There are several main things about Japan that are entirely different from the United States that took some time getting use to.
First of all was the cash. It wasn’t hard to convert the currency exchange, it was more the fact that only 3 out of 10 stores accepted debit or credit cards. By the time we arrived in Osaka, I had used all the cash I had brought with me. Even after trying every avalible ATM, I was unable to withdraw any more. I’m not use to carrying cash around with me as almost every store in Seattle accepts cards. The main places that took cards were the convenience stores, luckily they have a ton of food there so I didn’t starve. XD
We were told that the main reason Japan hasn’t switched over to an all digital system is due to the fact that 60% of the society is at least 65 or older. The older generation grew up within a cash society, so they are skeptical of changing it. Thus, Japan has stayed a cash society even to this day.
Second thing I noticed day one was the garbage cans. You will be lucky to find two or three public trash cans within any city. If you have trash, you have to put it in your pocket or in your bag until you either get home or toss it in the trash cans within the convenience stores.
This is because of the internal terrorist attack that happened back within the 90’s where Buddist supremacists put gas bombs within trashcans on the subway systems. To have this never happen again, Japan decided to get rid of all public trash cans.
Third thing that really caught most of us off guard were the Japanese bathrooms. It wasn’t so much the squat styled toilets or the many bidets and heated seats, it was the lack of soap. The only public bathrooms we found to have hand soap were some of those within Tokyo Station. Other than those, it was only water.
To me, as a chef, I was pretty disturbed by this fact. Since I was a child, I was taught to always wash my hands after going to the bathroom to prevent the spread of germs. So to only have a ‘rinse’ type system in Japan was slightly appalling. It made me not want to touch any handles to be honest.
Fourth thing I noticed was the health practices within restaurants. Coming from America, we have to pass a short test to be able to handle food given to the public. This is called a food handlers card which lasts two years. In some of the higher end restaurants you have to pass a stricter food handlers test called the ServeSafe. This exam usually costs $100, lasts five years, is very detailed and can be hard for even those who have been in the business for years.
One of the main things you first learn in a restaurant is to never, ever handle ready to eat food with bare hands. You must always wear gloves with these types of food. I saw more than several incidents in Japan were this basic rule in America was not followed. I know it’s because I was in a different country, but because food is my life at home, I couldn’t just ‘get over it.’ Expecially since I knew most public bathrooms lacked soap.
Before I had left, my doctor told me that Japan is pretty clean and that I didn’t need to worry about anything. However, after noticing these small details that might not seem like a big deal to others, I began to doubt the actual so called ‘cleanliness’ of Japan.
Although the streets, businesses, subways and buses were extremely clean, the health practices in the bathrooms and restaurants make it extremely clear why 2/10 people constantly wear face masks.
Out of all the cities we visited Osaka was probably my favorite because the entire city was like a giant mall. While I loved the atmosphere of Tokyo and being there in the moment, there were too many people for my introverted self. I was glad we had only stayed three days, any longer and I think I would have begun to hate everything about the big city.
Atami was such a quiet little city and was absolutely peaceful. I loved the fact that you could go out walking in the morning as a foreigner and the locals would try to talk to you. Most were pleasantly surprised when we responded back in Japanese.
Hiroshima had so much history with every step you walked. Although the town had a lot to offer culturally as well, the history is what stands out the most.
Kyoto was more my style. They focused so much on food, I bet I could live there for a year and not try every place to eat within the city (I’d run out of money first. XD) But Osaka definitely had more options, I even saw a Wendy’s, Burger King and plenty of Baskin Robins.
Mount Koya, while beautiful, was kind of hard to sleep on the tatami. I woke up with a really bad back ache and was really happy we weren’t staying more than one night.
I think the worst part of the trip was actually the flights. And the snoring, but that was a roommate issue, not the trip. There were actually a lot of trip partner issues that almost made me resent taking the two weeks off for Japan. This trip made me realize I really need to be selective of who I go with. Maybe I’ll just drag my sister everywhere with me. Lol.
I saw so many things that we consider “cliche” in manga happen in real life while in Japan. Hiding underneath eaves waiting for the rain to stop, Yankees smoking in their school uniforms in front of convenience stores, legitimate “police boxes”, and so many others. It made me realize, to those of us who do not live in Japan, it can be considered a cliche. However, to those who live here, it’s almost a daily occurrence.
There are so many things in Japan that are almost too convenient. While awesome, it’s almost over the top how many vending machines are everywhere. I mean you could literally be in the middle of a rice patty field and by a lamp post will be a vending machine. Manga doesn’t lie about that cliche.
The conbini (convenience stores) were numerous. There are three major ones that compete against each other: Lawson’s, Family Mart and 7 Eleven. I actually didn’t notice much difference between these stores besides the fact that 7 Eleven offers hot coffee. They pretty much offered all the same foods but at different prices (competition cough cough). I loved these stores because they actually accepted credit cards. But, because they were too convenient, there are a lot of things you cannot find within these stores. And, as a traveler, finding the closest supermarket would sometimes take over an hour to walk or at least a 45 minute bus ride. The sucky part is that the supermarket items were at least 30 yen cheaper for practically everything, sometimes way more. But since they were hard to find in our limited time, we had to deal with the convenience of the conbini.
If you are thinking of travelling to Japan, there are several thing I implore you to bring. Hand sanitizer, a handkerchief (to wipe your hands since there are no paper towels in the bathrooms), sun screen, a small towel (when they say humid, they mean fucking-thighs-sticking-together-to -the-point-of-major-chafing humid) even the inside of resturaunts can get to over 90 degrees F.
Definitely bring the best pair of walking shoes you own. You will end up walking at least 4 to 5 miles a day (if you leave your hotel or don’t take a taxi). Even if you take the subway system, you change lines so often that it’s sometimes 4 to 15 minutes walking distance between each line.
And the subways, omg. Every single one ends up being located inside some type of underground mall. You can find practically anything in these stations. Especially if it’s one of the major ones in the big cities. (Persona 5 players, the game doesn’t lie.)
Overall, I loved Japan and would gladly come back someday in the future. There’s just some things I would tweak for my trip, some places I would skip and I think I’d stay in Tokyo for 3 to 4 days, Kyoto 2 days and then Osaka two days. I think a week is long enough for me to be in Japan, but it might be different for others.
I found out I get homesick. I miss my own bed, my puppy, my American food, English speaking people and the ability to drive wherever I need to go. It’s kind of sad to say that I think I miss my sister the most. Lol.
If any of you have any questions, feel free to leave one in the comments and I’ll try to answer them to the best of my ability when I see them.
I’ve got another 26 hour travel time scheduled before I’m home, but I’m ready to be home. 😀