Saturday, March 7, 2009

Travel to Japan Tips

If you plan to travel to Japan, here are a few tips to help your Japanese travel experience; the tips are highly personal and particular to my traveling in Japan experiences. But you may find them useful to ponder before taking your Japan trip:

(photo courtesy of bernardoh)
  • Food: Japanese food is something of an art in Japanese culture; learn some Japanese adjectives to describe your food. Why? Whereas food is fuel in America, food is central to Japanese society and interpersonal relations. After each bite of food make sure you say oishii, which means "delicious"
  • Shinkansen Bento: When you're on the Japanese bullet train (shinkansen), make sure you buy a bento lunch (box lunch) on the train platform; like in an airplane, there is a pull down tray on the seat back in front of you. It's great experience to munch on rice and beef while watching the countryside fly by
  • Book Store: If you go to a Japanese bookstore - and you don't speak Japanese - be prepared that the you'll be asked a question at some point by the cashier; don't worry, she is simply asking if you want a cover on the book; just nod yes
  • Courtesy: During your Tokyo trip, you might see a mother with a child in a stroller down in the subway; often there is no escalator, so she'll have to lug the stroller up the stairs. If men want to be real gentlemen - help her! You'll shock everybody, because people rarely do those kind of things in public in Japanese culture (the blinders are real thick in Japanese cities)
  • Japanese Ramen: You must have Japanese ramen, and ramen is like pizza or BBQ in America: the more local, greasy and obscure the ramen place, the higher the probability that the ramen is good.
  • Chopsticks: If you don't know how to use chopsticks, practice before you arrive. Even if you are terrible at using them, the Japanese will be amazed that you're even trying
  • Canned Coffee: There are tons of Japanese vending machines that sell everything from beer to coffee. I recommend getting canned Japanese coffee - preferably hot - it's already got sugar and milk in it, so it's good to go!
  • Mister Donut: (You can tell I love coffee) Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks have nothing on Mister Donut in Japan; it's an old fashioned New England coffee and donuts chain that somehow ended up in Japan. It's the best! Great coffee and simple, sugary donuts. While you're traveling in Japan - and have some time to kill in a big train station - look for it!
  • J-Rail Pass: Buy a Japan Rail Pass before you arrive in Japan; it gives you unlimited travel on Japanese trains for set amount of time - a great value

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