10 Things You Need To Know About Japan Before Visiting

  • English isn’t spoken: I’ve been traveling for over a year and I’ve grown accustomed to the fact that English is a universal language. Even in developing countries I’ve been able to get by with English. I was shocked to find that Japan is the exception to this rule. The percentage of people that speak English (or are willing to try) is very very low. So if you get lost and need directions, ordering at a restaurant or shopping in a retail store don’t assume you’ll find someone who can help you in English. I recommend that you get a prepaid sim with internet service so you can look up directions online, get used to asking for English menus at restaurants and if you need questions answered while shopping then stick with major retail stores.
  • The Japanese are shy (except when cameras are involved): I knew before coming to Japan that the Japanese are shy but its different to see it in person. This is a very regimented society with rigid rules and boundaries. It reflects in people’s behaviors. That said they’re also the most friendly people I’ve met on my travels and they definitely come out of their shell when there’s a camera in the room. I guarantee you’ll be photo bombed at least once on your travels here. Below is my favorite picture from Japan. Two sneaky ladies photobombed my friend and I at a Starbucks.

Photobomb


 

  • Cash is king: Credit cards are prevalent in most restaurants and stores but I was surprised to find a lot of places only took cash. Back home I rarely carry cash as I’m used to paying for things electronically. Don’t make that mistake in Japan. Make sure you carry enough money with you and check before eating at a restaurant (especially at small places) that they take cards. Otherwise it could make for uncomfortable situation.
  • Japan has signs for everything: The Japanese love order. It shows in the way the city streets, metros and buildings are signed. There’s signage everywhere and it can be a little overkill, like someone went crazy and plastered postits all over the place. This is especially true for metros where the floors have arrows indicating lanes and directions for walking, queues marked for entering the train and lots of interesting (and obvious) warnings on the walls. Below is my favorite:

tokyo-metro-manner-posters-3

 

  • Japan is the cleanest city in the world – with no trash cans: Tokyo is one of the busiest cities in the world and yet its streets are sparkling clean. I mean there’s no trash anywhere. This is something most tourists marvel at. The strange thing is, there’s also no trashcans. I mean I didn’t see a single trashcan in any public place I visited while traveling. The first couple of days it really confused me. I didn’t want to litter, given how clean everything was, but I didn’t know what to do with my trash. Eventually I realized that I needed to carry it with me and then dispose of it later at home. So I got used to keeping a small plastic bag for trash wherever I went.
  • It’s a foodie’s heaven: The wonderful thing about the Japanese is they take great pride in presenting and doing things perfectly. This is especially true when it comes to food. Some of the best meals I’ve had on my travels were in Japan. Whether it’s noodles served in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, fancy meals I splurged on or one of the many sweets I’ve tried, they were all amazing. Tokyo is a foodie’s Mecca. Below is one of my favorite videos from Japan, where I tried Okonomiyaki. This is a savory (Frankenstein) pancake that’s stuffed with tons of ingredients. I mean you have to cut into it with a spatula, puny knives and forks won’t cut it here.


  • Get used to being a gaijin. Japan is a very homogeneous society, so you’ll stick out while walking around the city. The Japanese have a term for foreigners which is gaijin. I’ve never been a minority so I’ve never experienced the feeling of being different before. For me, this was an interesting social and learning experience. Most of what happened was nonverbal, missed social queues and an occasional misunderstanding . This experience has given me some insight to what it feels like to be different (whether by creed or skin color).
  • Weird is normal in Japan: I came across so many quirky things in Japan that eventually I stopped getting surprised accepted them as normal. Whether it’s the kids (or grownups) dressed up in cosplay, themed restaurants and cafes, arcade culture or the capsule hotels. There seems to be an endless list of fetishes that are accepted and catered for in the big cities. It’s very interesting but some border on the questionable (specifically the obsession with images of sexualized schoolgirls). But this is part and parcel of the Japanese experience that you should explore. Below is a video walkthrough of a Sega arcade in Akihabara. I found it interesting that most of the clients where adults and one had his baby strapped to his back while playing on the claw machine.

 


 

  • You will love the toilets: This goes without saying but Japanese love their toilets and so will you once you try them. Japanese toilets are truly a marvel of human ingenuity. These things have heated seats, play music so no one hears what’s going on, it will spray your behind clean and probably 100 more things I don’t know about. Really once you’ve experienced the joy of using a Japanese toilet it’s impossible to go back to a regular one.
  • Japan is the safest country in the world: When I arrived into Japan it was late at night and I caught the last train to Asakusa in Tokyo. I ended getting lost and wandering the streets for a good 40 minutes. But the interesting thing was I felt safe. After spending more time in the country I realized that Japan is the rare place where crime is very low. It’s so safe parents let their young children take the subway to and from school alone. They trust that society is safe enough for them to do this.

Even though I did experience some culture shock in Japan, it’s still a country everyone should visit at least once. It’s an incredible and fascinating place that has a lot to offer and it’s extremely safe for anyone interested in solo travel. Trust me. Go to Japan, you won’t be disappointed.