Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net

Japan Traveler’s Tips

April 25th, 2016

tree_and_bridgeI thought I’d post a few “travelers tips” in no particular order – just some thoughts and perspectives gleaned from the short time I’ve spent in Japan.

* Getting there and getting back
From Honolulu, the flight to Japan—on this most recent trip, our destination was Osaka—is around nine hours. The flight back is significantly shorter, maybe seven hours, a difference I blithely attribute to tailwinds and the direction of the Earth’s rotation.

* No one speaks English
Yes, that’s an exaggeration, but even at major hotels or at information desks that advertise English-speaking personnel, the amount of English-language help you can get is minimal. I find this very interesting because here in Hawaii, where we get many tourists from Japan, there are many guides and hotel staff who speak fluent Japanese.

Hikone_castleRon and I are lucky. While neither of us speaks Japanese, we always take along our daughter Dallas, who speaks a little and can read a lot more. We’d be lost without her.

* Some signs are in English
And that English is often very creative! The rail stations and trains post destinations in both kanji and in Roman characters, which is extremely helpful, and the Shinkansen has English-language announcements about upcoming destinations. Many restaurants have an English-language menu. If you’re not offered one, ask. People everywhere are very friendly and patient, and no one gets offended if you need to point and use gestures to get your meaning across.

* The JR Rail Pass
udonForeigners can purchase a pass that will let them ride the Japan Rail trains without the hassle of purchasing tickets for every ride. We bought seven-day passes that allowed us to ride any train in a large area around Osaka, including certain routes of the Shinkansen. Take only one smallish suitcase and pack light so you can easily lift your suitcase onto the luggage rack.

* Trash cans
Public trash cans are rare! I don’t know why. Be prepared to carry your empty bottles around until you find a recycle bin, which can sometimes be found alongside vending machines. General purpose trash cans are even more rare, though they can be found in rail stations.

* No drawers in the hotel rooms
This is an interesting difference from US hotels. Expect to find robes and slippers, but no drawers — at least not in the good-to-basic hotels that we stayed in.

primeval_forest* Sensory overload
Much of rural Japan is very quiet and serene, but in stores, arcades, rail stations, and some tourist destinations, sensory overload is a real issue for me. Some stores play crazy-ass peppy music at pretty high volume, while bombarding their customers with goods and advertisements, while arcades and rail stations can be disorienting beehives of activity. In these situations I tend to blindly follow daughter and husband who seem to be much better at processing it all.

* Illiteracy
Because I can’t read Japanese, I am more-or-less illiterate in Japan — and that fact sure gives me a whole new perspective.

* Google is your friend
My daughter rented a wifi hotspot with unlimited bandwidth. We set our smart phones on airplane mode with wifi on, which gave us access to Internet and email without risking any international charges from our provider. Google maps/navigation was very helpful.

* Handicap accessibility
Don’t plan on it. In the blithe way of people who can easily get around, it took me a while to recognize how difficult it would be for anyone in a wheel chair or with other mobility issues. On sidewalks and in train stations there are “rumble strips” to help guide the blind, but most places we visited were inaccessible to wheel chairs.

hungry_koi* Toilets
Yes, I’m going to go there. There is quite a variety of toilets in Japan. In the airports, hotels, and some malls there are toilets fancier than you’ll see almost anywhere in America. These are the sort with heated seats and various selections for washing your bum. This sort of thing is easy to get used to!

On the other hand, the more common public toilet is a squat toilet. Google it, if you don’t know what I’m talking about. It’s better to know beforehand. Most restrooms with multiple stalls will have at least one western-style sit toilet, so keep that in mind. If all you need to do is urinate (ladies), squat toilets aren’t hard to use. Unfortunately, some are just really dirty, with urine on the floor. I was interested to see that at some remote train stations the restroom is mixed gender, open to men and women, with a urinal out in the open, and a squat toilet in a stall. I admit, I backed out immediately from the first such I saw. I went into another one only when I was sure there was no one else around! 🙂



Posted on: Monday, April 25th, 2016 at 4:47 pm
Categories: Travel.

One Response to “Japan Traveler’s Tips”

  1. Paul Weimer Says:

    Yeah, while puzzling out Italian in Rome wasn’t terribly difficult, I’d be really at sea in Japan