After coming back from my 3-week trip to Japan I wanted to share some of my experiences with you guys. Japan is an incredibly beautiful country and I got to experience so many things I didn’t even thought of.
The country felt so different to everything I’ve seen so far. I think there’s no other place you could compare it with and that was what made it so interesting to me.
Even though Japan is an extremely modern country, the people stick to their traditions. Japanese people have adapted fast to the modernization and globalization without forgetting their roots and traditions.
I was surprised by so many things, mostly in a positive way, that I’d like to give you some tips about what you should know before visiting Japan. And if you haven’t planned on going to Japan yet, you might find some inspiration.
So let’s start with the first part of my 10 tips you should know before going to Japan:
1. Language Barriers
Even though Japan is a very modern country, a lot of people do not know any or at least only basic English. This might be due to the difficulty for Japanese people to learn the language or because of the long-time self-imposed isolation of Japan. Nowadays, Japan is a country open for world trade and globalization but it wasn’t until the late 19th century that they opened their harbours to foreign ships.
And you can still see the effects in many situations. Japan has an immigration rate of less than 2%, you mostly only see Japanese cars driving on the roads and, as you might have expected, they stick to their language.
I don’t want to say that it is a bad thing. I just want to mention and make clear that it might be more difficult to handle some situations. In the end, there’s always a way to communicate even though you don’t have any language in common. But believe me, knowing some basic Japanese phrases or at least having a translation app on your smartphone would be of great help.
Same thing goes for directions or names in English. If you’re looking for a place like your hotel or some restaurant, make sure to always have the Japanese description with you as most of the people won’t be able to make any use out of our alphabet.
2. Politeness of the people
Seriously, I’ve never been to a country where the people are so incredibly kind and polite. Having your first interaction with a Japanese will leave you impressed. During the past 3-weeks it did not occur once that I left a shop after buying something without a massive grin on my face.
It’s just the way the people treat you. They are so caring, always ready to help and you’ll never see them without a smile.
You might think, okay, but how will this help me to prepare myself for Japan?
Well first, most of the interaction you are going to experience is in shops or asking people for help. That already presupposes a hierarchic situation, which is a huge thing in Japanese culture. So while being happy about being treated so nice, always have in mind that it often is a cultural norm.
The other thing with politeness is the concept of “save face” which means that not knowing something or not being able to help is the same as losing one’s face. Always keep that in mind when interacting with the people.
It happened to me a lot of times that I was asking for directions and ended up standing there for 15 minutes with this Japanese person who was trying to explain to me where to go. The strange thing is that they would still try to help you, even though they have no idea at all what you are talking about.
On the one hand, that is incredibly kind of them. On the other hand, it won’t bring you any further to reaching your destination and puts them in an inconvenient situation.
So try to keep that in mind when interacting with people and once you get the impression that they are just trying to help you out of politeness, just say thank you, apologize and move on.
Trust me you are going to save a lot of time on this one and you’ll avoid strange situations both, the Japanese person and you.
3. Vending Machines
You might have heard that there are plenty of vending machines in Japan. But that probably does not even come close to how many there really are. Japan is the kingdom of vending machines; at some point, you would wonder if there are even enough people using them to make it profitable. There is one vending machine for every 23 people!! But it seems to work out.
The first vending machines you’ll come along are probably going to be the common “Beverage Vending Machines”. Most of the times, while standing in front of one you can already see the next one.
Be aware that most of them serve hot (red) as well as cold (blue) beverages. So you can also get a hot tea or coffee which is really convenient. The rest is peanuts! Just put in your money and press the button. There you go!
A little bit more advanced are the vending machines in front of the Ramen restaurants. A lot of Ramen restaurants use vending machines for ordering. You’ll mostly find them in front of the restaurant. If the machine has images of the food, you’re lucky. If not, it might be wise to ask inside for a Menu (if they have one) or to just choose the top-left button (which mostly is their signature Ramen dish).
Prices range from 700 to 1000 yen depending on the toppings. Most of the times you can also add your favourite toppings by purchasing them at the vending machine (mostly some of the bottom buttons).
So again step by step:
Step1: Insert your money
Step2: Choose your Ramen
Step3: Choose the toppings
Step4: Take the receipts and your change
Step5: Bring the receipts to the chef and wait to be seated
Step6: Enjoy your insanely delicious Ramen
You’ll also come along many other vending machines but they’ll work in the same way so you’re well prepared to explore the world of Japanese vending machines!
4. Buying a Metro Ticket
Ok, this is not an easy one as there are many different railway companies owning different subway lines in a city, but also in different cities. It can get quite overwhelming to get an overview of the different lines and fares.
If you want to invest in a day pass, you always must consider which lines it includes. I preferred to buy one way tickets as they combine different lines and I tried mostly to walk my way around the cities (good way to experience a place).
You can purchase the tickets at the small vending machines in front of the gates, just make sure to line up for the ones where it doesn’t say PASMO (rechargeable metro card). Before going to the machine, check out the metro plans hanging on top. You can see the different fares there. If you have found the place where you want to go and it says 200, the trip will cost you 200 yen, doesn’t matter if you have to change trains in between.
It sometimes happened to me that the station names where only written in Kanji (Japanese), so in that case you always have the possibility to go to a vending machine, switch into English and search for the station name you want to go to. It will tell you the amount to pay and you are good to go.
One more tip: keep the ticket once you enter the metro, as you’re going to need it for changing in between different lines and to get out again!
5. How to: Karaoke
Karaoke! Probably one of the first things that come to your mind when you think of Japan. And you’re totally right thinking like that. Karaoke is one of the most hyped activities in Japan.
But seriously, I imagined it being completely different from how it actually was. I always figured a huge room in front of my inner eye, packed with people and a stage where one after another comes up and performs his favourite song. If you had the same expectation, I’m reassured.
But the reality is completely different. You’ll recognize the Karaoke places from outside by their shining advertisements. Once you enter, you’ll find yourself in what looks kind of like a Hotel Lobby. Go to the counter/reception and ask them for their fares. Most of the times, they have a special fare where you start at 10pm and can stay for the whole night (which is the most economic).
Prices start from 400 yen/30 minutes per person and the whole night package will cost you around 1500yen/person. You do the maths.
Once you booked your package they’ll give you a room number and that’s where you go. Not only the lobby looks like a hotel, actually most of the Karaoke places really are built up like hotels. Take the elevator to your floor and look for your room. On the way, you’ll already see drunk Japanese people hanging around and singing in their rooms.
The rooms are equipped with a couch, a table and a TV with a Karaoke machine. It might help, depending on the model, to have someone to explain it to you as everything is in Japanese.
But once you figured it out, unlimited fun awaits you. 2 microphones and the full spectrum of international songs… Prepare yourself for some fun.
Ah, I almost forgot: I still haven’t mentioned the drinks. Well you could either buy them there for high prices or… you could just buy all the stuff you want from a family market or 7-Eleven and bring it with you in a backpack. Seriously, I got told by Japanese people to do so as everyone is doing it. Even though it’s not “accepted”, as long as you don’t walk in with two bottles of Vodka in your hands nobody will care.
To be continued…
This is part 1 of the “10 things you should know about Japan”. I hope I could provide some useful information and you could find some inspiration in my words.
Next week’s article is going to be about Nomihodai, cheap food, transportation and more.
Make sure to stay tuned for the second part of the article.
Please leave me a comment or give me a follow on Social Media if you enjoyed the post!
Thanks a lot for reading and see you next week.
With love, Niko.
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