I went to Japan without knowing how to speak any Japanese. Without speaking the language, there was not much I could do without a friends help. I could only buy things from stores where you can just take it to the counter (most places have registers that display the price). Other than that, some restaurants can be difficult, catching the train is overwhelming and on talking about Jesus… I run into walls very quickly. So, big revelation: learn Japanese!
Some other thoughts:
– Osaka and Kobe are very urban and concrete places. It was no Hawaiian island paradise but I loved the architecture.
– The majority of Japanese people I saw were tall. I’m not an average Asian height like I thought.
– Japan is a VERY clean place. There is minimal graffiti, good landscaping and hardly any litter (yet very few trash cans on the streets).
– No one eats or drinks while they walk. Maybe that’s why there’s no need for many trash cans on the street. If they buy a drink from a vending machine, they finish it right there and then move on.
– Speaking of vending machines, they are everywhere.
– If you are not walking, you are probably riding a bicycle. Many people young and old use them and they are parked everywhere. You can ride on the street, on the sidewalk, weave between people and no one seems to mind. I was never yelled at or honked at despite zooming by people and cars. It was scary yet fun.
– People in Japan are willing to travel far for work and school. I regularly heard people say it takes them an hour to two hours to commute one way.
– No one is overweight in Japan. No one. I did not see one fat man. I guess all the walking combined with typically small food portions is working. I think Americans can learn something here.
– I was surprised to learn that Japan does not have street names. Directions are given by landmarks.
– The infrastructure in Japan is amazing. The train system works like clockwork and makes getting places very easy.
– Japan is a very safe place. It’s not unusual to see children or women walking alone late at night or in alley ways. I heard a few stories about valuable things being left behind or lost only to be quickly recovered.
– The service in Japan is really good. I never saw anything close to a rude or even indifferent store clerk or waitress. They were all really nice. They got the ‘Aloha Spirit’ thing down better than the Aloha State.
– I highly recommend Japan Airlines.
– In Japan, you are considered an adult at age 20 so the smoking and drinking age is 20. Also, you can smoke and drink anywhere! Beer and cigarettes are offered in vending machines yet I didn’t see anyone drinking on the streets. I did see many smokers though.
– All the cars look new. I didn’t see any old cars driving around. Japan has an expensive vehicle inspection system so it’s cheaper to trade up.
– I rarely saw any motorcycles in Osaka.
– One morning I could hear an ice cream truck and thought—it’s kind of early for ice cream. It turned out to be a garbage truck. Their garbage trucks make music and sound exactly like ice cream trucks.
– Japanese businesses use interesting English translations. There’s a popular sports drink called ‘Pocari Sweat’. One ad read “Mall The Bargain” and my personal favorite: I saw a blood drive trailer that said, “Look, Blood.”
– It’s hard to be funny in Japan, especially if you like sarcasm like I do. It doesn’t work. They’ll just believe whatever you just said or think you’re strange.