So this travel savvy female decided on a whim to take a whirlwind week vacation to Japan. After standing in line for the entire day at the federal building I was issued a—
BRAND SPANKIN’ NEW PASSPORT.
Note: I wish I had a picture of my previous passport, it was in such poor condition the United States Passport Agency called me to inform me they would need to incinerate it. I am not kidding, their actual words were INCINERATE it. This was not that big of surprise to me considering my dog had decided to chew a corner of it to shreds. Think of it like “my dog ate my homework” only it was literally the most important document that I had in my possession. It caused me a minor heartbreak as I was not given a chance to say goodbye to my previous collection of stamps from Tanzania, Kenya, Zanzibar and Switzerland..
But in order to move forward, sometimes you have to allow yourself to let go of the past.
So let me be the first to admit, I am not as spontaneous and daring as I may seem. I did not go to a foreign country on a whim by myself. After relentless badgering from a boy that I have been talking to over the last year, let’s call him F BOY 1 (it’s a whole ‘nother story we don’t have time to get into at the moment), I packed my bags and jetted to Japan the day my passport was issued.
HOW TO AND NOT TO TRAVEL WHILE YOUR IN JAPAN-
- My first suggestion is going to seem pretty obvious– it is not a good idea to go to a foreign country without any sort of ‘a priori‘ knowledge or without doing any kind of research about where you are going and what to expect. Okay, ignorant I know, but when I said whim, I meant whim. Though I trudged through thralls of nomads like myself at the always wonderful and welcoming Los Angeles International Airport, Macbook Air in my backpack and iPhone in hand, I did not take the time to do any sort of research about where I was going and how to meet F BOY 1 once I arrived there. Again, I was a blissfully ignorant American in search of love or rather lust in a foreign country. The spontaneity of it was romantic in my head until I exited my plane and found myself in the heart of Osaka, during what I could only conceive to be a mass exodus or rather, a typical Thursday commute in Japan. Symbols were plastered around everywhere and trains were whizzing by me as I stood in the center of a train station trying to decipher how to get to find F BOY 1 in Kyoto. On a map it looked like a 10 minute train ride. Yeah…Not so much. I traded in my carrying cash for Yen and after purchasing two train tickets for the same train, (being the blonde I am and being I was in Japan I did not understand how to use the ticket terminals so was therefore was shamed into purchasing an additional ticket in order to get to my desired destination), it turned out to be a 2 hour bullet train ride to where I needed to end up. It was an anxiety ridden ride in which I was constantly on the edge of my seat listening for one word ‘KYOTO.’ I had no idea what everything else was being belted out of the loud speaker above. It might seem like a grand romantic gesture to ‘NIKE IT’ or rather “just do it,” but if your man ain’t meeting you at the airport” or even if he is, you need to be confident in your exit and entry strategies. ALWAYS DO YOUR RESEARCH.
- FIND YOURSELF SOME ALCOHOL– Japan is beautiful but likewise has a mass amount of people and it overwhelmingly begs the question, “where can a girl get a drink in this town.. NOW!” If you don’t want to spend copious amounts of money on sake at every single liquor store or eatery I offer you another option perfected by my cohort/companion traveler. Since F BOY 1 had been in Japan a week prior to my arrival, he had developed an efficient system for insuring our alcohol consumption was consistent and our hangovers regulated. They have these 24 oz cans that say STRONG on them (they are 9% alcohol so be careful) along with a plethora of other symbols that I could not tell you what they say, for two dollars a piece and two of them gives you a good buzz to enjoy your time walking around the areas that Japan boasts as its epicenters of commerce and “beautifully pristine” beaches (their equivalent to Waikiki as told to us by a local). They are equivalent to a “Mike’s Hard Lemonade” type of drink but the plus side to them is they have a 0 calorie option in 3 different flavors. And frankly, they aren’t horrible. Make sure you also purchase a small can that is labeled SUPER and guzzle those babies down with each STRONG that you consume. You will effectively not wake up with a sugar induced hangover and you will even feel energetic the next day. F BOY 1 obviously knew what his strong suit was when facing the fear of traveling alone in a foreign country.
- KNOW SOME KEY WORDS IN THE NATIVE LANGUAGE AND DOWNLOAD GOOGLE TRANSLATE IF YOU ARE GOING TO JAPAN. TRUST ME. Again, being the ignorant American I am, I assumed that English would be kind of like a second language to the people once I was there.. yeah that was dumb as shit to assume, I know now. Arigato, konnichiwa and sayonara can only get you so far. If you cannot communicate with the local people, your not going to have a good time. I had flashbacks to all the times I tried to communicate with Spanish speakers in California, I would talk slower and louder while they just stared at me dumbfounded. I knew we were in trouble once I realized the tables had turned and I was now on the receiving end of ‘slower’ and ‘louder’ technique. Go to this website and review the basics like I should have done: https://www.tofugu.com/japanese/important-japanese-words/ Below is a link to a video I captured showing just how screwed we were the entire time, and this lady was AMAZING at English. No turtle bonding observed unfortunately. https://youtu.be/lqYOVs6NKqQ
- KNOW YOUR COUNTRY OF DESTINATION’S PUBLIC TRANSIT- Japan, like most other countries, operates their vehicles on the opposite side of the way we do in ‘Merica so that meant no rental cars for us. The train system was actually super efficient once you got the hang of it, but as I said before, tedious but nerve wracking as shit because you needed to keep track of where you were in relation to where you were going constantly. You can see the excitement and the enthusiasm in our faces below as we trekked our way to Minabe from Kyoto. (SEE: #4 KNOW WHERE YOU WANT TO GO) In Germany, Spain, France etc. you can navigate your way around much easier because everything is not written in symbols, Japan still does use the English alphabet in their most important signs, but not always.. HOT TIP: This is where google translate becomes essential. It has a feature where you can take a picture of a sign and it will translate it for you. It may slow your travel time down, but its worth it if your taking a leap of faith and going on a whim to some exotic destination that has over 85,000 different characters in their language. Again, NIKE IT.
- KNOW WHERE THE HELL YOU WANT TO GO- The whole leaving on a romantic whim thing really threw me for a loop here, I figured F BOY 1 would have some idea as to where we wanted to travel to while we were in Japan. He didn’t. So half of our trip was spent searching for wifi frantically and trying to find hotels in spots that looked like they could be “cool.” We ended up in Minabe one night, which happens to be the hottest location if you are a sea turtle looking to mate and one of the dullest if you are in your late 20’s and looking for an adventure. We bumped into a English speaking Japanese native leading in the field of turtle research while visiting the local turtle watering hole who literally asked us, “Why the hell did you come to Minabe?” We shrugged our shoulders because even we did not know. I suggest that you take time in Kyoto. Think of it like a smaller version of Tokyo.There is a bustling night life, plenty of shopping and restaurants, cultural sites to enjoy and its fairly easy to traverse.
Learn From my Mistakes.
Japan is a wonderful country filled with wonderful people, just make sure you do your homework before making the trek there!!