Japan is almost ready to re-open for tourism! The latest info on an opening date is now October 11. Are you ready?! I am! My first trip abroad ever was to Japan for three months in college, and it completely changed my life. In fact, it’s the reason I started blogging! Before you make the journey, take it from me: There are a few important things to do, especially if this is your first trip since before the pandemic started. Here are the top 5 things to do before you visit my beloved Japan!
1. Make Sure Your Passport is Current
When was the last time you dusted off your passport? Have you looked at the expiration date lately? It needs to be valid for at least six months after your departure date from the U.S. to Japan, and must be valid for the duration of your stay (which is usually three months or less if you’re traveling without a special visa).
Before you book that plane ticket, make sure your passport is valid for the right amount of time. Passport renewal turn-around time is slow going these days, and even if you pay extra for an expedited process, you still might be disappointed! Check out my Ultimate Guide to Passports here.
2. Do a Little Culture Research
Japan is a whole different world. Their language is different, their writing is different, their customs are different, their culture is different. Every aspect of Japanese culture is intentional and filled with meaning. But don’t worry–you don’t have to know everything before you visit. Most Japanese people were very kind to me, and seemed to appreciate it when I asked questions, whether that was in English or with hand gestures! Making an effort to learn a little bit about their culture and history will go a long way in showing respect while you’re there.
To get your started, find out why Japanese cherry blossoms deserve their own festival. Look up the meaning of the Japanese flag. Google which part of sushi is actually the “sushi.” (Spoiler alert: it’s not the raw fish!) Find out why geisha is important in Japanese culture. Does Shinto or Buddhism have more followers in Japan? You’ll enjoy your trip more when you actually know something about what you’re seeing and why it’s special to the Japanese!
Essential info: 5 Ways to Embrace Cultural Differences
3. Learn a Little of the Language
No one expects you to be fluent in Japanese! And no one at all expects you’ll be able to read hiragana, katakana, and kanji (yes, there are THREE ways to write in Japanese). But anyone can learn at least one way to say “hello” (konnichiwa), “thank you” (arigato), and “goodbye” (sayonara). You will also want to learn the word for “excuse me” (sumimassen).
For more, apps like DuoLingo are amazing for some quick, easy, fun ways to help you master the basics. And websites like this one can give you a crash course in important phrases. I also recommend having a good, old-fashioned, pocket-sized phrasebook with you, too. You’ll use it more than you think!
More helpful tools here: The Best Apps for Every Traveler
4. Listen to Japanese Music
Talk about “mood music!” Traditional Japanese music is absolutely beautiful, and Japanese pop is super dancy! Listening to music is also a fun way to familiarize yourself with the language. Trust me, you’ll be singing along soon, even though you don’t know the words!
Search for Japanese music on Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, or wherever you get your music. Use someone else’s playlist if you’re not sure where to start, or get a feel for what you like, and create your own! Here is a fun Japanese playlist on Spotify to get you started:
Read next: The Top 12 Experiences to Have in Japan
5. Get a JR Pass
No, really, this is the most valuable ticket you can possibly have in Japan. If you want to see the most you can of this beautiful country and make the best use of your time, this is how you do it! You can get a pass for 7, 14, or 21 days, and you’ll get unlimited travel all over Japan—including their famous Shenkansen Bullet Trains! Not only is it a fast and economical way to travel, it’s also the best way to see portions of Japan’s beautiful countryside.
Coming soon: How to Book Your JR Pass
Want more? Check out everything you need to plan your trip on my dedicated Japan Page!
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