Tips or advice for first international vacation (Japan).
May 19, 2024 4:17 PM   Subscribe

Any tips or advice about a vacation to Japan?

I’m doing my first international vacation to Japan for two weeks. Any tips or advice that wouldn’t be obvious to someone who has only ever traveled in the United States before? (Yes, I have a passport and a neck pillow.)

I’m 40 years old and I’m traveling with two other people.
posted by andoatnp to Travel & Transportation around Japan (37 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
How exciting. Of course do Tokyo, but then make use of the fantastic train system to visit other cities. You will have a blast.
posted by Czjewel at 4:38 PM on May 19 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: To clarify, we have plans of where we are staying each night and what we are doing most days. This is more about tips for being in a foreign country, as opposed to activity ideas for Japan.

Like planning for how to use my cell phone, dealing with different electrical outlets - things like that.
posted by andoatnp at 4:50 PM on May 19 [1 favorite]

Electrical outlets are one thing you definitely don't have to worry about with Japan; they're the same as in the US.

Your best investments will be on a rented pocket WiFi router and a rail pass (Japan Rail in this case). A SIM card might not be a bad idea, but we went for three weeks in Japan just using pocket WiFi and it was fine.
posted by May Kasahara at 5:06 PM on May 19 [2 favorites]

No patting the heads of kids, no matter how adorable they are. They no like.
posted by Czjewel at 5:22 PM on May 19 [2 favorites]

Forget pocket wifi. I was in Japan in January of this year and used Airolo for eSIM. I had never used eSIM before, but it was seamless. Also, I took some cash with me (approx $500 CAD for 3 weeks) as many mom and pop shops outside of major cities are cash only. Otherwise, you can get cash out at 7-11 stores. Please feel free to MeMail me if you have any specific Japan questions.
posted by Juniper Toast at 5:26 PM on May 19 [10 favorites]

Investigate your phone’s roaming charges and related topics before traveling. Depending on your plans you might want to spring for a Japanese SIM card - you can buy one in the airport and in lots of other places too - or just use free Wi-Fi if you aren’t going too far afield. I believe the Tokyo metro has free Wi-Fi but I could be misremembering, and in a pinch Starbucks does too.

Bring nice socks! Thick clean ones with no holes. You will often be asked to remove your shoes and you won’t always be offered slippers. Bare feet aren’t seen as uncouth or anything but socks are almost always going to be a bit more comfy, and if you are walking more than usual you might appreciate the cushion and protection.

Respect the queue and do as you see others doing. If people are lining up, join the line and don’t be pushy. Generally Japanese people are very good about taking turns and getting to enjoy the touristy things - they want to admire neat stuff just as much as you, you just have to be patient for your turn. Pay attention to what side of a walkway people are taking in what direction so you don’t walk against traffic and try not to form a flank with your friends so others can pass by.

There is a lot of English in Tokyo these days, less so the further out from dense population you get, but still plenty. Chances are that if you appear to be in distress as non-Asian people, someone will approach and try to assist, or take you somewhere to assist. Japan is shockingly safe to a lot of Americans; don’t be gullible but also don’t fear strangers. Google translate is pretty great with Japanese text - use the camera function and behold technological magic as it translates signs and menus in real time. It’s not so good at going from English to Japanese though, though it’s been a while since I had reason to poke around with it. The people who work for the metro are typically extremely helpful and great at helping lost people.

Convenience stores are legitimately convenient in Japan - you might see them called “conbini”, and a lot of them will have pretty much anything you might have forgotten to pack, as well as legitimately tasty and quality food. Absolutely indispensable for mid-afternoon snacks or having a picnic in a pretty spot.

They tend to use cash and coin much more than Americans are used to, although that has been slowly shifting. Get some money exchanged at the airport before you leave and get some small change so you can use vending machines and gachpons for fun without hassle.

Have fun!
posted by Mizu at 5:41 PM on May 19 [3 favorites]

Bring a small towel to dry your hands and dap your forehead.
Bring pocket tissue if there is no toilet paper.
You might need to squat depending on where you are.
Cover your shoulders and cleavage at temples and shrines.
Investigate train passes depending on where you are going.
Always bring yen for cash only places.
Default to your most polite self.
Be prepared to carry all your trash for the day back to your accomodations.
Try the cheapest places and convenience stores, they are always great.
Load up your pasmo/suica so you can get snacks AND ride the train/bus.
Google translate and Maps both work great for getting around.
See if you can turn on international w your phone rather than getting a new sim or pocket wifi.
Get a shrine book for the awesome stamps and calligraphy.
Bring home the awesome sunscreen.
Be prepared to walk exponentially more than you are used to.
posted by stormygrey at 5:54 PM on May 19 [4 favorites]

Apologies if this is too obvious, but get a good guidebook, like Lonely Planet. It has all the basic logistical info you asked about, but - unlike the Internet - also answers to all the questions you wouldn't think to ask.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:17 PM on May 19

Prepare for a left-oriented navigation of everything-not just driving. Pedestrian routes and walking toward the metro…if you feel like you are swimming against the tide, you have likely defaulted to US patterns- it’s manageable, just subtle.

Tipping was Not A Thing when I was there years ago.

Rush hour is a thing, go with the flow. On the beltway-style subway, I had several salarymen make a tiny bubble around me & my kiddo with their backs during peak travel times, so we weren’t cheek by jowl with everyone else. It was a lovely kindness that arose without asking.

Bean confections can look like a lot of things, including chocolate. Presume it’s a bean confection unless it specifically says something else.
posted by childofTethys at 6:46 PM on May 19 [5 favorites]

Use Airolo for an esim (make sure your phone supports it first, of course). That's all the internet you need.

You don't have to learn any of the language (especially if you stay around major cities), in fact, I wouldn't recommend trying; the amount of Japanese study necessary to meaningfully converse is pretty high. And all the signs that matter will be in English. But if you can, learn to read the alphabet: hiragana and katakana. While it's in no way required, it takes perhaps a week or two and will significantly enrich your experience.

You might want to know maybe half a dozen basic Japanese phrases. I will present a few basic ones here.

arigatougozaimasu (thank you)
sumimasen (sorry, excuse me)
daijoubu desu (i'm good, good response for when they ask if you need a bag)
famichiki hitotsu onegaishimasu (one famichiki [family mart fried chicken] please)
shitsureishimasu (i am five meters away from the train door and this is my stop and i need to push through fifteen people like a bulldozer to get to the door)

Don't fill all your time with activities. Give yourself time to explore. Find a green place on the map and see what animals and plants live there. Yes, even in big cities like Tokyo. There are so many beautiful things you will find if you go looking.

Google Maps can more or less get you anywhere. Get yourself a Suica or Pasmo IC card and you'll have the freedom to hop on a train and go Almost Literally Anywhere.

Depending on where you live, you may find Japan has more seasons and weather than you're used to. Uniqlo has all the clothing you can possibly need; go there as necessary. For example, during winter, heat-tech is absolutely essential, and 90% of the people you see on the street in unreasonably stylish outfits are hiding heat tech underneath them.

You are going to end up walking at least 15000 steps per day. Bring comfortable shoes.

Carry a plastic bag around for your trash. And learn which trash/recycling goes where (it may differ in different areas, so be careful).

Most things will work fine in Japanese outlets if they work in a US outlet. Its not usually a problem. Unless they have a ground pin -- ground pin outlets are almost never seen anywhere in Japan. So be careful of anything you bring that has 3 pins.

Do what other people do and you'll mostly be fine. Walk on the left side of the road -- unless the other people are walking on the right side, in which case copy them instead.
posted by etealuear_crushue at 6:49 PM on May 19 [3 favorites]

Mizu covered the main things I was going to say, but I guess I'll repeat.

If you are standing still as a non-Asian person looking like you there's any possibility you're in need of assistance, someone will try to help you sooner or later (if you're white, this is a weird intersection of white privilege and Japanese racism), regardless of whether they're equipped linguistically to do so.

Take cash with you. I was last in Japan in 2012, but it was very hit or miss whether ATMs would work with US cards (I believe 7-11 generally works, but I ran into someone had issues even there).

The plugs are the same as the US (except usually symmetric and ungrounded, IIRC) but Japan is 100v, not 110, so exercise caution with things like hair dryers. (There's also a 50/60Hz discontinuity in the power grid, which, again, I think is only relevant for things that create heat or keep time.)

Not speaking Japanese was not a problem (I was in Tokyo and Nagoya--the latter is not a tourist destinarion but gets lots of Americans due to Toyota, at least in the central part) aside from trying to reclaim our metro card deposit at an outlying subway station in Nagoya. Had we done it in the main train station, I suspect it would have been perfectly smooth. There's not necessarily someone who is comfortable speaking English in every shop/restaurant/whatever, but places are generally equipped with things like English/Japanese menus that you can point at.

Various medications that are common in the US are prohibited to varying degrees in Japan (stimulants are generally very prohibited) so check on that.
posted by hoyland at 6:52 PM on May 19 [2 favorites]

fwiw, at least in my experience as of 2024, 7-11 ATMs will consistently work with US cards. The exchange rate is pretty good too, so even if you end up preferring familymart or lawson for your konbini needs, 7-11s are worth keeping an eye out for as yen refill locations.
posted by etealuear_crushue at 7:00 PM on May 19 [1 favorite]

This is more about tips for being in a foreign country

-Expect that some things won't go entirely to plan, and at least something will be harder than you expected (even if it's a relatively minor thing). I consider myself a good traveler, and I think that's partially because I'm good at not getting bummed out when something goes a bit awry. It's part of the fun (sorta).

-Learn key phrases of the language.

-Also, don't forget to do some mundane activities. One of my favorite things to do in another country is go to the grocery store.
posted by coffeecat at 8:30 PM on May 19

On a more general note…

The five mandatory phrases in a local language are:

Yes, No, Please, Thank You, I’m Sorry

“Pardon me” or “Excuse me” can be handy too, as can the digits 0-9 .
People everywhere like to help confused travelers, but don’t abuse the privilege.
You would be amazed what can be conveyed with pantomime.
People you meet from your own country are as likely to be scammers as anyone local, sometimes more so.
Seeing the sights is good, but the world in between them is where you will find things you’ve never imagined.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:48 PM on May 19 [3 favorites]

This may or may not apply to you, but I feel a subtle mental weight lifted from my back while travelling in certain countries.

Caution: it can be addictive.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:03 PM on May 19 [1 favorite]

Don’t underestimate jet lag, especially with such a large time difference. You’ll likely be tired at weird times and waking up or not being able to get to sleep, at weird times. Best not to stress about it. Being tired won’t kill you.
posted by rhymedirective at 9:19 PM on May 19 [1 favorite]

Be observant of what locals are doing and try your best to follow along. For example, don't hog the escalator. One side is for folks walking and the other is for folks standing.
After Japan opened up again after covid restrictions, there's been a lot of tourism especially around influencers and there are already two places that have banned foreigners because of people not following rules. Japan is Xenophobic even though for the most part you will come across friendly folks. Just don't be surprised if you see no foreigners allowed or an X or they do the X gesture meaning they can't serve you.

If you are going to enjoy the nightlife, go with a local who you trust. Always ask a local for recommendations. Don't go anywhere that recruited you to come in. There are lots of scammers who try to get you to drink a lot then you end up paying for everyone's drinks. Especially in Tokyo.

Always have cash on you. Credit cards and debit cards are still not as in common use as it is elsewhere.

Don't assume you can get by with only English. A lot of people won't understand a lick of English even if they want to be helpful. Learn some phrases or just use Google translate. Also if you don't try to use any Japanese you could make people frustrated. Japan is not Europe. It's rare to find someone really versed in English in my experience. For example if you don't pronounce something in the exact way, even in a McDonalds in Japan, there can be communication barriers. It is a common joke that it's very hard to communicate as a foreigner even if you are saying the word very closely!

If you have tattoos, find tattoo friendly gyms, onsens, and public baths. It's still taboo in Japan to have tattoos but it's getting more open with more places for tattoos.

Take off shoes before entering homes. Wear slippers. Bathrooms have their own bathroom slippers and one pair would be used by everyone.

Soap and paper towels may not be available so bring handkerchief or hand towel and soap with u.

Some toilets are a hole in the floor type and you need to squat.

Be kind and observant. Try your best to follow along with the rules and to be patient.
posted by mxjudyliza at 10:00 PM on May 19 [3 favorites]

If you have room in your luggage bring some small gifts/postcards that show off where you are from. It's nice to be able to give a small token if appreciation to anyone who is especially nice/helpful to you.

Bring a blank notebook with you always and look for the stamps and ink pads in all train and subway stations. Collect them all!
posted by brookeb at 10:14 PM on May 19 [1 favorite]

> Uniqlo has all the clothing you can possibly need; go there as necessary.

Probably not slippers in size US12. Probably true for footwear generally.

If you're going before September - stay hydrated, it will be hot and humid.

Maybe skip the railpass.

Parts of Kyoto may be so crowded as to not be fun. Check reports and consider going further afield. (Late advice probably.)

If you're picking up manga for someone, it's filed by genre, then publisher, then author, whose name will be in Japanese alphabetical order and probably in Kanji.

Favourite shop in the world for arts and crafts, science gadgets, etc. Plus there's a cafe where you can sit down with cake while considering if you need a nice folding saw. And you're doing a drink and snack stop in the neighborhood if you are there.

Shops like Maruzen (or %searchterm) in Tokyo or Kyoto are huge and amazing for art and architecture books, watercolor how-to books (great souvenirs/gifts), etc. Or book-off for used. They also have air-conditioning, if it is hot and humid.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:17 PM on May 19

Make two copies of your passport, leave one at home with a friend or family member, take the other one on the trip but separate from the actual document.

To minimize jetlag, once you land, try your best to stay awake until it's time to go to sleep to get on local time.

Bring a portable charger.

Call your bank and tell them you will be traveling internationally, where and what dates so they know not to block your cards for suspicious activity.
posted by virve at 10:19 PM on May 19 [2 favorites]

Ugh, that last one from virve is key - mine gets decline for that about half the time even if I tell them. Carry cash as a backup (it's way safer to do so than the US), don't panic, call the number on your card, it will be ok.

As mentioned, there are not a lot of trash cans. But it turns out not to be as big a deal if you know another trick - if they sell it to you, they'll take the trash back. If you buy a snack from a convenience store, don't walk around eating it, eat it out front and they will either have a trash can inside or you can kind of wave your trash in a "where's the trash can?" way and they'll take it from you. If you start wandering around with stuff, well now the trash is yours. (Except: drink bottles and cans, just keep an eye out for vending machines. Most have trash receptacles for that)

Even if there are a few Japanese people being loud on the train, don't. It's for riding reasonably quietly and speaking only when necessary or quietly to the person right next to you, not for carrying on loud conversations in a group.

You're going to encounter a lot of "put the cash in the machine to pay" type things OR a tray on the counter. It's not super-offensive or anything to hand money to someone by hand, but it's just not what people usually do.
posted by ctmf at 12:24 AM on May 20 [1 favorite]

If you are travelling between different hotels and have big bags, make use of luggage forwarding. It is very common and reliable. You will rarely see a Japanese person hauling around big bags, so I am told.

Small inexpensive gifts go a long way.
posted by moiraine at 4:59 AM on May 20 [1 favorite]

I used the Translate app on my iPhone to make reservations, book train tickets, it was very helpful.

You will probably walk way more than you do in the US. On our trip to Japan some days we put in 20,000 steps. Prioritize comfortable shoes/insoles/blister care.

It will also probably be hot. Luckily there are lots of places to get drinks but consider bringing a hat and a water bottle to help stay cool.
posted by girlmightlive at 5:02 AM on May 20

You are required to carry your passport on you. Apologies if you're not from the US, but the info on this page still applies:

Register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program or equivalent if available if you're not in the US, so your embassy knows where you are and can potentially help you in an emergency.

The NERV app is the best choice for weather and disaster info.

If you're lost, it's an acceptable and normal thing to do to ask directions at a police box.

It's perfectly OK to come into shrine and temple grounds, they're kind of like parks. You don't have to have religious reasons for entering.

Don't touch someone else's chopsticks with your chopsticks, it's taboo.

Have fun!
posted by karasu at 5:48 AM on May 20 [2 favorites]

I'm in the process of planning my first trip to Tokyo, and here are the handful of things that trusted parties have told me to be aware of:

Use the Visit Japan Web site to pre-fill customs/entry requirements, which will give you a QR code and speed your trip through airport customs.

Depending on your plans, tickets for lots of tourist activities (most tower/viewing platforms like Shibuya Sky or Tokyo tower) go on sale 2 months early, and do sell out for prime times (sunset, weekends, etc). This goes for things like Tokyo Disney and the Ghibli Museum as well (Ghibli especially sells out like mad).

If you have an iPhone, you can add a virtual Suica card to your Apple Wallet...and you can refill it it using cards inside Apple Pay virtually. If you wait and grab physical card, the only way to add value is either via the Suica app (which is entirely in Japanese with no translation) or in-person with cash at a Suica terminal. You can use the iPhone Suica exactly like a physical card, so that's a huge advantage. Doesn't work for Android, as you can only add a virtual card to Android phones sold in Japan itself.
posted by griffey at 6:41 AM on May 20

A few people mentioned it, but do bring that small towel to dry your hands or you'll be drying them on your clothing. Keeping it clipped in to our day bags was super useful.

7-11 and Lawson's have easy to find trash cans and no one seemed to mind when we used them for the occasional small thing.

Many accommodations will have a mini-split heat pump for climate control. You use a very goofy remote to control it, and we struggled with it since it was both in Japanese and with obtuse icons. Google translate with our cameras got us words, but then searching those words online got us to a blog post about that very remote. It was incredibly useful.

eSIMs on your own phone if it can do eSIMs makes getting a lot of cheap data pretty easy around the world. If you message people across the Apple/Android divide, you might all choose to use an app like Signal or What's App rather than the default text messaging, since that isn't included with data only eSIMs.
posted by advicepig at 6:56 AM on May 20

- Nthing Suica card on your phone!
- We did an eSim, but it would also work to use your provider's international plan, or bring wifi hotspot. Just make sure you always have a connection.
- Translation app on your phone - we used Google Translate but there may be better ones - this came in so clutch.
- In addition to phrases mentioned above, I saw a recommendation to memorize "That was so delicious!" ("oishikatta desu") and it was a great tip. We used the phrase liberally.
- If anyone in your group is vegetarian (or doesn't eat fish), I recommend bookmarking well-reviewed restaurants ahead of time and using these printable dining out cards (we just saved them to our photos on our phone). It is much more difficult to find veg food than any other place I've visited. But the food we had was A M A Z I N G
- If anyone has small tattoos in your group, buy tattoo covers ahead of time for the onsen.
- Though tipping is not a thing, elaborate customer service is. Prepare yourself ahead of time for shops to take a long time wrapping or unwrapping your purchases, and be patient. My American idea of being a good customer is to say, "no need, I don't need all that fuss." This didn't go over well.
- Always always always always carry some cash for temples, etc. There are some places that only take cash, with no ATM nearby, particularly if you go off the beaten tourist path or outside cities.
- Get an ekiben for the train (unless you're vegetarian, in which case, onigiri from 7-11 are a good option)
- Do not jaywalk! Do not cross the street anywhere but at a crosswalk, and do not cross before the light is on, even if the way seems clear. It's not any more dangerous, it's just not done.
- Yes to luggage forwarding! It is awesome.
posted by Isingthebodyelectric at 7:33 AM on May 20

In addition to the phrases listed above, learn the Japanese phrase for “do you speak English?” which I think is a more polite way to segue into speaking English than just starting to talk at someone.
Carry cash (it’s very safe there)
Carry your passport with you—it is illegal not to have it
Don’t put bags on the ground in restaurants, there are baskets they’ll give you
Don’t talk loudly in subways and trains
Check your medications before going to see if they’re allowed in Japan—for instance, meds common in the U.S. like Adderall, Ritalin, NyQuil, and Sudafed are banned.
The food in convenience stores is cheap and great (restaurants too, but obviously a bit more expensive!)
posted by music for skeletons at 9:07 AM on May 20

Prepare for a left-oriented navigation of everything-not just driving.

Don’t get too attached though as it can change by city. There are often signs.

For example, Kyoto and Osaka are 30 miles apart, but which side of the escalator step is for people who are standing vs. walking differs.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:12 AM on May 20 [1 favorite]

I went to Japan for the first time last September and loved it! Big and tall white American lady in my late 30s. Here's my Japan-specific travel advice.

I speak almost no Japanese and got by just fine with English and occasionally Google Translate if a waiter/shopkeeper/friendly person wasn't sure of their English.

Get the NaviTime app for transit planning. Google Maps will get you there, but NaviTime will show you better routes based on whatever train pass you have. Or use the NaviTime website. Trains/buses are numbered and the arrival times are sharp.

Depending on where you are going, different types of rail passes are available and a good deal. is a great resource for understanding your options, for example this explainer on the JR Kansai wide area pass (Osaka and around). I also found this explanation of cost/benefit of JR pass really helpful.

When you land, get cash and a Suica card in that order (or Pasmo, or whichever card is the one for your starting area). I landed at Tokyo-Narita and stood in the Suica line for ages. Then the machine wouldn't accept any of my credit cards, so I stood in the ATM line, then back to the Suica line.

Carry cash. In the cities most places take cards, but cash can be more convenient, and you'll need it at smaller establishments or if you are venturing into the country.

7-11 is your friend for refilling your Suica card, getting cash, any little things you have forgotten (umbrella, toothpaste, pen, they have it), and tasty fresh food. My breakfast of choice was green tea, egg salad sandwich (so fluffy), and onigiri.

7-11 and other conbini are also your friend for paying with the handfuls of coins you're going to acquire: a person will ring up your purchases, and you give cash/coins to a machine, so you don't have to feel bad about making someone count your many coins.

Garbage cans are noticeably absent on the street. Some vending machines have a slot to return used bottles; I carried empty bottles around in my bag for days before noticing this. Conbini often have garbage cans. Definitely bring some small plastic bags in your daypack to carry trash with you.

Bring a small towel or bandana for face mopping, or buy one as a very practical souvenir.

You are going to walk a lot. Like, A LOT. Invest in some good socks and if you are at all prone to blisters or other chafing, get Body Glide or similar and apply daily.

You will see advice about wearing long pants in Japan. You won't see many Japanese people wearing shorts, but tourists definitely do. I was there for almost 4 weeks and wore shorts every day.

Some large shops will refund the tax on your purchases if you aren't planning on using them in the country. They will give you a stack of receipts and pack them up in a bag with tamper-evident seals. No one is looking at the airport (unless you buy huge amounts of stuff I assume) so don't stress if you get confused and get tax refunded on something you actually want to use right away.

If you think you have jostled someone or done a dumb foreigner thing, just nod and look sheepish and say 'sumimasen' (excuse me / sorry).
posted by esoterrica at 12:10 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]

Figure out a rough currency conversion formula that you can do in your head. Doesn't have to be exact, just a ballpark of to quickly asses what things cost.

I like to have a list of 'neat to do' activities that I'm not super attached to if it doesn't get done but are there if you find yourself with some free time so have something at hand to do instead of risking decision paralysis/research traps in the moment.
posted by platypus of the universe at 12:36 PM on May 20

I just went solo for a week last fall around Tokyo and north a bit, had a blast.

The best thing I did was take a bullet train to Sendai and then rent a car for a few days. It took a day to get used to driving on the other side of the road from the US, but it opened up a whole new side of the country. Plus you can see so much more in less time.

Google translate and Google maps (for public transportation especially) are both godsends.

Verizon wifi worked fine the whole time, I think it's $10/day.

Reddit/Japan was somewhat helpful, if you can make it past their "no dumb questions" gatekeeping.

If you can handle the tone, the Abroad in Japan videos are somewhat informative.

My itinerary was Tokyo-Sendai-Yamagata-Aizuwakamatsu, highly recommended, happy to give specific recs via DM.
posted by gottabefunky at 1:05 PM on May 20

Obvious when you realise: there are a lot of map signs around Tokyo and Japan more widely, particularly near stations. They're not north up. They're 'the direction you're facing is up'.

On travelling:

Don't bother with a lounge pass. Airports are not generally very nice, but lounges are basically not much better these days. (Narita is somewhat of an exception, but it's still not worth your money.).

Load up your device-with-screen with things you might want to watch - you might hope for a better movie selection on long flights but plane assortments are pretty sad these days, and Amazon/Netflix/etc. has an offline download mechanism to stash things you might want to watch. Also, whatever your airline is, install their app a couple of days before you fly. For most long distance carriers it will let you access the onboard movie collection, probably better and possibly bigger than the one in the seat in front of you.

Noise cancelling headphones are great on planes, although bone conducting headsets plus earplugs also work and get in the way less. Don't rely on the airline-provided headphones, they always suck and probably won't work with your phone.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 12:38 AM on May 21 [1 favorite]

Noise cancelling headphones

These can make a huge difference in how you’re feeling on your arrival. They are a worthwhile investment in your trip.

Planes aren’t super loud, but overall it’s the equivalent of listening to a light vacuum cleaner for 10 hours straight.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:20 AM on May 21

I haven't been there in ten years but some info that may still be relevant:

Surprising foreign travel tip that I did not anticipate - your circadian rhythm will be significantly thrown off. This can make you VERY constipated, because now you're eating at different times and sleeping at different times so your digestive system gets all confused. Try to stay on top of things with extra fiber and water, maybe pack a gentle laxative.

I like to get a short-term prescription for Ambien to help me sleep in different time zones, this may be worthwhile for you.

If you are at a large public establishment (transit stations / airports are where I usually encountered this, sometimes major tourist attractions), there may be clerks with small flags by their station - this indicates what languages they speak, so you can look for an American or UK flag and that will mean that person can assist you in English.

Many restaurants or fast food places will have a photo menu out front, I got by a lot of times by just taking a picture of the item I wanted and then showing it to the cashier.

You have leeway because you are Western, but it is polite to offer and to accept items from cashiers / clerks with both of your hands. They may also give you a small tray to put your cash or card into, and to retrieve your change. It's a bit of a faux pas to make cashiers pick up money off of the counter, or for you to hold out one open palm for them to drop change.

Apparently they have enacted a lot more smoking bans in the past few years, but depending on where you're coming from, you will likely still encounter smoking in more places than you would in the US (mostly bars and smaller businesses), so just be aware if that's an issue for you.

This peaks in May, but it is common throughout the year to arrive at a tourist attraction and discover it is jam packed with Japanese schoolkids on a field trip. That's not a bad thing necessarily, but if you had really hoped to see something with more peace and quiet, maybe go first thing in the morning or late in the day. It can be fun because some of them may approach you and practice a bit of their English.
posted by castlebravo at 9:44 AM on May 21

Jet lag will be a huge factor. It's better when flying west (and you'll have the excitement of a new country to keep you alert), so just try to stay up as late as you can on the first night and get on a regular sleep schedule. But be prepared for your sleep to take a huge hit when you get back to North America - it usually takes a few weeks before I stop falling asleep watching TV after dinner then waking up at 5 AM.

On a similar note, you will be wiped out when you first arrive, so map out an English-friendly restaurant near your hotel for your first meal (which is pretty easy these days, most chains will at least have an English menu). Don't plan on doing anything else your first night other than eat and walk around a bit.
posted by Gortuk at 11:23 AM on May 21

Response by poster: You are required to carry your passport on you.

Well none of the three of us knew this. Thanks!
posted by andoatnp at 2:34 PM on May 21

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