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Sunday, May 27, 2018

6 Things You Need To Know About Japan Before You Go - Part 1

No one has ever asked me this, which is why it probably needs to be stated.

Japan isn't so much an alien land, as it is quirky. In my opinion, every country has a certain amount of weirdness in it that travelers would find confusing.

As such, here is my list of:

Things You Need To Know About Japan Before You Go

1) They drive on the left side of the road. If you are from the UK, or other such islands, cars are driven on the opposite side of how they drive in the U.S. Now you might not think this such a big deal, but on my first foray out on the mean streets of Tokyo with a bunch of like-minded go-getter JET (Japan Exchange &Teaching) Programme participants to be stationed out west in Shiga-ken (I was to be sent north east to Tochigi-ken), I looked the typical North American way of to my left, seeing the path was clear and then stepped onto the road to cross. I was pulled back instantly by the pretty young woman named Kristine South, who not only saved my life, but still doesn't know why she did it. You can blame her for this blog. So... in Japan, look right before you jaywalk. Or better yet, don't jaywalk.

2) Soaplands are sex parlors, of a sort. They are everywhere in the cities of Japan, hidden away in smaller towns, and probably do not exist in villages and hamlets, but what do I know. I saw a Soapland in Tokyo, thinking I would purchase some nice scented Japanese soap, and was about to cross the road to get some, when I was... well... see point #1 above. Kristine also explained to me that Soaplands were essentially massage parlors where the woman soaped up the man's genitals before a happy ending was enjoyed. That girl sure knows a lot.

3) Japanese money is worth a different amount from what you might think. The next night in Japan, my new girlfriend and I... strangely enough, it wasn't Kristine (I screwed up there), but was Ashley, a new teacher who would live one town over from me in Tochigi-ken. After meeting and going dancing at a club down in Roppongi, it was 2AM and we figured we should go back to our hotel, and hailed a Japanese taxi. It pulled up to my frantic, drunk waving, and the back door automatically popped open. The driver can control the doors from the front. He drove us back to our hotel--Ashley and I couldn't recall exactly where we were staying, but I had a book of matches from the place--always a good thing to take, if you can find it--and showed it to the cab driver, who then understood our confused English. Arriving, I pulled out five 10,000 yen bills and shoved it into his hands, figuring it would comfortably take care of the fare and provide a solid tip. At that time, it turns out that five 10,000 bills equaled about US$500. My fare was only 4,000 yen. You have to check the number of zeroes in your bill in Japan, and do so as carefully as your horny, drunk eyes can manage.

4) There's no tipping in Japan. So I gave the cab driver 5,000 yen and smiled and bowed and tried to get out of the cab. "No, no, no!" he screamed, and handed me back one of the 1,000 yen bills. I said, "It's okay," and tried to put it back in my hand. "No, no, no!" he screamed yet again - man, this guy's English was great, and pushed the bill back into my hand and automatically opened the back door for Ash and I. We got out, drunk, hot and sweaty, a bit horny still, and very confused. I wasn't confused about why I was drunk, hot and sweaty, and still a bit horny, but that whole money exchange confused me. I tried to explain what happened the next night to someone who had been in Japan 365 days longer than I, and she said, "I have a boyfriend." I found that to be a polite way of her reminding me I had a new girlfriend, and then she explained that in Japan, tipping is frowned upon. They get paid for their goods and services, and as such, tipping is not only not required, it is taken as insulting... as if they have to be bribed to provide good service. I would imagine that if we, in the west, paid our servers better, we wouldn't have to resort to bribing them with tips. TIPS: To insure prompt service. That's what I was told it means, but dammit, I'm pretty sure "insure" should actually be "ensure", and thus it should be TEPS. Anyhow, here's a great tip for people traveling to Japan - never try and tip anyone.

5) Duck. While most modern hotels and restaurants and living quarters have doorways traversable by anyone under the height of a small forward basketball player, most doorways in older more traditional quarters of Japan have very low doorways.
You might think it's because the Japanese are very short people as a race - and while it is more or less true, the Japanese are, on average, shorter than many other peoples... supposedly having an average height equivalent to the French, according to an English text used by Japanese students through 1993... I believe that the lowered doorways also cause the person passing through the doorway to actually duck their head in such a fashion so as to resemble a bow. I think it is low so as to make people remember to bow their heads. And different example of this can also be found in entrance ways to Buddhist temples. At the gated doorways, there is a piece of wood across the base, that causes the person to left their leg to pass into the temple. You are meant to step over it, and to not sidle sideways in a manner that might have you show your but as you enter the temple. I was told that, but I think it would be easier to not have the wood to step over, as it might cause the shorter Japanese person to sidle sideways over it and this show their butt towards the holy ground of the temple. Anyhow, a good rule to remember, if you haven't concussed yourself too badly, is to always duck or bow your head to avoid smacking it on something.

6) Geisha, Ninja and Samurai. Of these three iconic figures of Japan known to anyone with even a remote interest in Japan, one of them no longer exists, and the other two are so rare, you might not see one unless a special effort is made. Samurai were outlawed over 150 years ago, after the Shogun-rule was given back to the Emperor-rule and a Prime Minister. Geisha still exist, and are found in the larger cities of Japan, and contrary to what you may have heard, are NOT prostitutes. They are artisans who are paid to entertain a man via their skills with the tea ceremony, singing, dancing and playing musical instruments such as the koto harp. While a geisha might indeed sleep with the man they are entertaining, it is frowned upon, and is not part of the "entertainment" package. Ninja... these black-clad assassins of the night... I've never seen one, but that's doesn't mean they don't exist, rather that they are simply very good at their job, or I am very good at evading their assassination attempts. There was a recreated ninja town that I visited in Tochigi-ken, but really it was a pre-1870 Japanese village, and showed off some of the weapons they used, and yes, you could buy non-sharp examples of the various ninja stars. I bought five - all of which I think were lost in a house fire years ago. Anyhow, I'm just saying that your likelihood of meeting a real ninja while in Japan are slim to none.

Obviously there are a lot more things you should know about Japan before you go... but since I post every day, tune in tomorrow for some more TEPS. 

Andrew Joseph

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