After a blustery roadtrip back from Chicago (thanks for driving, Georgie!), Lance and I have finally returned home from our whirlwind week in Japan.
We’ll begin our trip report tomorrow, but we wanted to share some insider tips to help you, dear reader, to properly position yourself for your first trip to the land of Pikachu and rice balls.
Tip #1: Japan is still a very cash-based society. This is something we had anticipated, but the amount of places that didn’t take credit cards was astounding for Americans who never carry cash around on them. For example, the Sheraton Tokyo Bay, a huge resort which is part of a major international hotel chain, only takes credit cards to pay for the room; the restaurants, the gift shops, everything else is cash-only. The other frustrating thing is that most Japanese ATMs will not take American debit cards; thankfully, the ATMs in 7-Elevens and the handful of Citibank branches you’ll see can accept your card. Order some yen through your bank at least 5-10 business days before your trip to make sure you get the best exchange rate, as they most likely will not charge you a fee.
Tip #2: There’s, like, no Diet Coke anywhere. Soda is (surprisingly? not surprisingly?) not as big of a deal in Japan as it is in the U.S. Most convenience stores will stock three or four different kinds of soda (Coke, Coke Zero, Fanta Melon, and maybe Kirin Cola), but everything else is a flavored water, coffee-in-a-can, or tea-based. Load up on aspartame before you leave!
Tip #3: English is majority incorporated into Japanese culture, but don’t except everybody to speak English. While nearly all public transportation, like the Tokyo subway lines and the shinkansen (“bullet train”), have signs and announcements in both Japanese and English, and most advertisements and store names will include English, we definitely ran into a bit of a language barrier. Most people we interacted with outside of hotel staff knew very little, if any, English. Thankfully, 6 hours of Japanese audiotape lessons and lots of pantomime will get you pretty far. Still, trying to describe that you want the dining room behind the bookcase at Magellan’s in Tokyo DisneySea is…a challenge.
Tip #4: Just like we butcher Asian food, American food in Tokyo is just not the same. Apparently, hot dogs are big in Japan, and are even served at Mister Donut and Starbucks during breakfast hours. However, these hot dogs are super-skinny and wrapped in a doughy gouza bun, not the dry buns that you have here in America. That, and we had a real hard time finding white-meat chicken anywhere. With the exception of pink-ooze Chicken McNuggets, all of the chicken we had during the trip was dark-meat. Ick.
Tip #5: Make sure to have a currency converter. We used the XE Currency app for the iPhone, and it was immensely helpful. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that 1000 yen is $10. It’s not. 1000 yen is actually like $12.48, and that difference adds up quick. Japan (at least Tokyo and Kyoto) is also not cheap. Thankfully, coming from the East Coast, the prices didn’t seem too out of the ordinary, but not everybody is used to spending $4.50 on an iced coffee.
Tip #6: Let some things go. You’re just not going to get to everything, so don’t bust your ass until you’re in miserable pain trying to hit up every shrine or cat cafe, only to be ornery because of your disappointment in missing this or that. Prioritize, like, three things you want to see/do each day and feel fortunate if you can squeeze in anything else.
Tip #7: The Japanese know how to do donuts. The donuts we had in Japan, even at Mister Donut, were WAAAAY better than any donut we’ve ever had in the States. That, and for whatever reason, these donuts don’t feel all that bad for you; I have no scientific proof for this, but I assume a different oil or something is used in making fried sweets. Don’t miss out on the donuts; they’re fab.
Tip #8: Don’t rely solely on your guidebook. Now, I found a lot of value in the Lonely Planet guides for Tokyo and Kyoto. The guides had great recommendations, good overviews of landmarks and restaurants and local history/culture. But, OH MAN, the maps are really lacking in detail. There are hundreds of tiny little side streets in both cities that just aren’t on the Lonely Planet guide maps. Not only that, but most street signs, especially in Kyoto, are written only in the Japanese kanji symbols and not in Romanic characters, even though they’re only listed in the Romanic characters in the guidebooks. Get a more detailed map when you get in country.
Tip #9: Don’t look cab-drivers right in the eye or they will get out of their cab and intimate you in a language you don’t understand. Me: “Eek! Wakarimasen! Sumimasen!”
Tip #10: There aren’t any trashcans in public spaces. As Americans, I guess we’re just used to throwing trash everywhere, but you become really conscious of how much garbage you produce when there’s no where to dump it. The only trashcans were were able to find were in our hotel rooms and in Starbucks. Yet, everywhere we went in Tokyo and Kyoto was so clean!
…Okay, those are our some of our most important tips! We’ll reveal more tomorrow when we begin our megazord-sized Japan trip report!