This post is a continuation of last month’s top 10.
This is one of those things that most people probably don’t know about outside of Japan, but can be the source of a lot of good times with friends and significant others.
If you haven’t heard of what purikura is, it’s pretty simple really. It’s basically a photo booth where you can take pictures of you and your tomodachi. They can be a little intimidating at first especially since a lot of the commands are given verbally so you have to listen well and move quick to get into the different poses that they sometimes make you do (like looking down at the camera or in my case crouching down because you are too tall.)
Also, the booths are usually designed for just two people but inevitably after a night of drinking, it always seems like a good idea to have you and your 6 closest friends join you for a photo session. This ends up being absolutely hilarious because you are smashing together to get into the shot at the last moment, which makes for some interesting photographs.
You can typically find purikura machines at game centers in popular shopping districts. Just look for the UFO catchers (the crane game) and go upstairs. They will typically have an entire floor of them.
Just step in and pop some coins in (4 – ¥100 coins these days) and you will be whisked through a high speed photo shoot, which is part of the fun. Afterwards you’ll be able to customize your memento with clip art hearts, labels, swirlies, and all sorts of stuff. Then, it will get printed out a few seconds after that.
After that, take your sheets of printed pictures and there will usually be some kind of cutting table you can stand at that has scissors for you to cut your pictures with. You might have to wade through a few school girls (which is the typical clientele at these places) but well worth it for all the fun.
when my mom came to Japan for the first time I had taken her to all the major sites – the Golden Pavilion, Kiyomizu, Nara park, etc… It was a well planned out action packed tour of everything Kansai had to offer. And towards the end of the trip I asked her “what was the best part of being in Japan?”
She answered that the best part was the people. She is a little biased because she used to be a professional photojournalist, but I can still see where she was coming from. Some people say that all Asian people look alike, but I think that’s because they haven’t spent any time in Asia, because everyone looks very different. (To be honest, all foreigners are starting to look alike to me now)
Japan is home to some of the largest cities in the world. And they tend to be filled to the brim with people from all walks of life. This makes for some interesting sites on the subway and in public places.
I’m sure you’ve seen places like Shibuya in movies and such. These hubs of swarming humanity can provide a few minutes of entertainment as well as give you a slightly better idea of what the culture is like.
You’ll be surprised by how little things are different. For example, how so many women in Japan where knee-high boots, which are considered a bit low class in the States. Or how every salaryman wears the exact same thing. There will inevitably be some local characters mixed in there as well.
But, if journey off the beaten path to some specialty neighborhoods like Akihabara (if geeks were an ethnic group this would be their neighborhood) or ‘denden’ town here in Osaka (near nipponbashi), you will be able to take in a whole another set of characters.
For the brave of heart and those that can’t resist fried food, Osaka has Shinsekai. Home to a lot of cheap restaurants featuring Osaka’s specialty of fried stuff on a stick. But, there is also a large transvestite community as well as a lot of local color. Shinsekai is considered a ‘rough’ neighborhood so you might want to go during the day, but I’ve gone at all times and never had issues. In my opinion it is very uniquely Osaka.
I should say that I’m not saying people in Japan are any weirder than people from other countries . It’s just that due to the fact that there are areas of Japan where large numbers of people gather, it is a lot easier to people watch.
3. Go to the Bathroom
Okay so hopefully you will do this at least once while you are in Japan, so it probably doesn’t need to be said, but I’ll say it anyway. You should go to the bathroom in Japan, because, well, it’s a uniquely Japanese experience. Restrooms in Japan range from the really nice to the really open.
The really nice bathrooms usually have heated seats and automated butt washers. Although butt washing might not be your thing (it’s definitely not mine) it is something extremely Japanese.
It’s something that a lot of people here secretly pride themselves about. I’ve heard people bragging about the amazing butt washing technology that makes Japan more civilized and refined than other countries. I wouldn’t really go that far, but it is something to experience at least once.
The flip side of these high class toilets are the extremely open public toilets you sometimes see that are anything but high class. My favorite ones are where you get to see people walking by (and they see you) while you are relieving yourself. Nothing is more comforting or relaxing.
If you are out and about you may want to try to find a mall or a place with a lot of restaurants to do your business before taking a chance on these smelly last resorts. A lot of restaurants don’t have bathrooms in them, but there will be a bathroom that is shared by several restaurants, located out in the hall somewhere.
At the very least bathrooms in Japan are usually free unlike some other places. I’m looking at you Europe.
Onsens or hot springs (sometimes incorrectly referred to as ‘spas’ by the locals) are a very traditional, very Japanese thing to do. They are the perfect thing to do after a long day of sightseeing or roaming Japan. Immersing yourself in some hot water is so relaxing.
And there are all kinds of onsens out there for you. They have scented ones, ones with natural minerals, and even radioactive onsens. Every locale has a least one semi-famous place to take a dip, and you can’t leave Japan until you make a trip.
Now, okay, so you have to get naked with a bunch of strangers. And, yes, a lot of cases you will be the only foreigner there. This might be something you want to try while you still don’t understand that much Japanese because some people might make comments about you assuming you can’t understand what they are saying.
If it bothers you that people are making comments about your normally-bathing-suit-covered areas, you might want to try something else. Granted most comments are pretty positive, no one is going to snicker at you. It’s just that some people might not have seen that many foreigners before. And there are probably more than a few that have never seen a naked foreigner.
A real treat is when someone wants to strike up a conversation with you while you are completely naked. One time I was in Tokyo, at an onsen ‘theme park’, which is kind of like a giant onsen that has two parts. The first part, you strip to your underwear and throw on a yukata that they give you. You walk out into a indoor mock Edo period neighborhood where they are selling everything from beer to omiyage. You pay with a bracelet that they gave you at the front desk. It’s quite relaxing, it’s like walking around in your bath robe while drinking and eating ramen.
The second part, you take off your yukata and your undergarments and walk into a huge onsen with all the works. They had a super hot bath, cold bath, outdoor bath, the works, but it was packed, like cheek to cheek. Again, this didn’t bother me so much, but when I had a seat outside, wedged between two dudes just relaxing, the guy next to me decided to start a game of 20 questions.
Now, it is not a normal thing to talk in an onsen. As a matter of fact, most folks are as silent as possible. There is little eye contact. So, it can be uncomfortable to say the least, when someone wants to ask you where you are from.
Anyway, it is pretty rare. I’ve been to several onsens, and there is usually no funny business, just a lot of chilling out in hot water.
The one piece of Japanese that you will definitely, a hundred percent need-to-know, is the kanji for men – 男 and for women – 女. Sometimes, in more rustic or backwoods places that is all that marks the two entrances.
And sometimes, just to make things more fun, they might switch the guys and girls, ya know, just for a change of scenery. So even if you go to a place regularly, be sure to check the noren (the little curtains at the entrances) to make sure you are going into the right place.
Oh, and don’t be surprised to see a little obaachan (older woman) popping in and doing some cleaning even amongst all the naked dudes. I was once sitting in the sauna, sweating away when a kind old woman came in to change the towels. It was just me and her in a rather close space. For some reason she thought starting a conversation would make me feel more comfortable. She was wrong.
This might be obvious, because well, if you visit Japan, you will quite obviously have to consume food at some time. I mean, that is what humans do to survive, or at least I’ve been told. But, you might not be familiar with the sheer variety of Japanese food there is to be had. After all, it was recently named by UNESCO as a piece of intangible heritage. And you know UNESCO knows whats up.
You are probably familiar with the old Japanese standbys of sushi, tempura, possibly teppanyaki, Kobe beef, and a few other items, but there is even more to be had than that. For example, in Osaka, they have a specialty of Okonomiyaki, literally stuff a like fried, it’s like a pancake of fried meat, cabbage and other goodies rolled into one. I did an entire slideshow on it awhile back:
But, in Osaka, there is also takoyaki, fried octopus balls, and kushikatsu, basically fried stuff on a stick. To make a long story short, people in Osaka love fried anything.
And every locale has its own kind of food. Shimonoseki is known for blowfish. Okayama for its peaches. Aomori for apples. Kagawa has such a thing for Udon, they even made a movie about it.
And there are the different styles of eating. Of course, everyone has seen a conveyor belt sushi shop before. But, the highly automated chain sushi restaurants in Japan put anything you have probably seen before to shame. Sushiro and Kappa Sushi are two of the big chains and they touchscreen ordering systems, sophisticated waiting-for-your-table supercomputer thing, and all sorts of random sushi combinations like steak sushi.
And, you have to go to an Izakaya, or Japanese pub. You should go in a decent sized group (at least 4 people, but 10 or more is best). All of the dishes they serve are smaller than normal and are meant to be shared. What ends up happening is you order 6 or 7 dishes at a time and share them, so that you can get a little taste of everything. It’s basically like a tapas place in Spain, which coincidentally, tapas restaurants are popular in Japan as well.