10 things to know before going to Japan

I’m just back from my three-week trip to Japan and I cannot stop thinking about the many ways in which this country amazed me.

I had a little checklist and I couldn’t see/do everything in that but I’m not complaining! This is because I experienced wonderful things that were not in my list in the first place and got to know some really nice people who I want to keep in touch with.

They do stuff differently in Japan, to very good effect! Here are 10 things to know before going to Japan.

Tokyo skyline from the 45th floor Tokyo Metropolitan Building South tower observatory

Tokyo skyline from the 45th floor Tokyo Metropolitan Building South tower observatory

1. The Japanese are polite: I had the idea that I was a reasonably polite person, but that was, of course, before I set foot in Japan. If you know a really polite person, multiply his or her politeness by five, and you get the average Japanese. Here’s an example – if you’re blocking the way and a cyclist cannot pass by, the person will disembark and walk behind you till you move aside rather than ringing the bell. Have a smile and “arigato” (Japanese for thank you) ready at all times.

2. Bathing naked with random strangers is normal: Have you heard of the onsen? No? Onsen is Japanese for “hot spring” and this country has thousands of them. The Japanese use the mineral-rich water of these springs in public baths all over the country. You get into a bathhouse, strip to your birthday suit, wash yourself clean and immerse yourself in the hot water tank to soak, along with of course, the several other people (of the same sex; there are hardly any mixed onsen) who are doing the same.

Shinkansen trains at a station

Shinkansen trains at a station

3. Bullet trains are the coolest: I have not been on the superfast trains of China, but I have travelled in European high-speed trains and I think the Japanese bullet trains, known as Shinkansen, are way cooler. I was as excited as a child to see my first Shinkansen in Japan and riding it felt like an aircraft about to take off! The service is impeccable and if you ask me, a trip to Japan is incomplete without a ride on the Shinkansen.

4. Very safe country: Japan is a safe country by any standards and if you’re a female traveller looking to embark on your first solo trip, Japan should be at the top of your list. Even if they are unable to understand your language, most Japanese people would do their best if you asked for advice or help.

Ice cream from a vending machine in Beppu

Ice cream from a vending machine in Beppu

5. Vending machines sell nearly everything: These machines are practically everywhere in Japan and you could buy all kinds of soft drinks, beer, cigarettes and even electronic gadgets at these machines.

Sashimi at Kyoto's Nishiki Market

Sashimi at Kyoto’s Nishiki Market

6. Get set to eat raw fish: You may or may not like sushi and sashimi, but for a proper Japan experience, you must try these and all sorts of other food which you find totally weird but are quite the regular stuff in Japan. Nishiki Market in Kyoto is a good place to start satiating your adventurous taste buds.

7. Hiroshima is a must in your itinerary: I would highly recommend checking out this city and visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. This is an unusual recommendation coming from me since I do not like to do things (see sad movies/read sad books) that depress me. But despite the fact that the visit to the museum greatly disturbed me, I think this experience was important to me as a human being in understanding better the world and age we live in. But today’s Hiroshima has come a long way from just being the city through which the world entered the nuclear age. Try the Hiroshima okonomiyaki when you are there. The city’s version is very different from the okonomiyaki you get at restaurants in other places of Japan.

At the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Hiroshima was bombed on August 6, 1945 and 8.15am

At the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

8. Japan is gamers’ heaven: There are huge gaming parlours in all big cities and even if you are not into gaming, you should just get inside and look around. It’s a crazy and noisy world in there with hundreds of gamers playing computer games weirder than the next one.

9. Popular culture: The Japanese love their animation and manga (you find the comics selling at all small and big convenience stores) and adore their sumo wrestlers. With geishas and kabuki dancers stirring the culture cauldron further, be prepared to be amazed if you can catch a butoh performance. Also, the Japanese people love to sport their traditional yukata and kimono, especially on special events such as festivals and I noticed that most of them like to flash a victory sign when posing for a photograph!

10. Expensive Japan is a myth: I did not find Japan any more expensive than, say, West Europe or Canada. I spent around INR1,55,000 ($2,623 at current prices) for my three-week trip. This includes airfare to and from Japan and the two flights I took within the country when I got stranded on an island because of a typhoon. You could spend a lot less if you were travelling in the mainland and not visiting the islands. A three week trip excluding airfare to and from your country could then be around INR82,000 (around $1,370).

I already want to return to Japan!

If you’re planning a visit to this awesome country, check out my Japan guide here.

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15 Comments

  1. Surya Bhattacharya August 8, 2014 at 10:36 #

    Man! This is fascinating!! I think you should have mentioned the toilets though, everyone loves Japanese toilet stories 😛 Or are you saving that for a post of its own?
    One hotel is Delhi has those type of toilets. Fascinating 😛
    How did the sushi taste by the way… Is it RADICALLY different from sushi around the world?

    Reply

    • Andy August 8, 2014 at 11:20 #

      I totally agree that I should have mentioned here how the Japanese are No.1 when it comes to the No.2! They are indeed fascinating and I have to write about them in another post.
      I am not a sushi fan and I didn’t think they tasted radically different from elsewhere. But it certainly was yum!

      Reply

  2. Britany Robinson August 8, 2014 at 23:13 #

    I would love to visit Japan. Good to know that it isn’t as expensive as I’ve heard!

    Reply

    • Andy August 9, 2014 at 08:22 #

      It’s a fascinating country! And in most cases, it’s the way you travel that decides how expensive or cheap a place is going to be for you.

      Reply

  3. Katie@From Shores to Skylines August 9, 2014 at 06:00 #

    I think I’d go to Japan just to see all the vending machine options! haha! Oh, and eat sushi.

    Reply

    • Andy August 9, 2014 at 15:43 #

      Don’t forget the ramen! Let me know before you go and I’ll tell you the restaurant where you get the best ramen ever!

      Reply

  4. Chanel | Cultural Xplorer August 9, 2014 at 14:44 #

    Great tips for Japan. I did not try the onsen the last time I was there, but the next time around I might go for it 😀

    Reply

    • Andy August 9, 2014 at 15:44 #

      I was afraid I might chicken out at the last moment! But I surprised myself and played it very cool 😉

      Reply

  5. Travelling Penster (@travellingpens) August 9, 2014 at 19:46 #

    Oh I loved Japan’s quirkiness! I lived there about 10 years ago, for a little over a year. The constant lights and noises are something to warn people about too!! hehe! And the 300 yen restaurant/bars! Loved those :)

    Reply

  6. Mytanfeet (@Mytanfeet) August 27, 2014 at 02:19 #

    Great tips! Had no idea Japan had open bathhouses or that it was normal to be naked in them. Good to know!

    Reply

  7. Hannah August 27, 2014 at 05:06 #

    Great tips! I loved reading that Japan is safe- especially as a solo female traveller, because it top of my list! Also nice to hear someone else getting the polite stigma other then we Canadians 😉

    Reply

    • Andy August 27, 2014 at 17:34 #

      You’ll love Japan. And haha “the polite stigma”? I’ve met some very helpful and polite Canadians :)

      Reply

  8. Brianna August 27, 2014 at 06:03 #

    I’ve always been fascinated with Japanese culture but have yet to make it there

    Reply

    • Andy August 27, 2014 at 17:35 #

      Japan is SO unusual and awesome.

      Reply

  9. Sarah Ebner August 27, 2014 at 19:09 #

    I’ve always wanted to go to Japan and your post has made me want to do even more! I’d love to try the bullet trains and am already a sushi fan. Can see why you want to return.

    Reply

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