Beautiful and mysterious, exotic and overwhelming - to many travelers, Japan is a riddle wrapped in an enigma. It’s a place of large, neon-drenched cities and quiet, lantern-lit towns, a place where the hyper-modern and traditional sit side-by-side, as does “Shogun” and “You Only Live Twice.” It’s a place of colorful contrasts and far-flung juxtapositions, a land both frenzied and quietly beautiful. A trip to Japan is like a trip down Alice's rabbit hole: you never know what you're going to find. Here are 5 things you should know before planning a vacation package to Japan.
There’s No Tipping
Meals are more expensive in Japan than in most cities in America, but the service is better and… there’s no tipping. Unlike in America, you’re not obligated to give a 20 percent tip to an angry, bored, disgruntled server who bites your head off when you ask what the special is. And it’s not just restaurants. In Japan, there’s no tipping at bars or salons. Taxi drivers don’t expect tips, and you don’t have to grease the doorman’s palm at a fancy club in order to get in. Japan isn't a tipping culture.
The Refreshments are… DifferentCucumber Pepsi? Yogurt drinks? Soda that tastes like menthol? Welcome to Japan, home of carbonated drinks that seem dreamed up by Willy Wonka himself. There are all sorts of peculiar flavors and strange soft drink combinations in Japan, and while many come and go with the seasons (just like Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks in the U.S.), they all seem as if they were brewed by mad scientists. Where else can you find Ashashi Red Eye Tomato Beer or Salty Watermelon Pepsi?
Superstitions are an Integral Part of Life
Fortunes, amulets, and luck play an integral role in Japanese culture. For example, when you visit a shrine, don’t be surprised to see that fortunes are being sold. Visitors can pick a stick out of a box. They then hand it to a shrine worker who matches the number on the stick to a box that contains a fortune. Here’s where it gets interesting. If you don’t like your fortune, you can either tie it to a tree or a piece of rope inside the shrine.
Wear Nice Socks
Trampling over someone’s tatami mats in a pair of muddy Nike’s is a no-no in Japan. It’s customary to take off your shoes when you enter most carpeted places in Japan, particularly someone’s home. And don’t be surprised if you’re asked to take off your shoes at some restaurants, too. In other words, when you travel Asia it’s a good idea to wear a nice pair of socks, preferably a matching pair that isn’t thread bear or riddled with holes.
One Card Fits All
Japan is a train culture. Quiet and convenient, the train system in Japan is known for its punctuality and efficiency. In 2013, paying fares became even easier. A single rechargeable card (Suica or Pasmo) now allows users to ride trains and buses throughout the entire country. Tickets are available at almost all ticket machines.