If you are going to be staying or living in Japan for any length of time. You want to make the most of it. The problem is there are a few things that the natives know that don’t show up in too many guidebooks. Things that I found out about the hard way more often than not.
When I first moved to Japan, it was my first time abroad. My first time really anywhere outside of the States. I really didn’t have that much of a clue of what to expect or what to do, and I was going to live here for awhile. It was pretty fun to explore and find new things here and there.
But, there are a few things I wish I had known before coming. I give you the top 10 things I wish I knew before I came:
No Trash Cans
There is a complete and utter lack of trash cans in Japan. When I went to the Aichi Expo about 5 years ago, I stopped to get something to eat in the food court. But when I went to leave, there wasn’t a trash can in sight. I eventually found some hidden in a back corner.
Well, I’ve heard the major reason for this is for counter-terrorism. After the 1995 Tokyo sarin gas attack, there were a lot less trash cans around. Nowadays the general use of trash cans you do see in train stations are usually clear with clear bags so that you can see what is inside.
Moral of the story is you’ll have to pack around your trash or sneak into McDonald’s to throw something away.
Respect the Food
People tend to respect the eating of food here. In general, you are suppose to sit at a restaurant and eat or eat at your desk at work. You don’t see a lot of people walking and eating, which is another reason why there aren’t a whole heck of a lot of trash cans around.
There are no rules against eating in public. People have explained that it seems a little disrespectful to the food like you don’t care enough about it to sit down and enjoy it. I can say that as an American, I didn’t really respect food that much (that’s why we are all fat), but since coming to Japan, I’ve started to respect food a wee bit more.
I should say that as a foreigner you can guiltily scarf down a rice ball or a Big Mac on the run here and there and no one is going to start a fight with you or anything. However, you will most likely feel a little weird and be frustrated by the fact that you can’t throw away the wrapper anywhere.
Bars don’t seem to like people just like hanging out for no reason, so they will sometimes charge you a ‘sitting fee’. This is essentially a fee for using the seat, hence the name. They will, of course, charge you for any beer you drink or anything else as well.
The problem with these sitting fees is that they really aren’t posted anywhere. So, you can go into a place, have a few drinks, and be smacked with a higher bill at the end. And the fees can range from 300 or so yen to 1000 or more depending on the place.
Your best bet is head to an Irish bar or another similar looking place like an English pub. I know this isn’t going to allow you to dive deep into the culture, but you will be able to mingle with local expats who will most likely have plenty of stories to tell you.
Buses are an Acceptable Mode of Transportation
Buses in some countries are sometimes a little scary. They are generally not the first choice for transportation unless you have no money and a lot of time on your hands. At least, that was my impression I had of them before I came to Japan.
In Japan though, they are an excellent way to see a lot of the country easily. Also, overnight buses can save you time and a hotel stay if you don’t mind the whole no-shower thing. I’ve taken in a lot more sights because I saved a lot of money taking buses around.
The other advantage of buses, especially overnight buses, is they go from point A to point B, so if you are nervous about listening for your stop (like on a train) this might be a better option for you, because they will only make pit stops, and then take you directly to where you need to go.
Looking for some cheap eats at the end of the day? Head to your local supermarket then because chances are they’ll have marked down food available for the taking. Sometimes you can get things 50% off their regular prices.
This marked down food is called ‘otsutomehin’ or working (mans) food. It’s marketed as a reward for those working late, but in realty it’s a way for the supermarket to get rid of its not so fresh sushi and fried goods before they have to close up shop.
Typically, they start marking down items around 8pm, so if you are hungry later in the evening, be sure to stop into a supermarket and pick something up.
That’s the First Half
There’s the first half of the top 10. I’ll be back next month with the rest of the list. In the meantime, I would love to hear what you wish you had known about Japan before you moved here. Let me know in the comments.