10 THINGS FOREIGNERS SHOULD KNOW ABOUT JAPAN

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#1: “Kawaii” is considered as a lifestyle in Japan.

Kawaii Lifestyle

Kawaii (cute) is almost a way of life. It’s pretty normal to have cuteness embedded in the Japanese people’s daily fashion, and life in general. There are the cute bentos (packed lunch), Disney-fied Milk tea bottles, pig-shaped pork buns, Totoro cream puffs, promotional character mascots for each prefecture, and so much more.

As you can tell, “Kawaii” or cute culture surely contributes a lot to Japan’s economy. Wherever you go, there is a hint of “kawaii” in almost everywhere and everything.

For one thing, Tokyo never seems to run out of kawaii café ideas for cute lovers to visit! Some of these kawaii cafes are Kawaii Monster Café, Cinnamoroll Café, My Little Pony Café, Owl / Rabbit / Cat Cafés, Sailormoon café… and so much more.

Most of the time, companies market their products and services effectively by coming up with cute packaging design (that will make you by the product even if you find it useless, haha) or by having kawaii personalities as endorsers like Kyary Pamyu Pamyu (dubbed as the Kawaii queen or princess of Japan).

#2: There is no “best season” to travel in Japan…

Sakura

…because ALL seasons have their unique experiences to offer! Once you travel to Japan once, you will find yourself coming back and wanting to travel in all four seasons.

During winter season, you can enjoy the illuminations that lit up the city with its rainbow-sparkling lights. You can go snowboarding or skiing in Nagano and have a relaxing time in a Japanese onsen (hotspring).

Experiencing cherry blossoms in Japan when it’s springtime should be included in every traveler’s #BucketList. There are the seasonal Starbucks Sakura lattes, hanami viewing (flower viewing) picnics in the parks, and lots of kawaii pink trees enveloping the country.

During Summer, you can go and visit Hokkaido for their famous flower (lavender, sunflower, etc.) fields. And all over Japan, many people dress up in yukata and attend Japanese festivals with their friends and family. Experiencing a Japanese festival even for once in your life is truly an unforgettable memory. Imagine a row of food stalls, festival games, and fireworks display afterwards. Even if Japanese summer is sometimes unbearable because of the heat, you can always munch on the yummy kakigori (Japanese shaved ice) being sold in Japanese matsuris (festivals).

Autumn in Japan is also a breathtaking encounter for any traveler. Not too cold and not too warm; it is just right to go and have an spontaneous adventure in Kyoto. For photography enthusiasts and photobloggers, autumn in Kyoto will absolutely mesmerize you. You can also have a maiko(apprentice geiko) makeover experience while you’re in the heart of Japan.

These are just a few of my recommendations. As you can tell, it’s so hard to answer the question “When is the best season to travel in Japan?”because Japan has thousands of things to offer for a wide-eyed traveler!

#3: When in Japan, do as the Japanese do.

Japanese

Before coming to Japan, do learn about their manners first.

In Tokyo, people stay at the left of the escalator if they are not in a hurry to make way for those who want to go up first. Inside the trains, it’s advisable not to cause hassle for others or converse in a loud voice. In other areas and shops, photography is prohibited (you would know if there is a sign) so it’s best to ask for permission first if you don’t want to be called out publicly.

Here’s a helpful page where you can learn about the other manners every foreigner should know before coming to Japan first.

#4: You can enjoy tax-free shopping in Japan by bringing your passport with you.

Japan Shopping

Yep, you can shop until you drop without breaking a bank!

If you are planning to shop at the major department stores or gadget stores, it is advisable to bring your passport with you so you can get reimbursement for the 8% consumption tax.

#5: Japan is super safe, but there can be… weird scenarios.

Japan Tourism

Though it is super safe in Japan (crime-wise and besides, people do NOT really steal here), be warned that you might encounter weird scenarios or circumstances during your stay.

Japan may be a safe place to leave your bags on your chair while you go to the toilet, but it’s not really a completely safe place if you’re a woman. Wondering why Japanese smartphones cannot have a silent camera even when it’s on a silent mode? It’s because of the “upskirting” practice done by perverts (a.k.a. “Chikan”).

Also, there might be times that your train gets delayed for 30 minutes. If that happens and you hear “passenger injury (jinshin jiko)” being announced, it might be because somebody passed out inside the train or… somebody jumped off in front of the train.

Anyway, these are just isolated cases so you do not have to worry so much. Even if Japan appears to be a perfect first-world country because of the notable cleanliness, efficiency, culture, manners, and so much more, just like any other country; it has its own share of cons as well.

#6: Japan has best transportation system (in the world!)

JR Pass

You can easily travel anywhere via train!

TIP: Get a JR Pass. It’s like an unlimited pass to anywhere using JR (government-owned) trains if you want to maximize your trip by traveling to lots of prefectures (that’s what they call their regions in Japan). Only tourists are allowed to use this, so you are very lucky if you are! Normally a round trip fare from Osaka to Tokyo is worth $250. Imagine how many places you can visit within 7 day if you have a JR Pass!

#7: Fukubukuro (lucky bags) season is the best time to go shopping in Japan.

Fukubukuro

Photo by Laura Tomàs Avellana / CC
It happens every first week of January. Some stores start on the first day, some on the second due to their New Year traditions — it depends. So if you have a specific store in mind, check their website about their schedule first!

The best or worst area to go shopping to is actually Tokyo. It’s the best since most brands have a store in Tokyo, but it is also the worst since it is cramped with people. They line up so early (it’s freezing in January mind you), just for this sale.

TRIVIA: The KonMari method of cleaning by Kondo Marie is actually a New Year’s tradition for the Japanese. They do a general cleaning, they keep things that they want, and throw the unnecessary before New Year. This was picked up by the retail businesses of course so they took this opportunity for a New Year’s / Lucky bags sale (wherein they put random items and sell at a lower price).

#8: MYTH: “Expensive” Japan

Konbini

It might be true 5-6 years ago when I moved to Japan; but recently, everyone could just afford going to Osaka or Tokyo. There are lots of LCCs (Low Cost Carriers) that fly to Japan’s main cities. The chances of getting a cheap shared dorm room or AirBnB is also endless.

How to survive in Tokyo? The answer is konbini (convenience store). It’s the best place to get fast and cheap food. Your ¥1000/$8-10 (depends on the exchange rate) can get you far.

What else could you do in a convenience store? You can buy your tickets to theme parks in advance, you can withdraw cash from their ATM (if your bank allows international use), use FREE internet, read manga while waiting, etc.

#9: Japanese people are innately nationalistic.

Japanese

That’s how they were trained in school.

They are usually proud of their “unique” traits such as using the chopsticks really well. Don’t be shocked or don’t feel offended if someone greeted you that you are good or bad in using chopsticks. It’s just their way of starting conversations.

NOTE: Japanese are really known for keeping their true feelings too; so they can use general topics such as the weather, just to talk with you.

#10: On Traditions.

Japanese Traditions

Aside from what I stated earlier about New Year traditions of cleaning up and buying lucky bags, they have a lot more such as The Coming of Age Day which is celebrated every second Monday of January. Its purpose is to officially celebrate everyone who turned 20 (the legal age in Japan).

Another famous (yet ridiculous) tradition in Japan is to have KFC chicken for Christmas. Since Japanese people are mostly Buddhist, Shintoist or both, they are not supposed to have Christmas celebration — but due to commercialism, they are actually celebrating it now. Though… it’s mostly for couples dating (like how we usually celebrate Valentine’s Day).


We hope that these 10 things (trivia) that Ashley and I have shared will be useful for you as you plan and plot the places you want to travel to in Japan!

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