Japan: Myths and Truths

As we travelled around Japan, we realised there were loads of myths that we had heard of before we had come here that simply weren’t true! We also wanted to write some truths about Japan that might help any other travellers and give an idea of what Japan is like – also our view of Japan.

Myths

Japan is expensive:  This is the biggest myth! Before we went we were both slightly worried that we would spent loads on just living and wouldn’t have the budget to spend on enjoying Japan, but we were wrong.

  • Accommodation can vary between fairly cheap to ridiculously expensive. We stayed mostly in ‘business’ hotels which were basic but comfortable hotels that ranged from £30 to £60 a night – these are pretty affordable for a couple. We also stayed in Air BnB accommodation, again pretty cheap and a really good idea if you can get a 1 bed flat in the cities. We stayed in a Ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel) in Mt. Fuji and payed over £100 for the night but we decided one night was ok to splash out, especially with a view of Mt. Fuji!
  • Food is cheap! You can buy a big bowl of noodles/ramen for around £4 depending on where you go. We generally had our breakfast in 7/11 or similar supermarkets which had lots of choices of pastries and yogurts, we never really spent more than £7 together. Lunch we would either buy little onigari balls (triangles of rice covered in seaweed with various fillings) and other little snacks from local supermarkets – perfect for taking on trains. Again probably about 90p each. For dinner we would share a bowl of ramen and then get some fresh gyoza on the side, a cheap but filling way of eating. We didn’t ever eat in the hotels as it was just so expensive! Alcohol from western bars is expensive, but beer and local Japanese vodka from the local restaurants is fairly cheap, at around £2 a pint.
  • Attractions were what we spent the least amount of money on as a lot of places didn’t charge anything! A lot of the shrines we could walk up to for free and there was never any hassle to buy anything. If we did pay for anything it was all very reasonably priced and theres no such thing as charging more because we were foreigners – you pay what the locals pay! The most we paid was £20 each for the Sumo bout (that gave us access all day) and the least we paid was £3 each for entry to a temple!
  • Transport varies in price. You can read all about the train prices in our last post. We took a taxi a handful of times but generally avoided it as it was quite expensive,(it starts at about £5.50) so if you can help it either walk or get the bus/metro. The bus depends on where you go and how far so it can be cheap but depends on the journey. We loved using the metro in Tokyo and Osaka, it was about £2 for a journey around the centre, sometimes cheaper depending on the length of the journey. It was super easy to navigate and has coloured lines like in London.

No one speaks English/no English signs: This couldn’t be further from the truth! In all train stations there were English signs, all the train staff spoke English and we never had a problem finding our way to the trains and getting on the right train to where we needed to go. In the more remote areas we still found most people understood what we were saying, and a simple phrasebook is always helpful. We only used it twice though! Restaurants were easy as we could get an English menu or photos of the food so we could just point to the items we wanted. Similarly, most signs in cities were in English too as well as tourist attractions.

People wear masks because of viruses: This is only very slightly true, the real reason most people in Japan wear masks is because of allergies from pollen. This is especially true during the Sakura season (cherry blossom season) where there is a load of pollen flying around. A large amount of Japanese people suffer from allergies and wearing a mask prevents this.

Toyko is crazy busy and full of people: This is only true of very small pockets of Tokyo. Shibuya was pretty busy, especially around  ‘The Scramble’ (the largest pedestrian crossing in Japan) and the busy shopping areas. Similarly, Akihabara was also fairly busy and full of techno heads but we generally found that because Tokyo was quite spread out we never found it super busy like we do in London.

The food is spicy: This is very untrue, there is always the option to add spice at your table if you feel you want some, but most of their food is flavoursome and full of lovely ingredients, but not at all spicy (except when ordering sushi, ask for it without wasabi is you don’t like it!)

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Okonmiyaki

Truths

Japanese people: We both agreed that during our time in Japan we noticed how kind, polite and friendly Japanese people are. We were offered help in various places, all because we looked lost and they were happy to show us where we needed to go to get us back on track. We spoke to locals on trains who were eager to find out about our travels and what we thought of Japan. We also noticed how hard working they are in all jobs, from being a friendly and polite shop assistant to a retired man volunteering for the local police to assist people crossing the road safely – all just to keep busy and help people. They put everything into working and making sure customers are treated well and will help in any way they can!

They have FANTASTIC fashion sense! (obviously written by Rach) One thing about the Japanese is they know how to dress, from young twenty something year olds wearing Harajuku clothing to 70 something year olds looking super chic in an outfit that had matching accessories and looking super fashionable. I loved how experimental they all were with their clothes and weren’t afraid to wear something a little different but still look great! The men mixed smart with trendy and they all had super sleek shoes! LOVE

There is so much variety in their food: Its hard to say what our favourite Japanese dish was, because there is so many different types of dishes to choose from. No person can ever say they don’t like Japanese food because it varies from Ramen, to sushi, to Onomiyaki (noodles in an egg like pancake) to teppanyaki, the list goes on! There is too many to choose. We would recommend going to the food markets in the big cities to really try a selection of different food items – its also a great way to have lunch as you wander through the market!

It is a very clean country: The funny thing is, its so so clean, almost no litter but THERE ARE NO BINS! We sometimes carried out litter around with us trying to find a bin for a long time until we finally found one (next to the vending machines…more on them later) There seems to be a general sense of keeping everywhere clean and taking litter home with you, they take pride in their country!

You will never go thirsty: There are always vending machines to be found, no matter where you in the country. They are on most street corners and inside hotels (you can even buy instant noodles from them!) Our favourite beverage of choice for only £80p was hot green tea in a plastic bottle!

They make a lot of things convenient: This seems like an odd thing to say, but you will understand once you get there. For example, when you go to a cashpoint in a supermarket, theres a handy cup holder for you to use whilst you withdraw money. When you go to shrines and temples you are asked to take off your shoes and are provided with slippers – they even give you a bag to put your shoes in if you want one. On some trains, you can turn your seats around to face the way the train is facing, they also have heating under seats and all seats recline. In mens toilets they have umbrella holders next to urinals (more on toilets later). They even have locks for your umbrellas when you go to attractions so you don’t have to take them inside.

They have the best toilets: Consistently throughout Japan, we were always in awe of the toilets there. They were almost always heated, in public toilets they had a button you could press to lower the toilet seat (after a man had been in) so you don’t have to touch it. They also have toilet seat cleaners, along with a button that jet washes your backside, and then of course a dryer as well. The most interesting of the buttons was in the womens toilets – a simple button you could press to turn on the sound of flushing water so if you need more privacy, no one can hear you….

They have the best pedestrian crossing: Its very rare that anybody jaywalks in Japan (learnt this one quickly!) and so you become accustomed to waiting for the friendly green man to appear to cross the road – and everybody waits patiently with you. However, with that green man comes a pleasant sound of tweeting birds to assist you across the road!

They use cash a lot: Unlike the UK, they don’t use contactless and they prefer using cash rather than cards, so its important to carry cash around with you. Also we found that withdrawing cash with our foreign cards didn’t work in most ATMs but trusty 7/11 ATMs did accept them!

It has very little crime: There is a fairly low level of crime in Japan. This doesn’t mean you don’t have to be careful but we noticed a lot of people leaving their bags open on trains, or their phones out on their laps whilst they had a quick power nap with no worries that people will steal from them. We never felt unsafe when walking around at night and also we were happy to leave our bags on trains that weren’t close to us, or in hotels in reception until we returned to collect them.

We hope these few pointers help in giving you an idea of what Japan is like – but the only way to find out is to go and explore it for yourselves!!!

Alleyway in Tokyo
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7 thoughts on “Japan: Myths and Truths

  1. A nice clearly written article. I’ve been living in Japan for a few years so I’ve kind of started to take things for granted. Your article reminded me of all the things that surprised me in my first few weeks. For the masks myth, it is often because of pollen but not always. I find people often wear them to avoid getting sick during flu season as well as to be considerate to others and avoid spreading their own flu. There are plenty of other reasons though. I used to work with a Simon who would wear masks to hide pimples or blemishes.
    Anyway great post. I look forward to more.

    Like

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