5 Thing About Japan You Must Know Before Traveling There
By: Pinki Thu, 13 Feb 2020 11:59 AM
Navigating the wonders of Japan can be a little tricky for the uninitiated; to say that the country is culturally very different from what we’re used to in the West runs the risk of understatement. Thankfully, Wundor Editions recently published a book dedicated to Tokyo, the first instalment of its city guide series, devoted to offering authentic local insights on one of the world’s most exciting cities. We were lucky enough to get our hands on a selection of its most useful tips. The extracts below, adapted from the guide’s ‘Navigation’ chapter, were written by Yuriy Humber and edited by Matthew Smith.
* Cash is king
Japan may be a common by-word for technology, but the country is very old-fashioned when it comes to handling money. Even today, in 2016, many a shop and eatery in Japan will only accept cash. For public transport, especially buses and short-journey trains or Metro travel, even if you simply wish to top up your Passmo or Suica travel card, you should always carry cash. And if you take trips outside the city, no matter what metallic element you have embedded in your credit card, it will be treated as the piece of plastic that it is.In Japan, it isn’t unusual to carry thousands of US dollars’ worth of yen in your wallet on a daily basis. This is made feasible by the fact that Japan has very low crime rates. Even if you drop your wallet, it will likely be handed to the nearest police box with all its cash, coins and cards intact.
* The most extensive rail network
Tokyo’s rail network consists of more than 150 lines, almost 50 operators, and stretches close to 5,000 kilometres. To say that it’s overwhelming on first visit is to note that the sun can be a touch warm in Yoyogi Park in August. Despite this, it is fantastically efficient, delays are rare and they are generally restricted to 2–3 minutes. Should one run over that, you may ask for a certificate from the station clerk to prove to your boss or teacher that your tardiness was not of your own making. A cancelled train is almost unheard of. With over 2,000 stations in metropolitan Tokyo, under and overground trains are your best transport option in the city and compared with other urban networks (we’re looking at you, London) it is not too expensive.
* There are no street names
Before the widespread use of the smartphone and GPS technology, finding addresses in Japan was a real quest. As recently as the noughties, trying to track down where someone lived or where the office of a small company resided could take hours of mindless and desperate roaming. You may think finding your way around a foreign metropolis is tricky enough, but spare a thought for those who inhabit a city where the streets have no names. Tokyo, like most cities and towns in Japan, only has a few road names for the major thoroughfares and these are, for lack of a better word, for ceremonial purposes. Named roads don’t feature on addresses. Instead, the postal system is like the one used in ancient Rome where urban congregations are split first into areas, then wards, then other subdivisions. Therefore a Japanese address is based on buildings alone – not the spaces in between them, i.e. streets.
* Eating out is very popular
In Osaka, Japan’s second city, there is an eatery for every 40 or so people in the city. Tokyo is not far behind. Locals of the capital are as likely to say ‘let’s get something to eat’ as Londoners are to say ‘let’s go for a drink’. In fact, even going for a drink will likely involve gathering at an izakaya, a relaxed venue akin to an affordable gastropub.Most business negotiations involve a trip to a restaurant. For many firms, regularly joining colleagues for dinner and a drink after work for bonding purposes is standard practice, and culturally difficult to avoid. As most people tend to live some way from the city centre in small apartments or houses (by most Western standards), there are few home parties and instead restaurants act as a hub for passing the time with friends and acquaintances.
* An eatery’s reputation means everything
Walking around Tokyo you will probably pass throngs of Japanese queuing outside seemingly random restaurants. These lines might remain for two or more hours at lunch or dinnertime, and they won’t diminish if it starts to rain. Meanwhile, a next door eatery stands idle. Often the reason for such supreme discrimination is the one you are hoping for. The more popular place has a reputation built over years and even decades; it is a family business delivering just the right kind of noodle or meat cut to draw discerning crowds. In recent times, however, reputations are often generated through television appearances.