5 things every visitor to Japan must know

It’s impossible to make a list of only five things, when it should be 500 or more! But here is the quint-essentials for any first-time traveller to Japan. So, here they are, in no particular order.

Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Pavilion), Kyoto.

 

1. Where easy to slip-on & off shoes

It sounds so stupidly simple, but especially if you’re touring in Kyoto you’ll be slipping your shoes on and off ten times before lunch, and ten times again before dinner. All the temples, shrines, original castles, people’s own homes, restaurants, everywhere you’ll be airing your feet. If you have foot odour problems, then you really, really should pay BodyShop a visit.

 

2. Prepaid phones and SIM cards

This was the hardest to research section. Most countries make it easy to get a mobile phone, and also make it easy to get a prepaid SIM card. In Japan, that is totally not the case. Despite the very low street crime, Japan does have the worlds largest three criminal gangs (the largest numbering over 30,000). So, they have very, very tight restrictions on who they give mobile phones out to. Because Japanese companies and government work on protectionist principles, the local mobile phone market has for a long time locked out foreign competitors, and one mechanism was by using a different radio-frequency and system to work. So, your mobile phone probably won’t work here. It is possible that today’s smart phones, like the Android, iPhones, and tablets may work; expect the worst, but hope for the best.

It seems, that bmobile.ne.jp may be able to help you. You can purchase a SIM card for your smartphone or tablet and use that for upto 1Gb or 14days, and it’s extendable. You order online, and organise for it to be available at an airport post office. See their website for details: http://www.bmobile.ne.jp/english/index.html

Other options? Well, easy to understand websites in English are a rarity. Coupled with lazy companies whose “English” website contains only links to the Japanese-language-only services, make them useless to international travellers (eg: AU).

 

3. When in Rome stuff / Don’t look like a total tourist

This one is about having a bit of decorum, Japanese people are best described as calm, quiet, unassuming, people. It is annoying when people are distracting, loud, and boisterous. Perhaps I’ve lived here for too long. Just watch what people do, how they behave, and go with it. Also good advice when eating unfamiliar food, too.

Generally, it’s a good idea to take few clothes with you when you travel, and buy clothes that are local and in season. Some blogs and “travel experts” claim that they never take check in luggage, but carry all the essentials in carry-on bags, as luggage gets lost at the rate of two passengers per plane (luggage stats, avoiding lost luggage). I still check in luggage, have never flown a dodgy airline, and have never lost luggage (touch wood). Also, your winter trousers might be equivalent to our autumn wear, leaving you freezing, or your summer trousers may leave you melting here. In other countries, looking like a local makes you less of a target. In Japan? Well, the advantage is that when you need help, people are more likely to not just help, but go that extra mile for you. Loud print shirts with “Zombie Apocalypse” written in bold print with fake blood stains might make getting service and help a little more difficult. Looks count for a lot here. Pack plain shirts, jeans, nothing niche, and cover those tattoos (tattoos banned for Osakan public servants). Recommended clothing stores? Uniqlo is new, now quite popular, decent, in season, and cheap. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uniqlo

 

4. You’ve gotta be seated to eat by 11.30am or forget it

Especially if you’re travelling in Kyoto, all the restaurants are getting pretty full at 12pm. I find that I really, really need to eat well, and eat relaxed when I’m doing a lot of walking. So, I want to sit, relax, have space for my bag, and be able to leave my bag at the table, while I go to the restaurant toilet. So, as a general rule of thumb be looking for potential places to eat when you arrive in an area, then do sight seeing, and just after 11am, start looking for a good place to eat. Otherwise, you might find yourself eating at the not-so good places (which will still be decent, but not special), or standing and waiting until 1.30 or so.

 

5. Vending machines are everywhere

It’s true. They are everywhere. You don’t need to bring Thermoses, sippers, or Starbucks travel cups. At ¥150 (£1, €1.20, USD$1.50, AUD$1.50) for the most expensive drinks, it makes life really convenient. Drinks with red price tags in winter are heated, and blue tags means chilled. Also, Seven Elevens, Family Marts, Circle K’s, and so many other convenience store companies are everywhere, that if in a pinch, you can get one of those awful bento box lunches (loaded with preservatives) to fill your tummy for a few hours. Little known fact, there are more temples and shrines in Japan, than convenience stores. When you look around, you wouldn’t know it.

One comment

  1. Andrew says:

    Update, 24th Jan 2014: NTT offers free wifi for foreign tourists visiting the north-east of Japan. However, I’d recommend to keep your anti-virus and anti-spyware software up to date before and while you travel. Also be very careful with your privacy settings. http://www.japantoday.com/category/technology/view/ntt-east-giving-tourists-free-internet

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