Thanks to the “Yokoso Japan” campaign launched in 2004, Japan has become an increasingly popular destination filled with tourists from all over the world. Through its aspects of popular culture, it also attracts a number of fans or otaku-wannabes who are not necessarily used to traveling in general. Each destination is different, of course, but Japan has its unique codes and quite a singular society. Here is a selection of 10 possible mistakes while planning for a trip to Japan and once you are there. By avoiding them, you will get much more of the benefits that this country has to offer.
Hesitate to ask or speak with Japanese people
Most of the people there are very helpful. Sometimes, if they see you looking for something on a map, they will come by themselves to ask if you need help. If that is not the case, go ahead and ask them. Most of the time, they will help you with pleasure, most of the time in English to stick to your “gaikokujin” face (it means “people from other countries”). Do not be offended by them always trying to speak in English, even if you answer in Japanese ; it is rather a mark of politeness than not. That said, it is not a reason…
Not to learn at least a few words of Japanese
If you do try to, you will probably earn some praise from Japanese people. It is not asked of you to prepare for the level-1 JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test – an international exam), but if possible to know the usual politeness expressions, basic vocabulary and some simple commonly used kanji signs. Or basically a few hours of easy and interesting learning, with a method such as Learn Japanese (with audio CD).
Not to taste food or make the effort to eat with chopsticks
If you are in Japan to rotate between McDonald’s and KFC, or to eat sushi with a fork and a knife, you better ask yourself some questions. Japanese people are fond of their cuisine, and there is a good reason behind this : it is really delicate and suprisingly diversified. Bonus à la japanese : you can eat a lot for cheap, and without gaining weight.
Not to go outside Tokyo’s Yamanote
For sure, Japan’s capital is a constant wonder. And I am the first to be blamed, for I have dedicated it most of my first trip to Japan in 2003. But as twirling as she is, Tokyo remains *only* its capital. The megalopolis should not be the beautiful tree hiding a marvelous forest : Kyoto, Nara, Himeji, Osaka, Hiroshima and Miyajima, Fukuoka, Sapporo, Nikko, Kamakura, Yokohama, Ise, and many others extraordinary places are waiting for you…
Not to respect the habits and customs
Japanese people are organized and respectful of a number of rules. A Japanese woman once summarized me their way of life with a beautiful sentence : “in Japan, do as everyone else”. It is therefore necessary to learn about the habits and conventions of social life in Japan to blend up into the mass. You will never be Japanese, but doing like them in interpersonal relationships is probably one of the best ways to show respect.
Go to Japan only for its popular culture
So, you endured a 12-hour flight to squat Akihabara, drink a grape Fanta with a maid, and take pictures under the skirts of cosplay girls in Harajuku ? Come on, take your Lonely Planet out and start discovering all the wonders that Japan has to offer !
Go to Japan only to hit on Japanese women
It is quite an urban legend, but as all of them, it has a substantive truth. And we must acknowledge that, in general, Westerners are still popular. But rest assured that the Japanese woman who is going to play for an hour with you in the love hotel at the corner, has as little respect for you than you have. Anywhere in the world, women are not meat. And if they are, you are for them.
See everything different as weird
- Japanese people make a lot of noise when eating their ramen
- They have a degrading sense of sexuality that leads to perversion
- Their omnipotent group effect is exacerbated by the concept of ” uchi-soto” (inside / outside)
Not showing a minimum of openness about what does not refer to the education of your mother is a seed of racist thinking. At least, a little bit.
Not investigating before you go and / or arrive without too much planning
You can dream your Japan for years through anime and take a slap while arriving at your Eden fantasy because, oh dear god!, Japanese people are not perfect. Or you can be dragged in a trip to Japan without having prepared about the destination and get a Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola’s second movie) syndrome in your face. For a trip as long and as expensive, it would be a shame, right?
Say you will go back to Japan another time soon, or if you have missed [something in Japan], you will do it next time
The vagaries of life (circumstances, time, money, …) and the intangibles of tourism won’t ever get you the same travel conditions twice. So if it is late or you don’t felle your legs anymore, dare a little extra effort to visit this last spot, which will eventually get you the picture on the front page of your album, or ride this train to get to this region, a little distant but very attractive. You will see : not only will you avoid regret, but in addition you will thank yourself.
With all of this in mind, you will be able to fully enjoy your trip to Japan !