Polite, quiet, intentional, clean, detailed-oriented, and fashion-forward. The Japanese culture is unique and fascinating, unlike any I’ve ever experienced. There’s a sense of commitment to traditional values and ways of life. There are common courtesies and unspoken expectations upheld in public.
I’d recommend everyone visit Japan at least once in their life, especially Kyoto. If I go back to Japan again one day, which I hope to do, I’d skip Tokyo and just visit Kyoto and, maybe, Osaka as well since we didn’t have time for that this trip.
General Tips and FYIs
- Wait in line. People queue up for everything from escalators, to cross walks, to nice photo spots. Be mindful of those around you and notice if there’s a line already forming. Wait your turn and have patience.
- Take your time. Japanese people are intentional and deliberate and rarely in a hurry.
- Avoid speaking on trains. If you must speak, whisper. People are quiet and respectful of the tight space, as the trains can get very crowded. We were sardined against many people in a train car, but it was silent the entire time (a very interesting experience). They even have signs hung up to warn people of music played too loud from earbuds or headphones.
- Do not eat, text, or talk on your phone while walking. This is seen as rude and a danger to other people. If you must use your phone to navigate or respond to a text, stop walking and step to the side of the walkway. You’ll see Japanese people position themselves in a corner, hold their hand over their mouth, and talk quietly into their phone if they must take a call in public. I even saw one person bend down in a squat position to make themselves as small and inconspicuous as possible to take a call.
- Learn how to politely say thank you in Japanese, as it’s said many times and in nearly every interaction: arigatou gozaimasu, pronounced “ah-ree-gah-toh goh-zah-ee- mas.” There are many different ways to say thank you, but this is the one that we used most frequently, as it’s most polite and respectful.
- Get yourself a Sucia travel card at any MRT/train station machine and re-load it with money throughout your trip as you need. You can use public transportation to get nearly everywhere. We only used a taxi to and from the airport because we had a lot of luggage. When you use Google Maps to help you navigate to a destination, select the public transportation icon. It may recommend MRT lines and/or busses. Your Sucia card works by a quick swipe on both busses and MRTs. The public transportation has both English and Japanese, so it’s pretty easy to navigate. My biggest tip would be to take your time. Make sure you’re getting on the right train going the right direction, rather than rushing onto a train simply because you think it’s leaving. Most trains and busses come every 3-10 minutes, so it’s better to be safe and wait for the next one if you’re not sure.
- Get a copy in Japanese of the address where you’re staying. The last thing you want is for your phone to die and not know how to ask someone for directions in Japanese.
- On that same note, get yourself a portable phone charger and bring it along on your outings. I think this goes for all traveling, but phone batteries are drained by constantly navigating to your next destination.
- Go first thing in the morning to any shrines, temples, or popular tourist attractions to avoid crowds. Right when they open or just when the sun comes up is usually best! You won’t regret it!
- Shopping in Tokyo is unreal. There are many different shopping districts with different styles. We loved surfing the vintage shops in the same building as the store “Grimoire.” The building has 4 or 5 stories and all the vintage shops are amazing, but pricey. Vintage shopping is popular and expensive in Tokyo, but we found this place to be the most reasonable.
- Harajuku: amazing shopping area and culture-rich streets and alleys. This is usually referred to as the intense teenage shopping area – think bright colors, overpriced yet amazing vintage pieces made modern, and wild statement articles. We went here two different times in our time in Tokyo and loved it. Don’t miss their used kimono shops!
- Ikebukuro: one of Tokyo’s famous city centers complete with bright lights, anime shops, and restaurants. It’s fun to go here at night to experience it all lit up.
- Meiji Shrine: beautiful Shinto shrine easily accessible by MRT and great for a serene morning walk. We went first thing when the sun came up and did not regret it!
- Kyshu Ramen: vegan ramen options that I loved and my hubby had a really good Tonkatsu ramen (meat-based) that he loved.
- Deus Ex Machina: the best coffee in Tokyo that also happens to serve amazing and yummy breakfast with vegan options! They offer soy and almond milk in addition to normal cow’s milk, which is super hard to find in Japan! We went here two times during our five days in Tokyo because we enjoyed it so much. Their Matcha is amazing too!
- Our Airbnb: I have to share this because we had such an amazing experience here. This is not an ad and I’m not receiving any sort of benefit for saying this. I’d absolutely stay here again when we return to Kyoto. It’s the cutest Airbnb with pieces that are traditional and Japanese-esque, while also having modern and comfortable accommodations. Also a gorgeous river view!
- Fushimi Inari Shrine: famous orange Shinto shrine with gorgeous grounds to walk around and enjoy. This is one of the most spread out shrines we visited, with a beautiful forest sanctuary surrounding it.
- Arashiyama: extremely famous, and definitely worth the hype. Spend a few hours walking around the many temples, gardens, and Kameyama-koen Park where you can often see monkeys! The photos from the Bamboo Forest were my favorite from the whole trip.
- Kinkaku-ji Temple (The Golden Pavilion): my personal favorite of all the temples and shrines we visited in Japan. The reflective pond and the sun setting on the shiny golden building was so beautiful. We visited just before they closed and did our best to get shots without people, but seeing the sun hit the building at that time of day way totally worth it!
- Nishiki market: spend an afternoon walking around the Nishiki market and getting bites of specialty local bites. Don’t miss the Mochi! Our favorite was the banana chocolate, but the chestnut was amazing too!
- Ippudo: restaurant that offers amazing vegan ramen that’s not on the menu. Remember it’s polite to slurp your ramen!
(non-vegan option ^^^)
(vegan option ^^^)
- Omen: my favorite veggie restaurant in Kyoto (even though it only has 4.2 stars on Google reviews.) Ask for no bonito flakes (meat flakes common in Japan) and get the vegan set. Their udon noodles and veggie tempura is also amazing. There’s usually a little line outside, but we didn’t wait more than 10 minutes.
- Gyoza ChaoChao: great vegan and vegetarian gyoza, as well as desert gyoza with bananas and chocolate!
- %Arabica Coffee: THE best coffee in Kyoto and in Japan for that matter. They have almond and soy milk. The almond milk is so creamy and delicious (unlike many of the watered down brands here in the US).
I hope that this list inspires you to visit Japan, and helps you plan your trip!
Please let me know if you have any questions by leaving a comment below. Happy to help!