Good evening friends!
One of my long-time bestest buddies is moving to Japan soon! I’ve been once, and I studied Japanese at school, so I have a few things to share about traveling there and decided to write her and all of you this little guide. Technically she’s going to Okinawa and I was in Japan proper, but I suspect a lot of this will be the same. If not she’ll be too far away to hit me for leading her wrong.
Main point to get from this post: TAKE ME WITH YOU TO JAPAN.
Have complete contact information for where you are staying on hand. You may be required to fill out a form showing where you’re staying and they won’t let you leave it blank.
There are three kinds of toilets in Japan.
- American kind. Sigh in relief and do the obvious.
- Japanese kind (trough in the floor). Squat facing the raised part. Despair for modern plumbing.
- Space ship kind. Swear. Try to find the button that does what needs doing. Inevitably push a button that does something else entirely. Yelp, then swear again.
Japanese trains are awesome. After you’ve ridden the train once it’ll be a breeze, and even if you don’t read this you’ll figure it out, this is just to save you having to learn in a crowded station.
- Once you’re in the station lobby, find a map of the route you want. Find the station where you are and the station where you want to be. Count the number of dots (stops) from one to the other. Memorize the name of the very next train station in the direction of your ultimate destination.
- Find the electronic ticket machines. In all the parts of Japan I went to they had an English button so even if you didn’t speak or read Japanese you could still use the trains. Buy a ticket for the number of dots (stops) you counted.
- Go find the row of turnstiles that separates the lobby from the platforms. Feed your ticket into the slot on your side of the turnstile. The turnstile then unlocks and you can go through. Your ticket will pop out on the other side, make sure you take it!
- Find the train line you need to be on and then find the platform for that line that shows the next station you memorized. There may be some stairs and a bit of walking involved in this step; to get between platforms for the two directions you often have to go over or under the rails.
- Do what the other waiting passengers are doing. They’ll often queue up in a neat little line, and there’s unspoken protocol about things like waiting for disembarking passengers. This is Japan. There is procedure. Board the train and start counting stops.
- Did you get that? Count the stops. If you don’t speak much Japanese you can lose track of the stations pretty fast. Count the stops to maximize the odds of getting off at the right one. It can get a little rough here because not all trains stop at all the stops. Those are usually called Express trains. You’ll figure it out.
- Once you leave the train at your destination just find the turnstiles separating you from the lobby, feed in your ticket, and exit. It won’t spit out your ticket this time; you’ve used what you paid for.
Here’s the good bit: It doesn’t matter if you get off at the wrong stop. Your ticket gets you through the turnstiles, not onto the train. If you go too far, just get on the train going in the other direction and get off at the right stop. Your ticket only needs to be valid for the number of stops between where you first passed through the turnstile and where you choose to exit through the turnstiles.
If you bought a ticket for too few stops there will be a window somewhere along the way from the platform to the turnstiles where you can pay an adjustment. I’ve never had to do this, but even if you don’t speak Japanese if you hand them a ticket that’s for too few stops and you have money in your hands it’ll probably be obvious what you need.
- When paying at a counter there will usually be a plastic tray, often blue, where you put your money. You don’t hand your money to the clerk. You put it on the tray, the clerk takes the tray and the money, and returns the tray with your change on it. They’ll push the tray toward you, so it’s pretty easy to figure out. If there isn’t a tray, turn the bills so the text is facing the clerk in the direction they would read it, hold the bills with both hands, and slightly incline your head while holding them out.
- Keep your bills flat. The Japanese all had bill holders that kept their bills reasonably flat. This meant that when they laid them in the blue plastic money tray at the counter it all stayed in there nice and neat. If your bills are all bendy ’cause of being in a folding, American-style wallet then they fidget around in the tray and it’s embarrassing and people look at you funny. This is Japan. There is procedure.
- Cash is the main way of paying for things. At least it was a few years ago. Carry enough cash to make sure you can get home and handle meals and such.
- Count the zeros, then count again. Japanese money has a lot of zeros and it’s super embarrassing to hand over one tenth of the price and not be able to understand the clerk rattling off a bunch of words that are a polite translation of, “you goober that’s not enough money”.