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Japan - travel tips and stupid questions

Discussion in 'Off The Beaten Track' started by Hedwig, Oct 26, 2010.

  1. Hedwig

    Hedwig WoolSilk Fanatic

    Next year I hope to be able to travel around Japan!!

    For our Japanese posters or those who know a lot about Japan:
    What are your tips?
    What are the must sees?
    Any tips on how to make the journey cheaper- Japan seems to be quite expensive...

    And I also have tons of stupid questions, never having encountered the Japanese way of living.

    - So, my Japanese teacher told us that touching is not done in Japan so you don't shake hands or hug but bow. Does that also include close friends?
    And what is customary if I go for example to a hotel and present myself at the reception? Do I bow there as well?
    I mean, I don't shake hands with the receptionist so I have no idea what the "code" is.

    - I also learned that you don't use your tissue but rather snuffle and that you never give four of anything as four is the same word as death - what other "rules" do you know that might be unfamiliar to me?

    - I had a lot more questions but I forgot them right now :eek: - will add them later
  2. allezfred

    allezfred Master/Mistress of Sneer Staff Member

    Get a Japan Rail Pass if you are going to be doing a lot of travelling domestically.

    The image of Japan being really expensive is about 20 years out of date, in my opinion. Yes, the yen has gotten quite strong against the euro really, but the price of most things is still reasonable. You can easily have a nice set lunch for less than 10 euros, etc.

    Nara, Kyoto and Hiroshima would be my top places to visit.

    Yes. The more formal the situation the more formal (and deeper) the bowing. With friends the bowing will be just about a nod of the head.

    Do you shake hands with the receptionist at hotels here? :eek:

    In a customer service situation, most of the bowing will be done by those providing the service.

    In any case, Japanese people will not expect you as a foreigner to bow and they won't be offended.

    Blowing your nose in public is not considered polite, so people sniffle until they can go somewhere and honk it out.

    Most Japanese people carry handkerchiefs, but not to blow their noses. They use them to dry their hands as many public restrooms do not have hand dryers or paper towels. Mr. allezfred has a huge collection of designer ones (which make a nice souvenir and actually are not too expensive).

    Imagine the mutual disgust when non-Japanese see Japanese wipe their hands with a handkerchief and Japanese see non-Japanese wipe their noses with theirs. :lol:

    Four and nine are unlucky numbers (homonyms for death and suffering respectively). I wouldn't give it too much thought though. It's very difficult to offend Japanese people although I know somebody who is an expert. ;)

    Bring shoes that are easy to take on and off!

    Practice using chopsticks if you are not able to use them already!

    Slurp your noodles (although I find it difficult to do :eek:)!

    Don't be too worried about offending people. If you are considerate of those around you, you'll be fine in Japan. :)
  3. sk9tingfan

    sk9tingfan Well-Known Member

    Get ready for different and non-western breakfasts including lots of salads, pickles and noodles.
  4. Jenya

    Jenya Let me show you Tel Aviv

    In my limited experience in Japan, I totally agree with this. I went to Worlds in Tokyo in 2007 and was a little apprehensive about how expensive it would be. To my surprise, it wasn't any different than any other major city - we were able to find very reasonably priced restaurants, use the subway, etc. I thought the prices were fine, contrary to what I expected. I had this image in my mind that I would spend the whole week in my hotel because I thought it would be so expensive and that I wouldn't be able to get around easily because of the language barrier - and the absolute opposite was true.

    I admittedly know very little about Japanese culture and only picked up a few words (hello, thank you, etc.) but I found the people in Tokyo to be incredibly friendly and nice. It really felt like everyone went out of their way to be helpful, and even when they didn't speak English, they still tried. It sounds like you have a much better background and more knowledge about Japan than I did, and I still had a great experience.

    I had the best time in Tokyo and I'm trying to figure out how to make it back again next year for Worlds. :D Ever since we got back three and a half years ago, my friends and I talk all the time about how amazing Japan was and how we can't wait to go back. You'll love it.
  5. Japanfan

    Japanfan Well-Known Member

    I lived in Japan from 1986-1989 and at the time it was really expensive. Since then Japan's stock marked entered a 20 year slump. A Canadian acquaintance who I knew in Japan during the time recently went back to visit and found that the prices were example the same as they were 20 years ago.
  6. dbny

    dbny New Member

    My younger DD went to school in Kyoto for three semesters. Here are some excerpts from her paper on Japanese etiquette:

    "the waiter will bring damp towels for everyone to wash their hands before eating, as cleanliness is highly valued in Japanese culture. Often the towels will be cold in the summertime, and warm in the winter, and will be cloth or disposable depending on the scale of the restaurant. In cheaper, and chain restaurants, it is common for disposable towels in plastic wrappers to already be on the tables before anyone sits down; sometimes they will be in a box on the table that also contains chopsticks and/or silverware. People wash their hands with the towels before touching the utensils.

    A common convenience in larger chain restaurants, and even some smaller independent ones, is having a call button on each table so that when customers are ready to order, they need not more than push a button. However, when a button is not present, hungry patrons don’t have to wait until they can silently catch the waiter’s eye with “the wave” used in America, they simply yell out “sumimasen” – excuse me – and any available staff member will come to their aid. In Japan, tipping does not exist, so it is not uncommon for more than one person to be serving the same table at the same time."

    Do not rest your chopsticks by sticking them directly into a bowl of rice - this is an offering to the dead at funerals. Do not pass food from chopsticks to chopsticks. Do not gesture or point with chopsticks.

    "...people will often receive their food at different times in restaurants in Japan in accordance with how long each dish takes to prepare. The first person to receive food says “itadakimasu” – I gratefully receive this – and begins eating."

    Pubic Transportation:
    "Sounds that are common on Japanese public transportation include automated announcements, musical jingles indicating approaching stops, and, on busses, the driver announcing stops and thanking the passengers. Sounds not often heard on public transportation include loud speaking, cell phone ringers, and music from someone else’s headphones; these things are all considered to be rude. From the sounds of the vehicles themselves, to the passengers riding them, little noise is made in transit."

    "At every stop on a bus, after the doors have opened and closed, an automated announcement plays to remind people to cut the power on their keitai – cell phones."
    "most people speak to each other at no more than a loud whisper on the busses and trains" Children are excepted. Do not eat on a train or bus. Do not use more space than necessary, even if available. "The trains get so crowded that men are hired to help push people into the cars so that they fill past the maximum capacity." Because of groping at such times, there are women only cars.

    "Often in places where there are no shoes allowed, there will be slippers to wear instead."
    "There is no confusion as to which establishments are meant for bare feet, and which were made for rubber soles, because there is an obvious difference in the entranceways: the existence, or lack thereof, of the genkan. The genkan is a small area, or sometimes a foyer-like room in the entrance of a no-shoe-zone, where guests are expected to remove their footwear. Common characteristics of a genkan include a shelf on which to place removed shoes so others do not trip over them, a different style floor than that of the greater establishment, and often but not necessarily, a step up into the building it precedes. Very important when removing shoes in the genkan, is to not put bare or socked feet on the genkan floor."
    "Bathrooms usually have their own slippers inside, which means taking off ones shoes or house slippers in order to enter. Also, when entering the interior of a Shinto shrine or temple it is important to remove ones shoes, and while taking a tour of an old castle, visitors are asked several times to remove their shoes and wear slippers upon entrance to various buildings. When this is the case, there are usually plastic bags available to carry shoes through the building and put them back on at the exit, as the entrance and exit are not always in the same place, and a shelf is not practical for so many people."

    Shoes are not worn in store dressing rooms.
    If in doubt - look for indications - are slippers available? is there a shelf for shoes? are other people wearing shoes? are you going from an outdoor space to an indoor carpeted space?

    Finally, violating any of these rules is not a big deal for a "gaijin," or foreigner. The Japanese know we are not fully aware of their etiquette and that it is different from our own.
  7. Hedwig

    Hedwig WoolSilk Fanatic

    Thank you guys for your answers!

    I find these etiquette "rules" fascinating. I didn't expect Japanese people to be offended when I don't know the more elaborate rules but they are fascinating anyway and it does not hurt me to think about them when I know about them. :)

    Allezfred, my sentence was a bit weirdly constructed but no, I don't shake hands with receptionists :lol: that is why I asked about the bowing.
    And do I know the person who manages to offend easily? ;)

    I never heard about Nara before as a travel tip. Why would you recommend it? Hiroshima and the surrounding area is definitely on my list. As is Kyoto. And I would also love to climb the Fujisawa (or more precise, a small part of it), travel a bit to the North which seems a bit less crowded and more rural (?) and of course see the cherry blossoms.
    Do you know where the recommended places are for the latter?
  8. Hedwig

    Hedwig WoolSilk Fanatic

    Ah, and about the prices - I read on several travel sites that it is still expensive to travel and to stay in hostels. I calculated that a three week journey would cost me about 2.000€ if I stay in cheap hostels and buy the train travel pass in before.
    That is still a lot but I hope that I can stay in this budget especially as I will probably be traveling with a friend and we can then chare a room which is of course cheaper than a single.
    Does anyone have an idea if this estimate is roughly accurate?
  9. allezfred

    allezfred Master/Mistress of Sneer Staff Member

    Oh, I think you might. ;)

    I'm a bit biased because I used to live there, but it is a very important place as it was the first capital of Japan from 710-784 AD and there are eight UNESCO World Heritage sites in Nara City itself. Todaiji's Daibutsuden is the world's largest wooden structure which houses the world's largest bronze Buddha, Kasuga Taisha is located in Nara Park (with semi-tame large rats deer) in a primeval forest, etc. The pagoda ofHoryuji, about 20 minutes outside of Nara City, is the oldest wooden structure in the world.

    A little off the beaten track is Muroji, it has a beautiful "gojunoto" or five storied pagoda and is quiet peaceful (the sites above are all popular tourist attractions). It is also known as "Koya Temple for Women" as Koya Temple in Wakayama prefecture used to be forbidden to women. Probably not a place to go if you are frightened of monkeys though.

    Nara City is about 30 minutes from Kyoto and Osaka. It's fairly low rise and compact and in Naramachi you can still see some preserved old houses. There are some fantastic sites to see in Kyoto that you should not miss, but the city itself can be a bit of a disappointment as it is a large, modern city and the overall atmosphere certainly isn't one of "ancient Japan".

    Anyway, enough of the Nara Tourist Board promotion from me. ;) I've never climbed Mt. Fuji myself, but I think late March/early April is too early to climb as it can be quite dangerous outside climbing season. Maybe an idea might be to the area and try the hot springs instead?

    As far as heading north, it will be still pretty cold and there may be snow around. I'm most familiar with Hokkaido which is a beautiful place to visit, but I'm not sure if that is the best season to go. Also cherry blossoms won't bloom that far north till late April/early May.

    Around the time of year you are going, central Honshu (Kansai/Chubu/Kanto) are your best bets for seeing cherry blossoms. Do be warned that the most popular spots get very crowded.

    Just be aware that in some hostels/hotels in Japan, they charge per person. Are you basing that on about €50 for accommodation per night?

    You might want to check out the Japanese Inn Group website for some traditional inns or ryokan at fairly reasonable prices.

    Another tip I would give is that cash is king in Japan. Large hotels and department stores will accept credit cards, but a lot of smaller establishments will only take cash. It's quite normal in Japan to carry around large amounts in cash. Most ATMs close overnight and some on holidays. A lot of the ATMs also won't let you withdraw cash with a non-Japanese credit card. As far as I know, the Japanese post office bank ATMs are the best places to use your credit card to withdraw cash.
    Hedwig and (deleted member) like this.
  10. orbitz

    orbitz Well-Known Member

    Doesn't Japan have the cleanest public restrooms of all the countries? I had a layover at Nagano airport flying out of China, and the public toilets at the airport had built-in bidets ! The Japanese airplane was very roomy. It was nice. It was very neat seeing the Japanese ground crew all bowed in unison when the plane was about to make it trek to the runway.
  11. midori

    midori Well-Known Member

    Hedwig may be coming to Japan!! :cheer:

    Important tips: Bring the banner for Akiko, which I accidentally left to you in Canada :eek: (I mean, if you still have it, pretty please? ;) )

    You do not have to bow, but if you want to try, easiest way is that when someone bows to you, copy it to respond. Unless a shop clerk or hotel staff gives you a deep bow when you leave. You do not bow very deep unless you are serving to someone or some special occasions, like when you give a big apology or after you skated a program :)

    As allezfred has posted, blowing noses in front of people is not considered very polite, but many do. Especially in spring lots of people suffer allergy and keep blowing noses with tissues. Personally I think it is polite enough if you do not make big noise. So do not sniffle. Sniffling is not very good to your health ;)

    Nara is a great place! But I would not call those deers semi-tame. They are getting aggressive. Also Nara lacks of accommodation. Not as many options as in Kyoto or in Osaka. I have heard that's because Nara has too many remains under the ground to build a new building. I find the reason very cool.

    I did not know that :lol:. Perhaps that is true when you are giving something as a wedding gift or at one of those formal receptions, but other than that I do not think anyone cares.

    For accommodations, if hostels are too remote or if you get tired of shared bath in hostels, try "Business Hotels". Twin room would take about 3000-5000JPY per person per night, which is not very higher than hostels. Rooms tend to be small but have an en-suite bathroom, and many places offer free basic breakfast and free internet connection.

    For meals, in casual places lunch would take 600-1000JPY, supper 1000-2000JPY (no alcohol).
    Many places offer an option "all you can drink" for drinks (beers and some other kinds) around 2000-3000JPY per person. So if you choose a place carefully, you may have a big dinner with lots of beers at about 5000JPY.
    When your budget is very tight you may buy "Bento" -packed meal- at a convenience store at 500-700JPY.

    Adding those, I think your estimate sounds good unless you have a big dinner every day, or spend a big on something.

    I would also stay in "Onsen Ryokan" - Inn with Japanese spa - at least for a night.
    Preferably one with outdoor bathes and dinner served in a tatami room, because that feels Japanese more. It may cost more than the estimate though.
    The quality varies a lot; some places are luxurious, some are shabby, some are so-so. I would recommend looking up tripadvisor or other review sites and book ahead, because students are in spring break around 15/March-08/April.
    They tend to locate at not-so-convenient place but most ryokans would pick up/drop off at the nearest station.
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2010
  12. Capella

    Capella Guest

    If you are particular about having an actual toilet for your restroom needs, make sure you go into a "Western" style stall. Otherwise you'll be squatting over a hole in the floor.

    What about staying in capsule hotels for a way to save some money? Are you claustrophobic?
  13. Hedwig

    Hedwig WoolSilk Fanatic

    Of course I still have it!!! And very much hope that you can use it for Akiko at Worlds again!!

    I so hope that I will be able to get tickets for Worlds. Have you heard anything about tickets yet, Midori?

    And I very much hope to meet you there!! :cheer:

    Thank you for all your tips. And "Onsen Ryokan" sounds lovely - so much to do and see!! I also want to stay in a capsule hotel at least once, Capella, just for the "fun" (?) of it. After that I can probably tell you if I am claustrophobic or not. :lol:

    Midori, you said that it is spring break during that time. Does it get very crowded in hostels then? I usually don't like to book ahead so I can be more flexible in stay longer in a place when I like it and vice versa.
  14. allezfred

    allezfred Master/Mistress of Sneer Staff Member

    Capsule hotels are mainly for drunk businessmen who've missed their last train home. I've never stayed in one and really don't see the appeal myself. :shuffle:

    Hedwig, I know everybody has their own style of travel, but I would recommend booking ahead. As midori said students are also on spring break during that time. Generally, spontaneity is not a strong national characteristic in Japan.;)

    Plus, I've stood behind backpackers from Europe at Japanese immigration who didn't have accommodation booked ahead and let's just say they and I were delayed a long time. :p

    midori, when I said the deers in Nara were semi-tame I meant that they are not afraid of people. :lol:
  15. Hedwig

    Hedwig WoolSilk Fanatic

    "Ah, you are just not adventurous enough," says she before she entered the capsule hotel. ;)

    I take it you were tiny bit annoyed? ;)
    Hmpf, I hate booking ahead.
    But I always book something for the first night after flying in so I wouldn't be one of the backpackers to stall you then. But for the rest of the journey...hmmm.
    Will have to think about that.
  16. midori

    midori Well-Known Member

    Thank you!:biggrinbo

    About Worlds, unfortunately I have not heard anything after the last post other than the isu announcement.

    It was not very crowded when last time I traveled by hostels in Japan other than some popular places which needed to book a few days ahead, but it was March about 20 years ago :shuffle:. After that, I usually stay in hotels when I travel within Japan.

    I have not either and I probably would not. I would rather go to "net-cafe" instead, but fortunately I did not have to yet.

    I see. Yeah, now people are more afraid of them than they are afraid of people.
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2010
  17. allezfred

    allezfred Master/Mistress of Sneer Staff Member

    Personally, I think a Japanese net cafe would be more interesting to spend a night at than a capsule hotel.

    So long as you don't have any food, you are usually safe. The moment the deer see you have food though. :scream:
  18. Hedwig

    Hedwig WoolSilk Fanatic

    Net cafe - I read about that as well. It sounds very stuffy though with all the computers polluting the air.

    Anyway, I was trying to find out the email adress of the JSF in order to ask about Worlds and tickets but my Japanese consists of "My name is Hedwig and I am from Germany" :shuffle: so I wasn't able to find an email adress.
    Could one of you help me with that?
  19. ks777

    ks777 Well-Known Member

    If you don't like to stay at hotels, you can try a guest house. I used to stay at a guest house in Tokyo for a few years. It's a good way to meet other people from all over the world. you can find all the guest houses infos here http://metropolis.co.jp/
  20. midori

    midori Well-Known Member

    JSF: jsf@skatingjapan.or.jp
    Worlds Organizing Committee: info@worlds2011.jp
  21. zhenya271

    zhenya271 Active Member

    You've already heard by now, that Japan isn't as expensive as you expected, but I wanted to offer that when I moved from Japan to Germany six years ago, we found Germany to be more expensive. I think the Stuttgart area is one of the more higher cost of living areas, but just in general, traveling around Europe was more costlier, except for getting to neighboring countries, definitely more expensive in Asia!
    Hedwig and (deleted member) like this.