“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck
Without question, some of my best stories have come from traveling abroad to Asia; the culture, history and customs have made impressions on me and also made for moments of confusion and adventure. I loved my study abroad in Japan, and have wanted to go back for years. With this most recent trip to Japan being Jaiman's first adventure off our home continent, it was refreshing to see this foreign country through his virgin eyes. While many of the memories we made will last forever, I wanted to recap some of the more unique aspects of Japan to keep our memories fresh, before the details start to fade.
Things That Seem Weird / Confusing
- Many restaurants ask you if you want to sit in smoking / non-smoking... this wouldn't be so weird except that we're now used to mostly non-smoking places.
- If you are trying to buy multiple things with a credit card, they will ask if you want to split the charges.
- So many places take cash only - even places that seem like they would take card.
- Buying train tickets can be very confusing!
- Japanese - It's hard, and kanji specifically is even harder to read.
- "Free" public wifi came with excessive "catches" - not really free.
- Some places offer discounts if you have your passport with you (and are a foreigner)... it seemed counter-intuitive to me to carry passports around, I tend to want to protect them, but we missed out on some discounts apparently.
- Some menus specify body parts that make meat sound unappetizing; I would prefer a little bit more detachment from the animal. For example, I just want to order chicken, pork or beef, but the choices are more like cow tongue, chicken tail, pig intestine, etc.
Things I'll Miss About Japan
- Toilet seat warmers with bidets, "showers" and blow dryers
- Double-handed waving
- Public baths / hot springs
- Flavored Kit Kats
- Self-serve drinks even at nice restaurants
- Calling waiter/waitress over when ready for something
- Slurping and bringing the bowl to your face
- Politeness, kindness, understanding and gratitude from every retail and food service employee
- MOS Burger
- No tipping, taxes are included
- Efficient, on-time trains that can take you anywhere
- Beer vending machines
- Crazy cheering at baseball games
- Taking off shoes in public places
Laura - Sumo
Jaiman - Disneyland
Laura - Yaki soba in Miyajima
Jaiman - Pork katsu
Unanimous - Folded crepes
Favorite Kit Kat Flavor
Laura - Mint
Jaiman - Raspberry
We had such a great trip; we really did so much! But Jaiman is already talking about going back. I'm thrilled that he shares both my enthusiasm for travel and adventure as well as my love for Japanese culture and society. I may not love all the food there, but the country is just such an amazing place, and I would love to go back again in the future. As such, we made some notes for our future selves and for others considering a first visit to Japan.
What We Would Do Differently
- Plan trips to different sections of Tokyo better - We first stayed in Meguro and went to Shibuya, Shinjuku, Akihabara and other areas a couple times, and then when we stayed in Shibuya we were leaving to go to Shinjuku and Akihabara. In hindsight, it seemed a little silly to visit places so many times.
- JR pass for Shinkansen - You have to get it before leaving for Japan, and when I had looked at it, it didn't seem like it was a good deal for the time we were there, but it actually would have been a great deal for the second half of our trip, so in the future I would buy it for at least part of the trip, depending on our plans.
- All day bus pass in Kyoto - We didn't know this existed until our last day in Kyoto, and again would have saved us some money.
- Plan more bus tours? - I don't know how much I would like this, but we did so much by foot that it was completely exhausting. I would like to do things that would alleviate some of this walking and maybe give us more culture / history / interesting information.
- Save more money for the trip - This tip came from Jaiman, he loves shopping and I think he felt a little constrained towards the end.
- Learn how to read Hiragana and Katakana - Again, this tip came from Jaiman. While Kanji is very challenging, Hiragana and Katakana is relatively simple and it can unlock quite a bit of the Japanese you see all around you in Japan.
- Learn key phrases in Japanese - How do you ask for a check at a restaurant? Or look for postcards? There are several things that are just easier said in Japanese than trying to pantomime, and you really can't assume that people in Japan will understand enough English to help you.
- Hotels closer to train stations in Tokyo - We did well in Meguro, but our hotel in Shibuya was a bit of a hike. I didn't realize how useful the trains really are, so next time I would plan on taking trains more and stay closer to them so we can come and go more easily.
- Use hotel shuttle in Miyajima - I just had no idea our amazing hotel in Miyajima had a shuttle, and we made this little trek with our suitcases that would have been much easier via shuttle.
- See a show or concert - We were hoping to come across a concert, but other than street performers in Shibuya, we really didn't see much going on. Just another thing that would have been fun (and hopefully gotten us off our feet for a bit).
- Know what the real Imperial Palace is - We happened to find ourselves walking around the Imperial Palace Park, but then I mistook the train station as the palace; it was a huge and elaborately decorated train station!