I did not come to Japan only to emerge myself in the heaven of food, shopping, and hot guys & girls (sure sure). I am moving on to the country side of Japan in the next post. There are a lot of the popular attractions that I choose not to cover because I assume you guys can easily find those in tour guide books (like Tokyo Tower, Ueno, Eido Onsen Resort…). I mostly wanted to cover the ones that you can add on to your itinerary, and spice up your independent travel experience.

While traveling in Tokyo, there were things that bothered me a little (the first one bothered me A LOT), and I wish I knew earlier. I hope by sharing, you can be more prepared than I am when going to Japan.

1. Bring Disposable Toilet Seat Covers!!

I have taken disposable toilet seat covers for granted. I thought they have those in Japan since they use mostly western toilets now. I was dead wrong. I don’t care how people think Japan is clean and everything, I am just not comfortable putting my butt down on a naked toilet seat wishing I won’t get a rash or other things.

Some larger stations, department stores, and trains have alcohol wipes for you to clean the toilets, but the thought of millions of butt has touched the toilet (not going to mention other stuff), I just cannot do it.You can buy disposable toilet seat covers in the drug stores in USA or at the airport.

2. Practice Matching Skills

For people who does not know the language, it can be a pain getting fast food when you are required to use the ticket machine. Most fast food places in Japan have a ticket machine outside with the Japanese names of the food on it. You suppose to insert money, then click on what you want. For people who cannot read Japanese, looking at the ticket machine can be a traumatic experience. What I would suggest is: 1. Look at the food models at the windows, 2. Take a photo of the name plate of the food model you like 3. Then find characters that look exactly the same on the ticket machine and order. The more you practice, the faster you will get. It is purely about recognizing shapes.

3. Learning What is “No” in Japan

Japanese uses indirect speech. They do not like face to face confrontation, instead they like to use body language and other means to show their emotion. If you are trying to negotiate something with a Japanese (like special service or discounts), and they keep pausing, tilt their head like they are thinking, and make the sound “mmm….ummm,” you know may be they are troubled and not sure how to help you. Instead of trying to get a direct “yes” or “no” answer out of them, just leave them alone. Sometimes when I am in that situation and instead I said “Sorry for the trouble. That’s okay, don’t worry, I was only wondering,” (with a smile and get ready to leave) they are more willing to help and coming up with creative solutions =D

4. Know Thy Dress Code!

I am from California, where people are relaxed, easy going, and friendly. By relaxed I mean you will see people wearing shorts and tennis shoes when going to a symphony concert, and students wearing pajamas to take their final exams. I love that part about California, because it allows people to be who they are and be comfortable. BUT! In Japan, you can sense where you are by how people dress. In Akihabara, you can see girls in costumes, guys in t-shirts and jeans. In Shinjuku many people dress in casual but fashionable clothing. At Ginza district of Tokyo, you will see girls in semi formal dresses and guys in suits. If you try to bombard high end places like Chanel and Gucci dessert cafe in Ginza with tennis shoes, shorts and a shirt that you have worn for 3 days straight, not only you will get looks from other Japanese people, the hosts will not seat you either. In Japan, dressing up appropriately is important because it means you respect other people. (Ladies bring at least a casual dress/and a dress shirt for guys)

5. May Be a Pocket Language Guide?

This is only needed when you are lost, or going to a place with no English signs. Besides the staff at the airport and major hotels that has excellent English skills, most of the people in Japan knows very little English and do not speak the language well. When I went to Shinjuku Station in Tokyo to ask for directions in English, the girl at the info desk was really nervous, and I can barely understand her because of the accent and grammar. I suggest you bring an electronic language dictionary when you want to ask something. If you have an Ipad, get on to Google translate, type the simplest sentence you can (for best result), and use their voice feature on Google Translate to say the sentence for you. Plus with Google Translate on Ipad, they can type in the answer and translate it back to English too!(Thank God though, more and more restaurants in Tokyo have English Menus, most popular places have English signs,  and the map in Japan is pretty clear).

I am sure there are many great tips for traveling in Japan. Many people mentioned don’t give tips in Japan (its not their style), take off shoes at straw mate rooms, and so on.

Bye bye shopping malls, skyscrapers, anime stores……and …..(to be continued)