Quick note before the blog post: Kelsi and I are in Beijing and having an amazing time, but the internet in our hostel is pretty weak. As such, blog posts might be a bit thin for a while. Additionally, we won't be able to upload any photos or videos until we are at a place with stronger internet either.
Our 18 day visit to Japan has come to an end. As we sit in an airplane on our way to Beijing with only the view of South Korea out the window to occupy us, it feels like a good time to reflect up on our time in the country.
Japan was an excellent choice for the beginning of our world trip. A modern country that, while a very different culture, has absorbed many western influences which made it possible to feel comfortable quickly. In setting off for a big adventure like we have planned, it was important to feel successful early in our travels and Japan made it easy to feel that way. Navigating was relatively simple with the extensive and extremely well documented rail system. English, while not everywhere, appeared often enough on road signs, buildings, products, and menus to enjoy most activities. The water is safe to drink from the tap. Most everything is labeled with helpful drawings and cartoons.
Best of all, the Japanese people were incredibly hospitable. Random people in the street helped us out so many times, providing directions or roughly translating Japanese words for us. The culture is polite and helpful, though I wouldn’t say that people (outside the baseball game) felt earnestly friendly or warm; it was more formal and a bit distant, but it made visiting relatively easy. If you or someone you know wants to travel to a different culture, but maybe is nervous about something too new or unusual for them, Japan would be an excellent recommendation.
If I was in your position as the reader, one of the things I’d be most curious about is the finances of travel. In light of that (and to assist any future travelers in preparing a budget), Kelsi and I have decided to be open with our finances on our trip. Keep in mind that we are traveling budget conscious but not shoestring – we are staying in hostels, but paying a little more for a private room (with or without private bathroom, depending on availability and cost); we usually make breakfast and maybe a second meal in the hostel, but we’re usually eating out at least one meal a day; etc. Should you visit Japan, your mileage may vary.
Flight Boston to Tokyo: $1500 or $750/person
Days in Japan: 18
Number of cities/locations visited: 6
Number of different accommodations: 7 (5 hostels, 1 hotel, 1 overnight bus)
Average daily spending: $170 (includes lodging and all transportation except flights)
Max spending in one day: $327 (day at Universal Studios Japan)
Min spending in one day: $108
Flight Osaka to Beijing: $660 or $340/person, paid for entirely with credit card points
At the end of most days Kelsi and I record all the money that we spent that day. Once we are in a place with a stronger internet connection, we intend on open sourcing it.
We are expecting Japan to be much more expensive than most of the other countries we visit. We could not keep up this pace of spending for an entire year. For example, our tentative China budget is $80 per day for both of us, but that may change as we adjust to costs on the ground. Most of our cost projections have come from reading blogs of similarly budget minded couple travelers.
Japan vs. United States
Kelsi and I have been keeping a list of things that we noticed were different between Japan and the United States. Here are things we thought worth mentioning that never really fit into other stories we have told here before:
- Japanese people LOVE umbrellas and carry them everywhere, all the time, to block both sun and rain
- Some bikes have umbrella hooks so that you can have the protection of your umbrella while biking
- Every store and building has a special umbrella stand outside
- There are umbrella hooks next to urinals in the men’s rooms
- Man purses are in fashion
- Men and women always have a hand towels in their purse as many public restrooms, though well outfitted in most other ways imaginable, bafflingly do not have any way to dry your hands a lot of the time
- Public restrooms are everywhere. Way more than in the US – train stations, all stores and restaurants, underground walkways, large buildings on the street. We’ve never been in such a well-prepared nation.
- Public trashcans are nowhere and people carry their trash home with them. Still, the streets are unfailingly clean.
- Restaurants rarely have napkins, but usually greet you
- Slurping noodles is a way of showing that you enjoy your meal
- Oddly, restaurants rarely had napkins which made mess-free noodle slurping a bit of a challenge. Perhaps instead, diners are usually greeted with a warm or cold towel for their hands that you aren’t supposed to wipe on your mouth. We usually did anyway when nobody was looking.
- Most train stations, particularly subway stations, have bird sounds playing over the loudspeakers at the boarding platform. The first day it took us a while to figure out that there wasn’t some freaked out bird flying around everywhere. They also play a little jingle when the train arrives. It’s very cute.
- Bikes are far more popular as a form of public transportation, but the bike culture is very different from Boston and also feels much safer.
- Cyclists usually ride on the sidewalk, not the road. Often there is a special area for them on pedestrian walkways.
- Most bikes are cruiser bikes. Between this and the sidewalk biking, it means that people bike more slowly.
- Cyclists don’t wear helmets.
- Many people don’t bother locking their bikes (but they do their umbrellas!)
- Every sidewalk has a raised line for blind people to follow with their canes
- Toilets have lots and lots of buttons, including for the following functions:
- Front wash and back wash (with adjustable temperature, angle, and intensity)
- Fake flushing noise to cover indiscreet bathroom noises. Sometimes it just starts automatically when you walk in the stall.
- Seat warmers
- When paying with coins, you place your coins in a special plastic payment tray that you hand back and forth with the cashier.
- It is polite to hand things (bills, credit card, papers, etc.) to someone with two hands. It is expected that you two hands to receive said objects.
- There are visual depictions of everything, especially at restaurants, which have large plastic food displays in the window. Japan has a strong plastic-food business we think.
I have video about Japanese restaurants as well as a set of photos from all over Japan that I want to share, but the internet in our hostel in Beijing's internet just too weak. I'll have to upload them once we move to another venue.
Kelsi and I both excited and nervous about going to China. Once we got into the swing of things and became comfortable in Japan, we admittedly became a bit nervous transitioning to China. Japan is neat, orderly, and clean. We do not expect China to be the same way, nor do we expect that the hygiene and politeness of the Japanese in any other country we visit. Scams and pushy salesmen are almost entirely absent in Japan, another nicety that will not last.
That aside, the last several days we have been reading and preparing for China and are quite excited. There are a ton of amazing sites in this massive country and we are sure it will be worth the trip. In Beijing alone there is the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, and the opportunity for a daytrip to the Great Wall. We have enjoyed many fine foods in Japan, but honestly it was feeling really bland and bereft of vegetables after about a week; we are ready for vitamins and bigger, more varied flavors that we can afford. Traveling from Japan will also be a shift for our trip – no longer will it feel like we are on an extended vacation to Japan, but on a leg of a much larger adventure.