Japan earlier this year was probably one of the best trips I have ever taken in my life. I was also so fortunate to be able to share the adventure with my two best friends. Here are 10 things I learnt on this incredible journey:
1. You are going to spend a lot of money
If you are planning a trip, saving for that air fare and accommodation is simply not going to be enough. Take plenty of spending money and a credit card that doesn’t charge you for international spending. There are plenty of fun things to do/see/taste, but travel within the country, food and entry tickets to sights are not cheap. It’s going to be easy to rack up a debt, so make sure you save a nice sum for spending money.
2. The toilet facilities are awesome
Public toilets are aplenty, clean and well maintained. And most are super high tech! I really wasn’t sure about the water jet functions on the Japanese toilets, but have since been 100% converted! It takes some getting used to, but once you do, you learn that no amount of paper is going to get your butt as clean as that water jet. You can set temperature, power and time, so it really caters to your preference. Plus, the toilet paper in Japan is really thin…you’re going to need a lot of it if you don’t use the spray functions. Just saying.
3. Don’t bring so much luggage. There is literally no room
The country is small and condensed. Space is scarce. Accommodation is going to be pretty tight, unless you’re willing to shed out the big bucks for large hotel suites. Be prepared to be very close to whomever you’re travelling/sharing with. I love my best friend to death, but we were so tightly packed into our hotel room with our suitcases there was barely enough room to turn around let alone attempting to straighten your hair without elbowing each other in the face – you think I’m exaggerating don’t you? I’m not. In our tiny room, we started losing things, as well as our minds after a few days of being cooped up in such a confined space!
4. Learn some key Japanese phrases – English can be hard to come by
We were so lucky to have our very own Japanese tour guide and translator – my bestie Akane! Since Japan is now preparing for the 2020 Olympics, places around Tokyo have been improved for non-Japanese tourists. Metro stops and lines are now in both English and Japanese and announcements are made in Japanese, English, Korean and Chinese. So, getting around is more manageable. However, asking for directions in the street may prove to be a problem. I’d suggest getting an international data bolt-on or buying a local sim card to have Google maps readily available. Luckily for food, many restaurants have life-size models of all their dishes and/or pictures in the menu so you can pick. If you have dietary requirements though such as allergies, translate your allergies onto a note beforehand and the rest? Well, I shall bid you good luck!
5. Upgrade to the VIP room at the Karaoke Bar. You will not regret it.
For someone that has never tried karaoke before – shocker I know, being Asian and all! – I was so pleasantly surprised to find out that it is actually nothing like how I expected it to be! I was always self conscious of my singing voice, or found it a bit dated and cringe-worthy. However, I am pleased to say I was very wrong. The experience was extremely fun – even alcohol free! We upgraded to a VIP room in Tokyo having had so much fun trying it in Kyoto – yes, we went twice in one trip and no, there is neither any shame nor regrets! – and not only are the rooms larger, but the mic stands and disco lights they have in there are so fun to incorporate into your routine as you belt out some hits!
6. Nowhere runs quite as efficiently as Japan
Not that I’ve been to anyway! From trains running to the second, to the convenience of tax-free shopping for international passport holders – no more waiting at the airport to sort this, most shops have a tax-free counter in store! – Japan is run incredibly efficiently. There are A LOT of people and during peak hours, it can be quite stressful navigating your way through the crowds. However, because everything runs exactly how it should, or is at least rectified incredibly quickly, this helps add to the experience of the impatient human such as myself. Order your food at a machine while you wait for a seat and it sends your request to the kitchen, convenience stores on every street, vending machines for drinks every few meters, designated smoking areas so no more puffs of smoke in your face as you walk from the person in front. The country is like a well oiled machine and I love it.
7. Fresh fruit and veg are expensive and sometimes a challenge to find
Japan organically manipulates the DNA structure of their grown fruit and veg to create the absolute best produce. This means a strawberry there is perfectly shaped, large in size, vibrant in colour and exquisitely sweet in flavour. It also means it will cost you £6 or more for a small pack though…Convenience stores don’t really sell fruit and veg like express shops here in the UK. You have to hunt for them in their larger supermarkets, or find apples individually wrapped for £2 each at your local 7Eleven. Food is usually pre-made and packaged at convenience stores, for quick and easy meals that don’t need to be prepared but merely heated up in the microwave either at the store or at home. I don’t know how the Japanese stay so skinny!
8. Tipping/service charge is not a thing over there
There is no tipping over in Japan. Prices are set as they are and no service charge is added to your bill at the end of your meal. The Japanese tend to believe that everyone deserves great customer service as a standard. It’s incredibly refreshing, albeit a tad strange for some that are used to it.
9. You will never eat quite as well as you do in Japan
For those that are into Japanese food – and we’re not just talking sushi here, but ramen, udon, katsu, Japanese curry etc. – you will never eat as well as you do in Japan. Every meal is a treat. I don’t think I had a bad meal over there. Even the pre-made meals at convenience stores are super tasty!
10. Matcha is their equivalent to our vanilla
Where our standard ice cream is usually vanilla, matcha is the Japanese’s. Everywhere you turn there is matcha flavoured treats available. And it’s delicious. For those that aren’t familiar with what matcha is, it is a finely ground powder of specially grown and processed green leaves. Matcha ice cream, match cookies, matcha tea, matcha, matcha, matcha! If you are in Kyoto, make sure you try it there especially, as they are infamous for their matcha that is grown in the region.
Keep exploring folks!