Visiting a foreign country for the first time is stressful enough without purposely choosing a country that is neither English-speaking nor English-writing. However, the beautiful scenery and the chance to experience a very different culture makes a visit to Japan worthwhile. Having had the privilege of visiting Japan several times, I would like to offer some tips on things I wish I had known before my first visit.
Converting Dollars to Yen
One of the most important things to know is that while many places in Japan accept foreign credit cards, there are also many places that don’t accept them. To ensure that you have enough money to buy everything you need, including food and drinks, it is easiest to just carry yen with you. Japan is very much a yen-oriented country and it is actually unusual for people not to carry yen when they go shopping.
To ensure that you have enough money with you, make your best estimate of how much you’ll need and use a current dollar to yen exchange rate as a basis for your budget. If you run out of yen during your trip, there are usually places nearby where you can get more. You may be able to withdraw cash from an ATM using your credit card or some banks will make the exchange for you. If you end up using either of these options, be prepared to pay a hefty service fee and/or interest rate.
The least expensive way to convert dollars to yen is usually through your local bank or credit union. To get the most out of your hard-earned money take the time to investigate what options you have to exchange dollars for yen. It is generally better if you convert your money at home rather than doing the exchange at the airport in Japan. Airport money exchanges, while very convenient, often charge the highest service fees to do the exchange.
Sightseeing in Japan
If you’re going to travel all the way to Japan, you need to make time to plan your trip. If you don’t preplan your trip, you will later discover that there were things that you would have liked to have done that you missed out on. If you have no idea where to begin, start with your interest areas.
For example, are you interested in the history of Japan? If so, you may want to visit the castles (which look very different from European castles), temples, and shrines. If you are a foodie, Japan offers a large variety of different foods that you have likely never seen or eaten before. Make the time to explore the open markets, and even the supermarkets, which offer a variety of items you will not find back home. If you just want some rest and relaxation, be sure to visit the onsens (hot springs) and the Japanese gardens, which are massive.
Traveling In Japan
When you’re visiting a country like Japan, where English is not the primarily spoken or written language, be sure to have a business card (or something written) with the location and contact information for your hotel – in case you get lost. You should ask for this information at the front desk when you check in.
While you can fly from one area of Japan to the other, it is less expensive to travel by train and/or bus. The train and bus system is quite extensive but, as when traveling anywhere by train or bus, you need to make sure you have ample time to get from place to place. The buses and trains are extremely punctual. If the information says the train will leave at 2:23 p.m. and you get to the platform at 2:24 p.m., you will have missed the train.
Using these tips for your first trip to Japan can make your trip less stressful and may help to prevent problems while you’re on vacation. Learning about local customs prior to your trip can also help you avoid embarrassing mistakes. For more information on etiquette in Japan click here.
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