Tips for Westerners coming to Japan, Part 2

Almost as soon as I made my previous, long guide of tips for Westerners visiting or coming to live in Japan, a bunch of people pointed out a number of things I’d forgotten to mention. Updated for 2018.

Street addresses

Except for major roads and route numbers, Japan doesn’t have street names. No wonder, with the way things are laid out, with millions of tiny streets, it’d be impossible to think up names for all of them.  So how do you find where you’re going?  Japanese addresses are written in reverse of addresses in Western countries, starting with the postcode, and followed by prefecture (ken/gun), “city” (shi/ku), suburb, and then numbers indicating the section, block, building number and then extras such as floor, apartment or room number. Out in the far countryside, half of that may be missing and all there is after the suburb is a property number.

This means in big cities like Tokyo and Osaka, if you catch a taxi, you may very well find the driver unable to find where they are going, though newer taxies have satnav, many older taxies do not.  This is a good time to pull out your smartphone and help the driver find where they are going.  Did I suggest getting a SIM card for your iPhone or smart phone at the airport on arrival? You really do want to be able to use Google Maps or similar while you’re here.

Garbage

Depending on location, garbage is separated into burnable and non-burnable at the very least. There may be other divisions, such as paper, cardboard, cans and bottles, batteries and “large, unburn-able” items, such as electronics. You can’t just toss everything into the same bin. Make sure you understand how the garbage is separated where you are staying, especially if you are staying with a host family. They will be annoyed if you throw the wrong things into the bin, as the garbagemen will do things such as flag the bags with a big and embarrassing notice if you screw up.

The degree of variation between places can be extreme. One remote location has everyone separate all garbage into 27 different types. Others, like where I live, four that go in special bags, then cardboard, paper/magazines, and batteries and some electronics all have their own special disposal place. Your local city will provide you with a guide, including what can be disposed of in what bags/bins on what dates and where.

There’s also no means to dump large, unwanted household goods either. They have to be taken to a recycling centre or you pay one of those guys who drive trucks around calling for “air conditioners, fridges, bicycles and computers” etc. Yup, pay to have it thrown away.

Clothing

Allow me to illustrate with a picture.

Japanese people have shorter arms than Westerners, so while you may enjoy shopping at places such as Uniqlo, you wont enjoy having otherwise good-fitting clothes look like this. While not a problem with jeans and pants, which are sold in different lengths, I strongly suggest bringing some good-quality shirts and sweaters and the like from your home country to avoid having to deal with this.

Suits, here, while less of a problem, are sold, sometimes, sold with pants that are intended to be fitted on the spot. It’s possible in stores that sell suits to buy pants and, through the store, have them taken up if required.

For women, most Japanese girls, despite the huge increase in junk food consumption, are relatively skinny, so finding fitting clothes if you’re anything other than a stick figure back home is going to be a bit of a challenge, though less so than, say, a decade ago. Beware that it’s not rude to comment about someone being fat, so be prepared to feel insulted and demeaned.

Electronics

The standard voltage in Japan is 100V, with sockets using US plugs. However, while your laptop charger and the like will very likely work here,  quite a lot of electronics here is only wired too work at 100V and may fail if taken back home. Consider this before buying any local products that aren’t sold internationally, such as hi-fi. If the item uses a standard wall-wart, you can probably get one with the appropriate voltage/amperage back home anyway. As a guide, when replacing wall-warts, they have to have exactly the same voltage output, but the current (amperage) output has to be the same or more.

Computers

The standard Japanese keyboard uses a QWERTY layout but all the punctuation is located on different keys compared to the US ANSI standard. In addition, the layout of the overall keyboard is a little different, including keys to switch between Japanese language functions. It can be very annoying trying to type on a Japanese keyboard only to accidentally change the input language to Japanese via one of they keys either side of the space bar and then spend minutes trying to figure out what you have to press to get it back to English.

If you’re a Mac user and need to buy a computer, you’ll be happy to know that Apple stores, both physical and online, stock US keyboards. However, other brands often do not.  If you’re buying anything else, check, if necessary, that the language and menus can be switched to English. Cameras are fine (as most models are international), but, last I checked, only Canon printers can be switched to English and Sony digital cameras are Japanese-only, likely to prevent grey-market imports.

So…

That concludes Part II. Have you been to Japan? Is there anything I haven’t mentioned here or in Part 1 that I should add?