When your Australian visa runs out, what’s the best possible life choice you can make? Probably grab the boyfriend and run to Japan. Since I’ll be in visa limbo for the next few months, I’ve decided that exploring Asia is the best solution to my problem of “where to be.”
I was so lucky to have my man, Zach, with me for the first part of the adventure. We spent three crazy weeks zipping around this stunning country, and there was a lot of information we were given beforehand. I’d like to address that here, since what we were told didn’t always match what we saw.
People say: “Japan is expensive.”
What? Maybe it’s the fact that we had just come from Australia (home of expensive alcohol and “budget” accommodation), but when we got to Osaka everything seemed dirt cheap. I was loving my American exchange rate, about 110 yen to a dollar. Our AirBnBs were modestly priced (pretty good, considering Japan isn’t super into couch surfing) and the admission prices for attractions we saw were never more than $9 USD. Also, we got full, delicious meals AND alcohol for less than you would pay for a breakfast dish in Australia. Allow me to break down our best night:
Food: ¥450 each (900)
Beer: ¥300 each (600)
¥1500 total, rounding out to $17 AUD. The cafe down the street from us back home charges $20 AUD for just waffles.
We thought: “We’ll eat sushi every day.”
We did not. Zach had a few sushi assortments that looked pretty stunning, but there is a lot more on offer in Japan. We ran the gamut from 7-11 dinners to street food, cosplay cafes and Italian restaurants (how are there so many??), and a few super authentic meals that were a bit lost in translation. And of course, there were tacos. The ones we got in a traveler bar in Osaka cracked us up- giant deep-fried masterpieces that took two hands to hold. And in Tokyo, we tried a fancy little Mexican restaurant that offered a unique version, tacos filled with swordfish, pigs ear, and local shellfish. All in all, I’d say the only food to avoid is the fried chicken at the 7-11 counter. But that’s pretty universal.
They say: “Japanese toilets are fancy.”
You believe that until you see the traditional “Japanese-style” toilets in any public place. They are basically a tray in the floor to squat over, second only to a hole dug in the ground for simplicity. Usually, they will be side by side with “western-style” toilets in the public bathrooms, the ones with all the fancy bells and whistles, singing bidets and self-closing lids. It’s enough to give you technology whiplash.
We thought: “The trains will be hard to figure out.”
They are amazing- fast, inexpensive, punctual, and frequent. When you buy a ticket, you need to know the total cost for where you are going. If you don’t know, you can simply pay the lowest available fare and use the price adjustment machines at the end of your trip- no punishment for not having a correct ticket! We also got the Japan Rail Pass for one week. If you’re planning on seeing a lot of Japan rather than just sticking to Tokyo, this will save you money. BUT after a week of switching locations every day, we decided a better recommendation would be to buy the two-week ticket and spend more time in each of the places you stop.
We heard: “Everyone will speak a bit of English.”
Nope. While most people we encountered did know at least a little, we still had plenty of interactions that were made more complicated by the language barrier. We got by most places with hand gestures/pointing and using simple phrases, and luckily almost every restaurant has pictures or plastic models on display of their food. We did try to learn a few phrases of Japanese, but a whole new language (with different characters) is too tough to grasp in just 3 weeks. While we got by just fine, it would have been much easier if we had know just some basic Japanese.
We parted ways at the airport, Zach going back to work in Australia and me onward to Thailand. I’m already missing the food and wonderful people. For anybody (especially you Americans!) thinking about going to Japan, just do it. Do it. To help you plan, here is a quick list of places we stopped and what we loved:
Osaka: Try takoyaki, and any other street food you can get your hands on.
Kyoto: Of all the shrines, Fushimi Inari is by far the coolest.
Hiroshima: The Peace Museum makes for a really sobering day.
Nara: The Deer Park is really cool, you can pet the sacred deer herds that roam there. Stay the night inside the park, we liked the Deer Park Inn (hostel).
Nagano: A good snow sports spot, and worth the trip up to see the snow monkeys.
Atami: Little seaside gem, stay at a place with its own onsen (hot spring) like we did (Khaosan Atami).
Tokyo: I loved the Kawaii Monster Cafe (Harajuku) for our crazy cosplay experience, and the areas of Piss Alley and Golden Gai are amazing for food and drinks, respectively.
Thanks for reading, guys!
From Thailand with love,