One of our hotels in Japan served breakfast bento, which was perfect for me as I adore both breakfast and eating a variety of foods. Since I have no business claiming to be an authority on Japan, I thought it would be fun to share a variety of bite-sized tips which might be useful to novice travelers like me. So here you go, a bento box of Japan tips:
Here’s the good news: snacking in Japan is uber-convenient and affordable. Tasty snacks like these ongiri from 7-11, are on practically every street corner and keep that desperate traveling hunger at bay.
Oh seaweed snack, will you marry me?
Many snacks in Japan are green-tea flavored. I declare green tea ice cream to be a particularly fine life choice.
I have never, ever seen more vending machines in my life. I wonder how many people in Japan are employed by the vending machine-filling industry? Do Japanese children grow up thinking babies come from vending machines? Are citizens who carry reusable water bottles or home-brewed tumblers of coffee considered freaks?
But this world of convenient snacks is confusing. Snacks and drinks are easy to find, but eating in public can be considered impolite. Most especially, it is quite rude to eat or drink while walking. And never consume anything riding the subway in Japan—that’s just disgusting.
Okay, so you’ve figured out how wedge yourself into a corner somewhere to consume your snacks and vending machine-purchased beverages without causing offense. Now here you are left with a pile of trash in the form of wrappings and bottles. I bet you want to throw that environmental guilt-inducing garbage away, don’t you? Well good luck finding a trash can. You’re probably going to have to bring that trash back to your hotel.
Even on trash collecting day, Japanese people don’t use a trash can—they just put the trash on the curb covered with a tarp to keep it from blowing away.
Just like snacking, public transportation in Japan is super convenient. We purchased two type of train passes: the Japan Rail Pass and the Pasmo Card.
Japan Rail Pass is only available for people who live outside of Japan and you have to buy it in advance. If you plan on leaving Tokyo you should get this pass since it will save you a lot of money on long distance rail. We traded in the vouchers we bought in advance for the actual pass once we arrived at Narito airport. While we were there, we also made seat reservations for our planned trips. Because of the typhoon that hit shortly after we arrived, HOB and I didn’t end up going on most of our planned rides, but the pass was still good and we rode in unreserved cars without a problem. The Japan Rail pass was also good on certain subway lines and even for buses in large cities.
We also bought PASMO cards at the airport, which are like many other city transit cards but better, since they worked in every Japanese town we visited. You can put money on the card and then when you swipe it, the machine takes the correct amount out, which eliminates a lot of stress since it is difficult to understand the price of rides. When we flew home from Tokyo, we were able to refund the balance on the cards along with the deposit we’d paid when we bought them, all at the Narita airport.
Both of these cards were easy to use even for amateurs like us who don’t speak Japanese.
BEWARE OF BIRDS
Don’t get hit with green pigeon poo!
Ummm, maybe just keep your distance from the crows.
So Japan has police that are technically there to enforce laws but in reality mostly function as tour guides. There are police boxes all over and just when you start to feel lost a friendly guy in a police uniform pops out and shows you directions on his cell phone. ((Hugs to Officer Friendly!))
Japanese ladies are so well dressed that I felt like a bit of a creeper for always staring at them. Traditional dress is more common than I would have guessed, and the ladies in non-traditional clothes also looked elegant and modest, with earth tones, long skirts and loose fits. I promised myself that I would emulate their look once returning home (though as I type this I’m getting ready for work in a one-shoulder sparkly dress and neon red tights—oops!)
Men’s fashion, on the other hand….well let’s just say that the boy-band hairstyle is trending strong. I tried to talk HOB into getting a boy-band haircut but he declined to go native. His loss.
You’re going to be taking your shoes off a lot in Japan. If you stay at a traditional guest house, the host will confiscate your shoes at the door and shut them in a special cabinet. We had to take them off at some temples too. Often there are loaner slippers, including special slippers just for public bathrooms. If you go in a public bathroom and see slippers at the door, take off your shoes and put on the toilet slippers while you do your business. Don’t forget to leave them facing forward at the door when you leave so they are easy for the next person to slip on.
Statues of the raccoon dog Tanuki are all over Japan. With his big belly, goofy expression, and ever-present flask of sake, he’s lovable and friendly.
Respect to you, Tanuki.
Respect to you, warm-hearted and etiquette-obsessed people of Japan.