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30 October 2017


it's no secret i was super nervous about our trip to japan. despite growing up "near" them, i'd never before been to an asian country, and knew that they could be tough on visitors as far as the culture shock and language barrier goes, and i was letting the anxiety of the "what ifs" get to me in the weeks leading up to the big flight. i'd chatted with some friends who'd been before and gathered a few tips and facts that certainly helped settle those nerves, but there's no way i could have prepared for the real thing. there are things that no-one tells you; that aren't in the guide books; that you can't prepare yourself for. like:

wifi is necessary, seriously

there is surprisingly not a lot of wifi in japan. like, from cafe to restaurant, yes, but while you're out on the street? not so much. and that's not normally a problem, but in a country where there is more of a language barrier than normal, having access to maps and translation and other such services is pretty important. katy and i hired a mobile wifi device for our two weeks in the country which set us back about £70 total, but we had unlimited data the entire time, which was a godsend. we even managed to watch a bunch of netflix from it, and hardly lost any speed. considering my mobile phone provider wanted to charge me £100 for 2gb roaming, i thiiiink we got a pretty good deal, no?

english is fine, but japanese is politer

i worried about the language barrier, but i needn't have. as soon as they took one look at us, they started with a "hello", right after the traditional (and repetitive) "irasshaimase" (welcome) as soon as we walked in anywhere. we knew/learned very quickly the basic hello/goodbye and thank you, and found that beyond that we were absolutely fine getting by with our native tongue.. especially as i'm almost positive our japanese was preeeetty terrible.

if in doubt, google translate 

a few of us have special dietary needs, and so rather than pull out the old google translate every time we wanted to make sure there were no onions or pork, we translated it in advance and kept it as a note in our phones. it came in handy too many times to mention, and even though the sentence structure was probably out, it did the trick. if you've got one of those fancy apps that translates as you speak, then use it. it'll help both parties more than you know.

don't tip, it's super rude

if your bill comes to Y746, don't round it up to Y750. they will chase you down the street to give you the Y4 back, because it's seen as their honour to serve you. hospitality is at the core of the japanese culture, and they get proper offended if you leave anything behind. like, even an empty water bottle - they will bring it back to you. this was troublesome at first when we only had big notes to break as we were splitting everything with cash, so try to keep some coins on you at all times.

don't eat and walk (it's also super rude!)

this was the weirdest quirk i think. in japan, there's a lot of street food, right? a lot of vans, vendors, and stalls selling food by the side of the road. when you buy said food, you must eat it there and then. each little stall will have a small standing area where you're expected to stand and eat your food before moving on. why? i'm not sure. i think maybe because littering is a massive no-no, and not carrying food means you can't litter? regardless, the amount of times we went to walk off before remembering (thanks to a few seedy looks from passersby) we should stay put was too embarrassing to recall. just prepare in advance for a lot of standing around.

vending machines are your pal

need a cold drink? there's a vending machine for that. want a giant peach fanta? there's a vending machine for that. fancy a weird, salty, watery drink that roughly translated to "sweaty milk"? no, i can't imagine you would, but if you did, there's a vending machine for that. there's honestly a vending machine for any kind of drink you could want: water, soft drink, tea, iced coffe, juice, milk.. you name it, the vendors have got you covered. and, there's basically more vendors than there are people, so you're never too far from your next drink. and, and, they're all between Y100 and Y130 - which isn't even a quid.

"iced coffee" is the same in both languages

similarly, you can get iced coffee just about everywhere. from the vendors, from the convenience stores, from the cafes, from random ramen shops - it's everywhere. and, it's the best iced coffee you'll ever have. most asian countries don't use milk as we know it, they used sweet, thick, condensed milk to sweeten their drinks, and i am heeere for it. i could have lived a happy life drinking japanese iced coffees every day forever, and i am a coffee snob. thank the lord for japanese iced coffee!

don't put your bag on the floor, ever

when you sit down in a restaurant, don't put your bag on the floor. bad feng shui, that. instead, there will be a box, a hook, or a shelf for you to put your belongings on for safe keeping. use them; it's suuuper rude (and bad feng shui) to ignore the offer of a bag box and instead sling your bag over your chair, or - worse still: keep wearing it. oh no, no no. put it in the box.

ladies-only carriages are for ladies, only

every subway train you can possibly get on in japan has at least one designated women-only carriage. you'll know which one it is by the utter pinkness of it all, which could be totally patronising if it wasn't so damn awesome, and truly a comfortable and heavenly ride. the platform has a pink sign painted on it so you know which one it is, so there's no faffing about on board, and once you're inside, it's the quietest, most relaxing ride you'll take. be patronised; take the pink carriage.

seven eleven is your best friend

much like the vending machines, 7/11 will become like a beacon of light and love for you. the convenient stores sell everything from phone batteries to chocolate bubble gum, and all the boiled eggs you could want in between. the selection of fresh food (but not fruit or veg - we're talking like, bowls of ramen, katsu plates, and all the tofu you could ever dream of) is incredibly vast, and you could absolutely eat three meals a day out of their ready-meal shelves. they even heat it up, or cook, or boil, or add miso to whatever you buy, so you literally have to do nothing else. by the end of our trip we'd worked out if we went to a 7/11 after 6pm, the food became like 90% reduced and we could get dinner for less than three quid. honestly, i've never felt such a love for a chain convenience store.

shoes, off

japan smells a lot like feet, and that's for the reason of: you gotta take your shoes off everywhere you go, and put on a borrowed pair of indoor slippers that someone else's feet have been in before yours. it's kinda gross, and probably the thing i liked the least about our trip, but.. culture is culture, right? it's extreme though, the shoes off thing, like.. you can be in a shop, happily picking things up to try on but as soon as you're in the changing rooms? shoes off. but..but..! why! the fitting rooms all smelt like sweaty feet, and i'm not here for that. be warned.

all in all, japan was a massive shock to me - in an utterly, incredibly, wonderful way. in no way was i ever overwhelmed by the country, rather, just struck by awe at almost every turn. the day we arrived i turned to katy so much and just shook my head and muttered ".. we're in japan, man.. japan!" which i'm sure she got sick of fairly quickly, but my god: the country is simply beautiful. i can't wait to share more stories with you. until then, consider yourself prepared for your first trip to japan.

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