Japan’s Tap Water is Safe to Drink (But You Might Buy Bottled For A Bit Anyway)

Japan’s tap water is 100% safe to drink. It even tastes nice, which may be surprising for a large metropolis such as Tokyo.

A woman poses with a sign encouraging refilling water bottles with Tokyo tap water. Source: Tokyo Shimbun
In Shibuya, new water fountains serving Tokyo tap water encourage reusing water bottles. Source: Tokyo Shimbun (Japanese)

That said, I buy bottled for the first week I’m in the country. That lets my stomach adjust to a new microbial environment more smoothly.

I find that just about anyone can have their stomach get mildly upset when visiting a new country – even friends who consider themselves as having “iron stomachs” at home. Others are perfectly fine.

In short, it seems like luck of the draw dictates who might get an upset tummy.

After a week, I feel more comfortable going straight to the tap at the hotel.

As of summer 2019, it’ll be easier to head to the tap. Tokyo is installing public water fountains that draw from the tap supply. It fits a few purposes, including letting the public know that the water is safe to drink.

The public fountains solve more than that. Additionally, they encourage the use of reusable water bottles, rather than single-use plastic. This is a very important step in a country dealing with a plastic waste problem.

Further, with worryingly high temperatures in the summer just before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the public fountains aim to lower the risk of heatstroke among an expected flood of visitors.

So, after being on the ground a few days, you can switch to Japan’s tap water. You’ll be just fine.

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

Get the Cheapest Flight to Japan with FlightFox

FlightFox is a unique new Web startup that can save you a lot of money on your ticket to Japan.  For $29, you can save $100 or more on your ticket and possibly even get an upgrade.

Biz-classThe site is a marketplace that matches people who fly for fun (you and me) with expert frequent flyers who compete to find you the best, cheapest flight. Those guys know the deepest details of every airline and deliver more consistently than a travel agency can. They're so good that they booked a round-the-world trip on 6 continents for $1,730!

Here's how to use it:

1. Create a new "Contest" at FlightFox.com with your destination and dates, like any other flight booking site.
2. Answer 4 simple questions about your flexibility and frequent flyer miles.
3. Set your bid price. International flights start at $29, but the higher you bid, the more attention you'll get from experts.
4. The flight experts all compete to find you the best and cheapest flight using their knowledge of how to avoid taxes, surcharges and fees and how to get you the most frequent flyer miles.
5. Pick the winner and book that flight! Congratulations, you've saved money.

FlightFox is my new favorite way to book a flight. I'm tired of searching on travel sites, and I happily pay $29 to have my own personal travel agency that works at my pace.

Go book your flight!

March 11th Earthquake Disaster: Before and After

We're creeping up on the one-year anniversary of the March 11th earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown that turned northeastern Japan upside-down.

Article-0-11AF37C6000005DC-718_964x128023 million tons of debris is said to be scattered around areas hit by the tsunami. The photo on the side shows just how impossible it looked to clean the mess up – but as the before/after shot shows, some Herculean efforts have been made to successfully clean up the towns. $50 billion has already been budgeted for cleanup, and it's likely more money will come.

That doesn't mean the whole region is totally fixed. The nuclear situation, while under control, isn't resolved and won't be for a long time. More than 19,000 people lost their lives, breaking as many families. Tens of thousands of people still live in temporary housing and tens of thousands more will always be upset that they can never go home again. The Japanese people's trust in their government was broken and that wound will take a long time to heal.

Still, Japan has a long history of cleaning up after disasters. To visit Kobe today, following its huge earthquake in 1996, you wouldn't know a massive disaster had struck there.

Like the 'after' photos show, Japan will march on.

via Daily Mail [UK]

Study Abroad in Japan

Japan is a great place to study abroad. Japanese students are relaxed during their college years, and foreigners get to enjoy the safety and health that the country is known for.

Blake_in_roppongiStudying abroad in Japan is ideal for college students, but there are full-time language schools where you can live the student life at any age. 

This little guide will cover what to do if you're a:

  • College student
  • Adult
  • Looking for information about the Monbusho scholarship

Let's get started!

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Working Holiday Visa in Japan

If you're a young person with one year to spare and you come from a country that allows it, it's super easy for you to spend one year working in Japan with a working holiday visa.

Japan-immigrationThis type of visa is easy to get because it doesn't require a degree or significant amount of money, and you're allowed to do almost any kind of work you can get.

The visa lasts for six months with an option to renew for six more, for a grand total of one year. After one year, that's it – no renewals. If you decide to stay behind, you'll have to get someone to sponsor you for a different type of visa.

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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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Is Japan Cool?

"Is Japan cool?" asks Japanese airline ANA.

If this video is any indication, it's great. It's part of a new international ANA ad campaign hoping to boost Japanese tourism in 2012. 

It covers pretty much all the major things tourists expect: sumo, bath houses, maid cafes, Harajuku girls, and all that. But the Sofia Coppola-mimic cinematography and soundtrack serve as a reminder that all of us have reasons to visit the country – or memories that will stay around for a long time.

Yeah, Japan's cool. But I admit, I'm biased.