m one of those people who love watching anime and reading manga.)

With that in mind, it follows of course that I would be featuring this wonderful country for this month’s Fun Facts from Locals Around the World‘!

First things first: contacting a local was a hard task since apart from the fact that I do not know any Japanese person (yet), there was also that language barrier (it’s no news that a lot of Japanese people don’t speak English). Thankfully, I remembered that I have a friend from university, Kaila, who had truly integrated herself in Japan after moving and living there for years!

Of course Kaila is technically a foreigner; but we all know how expats can already have TONS of insight about the country that they’re in — so they can already be regarded as locals (in a sense). That’s why I think that it still fits to present her thoughts here about Japan.

So below, you will see 5 interesting facts about Japan from Kaila. The rest of the 5? It will be written by her friend, Ashley, who had also lived in Japan!

Take it away, girls!
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BIO & INTRO

Kaila OcampoKonnichiwa! My name is Kaila Ocampo and I am a Kawaii Lifestyle Blogger both based in Japan and in the Philippines. I have been living in Japan for almost 5 years now and I love sharing about Japan travel information, kawaii (cute) culture, and my other creative pursuits on my blog, Rainbowholic.

I am also the founder of JapanLover.me, an online portal / growing community of Japan Lovers around the world. Together with my Kawaii friend Ashley, we launched “OurKawaii.Tokyo”, a website that shares all things cute that you can experience in the Tokyo metropolis.

(For more information about OurKawaii.Tokyo, click the “+” sign below to expand the section)

About Our Kawaii Tokyo

Our Kawaii Tokyo is created by Tokyo-based Filipino kawaii culture bloggers, Ashley and Kaila, for their friends and readers who are interested in traveling to Japan. Getting tons of questions everyday about Tokyo such as “Where to go?”, “Where to stay?” or even more specific ones like, “How to get tickets for Ghibli museum?” has sparked their interest to launch the Our Kawaii Tokyo. Although it serves as a compilation of answers for inquiries about Tokyo, and Japan as a whole, Our Kawaii Tokyo is full of creative illustrations and personal experiences.

The concept of Our Kawaii Tokyo is for the reader to feel that he or she has two kawaii best friends living in Tokyo who are very keen to answer all his or her inquiries about traveling to Japan. There are so many travel sites for tourists going to Japan! But what makes Our Kawaii Tokyo different is the touch of kawaii and sophistication in every post. The posts are highlighted in accordance to Japan’s four beautiful seasons and is designed to cater the reader’s needs in each season, such as “how to differentiate cherry blossoms from plum blossoms“, “where to find plum blossoms“, “when are the cherry blossoms scheduled to bloom“, and many more.

Our Kawaii Tokyo aims not only to help readers in their future travels but also to make them feel that they are already living here in Japan. This will give them the positive mindset that they will also travel and live in Tokyo like Ashley and Kaila. The authors are both dreamers and go-getters that aim to make Our Kawaii Tokyo a successful book and e-book comprising of many chapters.

Our Kawaii Tokyo‘s first book is targeted to be released this 2016.

Now here are the top 5 things that I think you should know about Japan!
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Things Foreigners Should Know About Japan

#1: “Kawaii” is considered as a lifestyle in Japan.

Kawaii Lifestyle

Kawaii (cute) is almost a way of life. It’s pretty normal to have cuteness embedded in the Japanese people’s daily fashion, and life in general. There are the cute bentos (packed lunch), Disney-fied Milk tea bottles, pig-shaped pork buns, Totoro cream puffs, promotional character mascots for each prefecture, and so much more.

As you can tell, “Kawaii” or cute culture surely contributes a lot to Japan’s economy. Wherever you go, there is a hint of “kawaii” in almost everywhere and everything.

For one thing, Tokyo never seems to run out of kawaii café ideas for cute lovers to visit! Some of these kawaii cafes are Kawaii Monster Café, Cinnamoroll Café, My Little Pony Café, Owl / Rabbit / Cat Cafés, Sailormoon café… and so much more.

Most of the time, companies market their products and services effectively by coming up with cute packaging design (that will make you by the product even if you find it useless, haha) or by having kawaii personalities as endorsers like Kyary Pamyu Pamyu (dubbed as the Kawaii queen or princess of Japan).

#2: There is no “best season” to travel in Japan…

Sakura

…because ALL seasons have their unique experiences to offer! Once you travel to Japan once, you will find yourself coming back and wanting to travel in all four seasons.

During winter season, you can enjoy the illuminations that lit up the city with its rainbow-sparkling lights. You can go snowboarding or skiing in Nagano and have a relaxing time in a Japanese onsen (hotspring).

Experiencing cherry blossoms in Japan when it’s springtime should be included in every traveler’s #BucketList. There are the seasonal Starbucks Sakura lattes, hanami viewing (flower viewing) picnics in the parks, and lots of kawaii pink trees enveloping the country.

During Summer, you can go and visit Hokkaido for their famous flower (lavender, sunflower, etc.) fields. And all over Japan, many people dress up in yukata and attend Japanese festivals with their friends and family. Experiencing a Japanese festival even for once in your life is truly an unforgettable memory. Imagine a row of food stalls, festival games, and fireworks display afterwards. Even if Japanese summer is sometimes unbearable because of the heat, you can always munch on the yummy kakigori (Japanese shaved ice) being sold in Japanese matsuris (festivals).

Autumn in Japan is also a breathtaking encounter for any traveler. Not too cold and not too warm; it is just right to go and have an spontaneous adventure in Kyoto. For photography enthusiasts and photobloggers, autumn in Kyoto will absolutely mesmerize you. You can also have a maiko (apprentice geiko) makeover experience while you’re in the heart of Japan.

These are just a few of my recommendations. As you can tell, it’s so hard to answer the question “When is the best season to travel in Japan?” because Japan has thousands of things to offer for a wide-eyed traveler!

#3: When in Japan, do as the Japanese do.

Japanese

Before coming to Japan, do learn about their manners first.

In Tokyo, people stay at the left of the escalator if they are not in a hurry to make way for those who want to go up first. Inside the trains, it’s advisable not to cause hassle for others or converse in a loud voice. In other areas and shops, photography is prohibited (you would know if there is a sign) so it’s best to ask for permission first if you don’t want to be called out publicly.

Here’s a helpful page where you can learn about the other manners every foreigner should know before coming to Japan first.

#4: You can enjoy tax-free shopping in Japan by bringing your passport with you.

Japan Shopping

Yep, you can shop until you drop without breaking a bank!

If you are planning to shop at the major department stores or gadget stores, it is advisable to bring your passport with you so you can get reimbursement for the 8% consumption tax.

Here’s a tax-free shop locator guide that might be helpful: [ click ] Besides tax-free shops, there are vintage shops or thrift stores in Japan as well! If you love second-hand goods, books and magazines, BOOK OFF is a great place to shop.

#5: Japan is super safe, but there can be… weird scenarios.

Japan Tourism

Though it is super safe in Japan (crime-wise and besides, people do NOT really steal here), be warned that you might encounter weird scenarios or circumstances during your stay.

Japan may be a safe place to leave your bags on your chair while you go to the toilet, but it’s not really a completely safe place if you’re a woman. Wondering why Japanese smartphones cannot have a silent camera even when it’s on a silent mode? It’s because of the “upskirting” practice done by perverts (a.k.a. “Chikan”).

Also, there might be times that your train gets delayed for 30 minutes. If that happens and you hear “passenger injury (jinshin jiko)” being announced, it might be because somebody passed out inside the train or… somebody jumped off in front of the train.

Anyway, these are just isolated cases so you do not have to worry so much. Even if Japan appears to be a perfect first-world country because of the notable cleanliness, efficiency, culture, manners, and so much more, just like any other country; it has its own share of cons as well.
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BIO & INTRO

Ashley DyMy name is Ashley Dy and I am the other half of OurKawaii.Tokyo. When I was a child, my dream is to travel the world and of course, that’s what I’m trying to do until now — slowly but surely. I blog about the essential part of my life at AshleyDy.com

I was born in Greenhills, San Juan, and spent most of my years in Manila as well. After which, I moved to Japan when I was 20 years old. Whilst in Japan, I’ve already lived in three prefectures, Hyogo, Osaka and Kanagawa.

Tokyo is one of my favourite cities in the world. There are endless of things to do — and they are most of the time available only for a limited time! …How can someone not love Tokyo? The people are mostly polite, the cutest things are also there, everything is fast and convenient. It’s definitely a dream come true!

#6: Japan has best transportation system (in the world!)

JR Pass

You can easily travel anywhere via train!

TIP: Get a JR Pass. It’s like an unlimited pass to anywhere using JR (government-owned) trains if you want to maximize your trip by traveling to lots of prefectures (that’s what they call their regions in Japan). Only tourists are allowed to use this, so you are very lucky if you are! Normally a round trip fare from Osaka to Tokyo is worth $250. Imagine how many places you can visit within 7 day if you have a JR Pass!

You can buy your JR Pass online here: Japan-Experience.com
7 day JR Pass: $243
14 day JR Pass: $387

We also posted a how to travel around Tokyo with suica card here.

#7: Fukubukuro (lucky bags) season is the best time to go shopping in Japan.

FukubukuroPhoto by Laura Tomàs Avellana / CC
It happens every first week of January. Some stores start on the first day, some on the second due to their New Year traditions — it depends. So if you have a specific store in mind, check their website about their schedule first!

The best or worst area to go shopping to is actually Tokyo. It’s the best since most brands have a store in Tokyo, but it is also the worst since it is cramped with people. They line up so early (it’s freezing in January mind you), just for this sale.

TRIVIA: The KonMari method of cleaning by Kondo Marie is actually a New Year’s tradition for the Japanese. They do a general cleaning, they keep things that they want, and throw the unnecessary before New Year. This was picked up by the retail businesses of course so they took this opportunity for a New Year’s / Lucky bags sale (wherein they put random items and sell at a lower price).

#8: MYTH: “Expensive” Japan

Konbini

It might be true 5-6 years ago when I moved to Japan; but recently, everyone could just afford going to Osaka or Tokyo. There are lots of LCCs (Low Cost Carriers) that fly to Japan’s main cities. The chances of getting a cheap shared dorm room or AirBnB is also endless.

How to survive in Tokyo? The answer is konbini (convenience store). It’s the best place to get fast and cheap food. Your ¥1000/$8-10 (depends on the exchange rate) can get you far.

What else could you do in a convenience store? You can buy your tickets to theme parks in advance, you can withdraw cash from their ATM (if your bank allows international use), use FREE internet, read manga while waiting, etc.

#9: Japanese people are innately nationalistic.

Japanese

That’s how they were trained in school.

They are usually proud of their “unique” traits such as using the chopsticks really well. Don’t be shocked or don’t feel offended if someone greeted you that you are good or bad in using chopsticks. It’s just their way of starting conversations.

NOTE: Japanese are really known for keeping their true feelings too; so they can use general topics such as the weather, just to talk with you.

#10: On Traditions.

Japanese Traditions

Aside from what I stated earlier about New Year traditions of cleaning up and buying lucky bags, they have a lot more such as The Coming of Age Day which is celebrated every second Monday of January. Its purpose is to officially celebrate everyone who turned 20 (the legal age in Japan).

Another famous (yet ridiculous) tradition in Japan is to have KFC chicken for Christmas. Since Japanese people are mostly Buddhist, Shintoist or both, they are not supposed to have Christmas celebration — but due to commercialism, they are actually celebrating it now. Though… it’s mostly for couples dating (like how we usually celebrate Valentine’s Day).

You can read more Japanese traditions here.


We hope that these 10 things (trivia) that Ashley and I have shared will be useful for you as you plan and plot the places you want to travel to in Japan!

For any travel-related recommendations, just head on over to our blogs!
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Overall

About Japan

If you’re from Japan or an ‘expat’ in Japan like Kaila and Ashley, do you agree with the 10 points that they wrote about? Maybe you have something to add, too?

If you ask me, since I’m such a HUGE fan of Japan, these are all points that I already know and agree to, haha! That being said, I can’t wait to finally land in Japan soil. I’ll keep you guys updated — you can also see my LIVE travel updates on Snapchat! Just add me up: iamaileencom

NOTE: This series will happen monthly so keep an eye out for the next country that I’ll be featuring.
Foreigners Should Know

How about you?

  • What do you think about this blog series?
  • If you’re Japanese, do you agree with the points that Kaila and Stacia made? What else can you add?
  • If you’re a foreigner, what points do you find interesting or intriguing?

Did you like this article? Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube and be notified about my newest posts and updates!

40 comments

  1. This is bringing back all my Japan memories!! I love Japan so much and totally agree with you when you say there is not a specific time you should visit here because it's beautiful all year round!

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    1. This is why I hope to visit it during all seasons! :D

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  2. Great post! thanks for the tips. Im going to Japan in March 2017 and I'm so excited, I'm just stressing over buying the air plane ticket though! haha

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    1. Glad you like it! I'll be putting up more articles soon too about guides to Japan so watch out for those :D (Good luck on the cheap ticket hunt ;)

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  3. Great tips! I had always thought Japan was super expensive, but recently learned that it was fairly cheap to get around and eat. Was that your experience as well?

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    1. I'm currently here in Japan and I can attest that it's much like Europe — it seems expensive but if you know where to stay and eat, you can stay within your travel budget. There's AirBnBs here in Japan and there are also "konbinis" (convenience stores) that offer meals at very affordable prices!

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  4. Such a lovely blog! I'm glad I stumbled on it while browsing the web. Looking forward to read more of your posts in the future.

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    1. Thanks! I'm happy to hear that, Maggie!

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  5. I've never been super big on Japan or the Japanese culture but EVERYTHING in this post appealed to me. I have a cousin who is super into it though, so I learned a few things from her but when she said the only place she ever wants to visit outside the US is a Japan I was like, "you can go by yourself." Now I think I'm changing my tune. It's not ALL hello kitty, lol!

    Such a good post. :)

    Reply
    1. Oooh you should absolutely know that there's more to Japan than hello kitty! Haha ;) Think geishas, FOOD, samurais, ryokans, onsens, temples, shrines, kimonos, aaaah I can go on and on haha. I hope you get to come visit it soon — I bet you will love it!

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  6. You have no idea how much I loved this post (I pinned it). I am trying to go to Tokyo this year its my ultimate bucketlist travel spot. I have been a lover of the Kawaii culture since I was a little girl...I love love love it and I am going to go there one day and load up on all the Kawaii goodies and go to all the fun places. Yes I have to go to a huge Hello Kitty store and do some damage too...I love Japan and this year I am ready to travel!

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    1. Awww, I'm happy to hear that! Thanks Kiwi! :D Japan culture has also been a huge part of my life ever since I was a kid — with that, I hope you also get to see it sometime soon!!!

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  7. I have decided to leave a reply!

    I live and work full time in the IT industry (though my background is not IT) at the moment, in Japan. Something that is interesting in Japan is the fashion and anime. Akihabara is one of the places where foreigners go during their stay in Japan. Lots of Cosplays and weird things there - i.e. maid cafes as you have already mentioned. One of the maid cafe is based on AKB48, an idol group, which targets men and people go crazy over them - like fans want to marry them! Actually one of the most bizarre things I have ever heard is one Japanese man is married to a girl on the phone!

    Actually, there are so many types of Japanese people wherever you go, so in general, you don't need to worry about what you wear!

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    1. Haha! I watch anime and manga, and generally a "fan" of the Japanese culture so I also know all these things that you're talking about — in fact, I'm not surprised haha! Thanks for sharing though, Yoko. Japan is truly such a wonder!

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  8. What a cool blog post – I love the layout of it too! OMGoodness…there is such a thing as a My Little Pony Café…that would definitely be something that I would want to visit if I went to Tokyo. I bet cherry blossoms in Japan would be such a treat to see in person. Hokkaido and the flower fields also interest me. Also, that's a very interesting tradition of having KFC chicken for Christmas. And, I would love to visit during the lucky bags season.

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    1. Aw, thanks Yona! :D And yeah, there really are TONS of interesting cafees in Japan! I really can't wait to see them all. I won't have time to see Hokkaido though as it is far in the north, but I guess that just calls for a 2nd trip then haha.

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  9. I really like your fun facts posts! Looking forward to reading more about Japan! :)

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    1. I'm glad you like this series, Charlotte! <3 Thanks — I look forward to sharing it with you all, too!

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  10. In Tokyo, people stay on the left side of the escalator, while in Osaka, people stay on the right. No eating and talking in trains bec they consider it rude. At mahihiya ka sa pagkaorganized nila sa trains! Love your blog Aileen, enjoy Japan!

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    1. Thanks for those tips, Kat! :D True — ever since I've been here to Europe, I'm amazed at how their public transportation is so organized. So how much more for Japan, right? Haha. Thanks Kat! I will :D

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