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 2019.
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, in the past if you caught a taxi, the driver might have to drive around for a long time reading the location signs on poles before he found the correct destination. Thankfully now they all have satnav! Even so, pulling out your smartphone and helping the driver by showing them where you want to go can be a good idea. 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.
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 notices and refuse to pick it up 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.
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 may have trouble finding good-fitting clothes. 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. Something to note is that general sizes, like S, M, L, XL etc. are often a size or two smaller than they are in the USA or Europe.
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.
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 are only wired to 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 greater.
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. Major electronics stores stock a limited variety of US Keyboards. UK and other keyboards are non-existent. If you’re buying anything electronic, such as a camera or printer, check that the language and menus can be switched to English. Most can be switched between multiple languages (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.
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?