Likes & Dislikes

Opinions

Likes

1. Organization
2. Cleanliness
3. Service quality
4. The precision of the public transport system, which follows a comprehensible inner logic
5. Coffee shops
6. “
Konbini” – small shops which are open 24 hours a day, and where you can find everything from groceries and socks to sellotape
7. Easy to find lots of free brochures and maps, and (generally in JR railway stations or nearby) tourist information
8. Despite the language barrier, locals are happy to help
9. A wide range of delicious food
10. Spectacular natural beauty, diverse landscapes

Dislikes

1. In rural information centers it sometimes turns out that they don’t speak English (though they’re more than happy to help, and after all we don’t speak Japanese…)
2. Vegetarian (or vegan) food can only really be found in city restaurants, and often waiter’s don’t have any clear idea what vegetarian even means (you have to specify one by one the things you can’t eat) though this is hardly unique to Japan
3. So-called ‘maps’ are often just rough, skewed sketches, not much better than children’s doodles
4. If a given situation doesn’t unfold as expected, locals often respond with inflexibility and indecision – best to come prepared with a Plan B as well
5. Hordes of Chinese tourists often pour in, and tend to be noisy, disordered and messy
6. Noise pollution: everywhere you hear three different songs blasting at once (especially in shopping centers) and all the machines talk to you
7. Transportation is relatively expensive
8. There is often no soap in bathrooms (but at least they’re free. Sometimes there’s no toilet paper either. Locals generally carry a little pack of paper hankies or buy them from a vending machine)
9. Lots of small towns with similar names. Why are there nine Asahis?!?
10. Smoking in restaurants and cafes is permitted everywhere (but not on downtown streets)

(Kathy, 2016)

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k.r. photo

Travelling to Japan is like buying a ticket to the world’s biggest theme park. Since things here almost always run perfectly, so they practically happen by themselves, you don’t need to pay attention to anything except the sheer Japaneseness of it all, which just gets more and more overwhelming. Then, when it all gets too much, you can ease yourself into a hot onsen and let time stand still for a while. Or head to a karaoke bar. (2017)

The Japanese work ethic. I don’t know about you, but personally I find eight hours in the office more than enough. Of course, we all have to put in a little overtime now and then, but the Japanese are on a whole different level of workaholism. It seems that people here live to work, whereas my own philosophy has always been more about working to live. A 12-14-hour working day is by no means unusual, and if someone takes a notion to go home early (generally any time before ten in the evening) then he’s liable to get a stern talking to from his colleagues or neighbors.”

The locals are a bit strange, and at first I was still sensitive to this. People in the service sector are excessively nice, and though there’s hardly anyone who speaks English, you can still ask anyone for directions, because they’ll drop what they’re doing and won’t rest until they’ve got you on the right track.
Society is based on humility, so people don’t focus on themselves, and instead try not to embarrass themselves in front of others. So for example sick people wear masks, so they don’t inadvertently infect others. They don’t swear either, as this would be shameful, and it appears they are very embarrassed to have to say “I don’t know” etc. Still, don’t count on making any real friendships – this is a rather closed culture, though some people did invite us for a glass of shōchū.

Young people are more open than older people, and amid the million bars you’re sure to find someone to talk to. I didn’t find it difficult to make some connections. All the same, there are plenty of oddballs on the streets. Nobody pays any attention to how anyone else dresses, which can lead to some peculiar results. Don’t be surprised if you end up sitting next to Snow White on the metro. You could spend a long time trying to get to the bottom of the Japanese worldview, and why they behave as they do.

Food and accommodation, like everything else, is hideously expensive. Hostels are clean and comfortable. Even if you end up in a room with ten other people, they always arrange everything so there’s no discomfort whatsoever. What’s more of a problem is finding your accommodation. There are no addresses, or at least no street names which a foreigner can read, and finding Airbnb addresses in particular is always somewhere between damned difficult and completely impossible. Try to get very detailed instructions from your host, with photographs if possible. GPS is indispensable, so it’s a good idea to get a SIM card or carry an internet hotspot (the latter is cheaper). This also makes eating and drinking easier, because there are such an unbelievable number of places that it’s easy to remain hungry from indecision and an overabundance of options.


Practicals

Transport

Trains are always on time.

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“The train is the most important means of transport in Japan – relatively few people travel by car. On trains and subway cars (and on the plane), young people play with their phones, while middle-aged and older people sleep. Nobody talks or speaks on the phone.

It’s funny to observe the worship of the iPhone; the best android phones are made by Samsung, in neighboring Korea, but here Apple is god. In general, they love everything American, and all white people are assumed to be American.

Interestingly, the Japanese drive on the left. I preferred to get around by bike, since that way I didn’t block up the traffic. Plus they are forgiving if I make a mistake, since (as an obvious ‘American’) I mustn’t have been in the country for long, and can’t be expected to know the rules.

It takes a day or two to get used to the driving system, and after that, it isn’t so interesting to drive in Japan. It’s worth avoiding the morning rush-hour (which the Japanese sleep through anyway) and the evening one as well because this aggravates even the usually courteous Japanese, and they can get pretty belligerent in their vehicles.

In Tokyo, people stand to the left of the escalator, while in Nara and Osaka they stand to the right. In Kyoto, it varies.”

Japan - taxi - lace embroidered backrest and taxi driver in white gloves - j.k. photo

Japan - women-only car on train - Krista photo

Food

“Foodies come to Japan with huge expectations and, at least when it comes to the efficiency of public transport or general cleanliness, those won’t be disappointed. Although after three weeks we’d say we enjoyed Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine more than that of Japan, we still have to admit that it’s hard to eat badly in Japan. As elsewhere in the country, there are no unpleasant surprises when it comes to gastronomy, and quality is always high.

On the other hand, at least for those of us accustomed to prices elsewhere in Asia, it doesn’t come cheap, so it became the first place on our trip where we had to forego certain dining experiences on the grounds of price. So for instance we never got to experience Japanese imperial haute cuisine, kaiseki, which focuses on the masterful preparation of vegetables, and we have no idea how much better $300 sushi is than the $60 kind.”

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“There are a lot of restaurants, each generally no bigger than a single room back home. Picture a long counter separating the chefs from the customers and a couple of tables and chairs. You can watch the whole process of food preparation, and plenty of people can squeeze in along the bar to eat their bowls of hot ramen. There’s generally a long queue outside such places, and the schedule is as follows: you order, you eat, you finish, and you leave.

Not a whole lot of chat, but a lot of slurping. Here, if you slurp when you eat the soup, it means it tastes good. Not many seemed to enjoy it when I tried the same thing back home, though. You’ll get the check at your table, and when you’re done you go to the checkout to pay. So far I’ve never spotted any errors.

There are a small number of restaurants where credit cards are accepted, but for the most part, you can only pay in cash. Make sure to always have some with you! We thought we’d be able to pay by card in some places, but it turned out we couldn’t! 😊”

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“In all the less-expensive restaurants we visited in Japan, the army of plastic example dishes in the window seemed an indispensable feature. Even after three weeks, we couldn’t get enough of staring at them, though they often don’t look great, and when they try to imitate Western food they’re downright scary. There’s nothing more terrifying than a plastic model of a calzone pizza which attempts to capture the moment the tomato sauce spills out through a cut in the dough. The advantage of the models, however, is that you really can work out exactly what a given restaurant sells, even if nobody inside speaks a word of English. It’s enough to drag the waiter out onto the street and point at the tastiest-looking plastic dishes.”

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 Sushi

“Japan really does have the best sushi! There is an amazing amount of fresh fish on sale at the Tsukiji market, so no wonder the quality of the sushi is also excellent, though prices can also be sky-high. BUT you can also easily find cheap sushi in Tokyo, and there’s no real decline in quality.

I recommend Ganso sushi, i.e. Sushi Go-Round. Though you don’t get to place your order with an iPad, they do serve high-quality fish in good-sized portions, together with free green tea and a smile. For the tea, you will find hot water and powdered green tea on your table, a tablespoon of which is more than enough.

If it’s Michelin-star sushi you’re after, there’s plenty of that, too. You just need to make sure you book your table in good time – perhaps even months in advance. We did balk a little at the cost, which can easily exceed $300, though of course, it will be a lifelong memory.

A tip: many restaurants have a lunchtime menu which can cost as little as a quarter of the evening menu. We went to the Katsura Sushi restaurant, where a 15-piece set with miso soup and green tea cost just 1,050 yen, or about $10. We sat at the bar and watched the sushi chef as he prepared our meal, which was served right away on a bamboo mat. Is that a deal or what? That’s why I’m recommending it to everyone! It’s worth being there at opening time, 11:30 AM, to get one of the few seats. It’s a small restaurant, but popular with the locals, and the food is full of flavors (a great experience).”

Japan - sushi - k.s. photo

Japan - food display - s.k. photo

Japan - Kyoto - our meal - b.k. photo

Shopping

“It’s probably possible to get conned in Japan too, but it would take a lot of effort on a visitor’s part. Things are expensive here, but with matching quality – we certainly never found any exceptions to this rule. If food costs a lot, it’s also delicious. If a train ticket is expensive, the journey is fast, and punctual to the second. If the beer is expensive, they pour it more expertly than any German. We had no doubt that the $16,000 kimono we saw in a shop window would we worth every penny – at least to someone who knew how to judge the quality of a kimono. At the same time – and this is the point, for us at least – you can also find great quality in Japan for a very reasonable price.”

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“The products on the shelves of a Japanese supermarket look like the result of a bet made between two plutocrats decades ago: one said that it would be impossible to combine all the tastes in the world with all the foods of the world. The other said, ‘give me time, and I will show you all combinations are possible’. The kinds of food and drink you can buy in Japan fit perfectly with the stuff you see on the streets. I didn’t have much luck with the haute cuisine, but the lychee-and-salt soft drinks, tomato beers, wasabi chocolate and ramen sold from Blade Runner-style steaming cauldrons on street corners more than made up for it.” (2017)

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“Everyone in Japan is polite, and they greet you when you walk into a store. They are very helpful, and you are always very aware that you are receiving attentive customer service. They too seem to be very self-consciously attempting to provide outstanding service to you.

Payment in stores: In 99% of cases there is a little bowl at the checkout. You put the money into it, and the cashier lifts the bowl with BOTH HANDS (this is a sign of respect), then gives it back with the change, again with two hands. Most of the time they seal the bag with your products inside so that the security at the door doesn’t think you’ve slipped something else into it on your way out. Everywhere you’re given a plastic bag for free.”

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Fruits and beers are expensive.

for 1000 yen (9 USD) you get a meal in an inexpensive restaurant 


Japan - okobo, wooden sandal - doesn't look comfortable - m.m. photo

Fun

A visit to a cabaret club (keba kura) in Ginza (Tokyo) cost, on average, US$500-600 per head for about 2-3hours - just sitting and drinking cheap whiskey with young staff ladies.

Japan - karaoke madness - s.o. photo

Public safety

In Japan (not so much in Tokyo), it is common practice to leave your wallet and mobile phone on the bar when you go to the toilet, to reserve your seat. That is normal, and everybody does it. No one will steal your belongings.

Japan - bike patrol officers

Health


Japan has excellent public health and epidemiological situation; no vaccination is required for travelers.


,, Hygienic maximalism
The bowls of most toilets in Japan include a built-in, bidet-like device, from which a jet of water washes our nether regions after we’d done our business. This is now common in Japan, both in private homes and in the better class of public restrooms. On the other hand, the restrooms in most train stations and many other public places still employ the traditional Japanese squat toilet. Still, even these are electronic. Before pressing the buttons, it’s worth examining them closely, since for the benefit of foreigners an icon generally indicates the function of a particular button. Generally, it’s the blue button you’ll be looking for, while the red one is best avoided – it is generally the ‘help’ button and comes with a loud siren. You can try it, of course, but best to do so back at your accommodation.
In almost all public toilets, especially those for women, there is a childcare booth. This includes a pretty little baby seat, where mom can place the child to sort out whatever needs sorting out. There are also washbasins and urinals for little boys at knee height. There is also a changing room and a packing area, and of course, everything is regularly cleaned. Not that it’s as necessary as elsewhere: even young children are taught to leave the facilities as clean as they found them.”

Japan - protection

Others

Writing down your question in English will often get you a better response than speaking English, e.g. at information booths in train stations.

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“You can bathe in most hotels, for free, though only if you’re naked. Anyone hoping for an eyeful of some good-looking members of the opposite sex should curb their enthusiasm, however: this isn’t unisex bathing. The hotel will explain that the gender permitted alternates hourly. If you’re already in the pool, then there’s something you probably won’t understand: you may find yourself in the water, next to someone with – for no discernible reason – a little plastic stool in their hand. For the Japanese, bathing – like everything else – is a kind of ritual, and the actual washing is done sitting down under a shower, and the stool for this purpose can be bought in almost any shop. Then, after you’re clean, you can come and soak yourself in the hot water for a while.
However, the tub is roughly similar to the European version only in outward appearance. It is a roofed, fully covered and heated bath facility in which the water is changed only about once a week. Given that everyone washes thoroughly before getting into the water, this isn’t as strange as it sounds. In most cases, you can control the heating of the pool from anywhere in a Japanese house, using the in-built thermostat, which also tells us when the water has reached the desired temperature.

When you suddenly hear a female voice in the middle of the night, saying something in Japanese (that the bathwater is ready) you may take up your cross, your garlic, and whatever you’ve gathered from watching Japanese horror films. It will be little match for this state-of-the-art technology.

Japan - Kyoto - hair make and kimono rental - Krista photo

Background

Japan - national flag - 日本の国旗

Destination in brief

Japan in brief

Japan is an island country in East Asia. It consists of 6,852 islands. The 5 main islands are Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku, and Okinawa. The closest continental country is South Korea.

Size: 377 973 km² (145 936 mi²) – 70% of its territory is mountainous

Population: 127 million (2020)

The birth rate is so low that more adult diapers are sold in Japan than baby ones.

Japanese have the highest life expectancy in the world due to their diet and lifestyle. They are a very healthy people and exercise regularly. On average, men live until they are 81 years old and women 87 years old.

Language: Japanese

Capital city: Tokyo

Religion: Shinto and Buddhism are Japan's two major religions. Shinto is as old as Japanese culture, while Buddhism was imported from the mainland in the 6th century. Since then, the two religions have been co-existing relatively harmoniously. However, most Japanese do not care about religion at all and do not even know the difference between Shinto and Buddhism.

Currency: Yen (YPY)

Outside most restaurants, you will find fake replicas of the food that the restaurant serves! You may also find moving replicas! Yes, animated food. In Japan only.

Driving is on the left side.

Most frequented surname: Sato.

Average net monthly salary: 2,340 USD (2020)

Cleaners in Japan are called “health engineers”. Some of them earn as much as 5-6 thousand USD per month. Both a written and a verbal exam are required to get such a job.

The weirdest thing about Japan is the toilets. They do just about anything, even sing. You can also press a button, and the seat will warm up, so your bottom does not get cold!

Best time to visit Japan: March-May, October-November (summer can be too hot)

Most frequented tourist attractions: Kyoto, Tokyo, Hakone, Nikko, Nara, Osaka, Tsumago

Climate


In Japan, the rainy season (tsuyu) usually lasts from late May to mid-July. The summer months (June to August) are characterized by warm Pacific air and, as a result, high temperatures and humidity throughout Japan. Late summer is the typhoon season, especially on the shores.

,, Japanese are afraid of getting wet in the rain. They take all weather reports seriously and always bring an umbrella even during sunshine if there's the slightest chance of precipitation. Umbrellas are everywhere, too; convenience stores may lend you one, and you'll find umbrellas in wending machines. Watching foreigners walking in the rain without any rain protection is strange to most Japanese."

Nowadays

,, Traditional Japanese homes don't have central heating and are poorly insulated. In wintertime, the warmest spot in the house is either the heated toilet seat on a fancy Japanese toilet or a kotatsu, a low table with blankets, and -beneath - some heat source."



People

Japanese believe in modesty and politeness over all else.

In Western societies, when talking about oneself, one point towards the heart. In Japan, one point toward the nose.

Japanese employees can opt to take their salary in cash - to hide from the wife how much they earn.

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,, For such polite people, it is interesting to note that many of our Western notions of courtesy are not observed here. For instance, nobody lets a woman precede them through a doorway. It may be more practical their way, however, since whenever I stopped to let a woman go first, as I’d been taught in my youth, a big crowd built up behind me, and it was clear I’d blocked the normal flow of people."

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“All employees, from shop assistants, elevator operators, and railway personnel to receptionists, and basically anyone else you interact with, is sure to greet you in a loud, sing-song voice. Walking into a shop, you’ll hear a loud ‘Ohayou Gozaimasu!’ – good morning! – or ‘Konnichiwa!’ – hello! Then, when you leave, it’s the parting ‘Arigato Gozaimasu!’ Everyone goes out of their way to make you feel like they are there for you, and are happy to be of service.

If you give them something, they take it with two hands and bow instead of shaking hands. On trains, conductors always turn at the door and bow to the customers before leaving the carriage. On the other hand, many books claim that this Japanese politeness is very superficial and that they are generally quite distant from one another.”



Japan - Tokyo - girls - Krista photo

Japan - bride before wedding ceremony - n.g. photo

Tourist etiquette

1. Wearing a clearly visible tampon in an onsen (Japanese hot spring) is perfectly normal.

2. If you are at a party in Japan,  it is not appropriate to pour yourself a drink in your glass. You have to wait for someone else to do it for you. It is a proven trick to offer a fill or refill for someone else and hope that the one will reciprocate.

Gastronomy

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Japan - master - s.k. photo

Attractions

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