JLPT BC 113 | The Top 10 Things I wish I had Known Part 2

JLPT BC 113 | The Top 10 Things I wish I had Known Part 2 post image

 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.

Pack Light

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?

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Hannah May 15, 2013, 2:16 pm

    I agree pretty much with packing light, but if you’re picky about certain products, it might be smart to bring them along so you don’t have to pay more to ship them. Shampoo here just isn’t good enough for my fine, blonde hair and I’m very particular about my toothpaste and deodorant. But most regular soaps and other products I have no problem with! My fiance on the other hand will use Japanese shampoo but imports facial cleanser. So it might pay off to see which brands/products you will be able to find at reasonable prices and which will be unavailable/over-priced.

    Hyperdia is awesome like 99% of the time. But since the schedule updates this spring, the route times for the train lines from Nagoya into Mie have been all screwed up and it messes with me getting to work some days. >.< But otherwise it's great! haha

    I love Tokyo, it's muuuuch more interesting and just plain nicer looking than here in Nagoya. But my most loved place is Chiba, and I like Tokyo as a nice day trip or shopping excursion when I'm in Chiba. 🙂

    • Clayton MacKnight May 19, 2013, 3:41 pm

      I need my deodorant. I’ve tried Japanese deodorants, several kinds actually, and they just don’t hold up at all. I guess I’m just one smelly guy, so yeah, I have to import those. One good recent thing though is CostCo. We just got one here and wow, lots of cheap American stuff I miss like giant flour tortillas that don’t cost a fortune and of course jumbo-sized boxes of diapers. Some of the stuff is a rip off, but there are a few items like frozen turkeys that you just can’t get anywhere else.

      I went to Nagoya for the Aichi Expo, it seemed like a nice medium sized city that was a hop skip away from some good places to ski, vacation and hang out. What’s famous there? Some kind of ramen right?

  • Jansen May 15, 2013, 4:18 pm

    Hyperdia is a godsend. It’s one of the first things I share with people who are going to Japan for the first time. It’s especially handy if you manage to get a smartphone, because it can be a huge help if you accidentally take the wrong train or get lost.

    Packing light is also a huge deal. I understand the need to want to take EVERYTHING with you, especially if you’re going to be in Japan a long time, but you’re more likely to sing a different tune when a) you can’t fit your giant suitcase through the ticket gate, b) stairs become your enemy, and c) you can’t find the room in your apartment for all your stuff. You’re also left with the problem of accumulating too many things while you’re there, which just adds up to a major moving disaster if it’s time to go back to your home country.

    As for Tokyo, I actually lived there for a brief period of time. I think it’s an excellent place to visit, and there’s enough to see that I think you could spend at least a week there and have a lot of fun. (It’s not for everyone, though, especially if you just don’t care much for big cities in the first place.) That said, I would never want to live there again. Despite its conveniences, living in Tokyo was a very isolating experience in some ways. People in Tokyo have been very friendly to me, but I find it’s much easier to make Japanese friends in the countryside, especially if you’re making an effort to learn the language.

    • Clayton MacKnight May 19, 2013, 3:44 pm

      Jansen, that’s a good point about living in a big city. I think if you really want to meet the natives and practice the language the countryside is the best. Tokyo definitely has a lot of jobs and unlimited possibilities though, so it is hard to choose I think.

  • Hannah May 21, 2013, 1:11 pm

    Personally I was really disappointed in Nagoya ’cause I loved Tokyo-area and expected it to be just a small step down. There’s just so many points of interests and things to do in Tokyo, as a tourist or a resident. We finished Nagoya within a week of moving here. lol
    But it does have it’s good points. My fiance and I are into hiking, and it’s close to some nice day-hikes. And we live in the dead center of entertainment right outside a major station, and the rent is pretty reasonable considering.
    Taiwan ramen is a famous food, but there are a TON in Nagoya. I love ogura toast (chunky anko on toast) and Nagoya-style wings are really good. Then there’s hitsumabushi, miso nikomiudon, kishimen, tenmusu, miso katsu… The food here is pretty good. 🙂

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