A month ago, I published the first half of this top 10 list of things I wish I had known before coming to Japan. And a few of you commented on some other things that you wish you had known as well. But, as promised here’s the rest of the things I wish I had known before I came to Japan.
How to cook and keep rice
Taking care of rice seems like a pretty simple task, just wash it, throw it in your rice cooker, and it eat it when the machine dings. Of course, you’ll have to wait a good 20 to 30 minutes to get fresh rice but that’s how I used to think that’s all you needed.
Until one day I noticed I had some strange colored rice mixed in with my other rice, and there was a small moth flying around near my bag of rice. Stupid me, I thought you could just leave your bag of rice in the cabinet and everything would be okay.
But, it turns out moths like to lay eggs in rice and although they probably add some extra fiber and protein, you probably don’t want to eat them. So, be sure to seal up your giant bag of rice so they can’t get inside.
Another inconvenience is the time it takes to cook rice. If You want something quick and easy in the morning or with your curry at night you are out of luck because you’ll have to wait a pretty long time for your rice. I used to just use this time to check email or veg out. But, you can actually cut down your cooking time by freezing your rice.
What I typically do these days is cook up a big batch of rice and then freeze up smaller fist-sized portions of rice wrapped in plastic wrap. Then later when I want some rice, I just need to throw it in the microwave and three minutes later I have fresh, yummy rice.
If you’re moving to Japan for an extended period of time, your first inclination might be to pack everything you “can’t live without”. Then you lug around a heavy suitcase on your way to your new place. Start unpacking and you can feel at home. Or at least that’s how the idea goes.
But, I would recommend trying to keep your packing to a minimum. Just pack clothes, maybe a critical electronic device (tablet, laptop, iPhone) and that’s about it. There’s a couple of reasons for this.
First, you can, in general, buy most things you really really need when you get here. Recycle shops, stores that sell secondhand electronics and books, are pretty common and sell a lot of the little things you need for pretty cheap.
And it might sound strange but you don’t want your house to be too comfortable. You want to have a reason to get out and explore. Even the small, seemingly boring exploring of walking up and down regular city streets can be an adventure in a foreign country.
Seishun 18 Kippu
Last month, I talked about getting around on buses, but you could also travel on the cheap by train with seishun 18 kippu. It is a five day pass for local trains on JR the biggest train network that links up most of Japan. This is a pretty versatile tickets because you can actually share it with your friends.
For example, two of you can travel all day on local trains. Doing this will use up two days on the ticket (of the five). You also don’t have to use the days consecutively, so you can travel on Monday to a place, stay there a few days and then move on and not lose days on your pass.
The downside is that it is only available during certain time periods, so check to see if it is available and how long it is valid before you buy one. You can pick them up at any JR station or they are available for a slight discount (-Y200) at the ticket places you’ll typically see in the city.
This is an amazing website that can calculate all the possible ways you can get from point A to B, including planes and the shinkansen. There are plenty of options that you can tweak about the search as well. For example, you can search only local trains if you want to use your seishun 18 kippu or calculate how much a commuter pass (定期券, teikiken) would be.
The best part is that you can change the interface to English. This sometimes makes finding a particular station a little tricky, but is an overall plus. If you are doing any traveling on trains this should be your first stop.
Tokyo is just a big city
Okay, I know I will most likely get a lot of tomatoes thrown at me for this because it is pretty debatable and also depends on your personal taste, but I feel that Tokyo is just a big city. In other words, it has a lot of nice restaurants, nice hotels, and nice people, but nothing special.
You could easily experience all Tokyo has to offer in about two days. I think if you live there it could be pretty interesting because there are plenty of people to meet and things to do, but nothing incredibly special about the place.
My recommendation for places to live if it is your first time to live here is the countryside. You’ll meet more of the natives and be less tempted to just hang out with ex-pats. There is also a good chance you’ll be invited over to people’s houses as well and you can experience Japanese hospitality.
What do you think?
I’ll be back with another bonus lesson with five more things I wish I had known next month. But, what do you think of these suggestions so far? Is there something I’ve missed? If you live in Tokyo, what is there to see and do in Tokyo?