I’ve been spending the last two weeks talking about our Japan trip and I’ve been loving writing these posts! It’s been such a nice way of reliving our recent trip. To end all of this, I wanted to share some food photos we took and just share some general thoughts.
Arriving late afternoon at Narita airport in Tokyo was pretty overwhelming. We had just finished a 10 hour flight so we were already feeling weird, and now we were miles away from home in a different culture where everyone spoke a different language. I’m really glad that my friend Chris met us at the airport. She got us onto the subway and to our hotel that first night. If she wasn’t there, Rory and I both agree that we weren’t really sure how we would have gotten to our hotel at all.
Something that I still can’t get over is the sheer amount of people around when we were just wandering around, especially in Tokyo. 13 million people in that one city. In Wellington, we only have around 200,000 people. In New Zealand, all together it’s 5 million, we’re pretty small. So being surrounded by so many people was overwhelming.
It never felt crazy though. Everything is pretty structured and ordered. At the stations, there is marks on the ground to tell you where to stand as you wait to get on the train, as well as markings for people getting off the train. Everyone waits for everyone to get off, before getting on. The only time it felt a bit much was when we travelled in rush hour. People would pack themselves into trains as tight as possible. We got smooshed in once and didn’t really care for it. So after that, we decided to just wait for the next train. Which came in 2 minutes and was much emptier. I do love their public transportation system, it’s so organized and so many trains come every few minutes!
Another thing that I get asked about is the language barrier. Rory and I don’t speak Japanese. We did learn a little before we went, but once you’re over there, you realize that you know nothing. The thing that worked in our favour is that Japan is quite tourist friendly for English visitors. In all the major cities, like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka (which we visited), the signs will have both Japanese and English on them. On the trains, the automated voice would say something in Japanese, and then in English. Also, just the amount of signs in general was so helpful. Sometimes we would have to change trains, and that meant leaving the station and going to another one. This was made fairly easy by the sheer amount of signs pointing us in the right direction!
In the hotels, workers typically could speak in both English and Japanese. Some people we spoke to on the street or in shops could also speak a decent bit of English. I’ve since learnt that they learn English in grade and high school. So the base knowledge of the language is pretty well known. This came in handy when we wanted to ask for help. There was a few occasions though (like in a cafe) where no one could understand each other but we got by just using gestures. So all in all, the language barrier didn’t really stop us from much.
We did use some Japanese though, as we wanted to make an effort. Here are some of the phrases that came in handy. “Ohaio” (which means good morning), “Konichiwa” (hello), “Arigato” (thank you), “Arigato gozaimas” (Thank you very much), “Sumimasen” (Sorry/Excuse me), “Wakarimasen” (I don’t understand), “Hai” (yes), “Ie” (no). Finally when you wanted to turn a word into a question, you would add “Des ka” to the end. So if we were wanting to make sure that the train went to Shibuya, we’d ask someone “Sumimasen. Shibuya des ka?” while pointing to the train. The person would normally say yes or no, and that helped a lot.
Another interesting thing about our time in Japan is that everyone uses cash. No one really used cards except for the hotels we stayed at. It’s expected that you have bills and coins on you. Chris told us about that and I’m glad she did, because she was right. From shops, to food, everyone just dealt with cash. The money itself was confusing for us. There’s so many coins! The smallest bill is 1000, and that’s easy enough since the number is on it. The coins break down in to 500 yen (silver coin with 500 on it), 100 yen (silver coin with 100 on it), 50 yen (bronze coin with a hole in the middle with 50 on it), 10 yen (silver coin with 10 on it), 5 yen (bronze coin with a hole in the middle), and 1 yen (silver coin with 1 on it). The 1 yen coins tend to build up over a while, same with 5 and 10, so I kept trying to get rid of them but then they’d come back. We were also quite slow at differentiating the coins from each other, that sometimes I just gave a handful to the person and they were way faster at pulling out the correct amount.
So yeah, it wasn’t really that much of a culture shock or anything in Japan. We were definitely a bit lost the first 48 hours there, but we were lucky to have a friend there who eased us into it. By the time we were left on our own for the final week of our trip, we managed really well. Again though, Tokyo is very friendly to tourists. If you’re holding off on visiting Japan because of the language barrier, don’t. You’ll be fine. Do make a little effort to learn some of those key Japanese phrases though, it makes things a bit easier. Plus, they did seem to appreciate our attempts at Japanese. Although our accents were so bad, most people would smile and respond to us in English cause we’re obviously tourists!
We only saw a tiny bit of Japan and if I’m being honest, I’m dying to go back and see some more of it! It’s definitely a bucket-list worthy place to visit!