Japan is a country full of contrasts and surprises, especially for travellers coming from Europe like us.
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These are some of the things that we didn’t expect:
Restaurant Vending Machines
There is a lot of vending machines in Japan. Some of them are located even at some restaurants where they are used for ordering meals.
They were really useful, especially when the menu was only in Japanese, because we could follow the pictures on the buttons. Even though we had no idea what type of meat we were ordering, at least we knew if it was a soup, rice or noodle meal. And whatever it was, it was always delicious.
In Japan, you will get used to waiting in queues. There are so many people everywhere and queues help to keep things organised. You will have to queue for any good restaurant, at stations, popular attractions, temples or shrines. People were queuing even on the top of Mount Fuji waiting for the sunrise (and there was a queue at the summit post office too).
Rooms And Bathrooms Are Really Small
We are quite tall so we struggled in some hotel bathrooms because they were tiny. Just closing the door from the inside became a challenge. There wasn’t much space in most of the hotel rooms either and that is why we didn’t even unpack to be able to move around at all.
At first we felt a little uncomfortable when using toilets because of so many buttons on the control panels. And if the signs were only in Japanese, there was no other option than learning by trial and error. Soon we started experimenting and trying all the buttons, which made using bathroom so much fun.
Bullet Trains (Shinkansen)
We were excited to use some of the bullet trains. It is the fastest way to travel between cities and they are punctual indeed. The trains always stop exactly at the same spot on the platform which allows people to queue for the particular carriage in advance. The seats are always facing forward because they are turned around at the end of each journey.
If you are planning to travel by train, make sure you get the Japan Rail Pass before your trip to take advantage of significantly cheaper fares. It can be ordered online. Be aware that it can’t be purchased in Japan because it is available only to foreign visitors. The passes are valid for 7, 14 or 21 consecutive days. They can be used only on certain trains. There are also various regional passes on offer. Without the passes, train travel in Japan is very expensive.
Surprisingly, free wi-fi was still not common in many hotels. Most of them were offering only wired internet which could be used just by one device. Fortunately we did our research before the trip and we brought our own wi-fi router with us. We connected it to the cable and created our own wireless internet. However things are changing fast and there are more free wi-fi options available these days.
We expected more people to be able to communicate in English but it wasn’t the case, especially outside of major tourist attractions. However, soon we found out that many people could understand English at least a little and they just weren’t confident to speak. They were too worried about making a mistake and embarrassing themselves.
Try to speak slowly and give people praise for trying to speak English. Even if they can’t understand you, Japanese people will always go the extra mile to help you.
On the other hand it is a good idea to learn or write down a few most important words or phrases in Japanese and try to use them, it will be appreciated.
In Japan there are many traditional rules which people follow on daily basis. Do your research to familiarize yourself with etiquette before you travel to avoid any awkward situations.
Before you enter someone’s home or a temple you need to take off your shoes. You should wash your hands and mouth before entering a Buddhist temple or a Shinto shrine. There is also a specific way you should use onsen (hot spring bath). Be aware that you won’t be able to enter most onsens if you have any tattoos.
Japanese people are very kind and polite so try your best to respect and follow their traditions.
We love roller coasters – the crazier, faster, higher or steeper, the better. We visited the Fuji-Q Highland amusement park and experienced some of the most extreme attractions we have ever seen. Japanese people seemed to be fearless and even children were laughing during some really scary moments. But we adapted fast and had a great time in the end.
We fell in love with Japan and we can’t wait to come back one day.
Have you been to Japan yet?