There’s a few misconceptions I hear about Japan that constantly bother me. Travelers from around the world complain about using certain systems or the divergent way of doing things, and they forget they are in a different country, where things aren’t the same as back home. It’d be like complaining that it doesn’t snow over Christmas in Australia.
An article was posted in February 2014 called 10 Letdowns for Foreigners Visiting Japan. It annoyed me more than it probably should have (you can read the article here). The ‘letdowns’, as they were, seemed to all point in one direction; that the traveler didn’t do any research of the country they were visiting before they went there. Hmm.
Apologies in advance, but what you are about to read can only be described as a good old-fashioned rant. Now, the rest of this isn’t going to make much sense unless you’ve read the article. Okay, have you gone and done that? Good.
As I mentioned, the article is a list of 10 letdowns from travelers to Japan. The list comprised of 100 people telling respected newspaper Nikkei what they found disappointing. I have a problem with nearly everything on the list. Mostly, it appears as if the information was collected from 100 people who are culturally ignorant. I assumed the disappointment would be from lack of toilet paper available in public bathrooms, or something along those lines. But, no. It appears not. Here’s the 10 items listed (two items are tied for number 10) and why I disagree…
10. “Souvenirs: There aren’t enough.” This probably bothers me the most. While you are in another country, everything is a souvenir. Besides the fact that you should simply be excited to keep a ticket from the subway, there are “real” souvenirs everywhere. As said in the article, I guess the souvenirs being discussed are things such as mugs and key-chains. However, every shop contains SO many cultural items that you can purchase, as well as clothes, toys and the generic “Japanesey” stuff like chopsticks and fans. If you’ve just experienced the holiday of a lifetime, and have likely taken hundreds of photos, why whinge because you couldn’t buy a key-chain that said “I Heart Japan” on it?
10. “There’s no flexibility in interactions/dealings with people”. I don’t quite understand this one – what interactions? Are they trying to pick up? Are they just being served as a customer? What sort of flexibility are they after, exactly? There is a way things are handled, and a way things are not. It’s the same in every country.
9. “Withdrawing and exchanging money is difficult”: It’s really easy, as long as you do your homework before leaving home. You have multiple options;
- Get a prepaid travel money card (like eftpos but for international use)
- Exchange your money before you leave the country
- Get a VISA
Withdrawing money shouldn’t be an issue – there are 7/11’s on every corner, and nearly all of them contain an international ATM, as does the Post Office. You never even have to visit a bank. I first went to Japan on a school tour in 2008. So if a 16 year old girl who doesn’t speak a lick of Japanese can do it, so can you. The instructions are quite clear. “I’ve seen many friends and colleagues have a tough time dealing with ATMS and banks that are geared for domestic customers and not international ones.” Australian ATMS aren’t really geared for international travellers either. Just sayin’.
If you’re still a bit confused by the ATMS, you can check out the Shiki Book instruction page and learn all about them.
8. “Many stores over package and over wrap”. Ugh, is that really a worry? Are you so affronted? How is this even an issue?
7. “Some restaurants don’t have non-smoking sections.” This is a country that only 100 years ago joined the rest of the world. It’s smoking regulations aren’t as strict, yes, but you should be able to find plenty of places that DO have non-smoking sections. Don’t get annoyed when SOME restaurants don’t offer a service you can easily find elsewhere.
6. “Food portions are small.” The food portions are proportionate! Think about it; you fill up so easily on a small amount of rice. Just deal with it, because if you’re still hungry, just order two serves.
5. “Lots of places were cash only.” DO YOUR HOMEWORK, PLEASE. “Even though it’s a developed country, I was surprised that lots of small shops don’t take credit card.” Doesn’t the term ‘small shop’ mean anything? Japan is a cash society. Cards are deemed slow and unpredictable. This information is all over the internet and all over travel brochures; they require cash!
4. “Not being told the way to eat certain dishes at restaurants.” Just eat it, like a normal human being. Be a big boy. They don’t tell you how to eat your meal in other countries either. Unless it requires you to cook it, you are going to be fine simply by putting it in your mouth and chewing.
3. “Unable to understand the meal ticket systems at restaurants.” HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE? It’s so easy! Press the button on the meal you want; pay; get a ticket; give ticket to waiter; be seated; wait for food to arrive. Learn how to use them here.
2. “Free Wi-Fi lacking.” Wi-fi is not a right, it’s a luxury. We’re lucky to have it in so many various places across Australia. And of course, different countries operate differently. Their internet is a lot more strictly monitored too. Surely we’re not all so addicted to the internet, that we need to have it at every opportunity possible, even when we’re exploring a foreign country?
1. “There are few foreign language services.” Please, don’t go to another country if you don’t learn at least some of the language first. If you go anywhere without an inkling, you will always believe they don’t have enough foreign language services. Besides; most things in Japan also include the English translation. Not everything, but most things.
There you have it. I’m dreadfully sorry (though at heart, not really) about the way I view these “letdowns”. But they feel so trivial to me.
Have you got your own disappointments about travel to Japan? Comment below!
(I swear I won’t bite your head off…really!)