First time to Japan
Have you been to Japan? Would you feel intimidated traveling to a country where English is not a common language? Perhaps you are reading this because you are interested to visit Japan, or you are planning to visit one of the cities in Japan soon.
In October 2014, I visited Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka for the first time with my close friend also for the FIRST TIME! Although we were trying to learn some Japanese before visiting, but it was really too challenging and didn’t go anywhere. Therefore I felt quite worried before my visit.
It ended up as one of the best trips of my life, and I am going to share my experience with you as someone who doesn’t speak Japanese.
Although I failed to learn Japanese, I was still doing a fair share of preparation. I wouldn’t suggest you visit Japan without any kind of preparation. For example, I heard some people couldn’t get through customs because they didn’t book all the accommodations for their visit.
Research the places you like to visit and save them on your Google Map. There are so many things to do in Japan, and you won’t have enough time to do it all unless you are there for more than a month. List out your priorities, and then add some optional spots in case you have extra time. Some of the places need reservations. For example, you need to be there by yourself to make a reservation for visiting the Imperial Palace in Kyoto. The wait time to get on Tokyo SkyTree can be couple hours if you didn’t make a reservation before your visit. I heard you can make reservations or get the ticket at a 7-11, but I haven’t got a chance to try it myself.
Rooms in Japan are tiny, unless you are staying at some luxury hotels. Since the rooms are tiny, the bed is going to be small as well, and some of the hotel rooms have limited space for luggage. It is going to be a nightmare if you had more than two large suitcases! When we were in Kyoto, we were staying at First Cabin. It was kind of like a hybrid between a regular hotel and a capsule hotel. The price is quite affordable and the location was great! However if you have large luggage, an accommodation like capsule hotel may not be ideal.
I rented a pocket wifi device when I was in Japan. Free wifi is usually accessible at the hotels. I wasn’t quite able to get online in most public places including coffee shops. With a pocket wifi device, getting around was fairly easy. I Google the location I like to go on Google Map, and chose the public transport route, and it would tell me where to get on the train/subway, and even how much it cost. Like I mentioned previously, large luggage could be a problem when using public transportation. It was not easy to find an elevator or escalator in some of the subway train stations. It wasn’t fun to drag 50 pounds of luggage up a 3 flights of stairs!
If you get lost in the train station or couldn’t find the entrance, you can always ask the officers there. Show them the name of the place you wanted to go if you can’t pronounce it. They may not be fluent in English but they are helpful enough to point you to the right direction.
Sometimes finding a bus station can be challenging. The bus station location mark on Google Map may not be all exact, therefore it would be good to figure out the direction you are heading to and locate the bus station on the correct side of the road.
They are friendly, and their services are excellent! However, most of them do not speaking English at all! Other than people who work at the hotels, they usually can’t speak English or are not fluent in English. The funny thing was, I didn’t have any problems when I was traveling there even though the majority of them only speak Japanese. As long as you are being polite, you probably can get people to help you, especially when you need help in directions. Don’t worry if you don’t understand the menus in the restaurants. They all are very accommodating and most of them will provide an English or Chinese menu if you asked.
Get some cash before you arrive at the airport just in case if the money changer isn’t open. My American VISA credit card was not working in Japan even though I had already contacted them and talked to the bank several times before I left for my trip. The ATM card only works in a 7-11 convenient store. Other ATM machines you saw at the bank and on the street will require you to have a Japanese bank credit card. So if you think you might be in an area without a 7-11, you might want to get enough cash since things are not cheap in Japan, and many local restaurants do not take credit cards. As a foreigner, you will get a tax exemption while you shop at the certain places. In order to have that discount, you will have to bring along your passport. They will attach a document to your passport when you get tax free. You will then keep those documents and turn it in at the airport when you leave.
Eating in Japan can be quite simple. Foods like Ramen, Sushi and Teriyaki are very common. If you have a sweet a tooth, you better do more exercise before your visit because desserts in Japan are excellent! They have so many varieties to choose from! They are delicate, delicious and definitely satisfying! Ramens are generally better than what you can find in the United States. Every city has their own styles of Ramen and the flavors are spot on! Sushi in Japan is more traditional. You don’t usually see Americanized sushi rolls there. If you don’t like raw fish, go for the Teriyaki! Memory Lane in Tokyo has tons of Teriyaki restaurants. They are tiny but the atmosphere is great! I truly enjoy drinking Japanese beer and eating Teriyaki there!
These are just brief experiences of mine while traveling in Japan for the first time. I hope you find this helpful and if you have more questions, just drop me a message!