World Tour 2005: Japan
Some Final Thoughts
As a final service, I figured I could share some travel tips for those of you who might be thinking of visiting Japan yourself.
- Don't schedule your trip for the height of typhoon season. Seriously. I can't stress this enough.
- You don't have to speak a word of Japanese to enjoy most major tourist destinations — but it can't hurt to try. At the very least you should learn some few pleasantries, and how to count. I actually found that I could get the gist of what people were saying, even if I couldn't understand the actual words.
- Don't be afraid of asking stupid questions. The Japanese have you pegged as a crazy ignorant foreigner anyway, so roll with it.
- Don't be afraid of just hopping on a train and going somewhere. You may have a bit of difficulty getting around some of the smaller towns, but in the big towns all of the trains are super-organized and have English text at all the tracks.
- If you're going to be taking the train a lot, you probably want to purchase a JR Pass in advance. In fact, you have to purchase it in advance, because once you're in Japan you can't buy one. I met a few people over there who were staying for a few days after a business meeting but couldn't travel inexpensively because they hadn't thought ahead.
- The Japanese are not morning people. You can take the early train (and I definitely recommind taking the 5:30 AM train at least once, just for the experience), but don't expect to find many places open for breakfast. Mr. Donut and McDonald's are your friends, and you can always get plenty to eat at a convenience store.
- There are no public trash cans. I can't stress this enough — none of the guidebooks mentions it, and it was a huge problem for me. If you need to get rid of some waste, there's usually a trash reeptacle somewhere near a vending machines, and yes, you can get beer and hot coffee out of the same vending machines.
- When a Japanese tour guide tells you the bus leaves at 2:00, he means the bus is leaving at 2:00. Not that the bus starts boarding at 2:00, not that the bus will be leaving at 2:00 but will wait for you if you're late. If you get a tour guide who's accustomed to dealing with Westerners he might be a little more flexible — but be prepared to be punctual anyway.
- Also, Japanese tour groups are very regimented. They go a lot of places and do a lot of things, but don't leave you a lot of time to savor those things or truly understand them. Be sure to spend as much time off the tour as you do on the tour.
- A lot of travel guides warn you to take cash, because many places don't take credit cards. The guides are behind the times. Most places do take credit cards — or at least, the stores do. You'll still want to take plenty of cash for the restaurants.
- Oh, and while most places do take Visa, they don't take Mastercard. Yeah, I'm puzzled by that myself
- You may be tempted to think of coins as worthless change. But remember that the two most common coins you'll have are actually worth $1 and $5 respectively. Everything smaller than that is pretty worthless, though.
- Don't walk by a canal at sunset. You'll only get attacked by juvenile delinquents.
- "Abayo" is not an acceptable substitute for "sayonara."
And now, the three funniest photos I took in Japan..
And that's it for my memories of Japan. I'd like to thank Ms. Nahomi Iwasaki of JTB USA for going over and above the call of duty to help me plan a memorable trip.