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the culinary adventures of a self-described foodie

Adventures in Japan, part IV: Travel Tips!

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As a continuation of my last post, here are some tips that I’ve picked up so far about traveling in Japan:

1. Pass on the left. This was one of the first things I learned, especially in big crowds coming off the subway and trains.

2.Vending machine usage, for everything from subway tickets to cheap restaurants/ramen shops:

  • Figure out what you want/where you want to go, and how much that costs.
  • Put your money into the machine.
  • Make your selection.
  • Get your ticket and your change (if applicable).
  • If eating at a restaurant, hand the server your ticket. Then wait, and your food will be brought to you.

3. Taking the bus (this is how it works in Kyoto, not sure how much it applies to other places):

  • Get on at the rear of the bus. Take a ticket from the machine, if there is one.
  • Front seats are mostly reserved for elderly. If you want to sit, go to the back.
  • When your stop is coming up, press the stop button (purple with a bunch of Japanese written on it).
  • As you exit, drop the change into the coin slot, along with your ticket, if applicable.
  • If you are traveling outside of the flat-fee zone, check the monitor at the front of the bus for the correct fare (the ticket will have a number on it).

4. It’s useful to carry a package of tissues with you. A lot of restaurants will supply wet naps, which aren’t so great for wiping your mouth. Also, most bathrooms have toilet paper, but I went to one today that didn’t have any. Better safe than sorry.

5. Also, there seems to be a dearth of hand soap in the public toilets, at least in Kyoto. Bring some hand sanitizer if you desire clean hands.

6. Don’t be confused by the excess of Japanese phrases that get thrown at you when you enter and leave stores and restaurants. The only ones you are expected to reply to are:

  • When entering a restaurant, you’ll be asked how many people in your party. Gesture with your fingers, which is what the Japanese do.
  • When buying something at the store (especially at convenience stores), you’ll be asked if you want a bag. Gesture no, and they’ll put a piece of tape on your item, designating that it was paid for.

7. Most useful phrases:

  • Wakarimasen (I don’t know/I don’t understand).
  • Ego ga hanase maska? (Do you speak English? Unfortunately, most people here don’t.)
  • Sumimasen (excuse me)
  • Gomenosai (Sorry)
  • Gochi so sama! (That was a feast! – said after a meal to the chef or server.)
  • And of course: Konichiwa (hello) and arigato gozaimasu (thank you).

8. Price ranges for food (in yen; current exchange rate 100 yen = US $1.10):

  • 500 for a set breakfast, which includes a drink like juice or tea.
  • 300-600 for soba or udon noodles.
  • 500-1000 for ramen, depending on how much meat and other goodies are in the bowl.
  • 500-1000 for take-out sushi.
  • 700-2000+ for restaurant sushi.
  • 2000 mid budget dinner, including a beer.
  • 400-600 glass of beer at a bar
  • 200 large can of beer at a convenience store

9. It doesn’t seem like you can go wrong with food in either Osaka or Kyoto. There are a lot of good restaurants and it’s easy to compare prices by looking at the plastic molds of food or photos of food in front of the restaurant. I also like to follow my nose or go where there are the most people. It’s usually a good sign.

10. When eating at non-vending machine restaurants, you’ll often be given your check straight away on a small clipboard. You can always order more, and they’ll add the items to your check. When you are done with your meal and ready to pay, go to the front where there’s a cashier and give him/her your clipboard.

11. For train travel, it’s always a good idea to check how much time you’ll save by getting a reserved seat on a limited express train. Sometimes you’ll pay 500 yen extra just to save 10 minutes. Not worth it.

12. Get a map with both English and Kanji (Chinese characters) if possible. Most train stations will have English names on the map, but sometimes they only have Kanji and they don’t always announce the next stop.

13. When leaving a subway station, ask or find out which exit is the best one to use.  Many subway stations are large and disorienting, so it’s easy to get lost.

14. As an extension of tip #12, try to get the English, Kanji, and phonetic versions (hiragana or katakana) of your intended landmark. For instance, my capsule hotel was only written in katakana, and many temples names are written only in Kanji. Having it written out can also help you get directions from locals.

15. Everywhere I stayed supplied soap, shampoo, toothbrushes, tea, water, and hairdryers. DIY laundry facilities were also available at the capsule hotel and my conference hotel.

Author: Jen

Howdy! My name is Jen and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I like to eat, run, and blog, but not usually at the same time.

2 thoughts on “Adventures in Japan, part IV: Travel Tips!

  1. A question from a tippy new yorker: What’s the tip policy?

    • Oh yeah — forgot to mention this, so thanks for asking. The tip policy is that service is always included in the charges, so no need to tip EVER. It’s the best!

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