Japan Train Manners for Visitors: Know the Rules

As an American living in Japan, I once felt that it was my right to strike up a random conversation with a stranger.  In fact, I was raised in a family where these types of conversations happened on a daily basis.  My father, a salesman, often chatted with people on planes, trains, restaurants, and in any other public place.

An empty Japanese trainI never felt it was awkward, though I remember expressing some degree of anxiety about his conversations with waiters and waitresses in fear of them taking something the wrong way and negatively impacting our food.  Nevertheless, these kinds of random conversations took place on a regular basis, and it became second nature for me to continue in his footsteps, until I arrived in Japan.

On a Train in Japan: Keep Quiet and Carry On

Japanese public places are not really the place for random conversations.  More importantly, Japanese commuters, overall, are just not in the mood to talk to strangers.  One never really hears loud conversations on trains. Even conversations between friends are muted to respect the quiet environment of the train.  This is something that I have come to love about Japan.  The daily commute is nice and calm because the atmosphere of the train is so harmonious.

No, Really, Japanese Trains Want You to Be Quiet

The desire for calm can get a little overboard.  One might see someone glaring at someone else’s use of headphones on the train; even the spilled-over sounds of music from headphones can be considered a nuisance by some. It is considered a nuisance when women put on makeup on the trains, or even on the train platform, by some, though this attitude is slowly changing. Mothers with crying children often even exit the train and wait for the next train in order to avoid annoying others.

It’s nice, once you get used to it

Still, this courtesy is really quite good for the average expat in Japan. Upon visiting America, I noticed a total lack of common courtesy with regard to behavior in public places.  On my plane ride back, you wouldn’t believe the things a man from Idaho tried to tell me. I put on my headphones to avoid him – which only made him shout louder.

The JR Narita Express Just Became The Best Way To Go

JR’s Narita Express train has cut its price in half for foreign travelers. This means that it just became the best value for your money to get from Narita Airport to central Tokyo.

JR Narita ExpressThe price is falling from roughly 3,000 yen ($30) to 1,500 yen ($15) each way for holders of foreign passports. For children, the same price cut takes effect and the price falls from around 1,500 yen to 750 yen ($7.50).

The N’EX, as it’s also known, is a special JR train that runs between Narita Airport terminals and several major train hubs around Tokyo, such as Shinjuku, Shibuya, Shinagawa, and out to suburbs like Yokohama.

Why the JR Narita Express is better

As the Konnichiwhoa Japan Guide shows, there are still alternatives, including the Limousine Bus and the Keisei Skyliner (which is still convenient for those staying right around Ueno). But those cost around $30 each way and aren’t any faster than JR’s Narita Express. The modern N’EX is fast, incredibly smooth, comfortable, has fancy TV screens with updated flight times and news in English, and even has a drink cart for you to get that first (or last) Japanese snack or beer on the go.

I’ve most recently lived in Shinagawa, which is a Narita Express stop, so I’ve taken this train a number of times and enjoyed the journey every time. It’s an efficient and easy greeting to the country, and it’s a beautiful view on the way out. I love it.

The new pass requires a foreign passport

You’ll have to show a non-Japanese passport to take advantage of the deal. For Japanese nationals, the price remains the same.

The discounted Narita Express ticket is one of many discounts Japan orchestrates to encourage tourism, but this latest is probably the most aggressive discount I’ve seen on such a common service.

Check out the JR Narita Express site for the full details.

Image credit: Wikipedia

Conveyor Belt Sushi: 7 Tips to Go Wild, Cheaply

Conveyor belt sushi is famous for bringing around Japan's best-known food with no effort, but it's also one of the best ways to eat out cheaply while you're here.

Also known as revolving sushi or kaiten-zushi, the video above sets the scene pretty well. The conveyor runs in a big square. Patrons sit on the outside of the rectangle and chefs work inside the conveyor. They're not in the scene here, but waiters are running around behind the customers clearing tabs and serving drinks. On the conveyor belt are plates of sushi, obviously, but also little ads rolling by promoting seasonal items.

Here are 7 tips that let me leave stuffed for no more than 1500 yen:

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Japanese Hot Springs Guide

Ah, hot springs. One of the finer parts of life in Japan. You should definitely experience one while you're there. While there can also be some very real experiences in culture shock while you're there, the onsen is absolutely worth adapting to the local culture. 

Japanese hot springs girlsThis post will hopefully prepare you mentally for the trip. Without further adieu, here's some advice from my own experiences at various hot springs all over the country:

Nudity: May as well get this one out of the way. Yeah, the overwhelming majority of hot springs involve nudity. This is why they're sex-segregated. There are non-nude places where co-ed groups of friends can go together. Still, nudity is the rule rather than the exception and for the most part you'll end up with old people who don't bother you. 

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Craft Beer in Japan: Rare But Easy to Find

Beer lovers will either love or hate their trip to Japan. Fans of light lagers will find the stuff fresh and cheap anywhere they go. But real beer snobs seeking the darker, stronger or more complex brews get bored easily. Thankfully, there are remedies for travelers weary of the Asahi/Kirin/Sapporo triumvirate.

Bryan-sayuri-bairds-harajuku-taproomThe blog LetsJapan has a pretty decent writeup of Baird Beer, one of the popular local craft brews, and the Harajuku Taproom, one of the more famous spots to go for it. Quoth our hero:

Baird Beer’s credo is “Balance + Complexity = Character.”  I’ll leave it to you to ruminate on that.  Suffice to say that I tried the Wheat King Ale. … It was, indeed, balanced and had a rich flavor that delighted my tongue without taking me up by my shirt collar and shaking me. 

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Tokyo Narita: Best Restaurants and Shopping

Have a flight out of Narita Airport? It's a huge building, and there's a lot to do. I've been through the airport bunches of times, so I've rounded it down to just a few places visitors should hit up in each terminal.

AkihabaraAre you Terminal 1 or Terminal 2?
A ton of airlines serve Tokyo Narita. Before you plan out your shopping trip, check the official list to see which terminal you'll be in. It's not easy to switch terminals, so you should stick to the one you arrive in (unless you have a rare airline switch for a Tokyo transfer).  

Eat/shop before passport control!
After passport control, it's just rice balls and soft drinks – and prices go up quite a bit. Once you leave this area,  you're pretty much just hanging out at your gate until departure.

LiquorDuty free is great for alcohol!
Duty free shops are very commonly not a bargain around the world for booze, cigarettes, or perfume. The exception to the rule is Japanese liquor. Personally, I don't leave Japan without a bottle of Suntory Hibiki 17, which at 6,000 yen is a solid deal for the whiskey that it is. 

The Best of Terminal 1

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Can iPhone Be Used in Japan?

People love their iPhones, so I'm not surprised when visitors ask me if their phone will work in Japan.

White-iphone-japanPeople have heard that their cell phones won't work in Japan for a variety of reasons, but it's mostly old news. By now, just about any smartphone you buy can be made to work in Japan.

So yes, your iPhone can be used in Japan. 

Still, there are a few things to worry about if you do decide to bring your phone over, such as:

  • Which models work
  • Roaming fees
  • Data roaming
  • Changing your data usage
  • Why WiFi won't do

There's a lot to cover, so let's get down to it.

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Oden: a healthy Japanese food that’s an acquired taste

Oden isn't the famous kind of Japanese food that tourists come to the country for, but locals and expats know it all too well.

Oden2It's a sort of cuisine – it's a collection of things that are boiled in a fishy broth. Everything that comes out is hot, and most of it is pretty heavy on the protein. So, it's really known as a winter food.

Oden is found everywhere. During the coldest winter months, you can find it in every convenience store, and the stores will even smell of the stuff during that time.

Here's a more detailed explanation from the Japan Visitor Blog:

Dashi [the broth oden is made in] is made with konbu seaweed and shaved tuna flakes (kezurikatsuo), so oden is not really vegetarian, though many of the other ingredients are staples for non-meat eaters: daikon radish, potatoes, konnyaku, kinchaku (mochi in a deep-fried tofu pouch) and tofu. Other things found in oden include boiled eggs, chikuwa fish cakes, folded seaweed, meatballs on sticks, sausages, octopus and sometimes skewered beef.

Personally, it's not for me. But at least I was brave enough to try it.

via Japan Visitor Blog

More Japanese Food Not Found in America

The Japanese don't really do teriyaki chicken. Here are 6 Japanese foods not found in America.

Hello Kitty’s Japan Guide

Hello Kitty is popular with small kids – and the occasional college-age girl – but who knew the Japanese character could make a good introduction to Japanese culture that appeals to all ages?

IMG_0108A new book, Hello Kitty's Guide to Japan, features lots of friendly illustrations that are put to good use: regions of Japan feature their iconic qualities, such as Niigata's rice fields and sake.

What's more, there are solid explanations of nuanced parts of Japanese culture – even Buddhist funerals!

The book is bilingual, with writing in English and Japanese, which makes for good cross-cultural sharing across small kids. It also makes for good fodder for Japanese-English conversation partners.

Quoth Japan Subculture, which reviewed the book:

This book is not childish at all, read it and you will learn much about Japan and its people, children, youth, adults and elderly people. And there are absolutely no pictures of green tea KitKats or high-tech toilets. We expected this book to be awful—it turns out to be awfully entertaining.

You can grab a copy at Japan's domestic airports – except Narita, sadly.

via Japan Subculture

Need more Japan books?

Check out the Japan Books section of the Konnichiwhoa Mini-Shop. You'll find books on Japanese design, decoration, history and even crime. 

6 Real Japanese Foods Not Found in America

Japanese%20VennSure, Americans love California rolls and teriyaki, but what do the Japanese make of those foods?

The LA Times put together a handy Venn diagram that shows what Americans (specifically, Los Angeles residents, or 'Angelenos') think to be Japanese food, and it's been compared to what native Japanese include in their own cuisine.

Sushi restaurant mainstays – like California rolls and mochi ice cream – were popular votes among Americans, as was teriyaki chicken, which is often served alongside the sushi at the same place.

Look at what the Japanese include in their own cuisine, though, and you'll find a few surprises. "Hamburg" is basically a hamburger patty served on its own and topped with a sauce. "Curry" is the same in substance to the Indian variety, but the flavor is closer to a beef stew than Chicken Tikka Masala.

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