On living in Japan

By Curtis Hoffmann
Converted to HTML by Rob Kelk

Important Note: This document was written in 1992, and much of the information contained within it is out-of-date. Use it at your own risk.  - RK

A Misplaced Otaku

    If one of the signs of otaku-hood is the complete abandonment of your life at home, to go to the source of your addiction and check it out, then I'm showing at least one or two of the main symptoms. I'm currently living in a gaijin house in Tokyo, watching the occasional anime, visiting the manga sections of bookstores, and trying to survive long enough to pick up a basic functionality in reading and speaking Japanese. I have enough money to safely last 3 months here, before I have either found a job of some sort, or am forced to return to the U.S. after a brief, intense vacation.

    The following will be my attempt to pave the way for anyone else stupid enough to try this stunt. Do not attempt this at home -- this act should be performed by trained professionals only.
    You have been warned.

    Keep in mind, Japan is a big, busy, expensive place. If you can get someone else to finance the trip, and your stay here, this will be a major first step. I don't actually recommend joining the navy just so that you can take your six-month leave here, but if you're already in the military, do everything you can to get stationed here.
    Otherwise, having friends or relatives that live in Japan will make a big difference. Or, coming over here for school, or as part of a "home-stay" program, is another possibility. Finding a decent place to stay is one of the foremost hurdles to overcome, given that you're not the only one trying to do this.
    Lastly, if you work for a large company, you can try to find a job posting that will get you transferred to Japan long enough to sate your wildest desires. One of the advantages with this option is that you'll get a working visa, and make more money, while also getting a much better apartment (assuming that your company has a branch in Tokyo.)

    Really, the first question to ask is, "Why do I want to go to Japan?"
    If the answer is "To go on a spending spree for a few days before coming back home," you don't need to read this post any further than this paragraph. If you can find a place to stay, then all you need are some good maps, the "Walking Guide to Tokyo" from one of the FTP sites, and about $1000 US in Yen. (Ignoring the price of airfare.)
    If the answer is, "to visit Japan, buy some stuff, and then go home," then this post may help you out a little.
    If instead it's, "To stay in Japan long enough to learn whether I want to stay here for a while," then keep reading.

    Much of Japan is covered with various buildings, and lots of people. Unless the city is next to the coast, where the wind is strong, the air in the city will be polluted. Any nearby body of water will look green and sluggish during the warmer periods. There will be trash most everywhere, and people that refuse to look you in the eye as you approach, but will possibly run you over with a bicycle because they're not looking at you. Japan has a very sophisticated rail and subway system, that while very efficiently run, is difficult to understand at first. And of course, the only way to get around in this country is by train or subway.

    Shopping is not a problem in Japan. There are stores of all kinds, everywhere. Huge department stores, little convenience shops, book stores, fruit shops, kiosks, etc. There are a variety of vending machines every 50 feet or so, but most sell only soda and cigarettes. Deciding where to go to buy what you want is a slightly different matter. Being able to afford the higher costs is much more important -- almost everything in Japan costs too much.

    You can buy the weekly phonebooks, and monthly magazines just about anywhere. The kiosks are at all of the train and subway stations, and sell weeklies and monthlies along with Calpis, Poccari Sweat, snacks, and some of the newest manga volumes. Walking along any major street will take you eventually to a bookstore. The smaller bookstores may carry some serious books (novels, cookbooks, history books,) along with a relatively decent selection of manga, although there are some stores that concentrate solely on manga. Department stores will also have a book section. (Going up to people and saying "Hon-ya wa doko des ka?" may also eventually get you to bookstores on the second or third floors of buildings that you normally wouldn't have looked in.)
    Of course, what you really want is one of the big bookstores, like Kinokuniya, that carry just about everything, because they will have the widest selection of manga. Keep in mind, though, that if the book you want is out of print or no longer popular, that the only way you may find it is to seek out the hidden used bookstores in Tokyo. So far, I haven't found any of these, but I'm just starting to look for them.
    Another hint: In Himeji, a smaller tourist town between Kyoto and Hiroshima, there's a really nice little manga store that has the entire collections of Orange Road, City Hunter, and Pat Labor. (Something that the big stores in the big towns I've visited don't have.) The only catch is that you have to buy the entire collection at once, they won't sell those books singly. The advantage is that the collections are discounted from the original cover prices.
    The point is, some of the smaller towns have better selections than the bigger cities do. So, you may want to prepare yourself for a bit of travelling. Further, there are some series that you simply can't find outside of used stores. Lupin III, for example. Right now, the only easily found Lupin III manga is the color manga version of Castle Cagliostro.
    One book that will help you out, if you can find it before you come to Japan, is Tokyo: A Bilingual Atlas. There are 29 maps of Tokyo, and an index at the back. This way, you can figure out where the Kinokuniya store is in Shinjuku. That Kinokuniya also has this book for 1800 yen.

Types of manga:Best Locations to Check
    Weekly Serials    Anywhere
    Monthly Serials    Anywhere
    Magazines (Newtype, et. all)    Moderate bookstores on up
    Collected Volumes    Small bookstores on up
    "Art of" Books    Big Bookstores only
    Odd-sized manga    Big Bookstores only

    This more of a problem. Japanese TV doesn't carry as much anime as you'd expect. And the Tokyo area (Kanto region) has a poorer selection than the Osaka area (Kansai). As an example, you can watch Dr. Slump and Yawara re-runs in Osaka but not Tokyo. (There are three major areas listed in the English version of the Japan Times paper.) And Kansai and Kanto both get the NHK broadcasts. If you have a satellite dish, you can get a lot more programs, but the Japan Times listings only state that there are "cartoons" on in any given slot, they don't give actual titles. If you can read Japanese, the listings in Animage may be of more use to you.
    Note: The Japan Times is one of the few papers printed in English, and it's not sold everywhere that Japanese papers are. Kinokuniya does carry it.
    Theatrical anime shows up occasionally, but right now the only anime movies that are playing that I know of are Porco Rosso, Dragon Ball Z, and a double feature of Dragon Quest and Rokudenashi Blues.
    So, naturally the places to turn to are video tape sales and rental stores. Unfortunately, buying anime is expensive (but you already know that.) Any place that sells video tapes will sell anime tapes. Fewer places carry laser disks. Some department stores that sell anime paraphenalia will also have the tapes and disks. (Look for the Children's Toy Sections.) Otherwise, look for an "Animate" store. (However, the Bilingual Atlas does not list Animate in its index.)
    All video rental places will have an anime section, if you only want to watch tapes (or dub them if you can get the equipment.) I haven't seen any places that rent laser disks.

Sound tracks:
    This is a lot like anime video tapes. If you look for CD stores, you'll find them. This is a good way to blow money, given that CD's run between 2600 and 3600 Yen each. You can find places that rent CD's.

    Not a problem.
    Go to any store, you'll find something. From Dragon Ball Z yogurt cups to Chibi Maruko Chan sea weed packets, from models, to stuffed dolls. If you just want to spend money on silly stuff, go to a grocery store and look around. You'll find candy, crackers, sea weed, and cereal boxes. Some of this stuff will include special prizes like rubber balls, stickers, and miniature toys.
    For the other stuff, you may be better off stopping at a tourist bureau just outside the big train stations and ask someone that can speak English (there may be one or two.) Otherwise, look in the Tokyo Walking Guide for the location of an Animate store (there's one in Kyoto, and Yokohama, too.) Also, certain big department stores have toy sections that include a wide variety of paraphenalia, books, and tapes. The toy section of one big department store in Sapporo had a better selection of stuffed dolls (Jiji's, Cat Buses, and Totoros) than the Yokohama Animate did.)
    You can expect to find pencil boxes, posters, erasers, toys, notebooks, and other stuff. But Record of the Lodoss Wars paraphenalia is not as popular as it once was, and the posters for that are not around much any more.

Phone Cards:
    Phone cards are used in many pay phones, just like money. They come in 500, 1000, and 1500 Yen values. NTT makes them, and each NTT office in each city can decide what designs they want to use. However, the only real anime cards sold most places in each city are for Chibi Maruko Chan.
    So, the only good place to get phone cards with anime designs are at Animate stores, and some other places that carry paraphenalia. Keep in mind, though, that most anime cards are aimed at collectors. So, you'll pay 1000 Yen for a card with 500 yen in credits. (Local phone calls cost 10 yen each.)

    The best place to go for computer, or game system games is Akihabara. Just look for places that carry computers, and then wander into the software sections. The only problem is that PC games normally list for 9600 Yen. The Game Boy carts are much cheaper.
    Most department stores will also have games departments, with some kind of selection for most game systems.

    These are a little harder to find, since the only real option seems to be to search out stores that specialize in models. But these do exist, so you just need to look around a little (the Walking Guide will help you out, too.)

    There is one book that you should at least consider buying: The Lonely Planet's Survival Kit for Japan. It has some of the information I'm giving here, a list of gaijin house addresses, and directions to various hostels and tourist information offices in the big cities. It's the one I've used most heavily as a reference, and will fill in some of the gaps I've left in this document.

So, you've decided to come to Japan.

    If you have friends or relatives here that you can stay with, most of your problems are solved for you. Just get the Walking Guide, and bring your money. Read the section on money.

    If you are coming over via the military, I can't help you. You'll have to learn the details of your stay here on your own.

    The same holds true if you can find work through a branch of a large, international company.

    Schools are different. There are certain schools with offices in the U.S., that teach Japanese that are based in Japan. Some of these schools have arrangements where you can make some money back by teaching English part time. (The KEN School is one such place to look for.) Otherwise, you can try for an exchange student program, or just get a student loan to come over to study at whatever school will accept you. Contact a big university, and they may be able to put you in contact with the school you want.

    The JET program. JET (Japan English Teaching, or something like that) is a program that enlists people younger than 35 from various countries to work in Japan teaching English at certain schools. You can get information about JET by writing to your nearest Japanese Embassy, or Consulate. The problem with this option is that the enlistment only occurs once a year (with applications due in the fall), and there are usually 5 to 10 times more people applying than there are open slots for each country. If you are in Canada, or the U.S., you probably won't be accepted unless you already speak some Japanese, have teaching experience, and can write a really good cover letter (or can lie even better.)

    On your own: This is the toughest way to do it, and the details differ for the following situations:

  1. Stay for a few days, spend money, and leave.
        Here, you'll want a cheap hotel near Tokyo, and the Walking Guide. See the Travel in Japan Section, and Hotels.
  2. Stay for a while, see Japan, spend money, and leave.
        If you plan on doing a little travelling, you have several options. You could work from one hotel as a base, and take a few day trips from Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, or Sapporo. Just decide what city you want as a base. Otherwise, you do some travelling across the country, bringing your purchases with you as you travel. This is partially what I've done. Keep in mind that if the last part of your trip takes you back to Tokyo for a day or two, that a lot of the things you can buy elsewhere you can also buy in Tokyo. So, don't buy what you don't want to carry.
        See the Travel in Japan Section, Hotels, Mailing Things Home, Rail Pass, and Money.
  3. Travel in Japan, buy stuff, and consider staying here for a while.
        This is the roughest option, if you are coming to Japan on your own, and don't already have work lined up. If you can, try getting work before you come over. This requires some patience, as you may not get replies from the company or school that you write to (assuming that the company or school is located in Japan.) Months can go by before you get a reply.
        But you can go to your local University, and search out the International Travel/Exchange departments. Chances are, your local University or college may have received Job Listing letters from various English Schools in Japan. The openings may have already been filled, but this will give you names and addresses of schools in Japan, and you can write to them, asking if that school can refer you to another school that does have a current opening. (It's a lot more expensive to call the school in Japan directly, but you get results faster.)
        If you can get a copy of the Japanese version of the English paper Japan Times (the American version doesn't have the classified ads section,) then get the Monday edition, and follow up on the classified ads.
        The next option is to simply come to Japan, and look for work here. Read all of the following sections for this.


    Your best bet is to get some of your money converted to yen before you leave home, and bring the rest as traveller's checks. The advantage here is that you're not going to be carrying huge sums of cash with you that may be stolen or lost. Also, if the conversion rate changes (when I left the U.S., it was 115 yen to the dollar, it is now 125 yen to the dollar) you may be able to benefit from it, or minimize your losses as you see fit.
    Japan does accept VISA cards for some purchases, but not all. There are very few places that accept American Express or Master Card: mainly hotels. If you can find an office for your particular credit card, you can try to get a cash advance on it if you need to.
    Your bank may tell you that you can use your ATM card at ATMachines in Japan. While this may be true, being able to find the right machine that'll accept your card may be quite a challenge, if not downright impossible. If you can, make your bank give you exact addresses for the right locations before you leave. Otherwise, you may be shit-out-of-luck.
    If you get your money converted before you leave your home country, keep your receipts. You will be charged a conversion fee. When you get back home, you should be able to convert your money back without being charged a second time. Keep in mind that you can't convert coins.

Chris Swett comments

I've found yen denomination travellers checks to be a very good way to convert money prior to going to Japan. I have always been able to convert my checks to cash at the hotel front desk for free once in country. AMEX has good exchange rates. I have also used travellers checks to send money to friends in Japan, who claim they are more convenient than postal money orders.

    The Japanese Yen comes in 1000, 5000, and 10,000 bills.
    There are 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, and 500 yen coins.

    The Japanese usually use the English counting system for prices, so if something costs 100 Yen, that's the way it will be labelled.
    If you are at a store, the cash register will probably show you how much you owe. Just keep your eyes open. Otherwise, just hold your hand out, and count out money until they stop you. Because, they will read the amount out in Japanese, and unless you know what "Ni-sen, san-juu" means, you may have some problems.

Travel In Japan.

    A lot depends on what airport you want to land in. And what cities you want to visit. If you land at Narita, you'll need to take a train to reach Tokyo (one hour away.)
    In Japan, there are buses, street cars, the subway, and trains.

    You pay for the bus just before you get off. You should have your destination written down on paper, at least in Hiragana, and ask your driver (preferably, in Japanese) to tell you when you have reached where you are going.

    Trains and the subway require that you buy a ticket from an automatic machine. The farther you are travelling, the more the ticket costs. If you don't know how much the ticket should be, just buy the cheapest ticket you can.
    Depending on the station that you are getting on at, there will either be a slot in the entry gate that you put your ticket in, or a live human that punches your ticket. If it's an automatic ticket validator, your ticket will be spit out from a different slot at the gate. You want to recover your ticket before continuing on your way.
    Again, depending on the station that you are departing from, you will find either a live ticket taker that you give the ticket to, or a slot in the exit gate. When you put the ticket in the automatic slot, the gate will determine if the ticket is for the right amount. If it isn't, an alarm will buzz and the gate will close on you. You'll then have to go to the fare adjustment window and you'll be told how much to pay to make up the difference.
    Alternatively, you can buy a rail pass.

    In Japan, there are: local trains, express trains, trains owned by Japan Rail (JR), and the Shinkansen. Depending on where you're going to go, you may have to take one or the other, or a combination of the above, and the the subway.
    Local trains are owned by private companies, and are cheaper than the JR lines. But they may be slower, and they won't go everywhere JR does.
    JR trains are owned by the JR company, and go all over Japan.
    Express trains may be local or JR, they just don't stop at all of the stations along the way. They are faster than normal, but may cause problems if the station you want is not one of the scheduled stops. You may have to get off at a different station and transfer to another train.
    The Shinkansen, AKA the Bullet Train, is the fastest line in the country. It's the best way to go from one big city to the next very quickly. Problem is, it's also the most expensive way to travel. Note: If you take the Shinkansen far enough, you will have to travel over night. Sometimes, the train you want is only sleeper cars, which costs even more.
    Sometimes, there are reserved cars on the Shinkasen. If so, you may find that the non-reserved cars are completely filled with people at the peak times. So, if you can, reserve a seat via the JR window at the train station, a few days in advance.

    For both the trains and the subway, usually the signs will be in Kanji and English. However, there will be exceptions. Especially in the subway, just before you get to the final stairs leading to the train or car you want. So, if you can, have your train line, and destination written down on paper in Hiragana and kanji. This will help you read the signs, and will let some kind Japanese person figure out where you are trying to go.

    You can also rent a bicycle. This is good for short trips around a city. Alternatively, if you stay in one place long enough, you may find that the Japanese would rather throw out old stuff than sell it or recycle it. Thus, you may find a bike that has been put in a trash pile to be disposed of. It is legal for you to take that trash and use it as you wish. Swallow your pride, and live with what god has given you.

    Finally, there is hitch hiking. This is the cheapest way to get around, and may be the easiest. Just have a sign with your destination on it, written in big black letters, in either Hiragana, or Kanji. Some of the veteran travellers in Japan have a hitch hike book, which is a hardback notebook they use for writing down their destinations. I have been told that no matter where you are in Japan, or where you are going, it usually doesn't take more than 10 minutes to get a ride for at least part of the distance.
    Just keep in mind that you may not have as good a result if you are in the city during rush hour, trying to get to the other end of Tokyo.

The Rail Pass:

    If you are a foreigner, or a Japanese businessman working outside of Japan, you can buy a JR rail pass. These passes will let you ride for free on any JR line (does not include subways, or local train lines.) You can buy them for 1 week, 2 week, or 3 week intervals. They can not be transferred to someone else, and you must have a valid passport to use them.
    You must buy the rail pass before you leave for Japan -- you can not buy a rail pass once you are in Japan.
    When you buy the rail pass, you are really just buying a receipt. When you get to Japan, you have to go to a JR office to get the actual pass. You do not have to activate the pass right away. In fact, do not activate the pass until you actually want to start travelling with it.
    If you plan on doing any real travelling around the country, seriously consider getting a rail pass first.
    You can use the JR pass to ride the Shinkansen. However, if you take a sleeper car, you will end up paying an extra amount of money, anyway.
    I have heard about people that buy two 3-week rail passes, and activate the second one when the first expires. I don't know what the legality is for this option.

Finding Work:

    Like I state elsewhere, the best bet for finding work in Japan is to do so before you come over. The main reason for this is that you need a working visa to stay here for any length of time. And the only (legal) way to get the working visa is to have a Japanese company sponsor you. And you have to go outside of Japan to get that visa, so if you can get it before coming to Japan, all the better.
    Otherwise, when you come here, seek out a copy of the Monday edition of the Japan Times. You have to hustle, because you have lots of competition. The jobs aren't as plentiful as in past years, and the Japanese economy is going into a slump that may last quite a while. But, the jobs do exist, if you keep your eyes open, and capitalize on any contacts you can make. Mainly, they are jobs teaching English. If you are a white American, or British-born native speaker, you'll have a much better chance than otherwise. Yes, Japan is racist and sexist. Live with it until things get better. Learning to beat the system requires learning how the system works, first.
    You can also try to get a job as a hostess (which pays pretty well for women,) as a programmer (not as many chances, but still good money,) or as a model (ok for short-term work, but models don't stay popular for very long.) And, if you can speak or read/write Japanese as well as English, this gives you a few more options. If you are female, attractive, and bilingual, you can get a good job as a secretary at a big company.
    Just keep in mind that many English jobs will require that you have some kind of University degree. If you can, bring a copy of your diploma, or transcripts, and your resume. Plus pictures of yourself, to give to your interviewer. Do not be modest in describing your talents -- in fact, the more you play up your (even almost non-existent) skills, if they apply to the job, the better your chances will be.
    You may be able to get short-term, part-time work that won't require that you have a working visa, but if you stay here more than 6 months (if you are an American citizen,) you'll need that working visa.
    Note: As of right now, I have not tried to find work here yet. I am relating the advice given to me from a variety of sources, and those sources more or less concur on the above points.

Passports and visas

    You need a passport to get into Japan. Contact your nearest federal government information office for the actual details for this. In the U.S., a passport is good for 10 years, and can be easily renewed. (If you already have a passport, and plan on being in Japan for at least a year, feel free to renew your passport if it is going to expire within the next 3 years. This may save you some headaches you normally wouldn't expect.)

    Visas are a different matter. Japan has agreements with certain countries, meaning that you may not actually need to apply for a tourist visa if you plan on staying for 3 months or less (the U.S. is one such country.) If you stay another three months, you have to apply for an extension (which probably means a trip to the immigrations office.)
    There is a student visa, if you are coming here to study. You have to get details on that from some other source than me.
    A working visa is the big ticket here. You must have a Japanese company sponsor you, and you must be outside of Japan when you get it. Many people come to Japan, find a job, then go to Korea, Taiwan, or Hong Kong for a few days vacation while applying for the working visa. Since buying airplane tickets from within Japan is very expensive, you may want to get an open-ended return trip back home, and return home when you get work. Since, a full time job may not actually start for up to a month or two after you get the visa, it will be cheaper to stay home for that time, and then buy new plane tickets back to Japan.
    Most job contracts will be between 1 to 2 years, so keep that in mind when making your plans.

Staying in Japan: Housing

    If you are going to be in Japan only for a few days, and can't find someone to stay with, you can either make do with a Youth Hostel, Business Hotel, or Capsule Hotel. If you're going to be doing some travelling, and money is a factor, a ryoukan, hostel, or capsule hotel will be better. Finally, if you're going to be in one place for more than a week, and money is a factor, you'll have to settle for a gaijin house until you can get work.

Youth Hostel:
    These are great places if you're on a tight budget. Some hostels require that you be a member of the International Youth Hostel Network. (Others will give you a discount if you are a member.) You can find out how to join the IYHN by calling a travel agency, and seeing if they can give you the phone number local to you.
    Youth Hostels can have some very restrictive rules (like having to be in bed by 10:00 PM, and outside of the building between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM,) and normally you can only stay at one hostel for 3 days max (you can go somewhere else for one day, and return for another 3.)
    During peak tourist periods, you may need reservations for any given hostel. The hostel in Tokyo is always booked weeks in advance, because it is central to where the action is. Hostels can cost between 2000 and 2500 yen. Some hostels also offer breakfast and/or supper for an additional 450 to 650 yen each.

    Normally, these are supposed to be cheap ways of experiencing Japanese living. For 3000 to 4000 yen, you stay in a house or building with many rooms. You get meals, and bathe in the classic Japanese style. In the one ryoukan I stayed at in Tokyo, this was not the case. Basically, that was just a flop house with a shower shared by two single-room apartments, with no meals, and a curfew.
    Just be choosy about where you want to stay, and it will be a good experience.

Capsule Hotel:
    AKA Coffin Capsules. For 3500 to 5000 yen, you will get a slot in the wall 3' x 3' x 6'. The slot will have a light, radio, TV, sheets and bedding, and a curtain over the entrance. The hotel will also have a public bath, tv room, vending machines, small locker for your street clothes, a sleeping robe, and maybe even a little restaurant.
    These places are made for businessmen with a little money, and a need to sleep overnight in some town before moving on. They are not good places for staying more than a few days, and there is no place to store lots of belongings or anime purchases. But for short-term crash space, they're rather pleasant.

Business Hotel:
    This is a more upscale option. For 5000 to 10,000 yen per night, you get your own single bedroom room and shower. The bedroom will measure about 8' x 8'. You may even get a TV, tea warmer, teapot, and tea. The one I stayed at had a VCR in the room, and a video tape rental machine in the lobby. If you plan on staying in Japan just to shop for a few days before leaving, this may be your best bet.

Gaijin House:
    This is the only long-term option if you can't get an apartment through your work. Apartment space is very dear in Japan, and some landlords will not rent to foreigners, arguing that foreigners won't stay long enough to give them a profit.
    A gaijin house is most likely a dump -- a few apartments in one building that will be rented out to 2 to 5 people in one place. Look to the Lonely Planet Guide's list of gaijin houses for actual names and addresses.
    These places rent out for 30,000 to 60,000 yen per month. When you get work, you may be lucky enough to have help in locating a real apartment. The place I'm at for the first month has 12 people, a TV and VCR, two refrigerators, 2 showers and baths, no hot water pressure, a stove but no oven, and cockroaches. It is one of the better gaijin houses, and costs 43,000 yen/month with a 5000 yen deposit.
    If you view this as a frat house, you may be better off.

    It's usually pretty easy to just come into a town, and call up the place you want to stay at, and be likely to be accepted. Just don't expect to find a space during a major festival, or at the height of the tourist season. (Keeping in mind that the main hostel in Tokyo is almost always full.) Otherwise, try to get your travel agent to book your hotel in advance (which saves you the long-distance phone bill if you do it yourself.)
    Some hostels don't care if you stay more than 3 days, if you pay for one day at a time. And some ryoukans and hostels will let you store your big bags there while you go on a short trip elsewhere (if you want to travel light for a few days.)

Mistakes you do not want to make:

    In public, do not blow your nose. Keep sniffing until you can blow your nose in private.

    Do not give a Japanese host or friend a gift unless it seems appropriate. The recipient will then be forced to determine how much your gift was and to give you another one in return.

    No eating while you're walking. Although, in some places and at some times, you'll see younger Japanese eating ice cream cones, or drinking sodas, it doesn't happen often. If nothing else you'll notice that you're getting dirty looks from people if you so much as carry an empty pop can as you walk along.

    Do not go anywhere without at least a small amount of kleenex. Many of the public toilets do not have toilet paper. And, many places do not have towels for drying your hands when you wash them.

    Don't wipe your sweaty face with your shirt sleeve -- have a separate hanky for patting your face dry.

    Do not worry too much about offending, or surprising people. As a foreigner, you are already something of a spectacle, so you might as well do something outrageous to justify their staring at you.

    Do not forget that traffic travels in the opposite direction than it does in North America. Look left first, then right, when crossing the street.

    Do not expect that a Japanese person agrees with you when he says yes. Quite possibly, he is simply indicating that he is still listening. Remember, the Japanese will not normally disagree with you outright. Do not simply answer the Japanese with "No". Instead, "Yes, I hear you, but..."

    Do not forget that the Japanese dislike direct confrontation. This can work in your advantage in many different ways. But it also means that most Japanese will avoid direct eye contact with you on the street, or in conversation.

    Remember to be polite, and thank people, even when you are buying things from them. Also, the Japanese normally consider the passing of money to be rather offensive. So, when you are buying something, look for a tray of some kind. That's where you are expected to put your money, and that's where they'll put your change. Not all Japanese are picky about this, but many still are.

    Do not be surprised if someone comes up to you and starts to talk to you. They are not being overly-friendly (unless they are asking for money for some cause, in which case the flyers in their hands should give them away. The approach to use here is to look to the side, say "Wakerimasen" -- I don't understand you -- and just keep walking.)
    When someone comes up to you and starts talking, they are simply trying to get a free English lesson out of you. When they are satisfied, they will continue on their way. Many Americans get offended by this after a while. Don't worry about it. Just go through the motions, and continue on your own way when it is over.

    Don't be so stupid as to try to smuggle proscribed drugs, or rice, into Japan. The odds are that you'll get caught, and the Japanese do not treat such matters lightly. As always, play things smart (and buy from the yakuza if you want something for your own consumption.)

Mailing stuff back home:

    You can do this. Just keep in mind that it will cost money, and take 1 to 3 months for the stuff to arrive at home (assuming that it doesn't get stolen.) You can use Air Mail, but that's insanely expensive if you don't have the money, and the package weighs more than 1 pound.
    You can buy a mailing box at the post office (the post office sign is a red "T" with a straight line over it.) Put your stuff in the box, and make sure you have some spare paper to use as packing material. Tape it up good, and fill out the mailing label. The post office may want you to add a return address for a place in Japan, just in case the package can't be delivered. However, they may not be able to tell you that in English. If you don't have any other address, use one for the hostel or hotel you are staying at.
    When I bought $60 worth of manga and small paraphenalia, it cost $30 to mail it.


    Many train and bus stations have pay lockers where you can store your bags if you want to walk around a city for a few days. These can cost between 200 and 600 yen per day, which can add up quickly if you don't pay attention. (Midnight is considered the end of one day. After midnight, you have to pay again to get your bags back.)

Best Times to Travel:
    Mid-Spring and Fall. Just try to avoid the rainy season. Summers are hot and humid around Tokyo -- they're worse if you go farther south, and stay near the coast. Winters are cold and wet, or snow-bound.

Gaijin Assistance:
    In Sapporo there is the International Communications Plaza, on the third floor: The floor is dedicated to helping out gaijin that need it. There is a job posting/message board, copies of various international newspapers (including the Japan Times), and English speaking natives that can tell you what banks convert foreign currency, how to contact a given hotel, and other more vital things. There is also a kind of common room where you can sit and relax, write letters, or talk to people.
    In Fukuoka, Rainbow Plaza performs the same services, plus providing a TV, and a newsletter.
    In Tokyo, just outside of the east exit for the Ikebukuro Station, there is the Kimi Information Office. This is just a hole in the wall office, with a fax, and resume typing service, and message board. There's no newsletter, and the adjacent room to the front desk is intended mainly for doing your own typing, although there is a conference table if you want to use it. There is also an apartment-finding service, and they will print up business cards for a fee.

    For all of the above offices, your best bet is to go to the nearest tourist information office (or call the tourist information directory service), and get good directions to get there from whereever you are (because it's not very easy to find these places the first time around.)

Travelling Lightly:
    Do not bring things you don't want to carry. Clothes for a few days, a toilet kit, and any additional papers for getting work if needed. Anything more than that may need to be stored somewhere while you travel.

Living Cheaply:
    If you plan on doing some travelling while in Japan, get a rail pass.
    Bring a water bottle, or buy one here. Try to avoid buying too many soft drinks since they'll go for about $1 each, and during the summer, may add up to $10 a day, easily.
    Look for restaurants that sell large dishes for 500 yen. Or lose some weight.
    If you want to read the weekly phonebooks, look in garbage cans on the street -- near train stations, or on the trains themselves. People buy these, read them in an hour, and throw them away. You can save $20-$40 per week this way. Just make sure that the phonebook is clean when you pick it up.
    Buy your food at grocery stores -- not the convenience stores. You get a better selection this way, while saving money. But also comparison shop when walking by the vegetable stands. You might be able to save a little more money on fresh produce. And yes, during season, a melon can still cost $5 each, and bananas can be as cheap as 300 yen for 4. All food is expensive in Japan.
    If you can find a gaijin house, you can try to keep your expenses down to 4000 yen a day (1600 for the lousy apartment, the rest for food and other expenses.) Walk, don't use the rails if you're only going 1 or 2 miles in any given direction. This translates to $1200/month.
    Staying at places other than gaijin houses may bring your expenses up to 6000 to 7000 yen/day. Especially if you want to travel, sightsee, sample the food, and buy stuff.
    Visit department stores. All big stores will have a food section. Sometimes, these food sections (and some stores in the underground shopping tunnels) will give away free samples. This can be both good and bad, if you don't know what it is you're putting in your mouth -- but it is free food.

    Take care of all your health matters before coming here. Japan's health care system costs money, and isn't the greatest.
    And if you wear glasses or contacts, make sure that you bring a spare pair, and/or your prescription. If something can happen to trash your glasses, it will (trust me on this one.)

Hitch hike.
    Especially when travelling from one city to the next. You get to meet lots of interesting people this way (I wasn't hitching, just walking in Kyushu, when two Japanese computer students from Fukuoka gave me a ride to Mt. Aso. We talked about all kinds of things in broken English, in a heavy rain, in the mountains of a national park, while listening to Brian Adams' Wake Up The Neighbors. It was a pirate dub of the tape, and the owner had labelled it as Walk Up The Neighbors.) You can also get offers to stay at people's houses, make contacts, and get free meals, while getting a free ride at the same time.

    Search the trash piles and garbage cans (don't actually dig into them, but at least glance them over) for stuff you want that someone else threw away. You can get umbrellas, (non-working) electronics, and bikes this way. If you spend the little bit of money to get the stuff working, it's a lot cheaper than if you buy it new, and may still be just as good as new.

Non-legal stuff:
    Some Mid-Easterners live in the parks, especially in Yoyogi and Ueno. To avoid paying for train fare, they will walk through the ticket gate of the fare adjustment window in the middle of the crush of other people that walk by flashing their pass cards. You may get caught doing this, but can also possibly bluff your way out of it, since the Japanese don't like direct conflict ("Wakerimasen".)

    If you stop at Bangkok before coming to Japan, you can do the same thing that one Isreali did. He'd taken 9 months to travel from Isreal, through India, to Japan. Mainly on foot. In Bangkok, he bought a Free-lance Journalist badge for $8. By flashing this, and looking like he's going to do a write-up on some activity, he could get into museums, rides, and other stuff for free. Sometimes, he could even get free transportation.

Survival Japanese:

    Any travel guide for Japan that you buy will have at least some useful phrases in it to help you get around more easily. Either memorize these phrases, or write them down on a separate piece of paper that you can carry in your hand along with your map and/or train ticket.
    Note: "Desu" is pronounced "des".
    The below phrases will not only get you to the correct train platform, but also the right store, the right city, or the right bus stop. Just keep asking people until you know you are where you want to be, smile, and thank them when you are done.
    When someone answers you, they'll probably speak too fast for you to follow them, even if you do know a little Japanese. Just smile, head in the direction they aim you towards, and ask the next person.

No. Iie ("ee -- ya")
Yes. Hai. ("Hi")   either...
Ii ("ee")   or...
un ("uwn")

Excuse me Sumimasen
exit deguchi
Thank you Arigato
straight massugu
train denssha
turn magaru
subway chikatetsu
right migi
station eki
left hidari
bus basu
stop tomaru
bus stop basu-tei
back ushiro
ticket kippu
how much? Ikura?
entrance? iriguchi
Forgive me gomen na sai

I want to go to (place name). Watashi wa, (place name) ni ikitai.
Where is the toilet? Toire wa, doko desu ka?
Is there anyone here who speaks English? Eigo no dekiro hito wa, imasu ka?
Please telephone (number/name). (number/name) ni, denwa o kakete kudasai.
Is this (place name)? koko wa, (place name) desu ka?
Where is (place name)? (place name) wa doko desu ka?
Where is (place name) on this map? (place name) wa kono chizu no doko ni arimasu ka?
How long will it take to go to (place name)? (place name) ni iku ni wa dono kurai jikan ga kakarimasu ka?
Which line should I take to go to (station name)? (station name) wa nanisen desu ka?
Which train should I take to go to (station name)? (station name) wa dono densha ni noreba yoi desu ka?
Where do I buy a ticket? kippu wa doko de kaemasu ka?
How much is a ticket to (station name)? (station name) made ikura desu ka?
What is the platform number for (station name)? (station name)-iki wa nanbansen desu ka?
Is this the right platform for (station name)? (Station name)-iki wa kono houmu desu ka?
Is this the right train to (station name)? Kore wa (station name) ni ikimasu ka?
Does this train stop at (station name)? Kore wa (station name) ni tomarimasu ka?
How many more stops to (station name)? (station name) wa ikutsume desu ka?
Where should I change trains to go to (station name)? (station name) wa doko de norikae desu ka?
Please let me know when we arrive at (station name/place). (Station name/place) ni tsuitara oshiete kudasai.
What time is the next train to (station name)? Tsugi no (station name)-iki wa nanji desu ka?
I want to buy this one. (Point to the object you want.) Kore kudasai (Pronounced "ko re coup da sigh")

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