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6 Things I Learned From My Excursion To Japan

A man should do some traveling during his life, and some of us get the benefit of doing it for work and having the company pick up the tab. I recently did a stint in Japan for work, and, noting the recent article on Japanese game, I thought I’d stick with what I know and give you some information on moving around and getting things accomplished in that country, because, like the Marine said, “amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics.” That being said, here’s 6 things to know about Japan.

1. Get out of the way

Japan is a tiny country, with medium sized people. Your author stands at 6’4″ and currently a few pounds over his fighting weight of 220, and that’s two Japanese women or 1.5 Japanese dudes worth. The country is sized for them, not us, and the urban centers are full of Japanese in a hurry that know, to the step, where they are going.

While some of them are outgoing and friendly, the culture, as a whole, is purely courteous and polite, which means you’ll get thought poorly of if you make a nuisance of yourself, but they won’t tell you. The absolute best thing to do when in doubt is to get out of the way, step to the side, and figure out what you want to do next. They won’t mind if you tuck yourself and bookbag into a corner to consult Google Maps or look at a subway guide of that city, just find a building column or something to stand beside and you’re good.

These guys aren’t kidding. Think a really nice, stationary mosh pit.

Subways are a definite example of this. If you score a seat (don’t sit in the priority seats for the elderly, infirm, or with any sort of baby), do not manspread. While I have an issue with our domestic feminist definition of the term being sexist towards men, over there, no one takes up any more space than they have to; it’s a Great Shame, and everyone considers it part of the culture. Take your bag off your back, put your feet and legs together, and take up one spot. Sprawl later when the car is relatively empty.

However, if you know where you’re going, get out there and show some dominance. No need to run anyone over, but you can hold your line and you’ll both move just enough. A note should be made about crosswalks; some work like Western ones, where vehicle traffic and foot traffic can both go in parallel, then both switch to the other way, but some shut the whole vehicle side down, and all crosswalks go green, which allows the time-saving diagonal crossing, should you need it.

Diagonal crosswalk; I walked this one a couple times.

2. Money talks

Japanese currency is the yen, which is functionally equivalent to the US penny, and is usually worth close to that, currently a little less. The 1 yen coin is a dinky little thing of aluminum, which, along with the 5 yen coin (brass, with a hole in it) are not very useful and are mainly used in cash register transactions but not vending machines.

After those two, the coins are a big copper 10 yen, a nickel plated with hole in it 50 yen, a nickel plated 100 yen, and lastly a brass plated 500 yen. When you get a decent pocket pile going, you could easily have the equivalent of 15 bucks or so in coins, so take a little change pouch. Bills are 1000, 5000, and 10000 yen and that’s it.

I speak very little Japanese, but there are two great things about money over there. The first is that taxes are included in the price, and tipping is actually considered mildly insulting, as they have a job to do, consider the payment fair, and that’s that. The second is that prices are expressed in the same numbers we have, so a 20 ounce Pepsi will have a sticker on it that says ¥135, and that means pull out your coins, get 135 worth or more, and that’s how much it will cost.

Put your money on that brown tray.

Transactions are a little formalized. There is small tray the size of an unfolded bill, and you put the money there. Once you’re done, the cashier will scoop it up, make change if needed, and hand you it plus a receipt. Accept it with both hands, nod a little exaggeratedly (it’s a mini-bow), and say thank you, then move out.

3. Know where you need to go

Map apps are the shit over there, just be sure you get an international data plan. I was happily bouncing around Tokyo doing what interested me and going all over the city with no issues via the subway on one weekend, and then AT&T shut off my phone the next Tuesday. My corporate IT department had not actually done the ticket request of putting an international plan on the phone, and I accrued some 500 bucks worth of charges. Fortunately, a 20 min phone call to AT&T got me on a plan, and the backcharged data usage applied to it.

However, phones don’t work so well on hassled cab drivers. Take your common destinations, print them out in English and Japanese, then show the guy the paper, point, and do your best to pronounce it right. Another good thing to do is collect business cards from everywhere you go. Just hold your hands in the shape of a business card, ask “cardo?” and they should give you one. Hand that to a cabby, and back you go to your hotel.

4. Public transport

The Japanese public transport system is amazing, and you can go, easily, to any metropolitan area in the country, on your own, with a little basic research and having to talk to virtually nobody. I haven’t quite mastered calling my own cab, but, most hotels can do it for you, and there are also areas where there are cab stands and a queue of them waiting for you.

However, the subway is where it’s at. Get a map of the system, and the trains will go where they say they will go. Older trains will have taped audio announcing the stations in Japanese, then briefly in English, “This is Fushimi, please change here for the Tsurumai line,” and newer trains will have an LCD screen saying, in many languages, where you are and what’s next.

What’s really cool is the IC card, and I know the New Yorkers are rolling their eyes right now. Just like any subway card, you get one, put money on it, scan it on the way into the system, and then on the way out, and, if there’s enough on the balance, it lets you out and deducts it, or you put more on it on the kiosk right there.

Any card works anywhere.

This thing leaves American subway cards in the dust, though. It will work on any equipped taxi or bus, and they are all linked together, which means your Nagoya card will work in Tokyo or Osaka, which I happily found out.

Taxis and buses are your other modes of transport other than the subway and hoofing it. Taxis, covered a little above, take cash, maybe the IC card, and credit cards. Buses take exact change cash, tickets you buy ahead of time, and sometimes the IC card. The buses will often have a screen with English of what station is next, along with a recording.

Lastly, there’s the Shinkansen. Literally “new trunk line,” these high speed trains get called “bullet train” for a reason. 100 mph+, these guys go from city to city, and I’m batting about 50% on using the ticket machines on my own and getting it right, as there’s the ticket, then the “fare” to leave one metropolitan area for another. Buy a little bento box for lunch next to your platform, and watch the countryside go by damn fast. You can go cheap with an unreserved seat, get a reserved seat for a little more, and splurge on the “green car” (first class), should you want to. I tried the latter two, and found the green car expense to be unjustified.

Goes about as fast as it looks like it should.

I was able to walk from my hotel to the train station, get on the subway, ride into town, change trains, go to the main station, hop on a Shinkansen, ride it to another city, and play tourist all weekend with an overnight stay, then go back, all without having to talk to anyone.

5. Taking a dump

Bathrooms in Japan have some reputation. Presuming we’re all dudes here, a Japanese urinal works pretty much the same way as all the rest of them do; they’re auto flush, use it and step away.

There are, however, three kinds of toilets. The easiest one is a basic Western style toilet which works exactly like the ones you use at home. The next one is a Western style toilet with a really complicated seat called a Washlet.

Extra controls on the left there. The red button means stop, and the big one in back is flush. Pink one is for chicks only.

Made by TOTO, which is an abbreviation of something translating to Oriental Ceramics, these things have a “smart seat” that will do all sorts of these, including, but not limited to: wash your ass, wash your vagina if you’re a girl (or shoot you in the nuts if you’re a guy and dumb enough to hit that button), play music to cover the sound of your labors, warm the seat, pre-rinse the bowl, and maybe vibrate. There’s a stop button, which is really the only button you need to worry about that will stop everything. Feel free to figure them out, or ignore them. The flush button is usually separate and fairly standard.

Then there is the Eastern toilet; the infamous squat and shit; the dreaded bobsled. Pissing into one of these, for us, is the same as usual, but any girl trying to pee in one, or anyone taking a dump, has to assume the position.

…feel the rhythm, feel the ride; get on up, it’s bobsled time?

These things are essentially a porcelain trough in the ground with nozzle at one end and a large hooded hole at the other. The idea is to put your feet either side of the hood and pop a squat, which puts your butt squarely above the trough area and fire away. Do not shit on your pants, or fall on your ass, and it may help to remove your pants entirely if you have time. There may be toilet paper, and there may be a trash can for it if the plumbing sucks, or there may be a spray nozzle or a ladle and faucet with which to wash your ass.

My recommendation is to shit at your hotel and take some toilet paper just in case. It is my lifetime goal not to ride the bobsled (named as such since they sit sidewise, and you can imagine a row of these things in use having people squatting in a line like Olympic bobsledders.)

6. Shoes

Japan is weird about shoes. People shuffle along, dragging their heels as to prevent from losing their shoes, which are loosely tied as to be easily removable. Many places in Japan, houses, nice restaurants, etc, are shoes off places, and you can typically tell by a small entryway with a cupboard for shoes and tile at the shoe area, but a step up onto wood for the rest of the place. They may even persona non grata your ass if you put shoed feet on tatami mat flooring.

Shoe procedures in an entryway.

Private, or nice public bathrooms in a restaurant, will have “toilet slippers” outside of them. Walk over in your socks, put them on, go in and do the deed, then reverse the process to leave. Don’t take the toilet slippers elsewhere.

Conclusion

Japan is safe, clean, and usually fun. They will tolerate and sometimes even appreciate a Westerner who takes effort to follow their culture. Compliments towards anything Japanese are typically received well. Japanese food is a whole other article, but I managed to eat well enough, and you can find your own balance of adventuresome versus safe eating easily enough. The plane flight is long and the jet lag blows, but you should have fun if you ever have occasion to go.

Read More: Introduction to Japanese Girls

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