A friend of a friend recently contacted me and mentioned she was coming to Japan. She had never been before and wanted to know “What can I expect?”
Life has been busy but i wanted to honor her request so I sat down and quickly typed out the following thoughts. It’s based mostly on my most recent time in Tokyo, but also draws from my time around Japan over the past eight years.
What do you think? What have I missed? What would you add for a first-timer coming to Japan? I didn’t want to overwhelm her (I could have written pages 🙂 ) and remember, this is my own personal experience. If yours has been different, tell me in the comments!
1. Japan is a cash society. I always carry at least the equivalent of US$300 on me. I have never been robbed. I HAVE lost my cell phone twice but it has always been returned to me.
2. Trains here are very quiet. No one talks. Trains also are VERY efficient. If they are more than two minutes late, that’s a major incident and people get a bit put out.
3. Everyone has a cell phone but not everyone uses the internet, or knows how to operate a normal camera. Japan is technologically advanced in some areas (toilets, trains, robots) and very very behind in others (telecommunications). Japanese webpages are painful.
4. We just had an earthquake last night that shook the house pretty good. Earthquakes happen. They happen here A LOT. Most times you never feel them. Chances are, nothing serious will happen at all while you’re here. But it’s always good to keep an eye on where to possibly go if a major quake strikes. Ask your host if there is anything you should know.
5. If you have a Mastercard-linked debit card, you can only use the 7-Bank ATMs (like 7-11). Otherwise, you can use any Post Office ATM. NO Japanese bank will accept a foreign ATM card. Don’t even bother.
6. Most places won’t bat an eye when you pay with a 10,000 yen bill (about US $100)
7. Convenience stores are really convenient – you can get full meals, drinks, umbrellas, clothes, stationary, buy concert or sumo tickets, pay bills, etc.
8. It’s getting warmer, but the Japanese won’t dress like we would back home. Shorts are rare, tank tops are rarer. It’s pretty conservative, but as a foreigner, you kinda get a free “pass” on what you wear (within reason!) But always carry extra socks. It’s polite to have socks on your feet in places where you have to take your shoes off.
9. Bathrooms almost always have toilet paper. Some bathrooms just have squat toilets. Many bathrooms almost always LACK paper towels. Japanese carry around a small cloth (like a wash cloth) to wipe their hands at the sink.