This is the #1 thing to know- your Australian cards will not be accepted at regular atms. You can only get money out at City bank branches (and there aren’t very many of them), 7-elevens, or at the airport. Get cash when you arrive is my tip. Oh and be aware it only gives you 10,000 yen notes, which can be tricky to break.
The other thing is that money should not travel from your hand to someone else’s, so *insert Eddie Izzard voice* you’ll need a tray. These are literally small trays about A5 size which you should put your money onto and they will then use to give you back your change. Prepare to get horrified looks if you try to hand money to someone at a checkout- look for the little tray, it will be there!
Wifi: People never believe me, but for some weird reason, wifi is basically impossible to get in Japan. It is honestly worse than some 3rd world places I have been to. I do not understand this. It was slightly better in 2015 than in 2014 possibly because they have finally embraced smart phones (no joke, they were still using flip phones up until 2015), but still, look up whatever you need to before you leave your hotel/apartment because you won’t be able to do shit after that.
Tax: Most of the prices you see are actually sans tax, which is an extra 8% on top. This includes food when you go out to eat. Some places are listed as ‘tax free’ but this is not quite accurate, you have to spend over 10,000 yen and show your passport for them to apply it. They also have to fill out paperwork, so don’t try and do it if you are in a rush. Worth it though if you are dropping some decent cash on electronics or spending up big in Uniqlo like I did. Some places also give you extra discount for paying with a particular card (I saved an extra 5% on my already cheaper camera stuff by paying with my visa card), it’s worth checking.
Etiquette: Part of this is basic stuff like taking off your shoes in some restaurants, and all temples, but also they are funny about eating in public (outside of restaurants). It’s considered very rude, particularly on public transport. Definitely, 100% DO NOT EAT AT TEMPLES (even on temple grounds). It’s like spitting on their religion.
Japan is a pretty reserved country and they are unfailing polite. Clothing is also interesting there- women wear short skirts, but never show cleavage. You obviously don’t have to cover up your hair or anything, but it’s definitely smart casual, loose fitting, higher necklines. PDAs are also a bit of a no no, you can hold hands but lots of touching and definitely kissing in public are frowned upon.
Mostly people speak English and are super lovely and helpful and will ask you if you need help if they think you look lost. You also don’t have to worry about people harassing you or stealing your stuff, the Japanese would be horrified if they saw someone obviously intimidating someone else. The flip side is that little domestic tiffs in public are very obvious and very awkward….
My top tip with this may cause controversy but screw it- The JR international rail pass is a GIANT RIP OFF. There, I said it! It’s a hassle to arrange and it is NOT worth it. You can’t use it from the airport in Tokyo (although you can in Osaka), you can’t use it on the high speed trains and the only city with an extensive enough JR network is Tokyo- where the maximum you will pay for a trip anyway is 200yen. When you factor in that the passes are at least $400 for 2 weeks, there is no way you would ever use the pass enough to justify it, unless you were specifically going on a train holiday and had stacks of time to waste, because you are only allowed to use it on very specific trains between cities/areas and they take a lot longer and only run certain times of the day.
There are better options once you get to Japan, including the Kansai Pass…although again, it may not be worth it depending on how long you stay, as you can just get a return train ticket to and from the airport. Overall I would actually recommend that you just fly between places- it’s fast and it’s super cheap if you use an airline like Jetstar Asia.
If you do travel via train within a city and you’re not sure how much it is to get where you want to go, never fear, there is a trick! You get the lowest denomination ticket (usually 120 yen). Then when you get off somewhere, before you get to the gates, you go to the ‘fare adjustment’ machine and insert your ticket. It will tell you if you need to add more money, which you do and then you get a new ticket.
You can also do this on the metro, however if you’re taking multiple metros per day (e.g. 4 or more) I recommend getting a day pass. Make sure you only get it for the actual metro though. You can get combo tickets but they are really over priced and you would struggle to get your money’s worth in a day.
Food: Is delicious, but can be a hassle if you are vegetarian, as almost everything is made with pork, or seafood (dashi) stock. They also just don’t serve a lot of vegetables in my experience, they are more for garnish. If you do have a dietary requirement, make sure you have it written down in Kanji, it will save you a lot of time and literal tears.
There’s heaps of places to eat- sometimes they will (politely) refuse to serve you though if they don’t have an English menu, or they don’t have enough English. This tends to happen a lot at the local bars that sell tapas. They look fun, but they often refuse to serve non Japanese speaking people. Everyone also smokes in these- be warned.
For (non vegetarian) fun times look for tabe hodai and nomi hodai (all you can eat meat places and all you can drink respectively). They also have these awesome udon noodle places that can be a bit soup nazi like, but they are tasty! Someone in line will take pity on you and help you order if you need it.
Word to the wise, invest in breakfast supplies, as it is difficult to get anything that isn’t fish. On a related note, it is hard to find supermarkets over there. They do sell stuff in their 7-elevens and also family marts etc. and you can’t walk 5 metres without hitting one of them, but they never have fruit. I cannot stress this enough, if you see somewhere that looks like a green grocer, buy stuff, you may not see another one. I have been in Tokyo for a total of 2 weeks on two separate occasions and traipsed across the majority of the city and I have found ONE fruit and veg shop. ONE.
Vending machines to buy water, or weird fruit drinks or ice coffee like concoctions are everywhere though- don’t stress about not having water. They like for you to stay hydrated 😉