Okay. Here’s the company that I took my tour with:
And here’s the itinerary for the winter tour.
Helpful tips that I have accrued:
1. Bring a ton of yen. It’s a cash-based country and there are very few ATMs. For my two-week vacation I used about $1000 (10,000 yen). I also bought a whole bunch of stuff so you may use less, but it’s good to have it on hand.
2. Wear slip-on shoes. If you visit places of interest, there is a good chance you will have to take off your shoes. It’s a pain in the kiester to tie and untie them because more often than not there’s no place to sit or anything so you end up doing this awkward hopping dance in an attempt to get the shoe on your foot. Also, try not to have socks with holes in them. Japanese people think that’s impolite.
3. On escalators, hold on to the opposite side than in the U.S. if you’re standing still. They drive on the opposite side of the road, so you hold on to the other side of the escalators.
4. Leave lots of time to get anywhere. The train stations are huge and confusing with multiple floors and an enormous floorplan. You will get lost a great deal. Budget in time for that. Try to grab as many maps as you can wherever you are. They are a lifesaver. Did I mention most streets don’t have names?
5. Schoolchildren will walk up to you and ask you if you can answer some questions. Do not panic. This is a common school assignment. They will ask you about three very basic questions (“Where are you from?”) and more likely than not they will struggle to understand your answer because they are in their first year of English. Then they will ask to take a photo with you. That’s it. No biggie.
6. Sometimes when you ask for directions Japanese people will run away from you. It’s not because you are gross. It’s because even through they understand you and know where you want to go they’re ashamed of their pronunciation of English. They know they get the “R” and “L” thing wrong and they don’t want you to hear them talk. If they don’t run away they may give you directions only using their hands.
7. Try very very hard not to say “no.” You have no idea how difficult this is. It’s like trying to not think about pink elephants. The Japanese think that the word no is super-offensive, so you have to use work-arounds. I saw a girl visibly recoil after The Moomins said no to her. I used “I’m afraid not, but thank you,” while bowing copiously and making an I’m-so-sorry face.
8. Bring a washtowel with you. Many bathrooms don’t have towels or dryers so most everyone has a tea-towel in their purse. (I did what I do in the States which is wipe my hands on my cotton t-shirts, classy 4ever).
9. People don’t eat and walk simultaneously so there are surprisingly few trashcans. If you expect to have trash, bring a small plastic bag with you. There will be garbage cans and recycle bins near large banks of vending machines so you can wait until you get to one. But like on the street? No trashcans.
10. If you order sushi and the waitress says, “Wasabi?” say no. They will slather your sushi with wasabi on the inside so you can’t scrape it out and your head will go up in flames. Learn from my mistakes (I did it twice).
11. Okay, how the subways work in Tokyo. You go down the stairs in your station and you go up to the ticket machines. Above it will be a giant graph. You find the station you are in and the station you wish to go to. Depending on the distance the prices will be 160 yen, 240 yen, etc. You punch the number of tickets you need and the corresponding yen amount for each ticket (the buttons are really simple like Fisher-Price) and little raffle tickets will come out. You go up to the ticket turnstile, shove the raffle ticket in the turnstile and it will pop out after the spinny bit. Save that ticket. Do not throw it away. You will need it to exit at your destination station. There’s a turnstile to get out. You shove the raffle ticket in there and the machine eats it. Then you can leave.
12. If you forget everything else, the three things you mustn’t do under any circumstance is stick your chopsticks upright in your rice, go into an onsen still dirty or with soap on you or have the nasty soles of your shoes touch anything it’s not supposed to touch. Be nice to everyone and speak softly. Everyone knows you’re a big dumb foreigner, they’re going to set their standards low. You’ll be fine. Have fun.
Here’s a great video of mascots dancing. Because Japan.
Addendum: This is cool. Japanese demons that get you while you’re on the (heated) toilet.