My first few days I was just another tourist visiting Japan. I came to Tokyo three days before my training with the intention of doing some looking around before letting things distill. My mission was only to go and see–to take it all in and then sort it all out once I got settled in. During that brief tour I learned a few things visitors to Japan need to know.
Need To Know #1: Push Button Automatic Doors
Akihabara is a theme park in the middle of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. It’s all good fun unless you drift too far down the Congo, where a soulless Kurtz awaits in a tiny alcove of soul-roasting perversion. Akihabara is Japan’s otaku paradise, but visitors need to be careful which shop they take their kids into.
Anyway, I’d bought a manga to practice my underdeveloped Japanese. I’d taken two semesters of Japanese in college, and had quickly learned that my “intermediate Japanese” would only get me as far as bare minimum communication. I was tired after shopping, and stopped at a cafe.
The automatic door didn’t open. Either it was a racist door or I had slipped in under the sensor. I waved my arm around over my head to get its attention, but still–nothing.
I threw it a suspicious glance and made a circuit around the building–all the way back to the stubborn door. Baffled, I decided it wasn’t worth the trouble and got a soda from one of the many vending machines visitors will find conveniently sprinkled around Japan during their visit.
To be fair to past me, the one I saw was much less conspicuous. Anyway, you’ll find these all over Japan, if you are observant enough. If not, you’ll have to watch someone else use one before realizing you need glasses.
Need To Know # 2: Very Few Public Trashcans.
You’ll certainly notice this once you arrive in Japan, but without knowing beforehand you’ll be toting around trash all day. There are almost no public trashcans except for stations and convenience stores.
Why? Japan’s trash laws are so strict everyone would throw all their inconvenient trash inside. It’s not convenient for visitors, at all, but it’s actually better this way. If there were trashcans on Japanese streets, they’d be filled with trash no one wants to wait a month to throw away.
Need To Know #3: Escalator Manners
You may know this one, but there are a few finer points. In East Japan, people stand on the left side of the escalator. It’s just good manners when people are rushing to catch the next train before they’re late for work.
Everyone stands on the left side in East Japan, but on the right in West Japan. (Here’s an interesting article on why in Osaka Insider.) You will though, notice that little old ladies will stand on the opposite side to block the escalator for absolutely no reason other than to give everyone else a big middle finger.
But be a polite visitor and stand to the side to let the already stressed-out salaryman by. He’s got enough problems without you or little old ladies standing in his way.
Need to Know #4: Umbrella Holders
These are easy to overlook when you visit a store or restaurant, especially if you don’t know to look for them. No one takes a wet umbrella inside a store in Japan. So, there are two choices you need to know about.
Which you can leave your umbrella in while you shop. They are a nice way to avoid messy puddles on the floor and even messier lawsuits from injuries. But be warned: if it stops raining while you are inside it’s easy to forget about your umbrella. I’ve lost a few this way.
But–and this is a big but–while you’ve no doubt heard how safe Japan is, don’t leave an expensive umbrella in one of these or it will get stolen. I’ve had three gone missing, nice ones I bought in nice stores. It made me stop buying nice umbrellas.
So if I’ve made you paranoid, there is an alternative. And fortunately, if you ever go shopping at a Japanese department store you’ll find one of these out front instead.
For those of you visiting Japan you probably just smirked at my crude humor. For those of you living here, you will never unsee the image I just put in your mind. And you are welcome.
Just slip a bag over your wet umbrella so it doesn’t drip all over the floor. It can be a bit of a hassle if they don’t have an actual machine–only the bags–but it’s better than slipping on a wet floor.
But, those were four things visitors to Japan need to know that will make a trip here much smoother. Enjoy!