4 things I wished I knew before I went to Japan
A year ago, I was in Japan (4 cities—Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Fujikawaguchiko—in 7 days). But I’ve never taken the time to write about my experience there.
It took me a while to articulate my thoughts about my time there. For the longest time, I was at loss for words. I was in awe, and all the drafts I wrote didn’t really do justice to my experience. I’m also a notorious procrastinator. So, we’ll never really know the reason why it took me a year to publish this. *wink*
Japan is a great place to visit. Technology and modernity have not subdued their culture. The contrast between old and new is intriguing. While I wouldn’t really like to live there, I’d definitely travel there again. But that’s a story for another day.
Before going to Japan, I hadn’t done my usual pre-travel research. Sure, I had watched my share of documentaries, but just enough to know that the culture is different from what I’m used to. Nothing really specific.
Here are 4 things I wished I knew before landing. To be clear, not knowing these things didn’t make my stay any less pleasant. Knowing would have saved me some minor cultural faux pas.
Use the money tray
Whether you’re at a store or at a coffee shop, don’t hand the money to the cashier. Rather, place it on the small tray near the cash register.
Japanese people are polite and reserved. You will not get yelled at. No one is going to roll their eyes at you. They’ll most likely motion at the tray or pick it up and present it to you.
Don’t eat in the streets
Eating street food is on my to-do list every time I travel. Being the PauP girl that I am, I refer to all street food as chen janbe—one of the various ways we refer to street food in Haiti—regardless of location and sophistication.
We visited 4 Japanese cities and encounter 2, maybe 3, street food vendors. We ate at 2. And both times, we were the only ones eating right next to the street vendor. We’d noticed that no one was eating in the streets or walking around with their coffee. (Walking around with coffee is probably a North American behaviour.)
While in Tokyo, we were politely asked to move towards the designated eating area.
This probably explains the cleanliness of the streets and public spaces. May I talk about how clean all 4 cities we visited were? Populous urban centers such as Tokyo and small touristy towns like Fujikawaguchiko were equally clean. So clean that it made me feel a bit uncomfortable. You know, like when you go to a house that doesn’t look lived in, and you’re not really sure what to do with yourself. And you end up sitting straight on a sofa instead of leaning into it.
Aside from couple public washrooms, every places I’ve seen was spic and span.
Use your inside voice at all times
I found the Japanese to be a discreet and reserved people. They speak quietly and did seem really expressive.
Enter 3 members of Baz. And, as I’ve explained before, where at least 3 members of Baz are together, shenanigans and loud laughs are sure to ensue.
The only loud voices I heard during the trip were those of my two travel companions and mine. We had to make a conscious effort to be quiet. And that was hard. Our cue to lower our voices: people would discreetly look in our direction. Often, these quick glances would make us giggle. Our various efforts to be quiet often failed lamentably.
Stick to the line
People line up everywhere. Neat, straight lines. There were often lines drawn on the ground to indicate where people should stand—along with footprints at times.
It was rather easy to fall into that orderly pattern.
The only instance of line cutting we witness was rather involuntary. A group of teenagers stood in line ahead of us. Some were between the two drawn lines, others weren’t. To us, they were clearly together. To the older man right in front of us, they clearly were not in line. So when it came time to board the train, the older man spoke with them and they moved to the end of the line.
All of that, without saying a word above whisper level.
More photos here.