Well, for one, the whole trip was awesome! Even before returning back to Seattle, I already wanted to go back. It's difficult to say what was the best thing in
Japan, as it is the combination of all the experiences I had. One thing I really liked, was trying out all the food. Of course it's good thing I already loved
sushi, so I didn't have any problem eating anywhere. Also the sceneries were really nice, temples and such.
Then I was able to do something not all tourists do, go countryside. The contrast between the multi-million Tokyo metropolitan and small mountain village
Tadami was really nice, not to forget the fishing village Kasumi. For me, one of the goals of the trip was to try out my Japanese, and I succeeded beyond my
expectations. Several occasions I was able to talk with the local people. I especially remember the nice atmosphere in Kyoto bar
, where I chatted with few locals while drinking alcohol. Of course being able to speak Japanese helps
when you go countryside, but still I'd urge everyone to try their limits. The people are really hospitable, so as long as you behave nice, and have some way of telling where you want to go, the locals will really try to help you. If you don't speak Japanese, you can still try to pronounce the destination, or have it written on a piece of paper. That way you can tell the locals where you are heading, and I'm sure they'll help you. I still recall the incident in Tadami
, when a woman gave me an umbrella. That was just amazing.
Having visited Japan only once, I'm not sure how good I'd be giving advice. On the other hand, I've studied quite a bit about Japanese culture, so I might know thing or two. Here's few tips someone might find handy:
People will behave nice towards you, so it's polite to behave nice yourself too.
Inside, you never wear shoes. At the entrance, you switch to slippers, which you use to walk around. Typically you take off the slippers when entering any room. Also, it's better to check your socks for extra holes, as quite often people will see you without your shoes. For WC, there's special slippers only for the WC use, so remember to switch to them before entering. Check how the locals do, and you'll be fine.
I didn't have any problem eating with chopsticks, so I don't know if I could have gotten fork and knife, if I had asked for them. I would guess that popular tourist area restaurants have forks and knives, but especially if you don't speak Japanese, I'd recommend to learn to use chopsticks. It's not really that hard, and you don't need to be master with them. Just good enough to manage, and you'll give positive image to the locals. One thing, when laying off the chopsticks, you never ever stick them to the rice bowl. That is considered extremely rude. Almost always there's chopstick rest at the table, or you can lay them on top of any bowl on the table. But never stick them in the rice. When you are eating the rice, of course you stick them there, but that's different. I didn't try what happens if you do this, but probably you would suffer horrible and painful death.
Back home, you can go McDonald's anytime you want. In Japan, please don't. I didn't plan for it, but I didn't eat anything else than Japanese cuisine. If you like sushi, get out and find nice cozy corner sushi-bar, or the conveyor belt sushi to eat quick and cheap. If you don't like fish, or the idea of raw fish, there's still plenty of options. One of my favorite dish while in Japan was the Shabu-Shabu. It was just amazingly good. At the ryokans, you typically get really nice dinners with mixed Japanese foods. Also in each region, try to find out the local specialty. If you have trouble finding a place, find the police box, Koban, and ask from there. Even if you don't speak Japanese, saying out the name of the food you want, they will give you general directions where to go, or show you the location from a map.
-Travel outside the tourist area
If you can, get out from the big cities. It'll be worth it. You'll see completely different side of Japan, than the big metropolitan cities. Also when in cities, take a bus, train or metro away from the downtown, and go eat at the restaurants which are meant for natives. For one, most of the time you get better and more authentic local food there, but also I'd bet you always get the food much cheaper.
Same like with the food, you can stay at the hotel when you go Disneyland in Florida. In Japan, I'd recommend the local ryokans or minshukus. It's completely different world, and will make your trip much more exotic than staying at the standard hotel room. Ryokans might cost bit more than hotels, but they are worth it. Only problem is with booking, but searching with ryokan and the city name, you often find some travel agency page, where you can book the ryokan in English. Also often they have directions from closest station, so finding there shouldn't be a problem. However this would require a bit more explorer mentality, but if you're accustomed to travel in foreign country, go for it.
Japan is cash country, meaning in many places you can pay with credit card, but don't count on it. Better to carry cash. Then comes the problem for foreigners, most ATMs don't accept foreign issued visa-cards. Even though virtually every ATM has the visa-logo, underneath it states it only accepts Japanese visa cards. Lonely planet guide suggest to use Citibank ATMs, or post office ATMs. I found that every 7-Eleven I visited, had ATM that accepted my credit card. Of course I didn't visit every 7-Eleven, so I'm not sure if it applies too all, but that might be worth trying out, if you need cash.
Other things I noticed during the trip. People smoke everywhere. I didn't mind that much, but restaurants were typically quite smoky. Some restaurants have separate sections for smokers, but usually that didn't help too much, the smoke was everywhere. So if you're super strict about smoking, Japan is not place for you.
The local fashion was quite interesting for me. It seemed that for men, the fashionable shoes were long pointed shoes, reminded me of the Leningrad Cowboys band. Women were allowed to dress as they liked. There didn't seem to be any rule about that, the attires were as varied as you could imagine, and more. One thing was common for men and women, you were supposed to have bag. Any bag was ok, as long as you had one. Men were carrying quite femine handbags quite often, but it seemed to be important to have at least something. Also designer wallets were popular amongst men. Huge Louis Vuitton purses, which I though were for women, could be spotted on many men.
As I had phone with Wifi, I was hoping to find hotspots more often. Some reason there weren't too man, I can't really say why. A popular local phone seemed to be a clamshell phone, with rotating display. So when you open the clamshell, you can turn the display sideways for wide screen display, to watch movies or tv. Also one thing in common to everyone in Japan, you're supposed to have a hanging thingy on your phone. No matter if you're company executive in suit, your phone must have one. Must be a law, as seemed everyone had at least one.
Here's google map links to the locations I visited:
If there's anything you feel like commenting, you can drop me email to firstname.lastname@example.org