My Japanese Experience...
While I've heard great things about Japan, I never really had an aching desire to go there. Well...an
opportunity fell into my lap and it was impossible to pass it up.
My friend Dave was going to be heading out to Tokyo for work and he threw out the idea of going to
me (knowing how much I love to travel). He recently got back from a business trip out there and
couldn't stop raving about it.
Now I can understand what he was talking about! It's hard to describe in words...it's something that
just draws you in when you're out there. I was lucky enough to experience Tokyo, Hakone, Nikko and
Kyoto - each having a special and unique quality that the others didn't possess.
In addition to seeing so many wonderful things in Japan, it was almost as fascinating being submersed
into a culture that is so different from our own.
If anybody is ever planning on heading out there, these are some things to be prepared for and to be
aware of when you're out there...
1. They have the same electrical outlets that we have in America. No need to bring electrical adapters!
2. They don't give you napkins at restaurants. Japanese people carry around a little rag-type of thing
(each person has their own unique pattern, etc.) and this is what they use for the day before washing
it when they get home. This leads me to...
3. Much like we have people who pass out little fliers for Chinese restaurants, there are people all over
on the corners of main intersections passing out advertisements...that happen to be on packages of
tissue. Take these. This is very well likely to be your 'napkin' when grabbing something to eat.
4. The toilets. The amazing toilets. Oh, how I love the toilets. Each one tends to be a bit different so
sample all of the features on each one you come across. The toilet seats are heated which makes it
almost a treat to have to use the restroom. I actually found a new feature on a toilet today--it played
music of a toilet flushing. Seriously.
5. Their food is an art. Sushi is to be eaten in one bite (if possible). This is how I'm going to do it from
now on. I feel like I owe an apology to every sushi chef out there that has had to watch me stab out
the avocado with my chopstick.
6. On the topic of chopsticks, they aren't to touch the table. In order to do this, you can fold the paper
that the chopsticks come in and make a little stand for them (if they don't give you the little chopstick
holder). They should only be used to put a piece of food in your mouth. Nothing else. If you aren't
eating, put the chopsticks down.
7. Slurping is okay. It's suggested for the noodles. However, I've learned that this sounds easier than
it actually is. I tried to slurp. I really did. I made the noise but the noodles wouldn't go up. Then when
I was able to get the noodles into my mouth (much like the early bird puts back the worm), I made no
slurping noise and splattered the liquid all over my face. And there was no napkin.
8. Things are not nearly as expensive as people make it out to be. I think once a person has been to
Iceland, there is a whole enlightenment to what is actually 'expensive'. Sure there are extremely
expensive restaurants here. But every big city has those, to varying degrees. But it's extremely easy
to find cheap, great food all over the place.
9. Our ATM cards aren't good at approximately 99% of the ATMs over here. They only accept cards
issued by Japanese banks. Since I'm guessing most Americans don't fall into that category, get yen
before you come out here! Not everywhere takes credit cards (another slightly shocking thing to me
in such a technologically-savvy city) so don't put yourself into a bind.
10. Geisha do exist! That was a fun sight to see.
11. Lots of people where SARS-like masks. I'm almost immune to seeing them on people--that's how
many people wear them. I found out that people wear these when they're sick or have allergies.
12. Their act of bathing is different than ours. They wash themselves off (by sitting on a stool and
soaping up and washing off with a showerhead) before ever getting into a bathtub. This definitely
holds true when going to an onsen (hot spring bath). Also there are different shoes to be worn when in
the bathroom. And eating takes place after bathing both in the morning and in the evening.
13. It's not a myth...people are polite here. Very polite. Even if they can't understand you and you
can't understand them (which will be the case about 90% of the time). You will never be put in a bad
mood when dealing with Japanese people. In fact, I think I've been a nicer person this week than I
have ever been before!
14. Tokyo is not as intimidating of a city as I had thought it was going to be. Nor was Kyoto or the
other places I have been. I haven't done one tour in any place that I've been to. I've been able to
figure everything out by myself. Sure I've gotten lost a few times. But that's part of the fun. I just
know that I have ADD when it comes to tours and I tend to wander off anyway. So why pay to do that
when I can do it for free???
15. Tokyo has so much energy. Tons of energy. I would almost say about 20 times that of New York
16. They drive on the other side of the street. Therefore, when on escalators, walking on the street,
etc., it's important to know to stand on the left and pass on the right. Especially when dealing with the
masses of people.
17. When needing a bite to eat, there are literally too many options. Things might look weird...but
chances are that they taste delicious. Especially the case at restaurants.
18. In America there's diversity. When you go to Europe, there's diversity. Here, there is no diversity.
About 99.4% of people are Japanese. It's kind of weird to think that (unless you're in the Roppongi
area) you really do stand out that much if you're American or European.
19. People don't walk while eating or drinking here. When you buy a soda at one of the many vending
machines, you guzzle it down right there and then. Same goes for buying food at stands, etc. Eat it
there, then walk.
20. The Japan Rail Pass is a must for anybody who is going to Japan and plans to do a side trip to
Kyoto. My train ride to Kyoto would have been about $300-$350 for the times I was going. I paid
$283 for the pass for 7 days of use (it must be bought before leaving the U.S.--can be bought on the
spot at an office that is on the corner of Kearny and Market at 1 Kearny on the 7th floor in S.F.). And
I also used the pass to go to Nikko, Hakone, the Narita Express to the airport and used it all around
Tokyo on the JR lines.
21. Even being in a cab is a peaceful experience in Tokyo. I was in a cab while there was a lot of traffic
out and, in my opinion, there were many horrible drivers on the road. But never once, in a half-hour,
did I hear one person honk their horn.
22. As can be assumed, I couldn't have felt more safe with all of the places I went. I never had to
watch my bag or my belongings.