A Mexican Traveler’s Guide to Making the Most of Japan
By KELIN DILLON
TOKYO — After a two-year closure of international tourism to combat the spread of the covid-19 virus, Japan finally flung its doors back open to the global public, albeit in a limited capacity, in May 2022. But for travelers hailing all the way from Mexico, the ability to visit the Land of the Rising Sun only truly came to fruition when Mexican national airline Aeroméxico officially resumed service of its nonstop route from Mexico City to Tokyo nearly one year later on March 25 – just in time for Japan’s renowned cherry blossom season.
As people from across Mexico – and the rest of the world – flock toward seizing their newly revitalized opportunity to visit Japan, it’s important to draw the key distinctions between Mexican and Japanese culture to ensure their trips go without a hitch. What may be considered acceptable in Mexico could very well be deemed as rude in Japan, and as respect remains paramount to the core of Japanese culture, new visitors to Nihon would be wise to brush up on societal expectations for the most seamless and considerate trip possible.
The emphasis on efficiency in Japanese society means there are bountiful opportunities for international tourists to enhance and add ease to their trip – but not all of these travel additions are obvious for first-time visitors to Japan.
Without further ado, here’s a rapid rundown of the best tips and tricks for traveling to Japan as a foreigner.
Toe the Line by Staying in Line
One of the reasons behind Japanese society’s remarkable efficiency is its people’s commitment to orderly formation. While lining up for tickets or a spot on the metro often feels like a free-for-all in Mexico, not so in Japan; people are expected to queue in an organized fashion in each and every situation that calls for a line.
Don’t become the dreaded disrespectful tourist by trying to cut the line – not only is it considered incredibly rude in Japanese society, but studies show that waiting your turn in line may actually maximize its efficiency.
This same ethos extends to walking down the street, with people expected to continue the natural flow of pedestrian traffic by sticking to the right side of the street and avoiding the near human-collisions one has come to expect when traversing mega-packed streets in Mexico.
When in Doubt, Bow it Out
The act of bowing serves numerous purposes within Japan, but no matter the function, bowing is undoubtedly an important tool tourists must equip to properly honor Japanese society.
Whether greeting someone, saying goodbye to someone, apologizing, saying thank you, making a request, showing appreciation or expressing congratulations, bowing – also known as ojigi – is one of the simplest ways to show respect in Japan.
Though there are a variety of different types of bows that display different forms of reverence, tourists will likely fulfill their traveling respect needs by learning the casual eshaku bow, which consists of dropping the upper torso 15 degrees forward while keeping the eyes trained on the floor a few meters ahead.
While the sensation may feel unfamiliar at first, having this basic bow armed and ready to go in your traveling arsenal will ultimately have you ready to politely navigate casual social interactions in Japan with ease.
Buy Your Bullet Train Pass in Advance
Japan’s ultra-fast Shinkansen bullet trains may be renowned worldwide for their speed and efficiency, but what many travelers planning a trip to Nippon may not know is that foreign tourists have the unique ability to buy a so-called JR Rail Pass that grants unlimited rides on certain bullet trains across Japan – so long as the pass is purchased while still outside of Japan, that is.
Tourists who order their JR Pass online in advance will be mailed an exchange order to their home residence that they will later need to activate in a JR office upon arrival in Japan, with passes available in seven-day, 14-day, and 21-day increments.
If you’re planning on traveling outside of the Tokyo area and out to Japan’s plethora of other eye-catching destinations, the JR Pass will almost always be worth the purchase, as one seven-day pass costs slightly less than one round-trip ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto and back. The JR Pass is also available for purchase in Japan as of recently, but it will come at a hefty extra cost, so don’t forget to take advantage of the savings offered to foreign tourists and order your JR Pass ahead of your trip!
Go Hands-Free with Luggage-Forwarding Services
While leaving your luggage in the care of a complete stranger may be a startlingly foreign concept to travelers coming from Mexico, prepare to embrace Japan’s abundant luggage-forwarding services with delight. Mega-reliable companies like Yamato Transport Global are ready to receive your luggage at the airport as soon as you get out of customs and ship it directly to your hotel, so you can travel into the city or to your next destination without the burden of a massive suitcase lugging you down.
The same services are available throughout the large majority of hotels in Japan; simply talk to the concierge in your hotel lobby about how to forward your suitcases to your next destination, and they’ll be happy to facilitate the process.
Not only is the service incredibly reliable and trustworthy, but also remarkably affordable, and is an indispensable trick to make your travel plans to Japan unfold with aplomb.