Going to Japan was a last minute decision for us and I did not realize how much research I would need to do to make the trip enjoyable.
First, as you start to prep the trip, you get a sense of a completely different world. Then it starts to get quite confusing. Will there be signing toilets or holes in the ground? Will the restaurants be four star cuisine or street food? I could go on…
The truth of the matter is that Japan has everything in extreme. I hope this article give you some insight into the country and what to expect.
The main thing to consider is the timing of the articles you read. Japan has changed a lot in the last five years and some of the information is a bit dated. You wouldn’t think five years is a lot but it is.
Things to Remember:
- The Japanese are the most kind, friendly and stand off people you will even encounter. Kind of a mixture right? What I found was if you are sitting at a communal table (think Hibachi grill), they will not acknowledge you at all. But then ask what they are eating and they will go out of their way to help you order and ask tons of questions about where you are from (all in Japanese of course!)
- Most people do not speak English (or Spanish, French, etc). This isn’t like going to Europe where most of the words sound alike. However, google translate works just fine and you will find a lot of signs just have pictures. Japan has a huge tourist economy, mainly from other Asian countries, so they are quite accommodating.
- Food is different. If you are picky, you should leave all your reservations of food at home. I heard from a lot of people that especially westerners get their meals from 7-11. That sounded so strange, but they did have some basic foods like noodles and sandwiches. Don’t be afraid to look at what others are eating and just point to what they are eating when ordering.
- The 7-11s are crazy. Think your local service station, in the middle of downtown. Then add a section for anything you can possibly think of buying. They are still small like the ones in the West but their selection is unlimited. Will buying snacks, we saw a bottle of scotch that was about $5,000 USD. Not behind the counter. Just there on the shelf right next to the other expensive liquors.
- You will eat a lot of fried foods. Tempura at the next level. They fry everything from veggies to meats.
- Kobe beef is just okay. We had it three times in three types of places and our expectations were not met. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but if you are thinking it will be as you imagine, my guess is it won’t be.
- The department stores have tons of restaurants. In the basements of some are little stands that sell anything you can imagine from juices to beautiful pastries. The full restaurants are on the top floors. Again, lots of pictures to tell you what you are eating.
- Sleeping on the floor is cool for the first night. And only the first night. If you are going to spend a bunch to have an authentic experience, I recommend it but only once. The floor isn’t really the issue as that when you walk into your room there isn’t a chair to sit on and places to put your things. If you are staying long term, this gets obnoxious. Ours didn’t have a tv so you couldn’t just lounge around for a bit and relax. If we wanted to take a nap, we had to call for them to make our bed.
- The metro is super easy to navigate once you figure it out.
- The whole idea of being ‘pushed’ into the metro car was not for me. However it was done and wasn’t really that bad. They are so polite about it that you don’t really realize it is happening.
- The Japanese love order and queuing in lines. I saw lines everywhere from stores to getting on the subway. It is really amazing to see when you are used to just hanging around until the train stops.
- The city of Tokyo is really quiet considering it is the largest in the world. On the train, there is no one really talking. They whisper. Even the park had a sign that said, “do not have behavior that would be irritating to others”. I fell in love with Tokyo then and there!
- You will read that they dress up more than other cities. While this is true, it isn’t overly complicated. If you go to Kyoto or touristy areas, people just seem to be dressed like tourists. In Tokyo people wore pretty much anything. The whole “keep your body covered” seemed to be a bygone because I saw plenty of short/tank tops and short skirts.
- I was really really concerned with the toilet situation. Tip: all Starbucks have modern toilets. Yes, I saw ‘holes in the ground’ type toilets, but they were few and mostly in parks. This seems to be a thing of the past as well. The modern toilets have all kinds of features from music (privacy) to water pressure options for the bides. Do not fret because the basic go and flush are pretty explanatory.
Keeping these things in mind, you will not have any trouble navigating the culture. The country is wonderful and you will enjoy!