Hi everyone! So I’ve seen and done a lot since I’ve been here, and I have to say that I am so happy that I was at least somewhat prepared before coming here. Japan is, after all, a foreign country, so there a things that are different here than than in America. So I thought I’d share some tips with you guys, and things you should do and know before you come here, so that you’re not completely lost like a few of my friends were when they first arrived.
I think that the number one thing that one should do before coming here is learn the language. Now I’m not saying that you should be 100% fluent without even the slightest trace of an accent, but at least know the basics before you get on that plane. Luckily for me, I studied Japanese for about four years, but a lot of people come over without even knowing how to say thank you! ( Which is arigatou gozaimasu (ありがとう ございます) for the record). I think that it is important to learn the language so that you can communicate effectively with the people around you. Pointing, grunting, and using body language will only get you so far.
Most of the people here speak minimal, or no English at all, so I think learning the language is very important. You can order food with confidence, have random conversations with strangers, and make new friends! You may come into contact with other foreigners here who also don’t speak English, so you can bond through the shared knowledge of Japanese!!
Learning how to read at least hiragana and katakana (kanji is a whole ‘nother beast) will also be helpful to you as well. Although kanji is an integral part of learning Japanese, you can usually get by with just a knowledge of hiragana and katakana, and it’s not that hard to learn! If you studied for 30 minutes a day, everyday for two weeks you should be able to get the hang of it. Take a look a the menu I posted above. Although there is some kanji, most of it is in hiragana and katakana, so if you know how to read it, you can read the menu! Some places do have separate English menus, but since English is not the primary language, whatever restaurant you go to will most likely not have one. Also, you can purchase an electronic Japanese-English dictionary to help you figure out words you’re unfamiliar with. And of course there are apps for everything these days, so you can download a dictionary for free, or upload a kanji reader onto your phone.
Before you come to Japan….learn how to use chopsticks!!
They may seem intimidating at first but it is crucial. All of the restaurants that I’ve been to ( with the exception of foreign restaurants and fast food joints) have only provided chopsticks, and occasionally a spoon. It’s not all that hard to do, but definitely practice before you leave!
Another things you should do it take a look at this:
This is a map of the Japanese subway system…yeah. Once you get here it’s really not all that bad…so says the one who gets lost all the time. I’m not saying you should memorize this (even some of my Japanese friends get lost) but at least take a good, long look at it. I’m actually not even sure if this is helpful, but it might be a little less frightening and intimidating if you know what it looks like, and prepare yourself mentally..haha.
Learn some customs!! We have the internet so there are plenty of ways for you to learn basic customs. In Japan there are many customs, and as a foreigner most people will not expect you to know most of them, but there are a few that you should be familiar with:
- Take your shoes off before entering a house. (sometimes this is true for restaurants and karaoke rooms)
- Never stab your food with your chopsticks, or stick them into a bowl of rice
- Bow when you greet someone, when you leave, when you apologize and when you are thanking someone (of course there are other instances when you should bow, but just know these basics)
- Slurp your ramen noodles…really hard!! (That means it’s delicious)
- Offer your seat on the subway to an elderly, injured, or pregnant person. (They also have designated seating)
- Don’t j-walk
- Stay on the left side of the escalator (unless you are in Osaka) the right side is for people who want to walk up
- Don’t tip!! One of my favorites
- Don’t speak loudly on the train, subway, bus, or in a cafe (you will get annoyed stares)
- And finally…..always use your peace sign