Japan is one of my favorite places – I wouldn’t have agreed to live here for 3 months if it wasn’t. Just like any other place in the world, there are some things you can do to make the most out of your time here and have the best experience possible.
1. Don’t pack your expectations or stereotypes. Easier said than done, but ironically both of these things get in the way of you going with the flow and having an authentic experience.
2. Have an awkward experience. This means you are putting yourself out there! Frankly the awkward experiences make for the best stories afterwards. At the My Little Pony Cafe (yep, that was a thing) a friend took a big gulp of the strawberry milk that came in the cutest little carafe with her sandwich. Quite literally I have never laughed so hard in my life seeing the horrified look on her face. As it turn out, that strawberry milk was pink gravy. One of my favorite memories now.
3. Get a Pasmo or Suica transit card. For a 500¥ deposit you have just made transit through Tokyo and many other areas a breeze. Plus you can use the cards to pay for items at convenience stores.
4. Learn some basic Japanese. I won’t lie – I find Japanese very challenging. That being said, if nothing else, learn how to say thank you. Arigatou gozaimasu (ありがとうございます) goes a very long way. Sumimasen (すみません) is also one I use literally every day – “excuse me / I’m sorry”.
5. Learn some basic etiquette. For example, never eat, drink, or smoke while walking. It is one sure fire way to stand out in a bad way. Also never stick your chopsticks down in your rice and leave them there – this is only done at funerals. The internet is a great source for basic Japanese etiquette. Even the littlest effort will be warmly received here.
6. Get an umbrella. Whether it is full-size or compact; from the convenience store or high-end department store you will use it. I bought my first truly proper umbrella in Tokyo this trip and I love it! Japan has such high quality (and beautiful) umbrellas.
7. Bring Japanese business cards if you are coming on business. Trust me it goes over like gold.
8. Bring cash and find a post office. US recently switched mostly over to chip and pin cards. Unfortunately…these don’t work in most Japanese ATMs. Some people have luck and 7 Eleven, however, no luck for me and my colleagues from the States. Oftentimes banks in the US will easily order foreign currency for you so you can arrive with some cash in hand. When that runs low, head to the post office! The ATMs at the post offices will accept foreign issued chip and pin cards without issue.
9. Bring your passport everywhere. In most countries I don’t do this. However, A) Japan is super safe. B) police can technically stop you and ask to see it (I saw this happen once). But most importantly C) Japan has amazing tax free shopping and discounts if you show your passport! There are some rules and requirements, but it can really be worth it if you are buying some big souvenirs.
10. Just smile. If the food tastes strange or you get lost or the weather is bad – it is only one moment in time. If the experience is amazing – it is still only one moment in time. Drink it in like a sponge; smile and enjoy the adventure!