Japan surprised me. I had expectations about how hard it would be and how lost I would get. What I discovered was not at all what I expected.
While I’m certainly not a Japanese expert, here are few truths that I picked up along the way.
- Ryokans are crazy expensive. Far more expensive than nice hotels. They can book up weeks in advance. And yes, all this and you’re sleeping on a mat on the floor. Tip of the day: do your research. It’s worth it for the experience, but prepare to pay up.
- The people are unfailingly polite. Bowing, helping strangers, holding doors, offering seats to elderly…it was nice to be in such a well mannered country. Of course, I felt a bit of pressure to make sure I was on my best behavior too.
- There are more people who speak English than you might expect. Everyone warned me that no one could speak English…and it couldn’t have been further from the truth. It’s definitely not as easy as traveling in Thailand, but it wasn’t difficult either. I found most people could speak a bit, but they were just embarrassed or shy. Give them time and be polite. The big exception here was restaurants. I rarely found waiters that could speak English. Luckily, most restaurants (at all price points and styles) have food displays outside so you can see what you’d like to order. This saved me more than a few times when I was really hungry and didn’t want to get a big chunk of fish in my noodles.
- The trains really are incredible. They are so efficient and seem to always be on time. If only Amtrak could be this great.
- Your colorful wardrobe will stand out. Riding the subway in Tokyo wearing my typical travel clothes made me feel like a toucan in a sea of penguins. Seriously, black and white rules the work wardrobe here.
- Presentation is everything. From the way a sales assistant will wrap your purchase to the artful way your dinner will be served, it’s all about the presentation. Enjoy the feast for the eyes. And if they ask if you’d like your purchase to be wrapped up, the answer is always yes.
- The countryside is like a time warp. It’s not the futuristic bubble that is Tokyo. Welcome to 1960.
- Everything can be cute. From adorable banana cakes to signs for the police, I was constantly in awe of how adorable things in Japan appear to be.
- Convenience stores have the best food selection. Cheap. Healthy. Delicious. Why can’t they be like this at home?
- Traveling in Japan wasn’t nearly as difficult as you probably think it will be. While there may be a language barrier, towns have incredible tourist centers, signs are clearly posted in English, and more people speak English that I expected. The only place I struggled to communicate was restaurants.
What stand out as truth that you picked up about Japan?