When we arrived in Osaka, it felt like morning, and we didn’t feel dazed by the time difference at all. Japan lays 7 hours ahead, so when we arrived at 8.55 AM Japanese time, it was 1.55 AM in Sweden.
Mobile phone in Japan
At the Kansai Airport in Osaka (which is located on a small island in the sea), I went to the Telecom Square booth since I’ve booked a rental phone. Swedish phones doesn’t work in Japan, except 3G phones if you got a suitable subscription. Anyway, I didn’t. So since I needed to contact my friend Hide in Osaka, I had to rent a phone.
Tip: It’s very easy to rent a phone. I booked it in Sweden via Telecome Square’s webpage: www.telecomsquare.co. You pick up the phone at the airport and when you return it on your way home, you pay the fee. It cost me approximately 4500 yen (~$48) for two weeks, and then a fee for calls is added. You never know when you might need to make a phone call, so it’s quite practical to be able to do so. I had the number to the Swedish embassy in my wallet for instance. ^^
SMS and e-mail
You can’t send SMS to a Japanese, ’cause they don’t use SMS in Japan. When I mentioned it at home, some people thought I was stupid and claimed that “Of course they do! Why wouldn’t they?” But it’s true, no SMS. Instead they send e-mail with their phones.
Speaking of phones. Japaneses are crazy about accessories to their mobile phones. Different kinds of mobile jewelry and cuddly toys is sold everywhere and I couldn’t get how the teenagers (mostly girls) managed to use their phones with all that knick knack hanging from it. One girl had so much stuff equipped to her phone so it was like three times bigger than the phone itself and every-time she put it up, she was about to drop it because of the weight of all accessories.
It was a pretty lengthy procedure to get through security in Japan. We had to fill in a lot of papers in which we ensured we weren’t terrorists, brought weapons or could be infected with the swine flue. After being photographed and had our fingerprints registered, we could finally leave the airport.
The temperature in Japan was much higher than in Sweden. Suddenly, we found our selves in 33 degrees heat and extremely humid air. It was rain-season in Japan, but we were very lucky since it almost never rained during our visit.
My friend Hide speaks English excellent and very fluid. I found him helpful many times when I couldn’t remember certain expressions.
But all Japaneses are not as good English-speakers as Hide. My impression is that most Japaneses actually can’t speak or understand English. Those who can speak English are mostly staff at the air port or at the railway station and I guess that’s a basic condition to get hired there.
If you need to talk to people on the street, choose younger men and women. It’s a greater chance that a teenager knows some English than a grownup.
When you listen to a Japanese talking English, observe that sounds like “R” and “L” is considered as the same sound in Japan. That’s quite confusing for a foreigner. In the western world, people make fun of “engrish”, a made up word that points at this problem. In Japan, English can be pronounced at engrish.
In the same way, some Japaneses seem to pronounce “V” or “W” as “B”. Volley becomes “Bolley” and so on.
It might be good to learn some basic Japanese phrases before you go to Japan. Then you can make yourself understood even though they don’t understand English.
“Ohaiyo gozaimasu” – Good morning
“Konnichi wa” – Good afternoon
“Konbanwa” – Good evening
“Oyasumi nasai” – Good night
“Arigatou gozaimasu” – Thank you very much
“Hai” – Yes
“Iie” – No
“Sukoshi / Chotto” – A little
“Iie kekko desu” – No, thank you
“Sweden jin desu” – I’m from Sweden
“Sumimasen, eigo ga wakarimasu ka?” – Excuse me, do you understand English?
“Sumimasen, eigo ga hanasemasu ka?” – Excuse me, do you speak English?”
“Nihongo ga wakarimasen” – I don’t understand Japanese
“Sukoshi nihongo ga wakarimasu” – I understand a little Japanese
“Ichi biru onegai shimasu” – One beer please ^_-
“Okanjo kudasai” – Bill please
If you gonna bring electric devises to Japan, then you will need a plug converter. First of all, Japanese electric sockets looks different from ours, and second of all, they use 100 voltage. Most of your stuff will work with an adapter, but not all. My hair drier became very poor and buzzed like crazy. It didn’t do anything though, since there’s mostly drier in every hotel room.
Train to Namba area
Since our hotel was located in the Namba Area in Osaka, we had to take a train from Kansai Airport to Namba station. It didn’t take long and some minutes later we took our first steps on the street and gasped at the giant buildings, the flashing advertisement and all the people.
As a swede, you probably find Japan very commercial. There’s advertisement absolutely everywhere; on the trains, the subways, on the buildings… everywhere.
On the streets, people are handing out advertisement and shout that you must buy their service, merchandise or visit their store, restaurant, webpage etc. It’s very noisy, but you get used to it.
Colorful menus and plastic food
Something that’s really great in Japan, is that you almost never need to buy a pig in a poke when you order food. The menus shows pretty pictures of all dishes and it’s also standard to show off your dishes in plastic outside the restaurant. That means that you almost never have to get into the restaurant to glance at the menu and realist that they don’t offer anything that interests you. All you have to do is to stroll along the street and take a look at the plastic food in the windows.
Tables with built-in frying pans
It also seems to be pretty common with restaurants in which you have to fry your own food. There’s a frying pan built-in in the tables and you pretty much have to do the cooking by yourself.
Cooked, not fried
It also seems like Japaneses prefer to cook their food instead of frying or barbequing. I thought it tasted good, even though I got surprised many times since I expected something else. I suppose it’s much healthier as well!
I like beer, and since it was holiday I allowed myself to enjoy life. Since I was in Japan, I thought it was appropriate to only drink Japanese beer like Sapporo, Kirin, Asahi and Suntory.
Another drinkable delicacy is plum-wine. Recommended! And not to forget: sake. You must drink sake when visiting Japan, it’s kind of a rule. ^^ Sake is Japanese rise-wine.
Speaking of alcohol, people always says that Japaneses can’t handle alcohol – but I must say that if there’s a people who can’t handle it; it’s swedes and other Scandinavians. I never experienced any fights or noisy drunk men in Japan. In Sweden, you can hardly go out a Friday night without being harassed on the street.
It’s true though, that a lot of Asians lacks a certain enzyme in the liver that breaks down the alcohol. This doesn’t result in greater intoxicated condition, but may result in eczema, head ache, palpitation and dizziness. In other words, it’s a myth that the lack of that gene gets Asians more drunk. If they easily get drunk, I suppose it’s due to their small bodies.
We picked a random small restaurant and ordered noodle soups. Josefin thought she ordered a hot meatball, but it turned out to be a cold veggie thingy – so everything isn’t what it seems to be. ^^
I was quite fascinated by how rapidly the gentlemen next to us slurped their noodle soups. They were truly professionals.
Share the food
In Japan it’s very common to order several dishes and then you share it with your friends. When we ordered, they always assumed that we wanted to do so, so a bigger plate with the food was placed in the middle of the table, and then we got a small plate each. You pick pieces of food from the pig plate to your small one. Josefin and I wasn’t used to this and we never wanted to order the same kind of food. Therefore I guess it might have looked a little bit strange when we put our small plates aside and started to eat from the big ones. In Sweden, it often feels a little bit embarrassing to share the food. It’s kind of a bad behaviour and if you want to share a pizza, for example, you mostly need to pay extra.
One of the most common questions I’ve got since I came home is: “Do they eat anything weird in Japan? Like bugs or such?”
I can’t say that they eat anything particular weird, even though you as a foreigner sees some things as a bit unusual. Everybody knows that Japaneses eat raw fish, but since it has become more and more common with sushi in Sweden the last years, it doesn’t seems so weird anymore.
On the other hand, people has reacted quite strongly when I’ve mentioned that it’s common to eat raw meat in Japan.
First they shout: “Rat meat?! Do they eat rat meat?! That’s so gross!”
That’s because raw meat and rat meat sounds the same in Swedish. (Råttkött = rat meat, Rått kött = raw meat) and I guess they expect the Japaneses to eat a weird animal, just like the Koreans eat dogs I suppose.
But no, it’s only raw meat. I didn’t try it though. I think I’m still too programmed from my childhood that raw meat is extremely dangerous. My grandmother used to fry meat until it was black. But old habits are supposed to be broken, right?
Since they eat a lot of sea food in Japan, I guess they know the importance of serving it fresh. At some bars we had a big tank in front of us, filled with fishes, eels, lobsters, crayfishes, shells and such. The animals didn’t seem to be that healthy though, and that was hard to see. Crayfish lay on their back, struggling with their legs for no use. Some looked already dead. When someone ordered a meal, the animal was taken from the tank in front of the customer. It can’t be more fresh than that, can it?
Everybody says that everything is expensive in Japan. Maybe it is, but so it is in Sweden. So for a Swedish tourist, the prices were pretty much the same as at home and I never got the impression that anything was ridiculously expensive. What’s a little bit weird though, is that we use one symbol for the currency yen here in the western world ( ¥ ), while the Japanese use the one to the right. When we visited Japan, 100¥ was equivalent to ~8,1 crowns.
You can almost always pay with Visa or Master Card at bigger stores, but if you wanna shop in small souvenir shops or at stands on the street, you need cash. It’s also convenient to have some cash when you’re going with the subway trains.
Tip: It’s not a matter of course to be able to use the cash dispenser in Japan, since many of them (even those at the bank) not always accept foreign cash cards. However, we found out that the cash dispensers at the 7-Eleven stores both had instructions in English and accepted our Swedish cash cards. 7-Eleven stores are scattered all over bigger Japanese cities, so you will not have any problem finding them and get your cash. But observe that a fee will be added for every withdrawal (~36 crowns).
They take VISA almost everywhere, but I also my brought Master Card, just in case.
Another good thing is that you don’t tip in Japan. Great, ’cause I hate to tip. I never know how much to give, and irrespective, I feel stingy or stupid. It’s like in Sweden; the tip is included into the prices. You might also need to know that you almost always have to pay some extra yen (~200¥) in taxes when you order food at a restaurant or similar, but that fee isn’t shown among the food prices. It’s added when you get the bill.
Namba Plaza Hotel
Finally the time was 3.00 AM and we could check in at our hotel. It was a simple one, but the staff was incredible friendly and helpful. That’s actually something that amazed me the most and that I really miss here in Sweden; people were so nice, so friendly and polite. Sometimes so polite so it almost felt a little bit ridiculous, but I liked that.
Tip: You don’t have to stay in capsule hotels only because you need a cheap living in Japan. It’s quite cheap to hire a room at hotels as long as you don’t have too high standards. We got full bathroom, refrigerator, TV etc. for ~4000 yen/night ($42). I booked the hotels via Rakuten Travel’s site: travel.rakuten.co.jp/en/
At many Japanese hotels, the pillows are stuffed with something that appears to be rise, instead of down or cotton wool. That makes the pillows a little bit hard, but for me who suffers from an old whiplash injury found it very stable and comfortable.
At all hotels you got these Japanese robes to put on after a hard days… shopping. I found them very cute and comfortable…
… and sometimes a little bit bizarre… 😉
Yes, that’s correct. This symbol has not the same signification in Japan as in the western world. Look at a Japanese map and these signs are scattered all over it, indicating a holy building or such. I couldn’t help feeling a little bit ashamed though…
I love Japanese toilets. And I hate Japanese toilets. Anyhow, we were very fascinated by the Japanese closets and I think that’s one of those things that we photographed the most… sounds a little bit weird, hah?
Well, first of all; visiting public toilets is free in Japan. In Sweden you must pay a fee, mostly 5 crowns (64 cent / 60 ¥). Still, they were always clean (mostly anyway).
There are three different kinds of toilets in Japan.
1. The simplest one; just a channel in the floor. You must squat while using it, which can be pretty complicated for a woman. I didn’t like these toilets, but sometimes we had no choice.
2. The regular one; the same kind of toilet as we use in Sweden. Nothing special about it.
3. The high-tech sci-fi chair; our favorite one and very common in Japan. Next to the chair you have this dash board with a lot of buttons for a variety of functions.
First time my friend tried it out at the hotel, she screamed so loud that I thought she got attacked by something. There are functions like “flush-sounds” (observe, only the sound, no actual flush – for your privacy) and different kinds of bidet-functions (spray or jet of water). You can adjust the water pressure and sometimes also the temperature.
At some toilets, there’s also a radio on the dash board.
Mostly, the toilet started to prepare itself as soon as you opened the door to the bathroom. It heated the water and the toilet-seat! I must say that’s an excellent idea! Why don’t we let our toilets heat the seats so they get warm and nice to sit on here in Sweden?
This might all sound very luxurious, but these kind of toilets were actually very common, even at the simple hotels and dining places.
Tip: If you happen to end up at a toilet that don’t seem to have any lever for flushing, it’s probably activated via a button that can be found on the arm rest or on the wall. It’s not always there’s any english instructions or pictures, so you must guess which button to press. Sooner or later you will hit the right one. ^^
High tech and automatic
Coming to Japan feels a little bit like entering the future, since there’s so many things that have been automated or enhanced in different ways via technical solutions. For example, in some bathrooms you don’t have to touch one single thing (with you hands anyway). The toilet flushes itself as soon as you get up. To put soap on your hands, you hold them next to a sensor, and the same thing with the water. Then you put you hands inside a hand drier and voila – you’re done.
At some restaurants, you do your order via a machine next to the entrance. There are pictures and buttons and when your choice is made you receive some kind of ticket, walk to your table, and hand it over to the waitress. I guess that’s a smart way to ensure there’s no misunderstanding between the customers and the staff.
Dinner with Hide
At seven a clock, we met my friend Hide outside the hotel. I must say that it was a little bit nerve-racking to finally meet him for the first time since we’ve had contact over the Internet since 2002, but never met in person before.
Hide had taken some days off from work to join us in both Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo, and I’m so grateful for all his help and guidance. He’s an amazing friend (and an excellent guide. ^^) We went to a nice Japanese restaurant, ate, drank and talked. It was a very pleasant evening.
Japaneses are not so tall
I felt very happy when we went home that night. It was magical; we were in Japan and I had finally met Hide. We had some really exciting weeks ahead.
We strolled along the street and looked at all the stores and all the people.
I believe Japanese youths looks like models and they seem to be very aware of their looks. The Japanese people are beautiful. I guess the fountain of youth can be found in Japan, ’cause they don’t seem to grow old the same way as we do.
They also seem to live much healthier than western people and are very thin and slender. When we spotted a big person, it mostly turned out to be an American tourist or such. ^_-
As 174 centimeters swedes, we felt quite big among the Japanese which average height is smaller.
Males: 171.5 cm
Females: 158.0 cm
We didn’t just feel taller… we felt… bigger? This fact can be quite tough for a woman’s self-esteem. ^^ Sometimes it felt like we were in the Land of Lilliputian. Chairs were small, tables were low and you had to squat and bend over to wash your hands at the sink.
Speaking of small people. Take a look at the hotel door to the right. You see how small it is? We could barely walk through it upright.
On our way home to the hotel, I asked Josefin to pose next to another small door (the one to the left). Well, that one MUST be small even for a Japanese.
While Josefin posed and playfully knocked on the door, a couple of eyes suddenly appeared in the narrow window opening. She got her heart in her throat of course, and ran away laughing. ^^ (Sorry for disturbing!)
A lot of Japaneses wear surgical masks and these masks can be bought in any grocery store. (I though about buying one, just for fun…)
The reasons behind wearing these are several; maybe they are sick and don’t want to infect other people around them – or they are healthy, but want to keep themselves from being infected. A third possible reason is that they need to protect themselves from pollen. I’ve never heard that they would wear them due to exhaust fumes, toxic pollutions or anything like that. I believe Japan is a very clean country and the Japanese people seem to be pretty environment conscious.
Japan gets hot in the summer and as you probably know, pretty fans are a traditional part of Japanese culture. You don’t see swedes using fans like these so often, and especially not men. Therefore, I couldn’t help myself finding it a little bit funny when grown up men in business suit passed me by on the street with pretty fans i purple and pink. It’s very common! I like it, so don’t get me wrong. But if a man in Sweden would carry a pink fan with laces, people would consider him gay. ^_-
Now and then we spotted geishas walking on the streets and for a foreigner that’s quite an exotic sight. One day in Osaka, I happened to walk into a crosstreet I haven’t visit before and it almost seemed like a little geisha-area. Women in kimonos popped up everywhere and there were several stores with geisha accessories.
There’s unfortunately a common misunderstanding in the western world that geishas are prostituted and that’s one of the comments I got at home when I showed my pictures.
Geishas are not prostituted, they are entertainers and artists. They entertain guests in different occasions, mostly in so called tea houses. They sing, perform tea ceremonies, write calligraphy, play instruments, dance, sing and hold conversations with the guests.
My impression is that Japaneses are a very hygienic people. You always get a warm wet towel before dining so you can clean your hands, which I really liked.
Sometimes your hands feel dirty after you’ve been walking around in stores, grabbed things and so on, and then it’s not that nice to grab a pizza slice or something else with your hands.
It ‘s also common to find alcogel next to public computers and such. That’s good! I mean, everything used by hundred other strangers can be cluttered with germs.
On some toilets you are requested to clean the seat with clean gel after using the toilet. Smart!