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Japan: Lost and Found –

Episode 6: Tips for Tourists

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I’m writing this series based on random stuff I find interesting.

But why not make a article or two that has some practical value?

“Look at this, Phyllis! It’s just like Expedia – without the sneaky up-charges!”

Here are some points and tips to consider if you’re thinking of visiting Japan as a tourist.

Get Out of the Tourist Traps

This is advice that rings true for pretty much everywhere in the world. High-traffic areas for tourists tend to be crowded, way overpriced, and just not as cool as other options off the beaten path.

By and large, meal prices in Japan are reasonable given the quality of the food. But prices do vary from store to store, district to district, and region to region. 

I recommend taking the effort to break away from the one-stop tourist strips and find some real local fare, for a better fare!

See Some Lived-In History

Related to this notion of tourist areas, I recommend against going to Kyoto for your first trip. Kyoto is famous for housing some of the country’s oldest buildings, yet so much of it feels manufactured when you’re there. See a temple, wait in line, take a photo. Rinse, repeat.

Instead, I recommend going to a place like Kamakura, which is close to Yokohama. You get access to cultural artifacts from as early as the 10th century, and it’s much better integrated in the town. And the buildings look older, as they age more naturally than the fastidiously primped Kyoto temples. 

Even in Kamakura, I recommend getting away from the main strip near Kamakura Station. You can just get lost and see what you find in a random neighborhood.

My wife and I recently stumbled on a traditional cemetery with graves dating to the 11th century, some of them for major dignitaries of medieval Japanese history.

The train stations adjacent to Kamakura station also offer plenty of beautiful historic places to traverse and explore.

Also, in terms of lived-in history, it’s nice if you can visit Japan during a national holiday. Often there’s a festival to see, or a traditional dance, or a ceremony, or some other activity for residents (and guests) to partake in older aspects of the culture. 

Really: Get Lost!

Japan is one of the safest places to live in the world, and not just in terms of violent crime. Even stuff like pickpocketing and petty theft are extremely rare. They do have organized crime gangs, but unless someone is wading into their rackets, they know better than to mess with foreign citizens. As such, it’s perfectly normal for 5 year old children to travel alone. 

This is a huge boon for tourists, as it allows you to wander around without fear of stumbling into an unwelcome situation. So when I recommend you get lost and explore random parts of a neighborhood, I mean it! 

Thankfully, if you’re well and truly lost, the smartphone is a life saver for those who can’t speak the language. If you need to get back to a station, GPS will be your guide. Otherwise, relax, and find some cool places and people off the beaten path.

Don’t Worry So Much About the Language

Japanese is a really tough language to learn, and most residents there don’t speak enough English to be helpful to tourists.

Still, the language gap is not that big of a deal. Japanese people have zero expectation for you to speak their language. If they see a foreigner, they typically give an English menu, or a picture menu, or have some other way to ensure a smooth process.

That can be frustrating for people who want to flex their language skills, but it works for most tourists.

Even if they can’t hold a conversation, most people want the business, and so they make it work.

In Tokyo, many signs are written out in Roman letters. Street signs, signs in airports and train stations, stop announcements on a bus, these all either provide English translations (東京駅 -> “Tokyo Station”), or Roman transliterations (東京駅 -> “toukyou eki”).

This is often not the case if you travel into the countryside, so I wouldn’t recommend doing that unless you have a guide. Otherwise, the navigational signs are pretty friendly.

Do Be Open to Cultural Differences

Japanese people take pride in visitors enjoying what the country has to offer its guests, particularly those who are open to experiencing Japanese culture.

Not to mention, Japan is a wealthy society full of cutting edge technology and amenities. But despite its somewhat Western overlay, Japan has a very different culture from what most Westerners are used to.

The busiest parts of Tokyo are far more organized than midtown Manhattan—but it’s according to their particular customs and expectations.

It takes a little getting used to, and a lot of paying attention to what others are doing.

Perhaps this section deserves its own article later on.

But for now, just know that the best way to be is open-minded, flexible, and ever-curious.

Such a mindset will be rewarded tenfold with a trip jam-packed with memorable experiences!

More to come later!

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Phylum of Alexandria

Committed music junkie. Recovering academic. Nerd for life.

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cstolliver
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cstolliver
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March 30, 2023 5:08 am

I’ve always wanted to go to Japan. Thanks for the primer on how best to do so.

JJ Live At Leeds
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March 30, 2023 12:18 pm

Seems a bit of a contradiction that Japan is full of cutting edge technology but is still a cash based society. Guess thats one of the joys of travel and discovering the idiosyncrasies.

The targeted ads are on point today; elevate your party with a Hibachi at home. Its almost like this stuff is planned.

mt58
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mt58
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March 30, 2023 4:30 pm

{ +1 for what we webfolkgeeks call “internal linking.” }

Well done. You deserve a coffee mug.

mt58
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mt58
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March 30, 2023 12:25 pm

Not here – mine are all for knee replacement clinics and fiber supplements. Probably just a random coincid–

Hey… waitasec…

dutchg8r
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March 30, 2023 10:32 am

Reading how safe Japan is for tourists reminded me of this interaction year’s ago –

I had a coworker who’s wife always handled their vacation planning. In his words, he just needed to show up and get on the plane. One year she had them visit Puerto Rico, at some resort. He had major trepidations about how safe they’d be. Our manager was born and raised in Puerto Rico, so he was asking her for advice. She told him to stuff a ton of quarters in a sock and pack that on his carry on. Confused, he asks her – why, for tips or something?

Desperately trying to stifle her laughter, our boss was like, no, its so you can beat the people off trying to steal your stuff. And proceeds to mime swatting people with a sock full of quarters.

I need to inform his wife to book them on a trip to Japan for his peace of mind, lol.

Thanks for the tips, Phylum. I agree, the further off the tourist path when traveling, the more enriching the experience.

Speaking of Japanese culture…. you make it to the Cherry Blossom Festival in DC this year? I’ve only ever gone down to it once since moving to the DC area, but it was so perfect I don’t feel a need to endure those crowds again. Just stunning to see those trees in full bloom on perfect spring days. But I would be willing to make the trek downtown one of these years for the kite festival during the whole Cherry Blossom Festival. Are kite’s still popular in Japan, or has that become one of those Americanized-warped traditions?

cappiethedog
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March 30, 2023 3:20 pm

The traffic in Oahu is so maddening. The “Big Island” and Maui are a lot more relaxing. Kauai, too. The parents of a famous professional basketball player loved their Hawaiian Island experience so much, they named their son after him. He played one season for the Toronto Raptors. I bought a cap. I still wear it. I like the logo. In my mind, I’m expressing my Dinosaur Jr. fandom. At a Japanese-specific grocer called Marukai, security, being friendly, bust out the biggest smile and pointed at my cap: “Drake fan? Amirite?” Just to be friendly, I said, oh, yeah, and, oh, no, had to hi-five him. Being on the other end of a person who won’t return your high-five can be a humiliating experience. In the wild, it’s okay to be a Drake fan.

Hibachi = chop suey.

To be honest, the former, I learned from you. Hibachi is used as a synonym for barbeque without any self-conscious Japanese connotations, but I think a lot of us believe that Japanese Nationals call it hibachi, too.

In Japan, they wouldn’t build a rail system that goes nowhere.

JJ Live At Leeds
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March 31, 2023 1:52 pm

On the subject of travel, its adios from me. All packed and waiting for the taxi for an overnight stay at the airport before I join (some of) you in the same time zone. Two week family holiday in the unreality of the magic kingdom with Mickey, Minnie and friends. Imagine we’ll need some downtime from the Disney overload so I might check in from time to time, otherwise see you in two weeks.

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