Thursday, September 21, 2023

Initial Information

I've been asked a few questions in terms of getting started when you land in Japan.

First, get a SIM card for your phone if you won't have service otherwise. You'll need to look things up frequently, and you'll need constant access to Google Maps and Google Translate. It should only cost you $20-30. Trying to survive on wi-fi is very tough during the day. 

Second, stop at a bank branch in the airport and get yen. I thought Japan would be a mostly cashless economy, but boy, I was wrong. Many places don't have cash registers and only accept cash, and these are some of the most interesting places you'll visit. You'll also see a ton of handheld calculators and your purchase will be totaled up and shown to you before you pay. Also, if you need cash via debit card, the only bank that accepts non-domestic debit cards is 7-11. That's right, 7-11 is both a convenience store and a bank in Japan, and their ATM machines work with non-Japanese debit cards (although I don't know if they work with all of them).

Third, people aren't going to speak much English. I knew that English is taught as a compulsory subject, so I was surprised by how little English people actually spoke. We only met one or two people on our entire trip who spoke English well, and the vast majority spoke almost none at all. There will be certain situations where Google Translate is a real lifesaver. You just tap your message into your phone in English, and it will translate the message (into Kanji, I believe). The other party can do the same thing, only from Kanji to English. I believe you can even do this via voice. It's amazing and indispensable.

Fourth, Japan has a procedure for everything, and when something goes wrong, you need to take care of it immediately instead of assuming it's fine. As an example, I had a card for using the trains, and one time when I was leaving a station, I got a red light instead of a green one when I swiped the card, but I was still allowed to exit. If I'd been smart, I would have gone to the help desk immediately and clarified the situation, because there's always plenty of staff everywhere, but I didn't, and it turned into a more complicated mess the next day. In Japan, things don't "just happen."

Here are a few other, less important, notes.

Be ready for bicycles on the sidewalk. Lots of bicycles, and they'll be swerving around like Olympic skiers. They ride fast, too. Somehow, it all works out, but you need to pay attention. 

Remember how in America you hate to use public restrooms because they're filthy? Not here. Public restrooms are unbelievably clean. Also, bidets are one of mankind's greatest inventions. You don't need to hesitate at all when you see a bathroom anywhere. Restaurants, department stores, bars, etc.--they're all clean.

The subway will be very quiet, so if you're talking to companions, keep it down. There will be many cars on trains where no one is speaking at all. And even though the trains can be very crowded at times, they're still entirely orderly.

More on Monday and I hope everyone has a great weekend.

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