Just a collection of things I learned while traveling in Japan that hopefully you’ll find useful if you ever decide to go.
Know basic Japanese. This is even more imperative if you’re actually Japanese, Korean or Chinese (or look the part), because everyone will then assume you are Japanese and begin talking to you in the language. Taking at least an intro course to Japanese would be ideal. That should give you more than enough to get around. You can get around without knowing any Japanese as I did, but just knowing the basics would’ve made the trip much easier. Failing that, I found the following phrases most often used (and helpful)
- Ohaiyo gozaimasu (good morning), konnichiwa (hello), konban wa (good evening). In reality, I rarely heard the latter two phrases, although it’s perfectly fine for you to go around saying it.
- So “why?” to the point above? Because I was usually in a customer situation, I was often greeted with "Irraishamasen!" which is basically, "hello, how can I help you". Just about every store you go in will welcome you with those words. You don’t need to acknowledge the greeting – at least, I rarely saw the Japanese natives acknowledge it – but I often responded with a slight head bow or "konnichiwa" for politeness sake
- Sumimasen (excuse me). I mentioned this in a previous post, but I rarely heard "shitsuree shimasu" used. Instead it was sumimasen everywhere, whether I was trying to get someone’s attention, or just trying to get by.
- Eigo ga dekimasu ka? (Do you speak english?) Sadly, often times the answer will be iie (no), and they might start talking to you in Japanese whereupon I’d respond "nihongo wa hanase masen" (I don’t speak Japanese)
- Wakari masen (I don’t understand) – I used this all the time. On the other hand I rarely used "wakari mashita" (I understand)
- Watashi wa (America) kara – I’m from (America) – fill in with your country of choice
- … wa arimasuka (is there… ?) – In my case, I used in the sense of "coin laundry wa arimasuka?"
- Ippaku dake/ni san nichi… tomari masu (I’d like to stay 1 day/a few days) – used in cases where I was looking for a hotel to stay in
- Ikura desu ka? (How much is it?)
- … wa doko desu ka? (Where is…?) – used in the case of toiree wwa doko desu ka? (where’s the bathroom?)
- niku means meat and is often combined with another word gyuu niku (beef), tori nuku (chicken), buta niku (pork)
- … o ippai kudasai (I’d like a cup of…) – used like mizu o ippai kudasai, because the water cups in every Japanese eatery are tiny and I was always thirsty.
- Beer is biiru. Not biere, which is what I kept calling it for some strange reason. (For whatever reason, probably because I couldn’t communicate with the people, I started conjugating Japanese verbs in my head. I blame my high school French classes)
- o-kanjoo onegai shimasu (Can I have the bill). You can also put your fingers and make an X sign and they seem to understand that as the same.
- Katamichi (one-way), oofuku (round trip) – used when talking to someone to try to reserve train tickets. In practice, I found it easier to just use the machines because they almost always have an English option. You never know if the person you talk to will know any english.
- Shashin o totte ii desu ka (Can I take photos?) – In actuality I never used this, because I wanted to be able to use the "I’m a dumb tourist card" if I was ever caught taking pictures in places I wasn’t supposed to… like I did in Gamers. But if you want to be polite, be my guest.
2.) Staying in Japan
Business hotels can be found cheap. Less than $90 a night in Tokyo. They’re small, but clean. It’s not like you’re going to be spending much time there anyway.
Youth hostels are cheaper, probably around $30-50, but I didn’t end up staying at one.
Capsule hotels are around that price as well and are a good option if you didn’t make a reservation elsewhere, or got caught out late.
You can also stay overnight in Internet cafes, but I don’t think I’d recommend it. I visited one to actually use the Internet, and a.) the computers are slow and sucky and b.) the tiny room (it’s like 10′ x 4′) reeked of cigarette smoke. The capsule hotels end up being a similar price and come with showers/baths. On the other hand, you do have easy access to all sorts of fapping toys in the Internet cafes.
Love hotels may actually be the best value. They’re similar in price to business hotels, but you get a larger room and you can check out later (most business hotels check out at 10am, love hotels are 11am). You can also bring in guests (since that’s what they’re for), and you get free porn. On the downside, the people who run them usually speak no english, and you usually can’t check in for the night until 8pm or so. Also, don’t expect them to have Internet access or other amenities like laundry machines.
3.) Staying connected
Take your laptop, make sure it has an ethernet connection. If you’re in a business hotel, you can rent a computer, or you can visit the aforementioned Internet cafes, but the computers are slow and sucky. I rarely found wireless networks while in Japan, either in Kyoto or Tokyo or anywhere in between.
4.) Getting around
Most train station signs have English translations. But there were actually plenty of stops in Tokyo, of all places, where the subway map was completely in Japanese. The best thing to do is get an English copy of the map and keep it with you. The subways are great, really clean and really efficient. Every single stop has coin lockers, so don’t lug your stuff around if you don’t need to.
Reserving tickets isn’t difficult, but like I mentioned above, try to use the machines where possible, because there’s a good chance the human staff won’t know English.
I would recommend avoiding the subway during rush hours though (8-9.30am, 5-7pm), especially if you’re carrying bags. You’ve never seen a packed house until you’ve been in a Tokyo train stuffed to the gills. People swaying back and forth in unison and then everyone pushing to get out at each stop. It’s shocking that more people don’t get trampled.
Taxis in Japan are expensive. Avoid them where possible, or use them only for short trips. Also, I noticed that street addresses are pretty much useless in Japan. While all the taxi drivers that I met were really helpful, each time I showed them a street address of the hotel I was going to, they just ended up calling the hotel to get better directions. So if you’re going to specific places, yeah, have the address with you, but better yet, make sure you have the phone number, because otherwise you’re probably going to end up going in circles.
Everything costs money. From getting into gardens to using coin lockers. So carry lots of it. Particularly, keep those 100 yen coins handy, because many coin operated machines (like the gachapon machines and coin lockers) don’t accept anything but them. To use an international ATM card, there are 2 choices: Citibanks and JP Bank. You can pull more money out at once in the Citibanks, but they’re few and far between. The JP Banks are much more prevalent, but you can only pull out 10,000 yen per transaction. And from my experience I could only pull out 20,000 yen total from one machine.