The land of the rising sun has seen a dramatic increase in tourism over the past year with Americans flocking to its islands in record numbers. While Europe, the Middle East and South America have seen tourism plummet due to safety and Zika fears, in February, March and April alone, almost 200,000 Americans visited Japan - up 16 percent from last year. And for good reasons. The country is safe, beautiful, clean, has great food, an abundance of culture and history and, thanks to the strong dollar, won't break the bank. But, as with every place, you're going to have a better time if you know the local customs, the (mostly unspoken) rules and particular peccadillos before you go. Don't worry - I got you.
In March, I went on a walking tour of the UNESCO sanctioned Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail in the Kii Peninsula with Walk Japan and here's what I learned:
1. Forget the bank - head to a 7-Eleven.
Forget the fact that your bank is an international one or that you can take cash out on your Visa almost anywhere in the world, in Japan, the only place you will be able to take out cash is a 7-Eleven. No, really. Even if you, like me, are an HSBC customer and there is an HSBC branch right there - you still won't be able to take money out. And in Japan, you need cash - especially if you are traveling outside of Tokyo or Kyoto to places like Ise, where almost no one will accept credit cards. So when you find a 7-Eleven, get a decent amount out, because you never know when you'll find another one. On the bright side, your chances of being mugged for the decent amount of cash you are now carrying are very low.
While this sign is from the Gion Geisha District in Kyoto, a lot of these rules are still applicable in the whole of the country. Japan is a restricted society, so, unlike Americans, Japanese do not hug (especially in public), they don't touch (often), and they are much more reserved in general.
3. There are serious rules when it comes to footwear.
Japan is a very clean country and they have rules to help keep things clean - like the slipper rules, which include: never wear your outside shoes inside a house, you will be given house slippers to wear instead. But take care to not wear the house slippers into a bathroom as there are toilet slippers for that special dirty room. And never forget that you are wearing toilet slippers and start roaming the inside of the house or hotel.
4. Do not point.
Pointing with one finger is considered incredibly rude. Instead, use your whole hand, fingers together with your palm upwards to gesture towards something.
5. Do not freak out in public.
Things go wrong - they always do. But in Japan, it is important to not lose your cool and whatever you do, do not start yelling or screaming. It is considered losing face and you will be dismissed and ignored.