Impressions of Japan
Updated: Mar 17
Since I’m going to be out of the US once again – this time for three whole months; I figured it was time for me to start writing again to keep everyone at home updated on my travels, mostly so they know I’m surviving on my own over here. My main reason for being in Asia is that I’m taking a TEFL course in Hanoi, Vietnam in preparation for teaching English in Hungary in the fall. However, me being me meant that I decided to take a month before and after my course to travel around Asia for a bit. Thanks to a great deal on American Airlines, my first stop of the trip was Japan, where I spent the last eight days.
Japan has always kind of been on the back burner of places I’d like to visit, but I couldn’t pass up 20K AA miles for a one-way ticket to Tokyo, and the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a great place to start off my Asia trip – a very Asian country, of course, but also a bit more westernized than bits of SE Asia that I would be visiting. Plus after a recent trip to Disney World in Florida, I couldn’t pass up the chance to go to Disney Tokyo!
I had no expectations headed to Japan, but the country and its people BLEW ME AWAY. Everyone is so kind and helpful, I was never afraid to ask for help or directions. Despite what I had always heard, it wasn’t as expensive as I expected – I ended up spending about $65 per day on food, transport, accommodation, and things to do, and that was without really trying to stick to a budget. I had such a fantastic time and am already looking forward to going back someday!
I’m sure I’ll write more in detail about Japan later, but for now, I’ll try to keep it short, sweet, and to the point with a list of my top ten impressions of Japan.
Japan is so clean!
Even though you will seldom see a garbage can in public in Japan, it is such a clean country. I could probably count on one hand the pieces of litter I saw laying on the ground, and I can guarantee most of it was from tourists. Most people just carry their garbage with them until they get home/to wherever they’re going. I was definitely very impressed – we could all stand to learn something from Japan when it comes to not littering.
Everyone is very respectful & follows the rules
This is one of the first things I noticed when I got to Japan. All of the metros are very clearly marked which side is up and which is down and people listen to it. There will be a massive queue of people patiently waiting to go up the stairs, while the other side is empty, because well, that’s not the side you go up. Japan is also probably one of the only countries where people actually listen to those signs.
When you pay for something at any shop, you put your money on a little tray, and never give it directly to the person. When they hand you back your change, they will always count it back to you. There is also a lot of bowing that happens in Japan – when you enter a shop when you leave a shop when someone gives you their seat on the metro. Japan is a very respectful country.
Also, when you get to a guesthouse/hotel, the first thing you do is take your shoes off and put on a pair of slippers. This definitely has to do with their high standards of cleanliness, and also it’s kind of fun to always have a pair of slippers on.
The food is delicious & allll the chopsticks
The food in Japan is so good. It’s definitely a country where you could come and spend hundreds of dollars on a meal – Tokyo is the city with the most Michelin starred restaurants in the world. However, you can also eat really well here on a budget. You can get delectable ramen for about $9 a bowl, and plates of sushi for $1-2 each. Understandably so, they use chopsticks quite often, but I didn’t realize just how often until I didn’t touch a fork for the whole 8 days that I was there.
Japan is also the first place I felt comfortable going out for a meal alone, as many restaurants cater to professionals on their lunch breaks and others eating solo. Almost all the restaurants I ate at had a bar you could sit at and not feel awkward that you were eating alone. I know it might sound silly, but eating alone at a restaurant has always been something I’ve felt really uncomfortable doing until now. Thank you, Japan, for pushing me outside my comfort zone!
It's super safe & a great place to travel solo
Japan is consistently on the list of safest countries in the world, and therefore I found it a great place to travel alone. In all eight days, I was there, there wasn’t one time I felt uncomfortable or unsafe, and that’s with walking to the 7/11 at night, spending lots of time on public transport, and sticking out as clearly not a local. Men in Japan are very respectful, and even on crowded metro trains, everyone was very polite and kept their hands to themselves. It’s also probably the only place I’d feel comfortable leaving my backpack at a table and then going up to grab a coffee. While I was there I heard a story about someone who forgot their camera in a restaurant and came back 2 days later to find it still there. Because of how safe I found it, I think Japan is a great place for a first solo trip, especially for females or people who are nervous to travel alone.
They have very futuristic toilets
The toilets here really do look like they’re from the year 3000 and when I get my own home, I’m 100% investing in a Toto Washlet. The seats are heated, which is great when it's 35 degrees (Fahrenheit) out, and you've stumbled to the bathroom in the middle of the night in February. Plus they all have a built-in bidet and about 15 other buttons that I have no idea what they mean, but I’m sure they’re all very useful.
There are vending machines everywhere
I have never seen as many public vending machines as I have in Japan. I am not even exaggerating when I say that there was one on every street corner. The best part? You can buy hot coffee and hot tea from them. Nothing like waiting at the train station and having a hot coffee instantaneously for about $1.20. Although there are so many drink vending machines, I saw very few food ones, which I thought was rather disappointing.
They use a lot of plastic...
This one is kind of sad for someone like me who really hates single-use plastic. In Japan, they’ll give you a bag with every purchase, even if the only thing you get is a candy bar. Because they’re so focused on being sanitary, I think that has really driven the use of disposable plastic items – from straws to cutlery to even the fruit being sealed in plastic. For being such a forward-thinking society, they really could do to get on board with being more sustainable.
You will have to take out a small loan for fruit
For reasons unbeknownst to me, fruit in Japan is very expensive. We’re talking through the roof, like $4.50 for two apples, and $8 for a little container of strawberries. Needless to say, I did not indulge in much fruit whilst I was there.
Avoid public transport at rush hour
I experienced peak metro hours only one time when I was in Japan, and there was a reason for that. After being crowded and pushed into a metro car, packed in like sardines, I decided that was not something I wanted to experience again. I swear at one point I wasn’t even walking, I was just being carried along by the crowd. After that, I would go out of my way to make sure I wasn’t taking the metro during rush hour.
Kawaii culture is huge
Kawaii is one of the first words that I learned in Japan, meaning cute. I heard many exclamations of ‘kawaii!’ at Disney about the adorable little children in their costumes. Moreso, kawaii is a subculture here in Japan, filled with pink, bows, and other cutesy dress and accessory trends. It is mainly fueled by teenage girls, but who’s to judge if you’re not a teenage girl and still enjoy kawaii now and again. Now, I’m not a very ‘cute’ person, but I can’t even begin to tell you the number of things I almost bought because they were cute. Trust me, Japan does cute very well.
I’m sorry if this wasn’t quite as short as you would have liked, but if you made it through the whole thing, congrats! Hopefully, it was equal parts funny and informative and you learned a little something! My next stop is a city I’ve been looking forward to visiting for a long time, Singapore!