Here I am – in Tokyo, Japan. Reached on 4th August, 2013. I’ll be here for at least 3 months. Most likely, by 31st October I’ll be returning back home to Bangalore, India.

Landed in Japan

Something that I noticed as soon as I arrived are the roads and the white signs labelled on each and every paths.

Roads well marked

Also, the traffic signals at each and every intersections have some kinda sound system that beeps and those are for visually handicapped people so they know when to cross the signals. Added to these beeps, they have small pebbles kinda thing (walking spots) on the roads and lanes so the visually handicapped people can walk over it without any help from others.

Walking spots for the visually handicapped

You also see printed stickers inside lifts with “Silence Please” written and Japanese follow these rules religiously.

Silence_Please

You see people maintaining queue no matter how busy they are. When it comes to escalators, everyone stands on the left side so people who are really busy can walk through the moving stairs. In case you are standing on the right side, people who are in hurry will stand just behind you and will wait for you to move, but won’t ask you to move or won’t push you aside. In buses, you are not supposed to talk over the phone. It happened once that one of our friend, an Indian, was talking to his girlfriend while traveling in the bus, and the driver pulled over and patiently waited till his conversation was over before starting the engine. The driver never asked him to stop the conversation. Kinda embarrassing to foreigners though. Japanese make sure they switches off each and every appliances when not in use to save on electricity and there is a rule that air conditioners should be maintained at 27 or 28 degrees and no matter how hot it is, they follow the rule. Sounds crazy though.. They die of heat, but won’t break the rule. So meticulous.

At office, every Monday morning, we are supposed to clean our computers, desk, chairs and even the foot stand with wet wipes and that’s all followed by each and every one. If you are moving away from your desk, you gotta switch off the monitor to save electricity. You can have your eateries and drinks at your desk, but have to make sure you clean it up, and that too not just throw the bottles or cans in the trash, but remove the bottle cap and put them in a separate trash, and bottle in another one. Also, if the bottle has stickers on it, you have to remove those and put them in a different one. Awe!! Lot of things to check before you even think of getting something to eat or drink….

I tried lot of Japanese cuisines and loved most of them. The above mentioned rules applies here as well.. You have to segregate each and every cutlery in different trash cans once you are done with your food. So, plastic cups goes in one, paper cups in another, china dishes in a separate one and so on and you gotta stand in queue patiently.

Speaking about punctuality. It is customary for Japanese to be punctual. As Japanese are especially concerned about not being late, most have naturally acquired this habit. For example, in companies and public institutions, and for meetings with others, it is considered common sense to “be prompt”. Though it’s possible to turn up late for a date with someone close to you, it’s always necessary to text and say you’ll be late.

If a train arrives even one-minute later than scheduled, Japanese railway companies announce their apologies for the delay. For the Japanese who have been raised in such a time conscious society, it is sometimes hard to embrace the more laissez-faire attitude to time that comes with living in other countries.

Here are a few ideas for a novice traveler and first-time visitor to Tokyo.

  • Always carry on you the full address (in Japanese) of the hotel that you are staying in.
  • Get out and walk around the local area. Observe the street signage and neon signs.
  • Explore any department stores or shopping arcade.
  • Try a Ramen shop. There are vending machines in the front of the shop where you can choose your flavors (many have English descriptions on them). Take your ticket to the attendant or counter and your soup will be brought to you.
  • Tokyo subway and trains are efficient and super punctual to the minutes (if the train schedule says the train will come at 12:34, it will come at 12:34). If you intend to use the subway extensively for 1 day, there are day passes that can be purchased at the attended kiosks or vending machines (which have an English option). Please note that there are at least 2 independent subway companies (Metro and Toei) and you can get a joint pass if you are at a station that has both lines. Otherwise, you may need to purchase separate passes. Buy a Suica Card to avoid the hassle of constantly buying ticket. Keep a map of the routes handy. The maps are available at the manned kiosks (in English). Understanding the Tokyo subway and trains system can be complex, due to different timings and different platforms. For first timers, ensure you get the Train Schedules and Platform Numbers correct. They have trains that travel on different routes stopping at the same platform, but different timings. Catching their timings can be a challenge for those who are not familiar with Japanese words. If you board the wrong train on the correct platform, it will be a hassle because the next stop may be very far.
  • If you are carrying an iPhone or Android Phone, download Google Maps and ensure that you get all the Street Names and Addresses in Japanese.
  • Learn a bit of the language, especially numbers. There is not much English language in Japan, most signages and names are in Japanese. Learn some Chinese language (kanji) if you can. It helps. Learn about numbering in Japanese Language and Japanese Phrases like “Ikura desuka?” (for How much is it) will be helpful. If not, download a voice translator from iTunes or Google Play that helps you to speak Japanese language on your behalf.
  • In restaurants, cross your forefingers like an ‘X’ to signify you want to pay the bill. They also will recognize if you raise your hand as if you are holding a pen. Point with an open hand. Pointing with your forefinger is considered rude.
  • Most Japanese bank ATM’s do not accept foreign credit credit and bank cards. Use Post Office ATM’s, Citibank ATM’s or bring lots of cash. You can exchange in the Narita terminal 1 as soon as you exit from baggage claim. Alternatively, some of the 7-11 do have ATMs that accept International cards that you can withdraw money from.
  • Tipping is usually refused, except in the Roppongi district.
  • Talking loudly is considered extremely rude on public transportation. Most people sit quietly or use sms phone messaging.
  • Watch out for drunken off-duty American Soldiers and African hustlers in Roppongi.
  • Shibuya Bars that are more frequented by Japanese will sometimes charge ‘gaijin’ a cover charge in the realm of 500 Yen.
  • Go shopping in Ginza.
  • Don’t jaywalk.
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