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Call for Best/Worst Japan Travel Tips

April 26, 2010

Recently I came across a travel article called “What Not To Do In Tokyo: The Top Five Tourist Mistakes.” The very first tip in the list was, “Don’t  stop in the middle of the famous ‘Shibuya Scramble’ intersection.”

Now that’s just plain silly. Any of us cows can tell you that you don’t ever stop in the middle of a stampede. Sure, we all know people aren’t as smart as cows. But still, they’ve probably figured that one out.

Just for grins, I looked around on the web to see what other silly Japan travel tips were out there. I was surprised to find that most advice out there actually made sense, such as:

  1. Learn a few words and phrases in Japanese before you go.
  2. If possible, see at least one festival while you’re there.
  3. Be sure to learn about the ways chopsticks are used in cremation ceremonies, etc., and don’t do them at dinner, not even as a joke.

In fact, I had a hard time finding really silly tips. But I just know someone out there must have a good story about well meaning advice that led them astray….

So I’ve been wondering: If you’ve ever been to Japan — or even if you’ve lived there for years — what’s the silliest advice anyone ever gave you about traveling in Japan? Or if you can’t recall receiving any silly advice, what’s the best advice you’ve heard?

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Walter Buffalo permalink
    April 26, 2010 11:55 am

    I sincerely wish someone had told me how to correctly use a Japanese squat toilet.
    They can be disasterous in an emergency, and the best advice is to find a “sitter,” but if you have no choice, here’s some advice;

    1) ALWAYS carry a packet of tissues. (Paper is usually provided, but it can be “missing,” especially in toilets of public parks etc.)
    2) In a real emergency, lay a bed of paper down before you get started. It reduces noise, splash-back and leaves fewer streaks during flushing.
    3) Face TOWARDS the cistern. (There’s a lip there for the boys to aim at, and if you’re not good at squatting, you can grab onto the pipes for balance.)
    4) DONT drop your knickers down to your ankles. (Any lower than your knees, and you’ll get a surprise when you pull them back up.)
    5) Visit regularly and often. If you don’t want to give yourself leg cramps, dont spend a long time in there!

    Best of luck!

  2. Mowreen permalink
    April 26, 2010 1:20 pm

    Moooo Walter!

    I hear you. I’m not a big fan of Japanese-style toilets myself, and your advice is absolutely correct.

    I would only add one item:

    6) Before you squat, make absolutely positively sure that nothing could possibly fall out of your pockets.

    I haven’t lost anything that way, but that’s probably because I’m totally paranoid about losing a cell phone or a coin locker key or … I hate to think about it!

    I’m betting that someone out there will be saved by your advice, and sooner rather than later.

    Thanks and moos!


  3. humorusguidetojapan permalink*
    April 26, 2010 2:53 pm

    Moooo! Walter Buffalo. Indeed, great advice. And Mowreen, I know plenty of Japanese people who have lost their cell phones in the toilet! I lost a hair piece once. Imagine trying to use one of those toilets while wearing a kimono…Cows have a much better way. Speaking of cows, ehem, apparently when Japanese children learn to use Japanese-style toilets, they are told to get into the Moo position, as in “Moo ni shite” ie: like a cow. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a cow use a Japanese toilet 🙂

  4. April 27, 2010 9:22 am

    Yes, I did not tell my partner how to use Washiki toilet, since my house has western toilet ever since a few year after moved in 35 or so years ago. Many of Japanese residences use western toilet already but some old houses, public toilet, school they still use washiki toilet. I am a Japanese but I look for new one when I go outside.

    Yes my partner sit the opposite way, he thought the front side is to cover your axx but actually cover your front. So I corrected him after he told me.

    Good thing that you can throw away paper in, while toilet in other Asian countries, you should not do it. Worse in China I went a public toilet has no rooms but tiny wall in between next people. In Thiland, some no flash press, but there is a bucket and scoop to drain yourself and also wash your hand, (customerly they wash their axx with their left hand), and even western toilet, you are not supporsed to throw paper in Thailand. It will get stucked. But most of the places there is a garbage bin. In case of Japanese toilet thanks to Toto, you can throw paper.

    I heard not many gaijin san donno washlet toilet that the toilet system that wash your butt. I don’t like it and don’t use it, I want to advise that please don’t confuse with the flash bottom and get you wet. (^_^)

    • Mowreen permalink
      April 28, 2010 11:43 am

      Moooo artistgalicias!

      I know what you mean about the Chinese toilet with the low partitions and little privacy. I encountered one of those at Huangshan airport in 1997. (Huangshan is very far off the beaten track if you’re a westerner like me, but that’s a story for another day.) At the suggestion of one of the Chinese Americans in my tour group, I carried a folding travel umbrella into the stall with me to make a privacy screen….

  5. April 27, 2010 9:39 am

    Just silly but upset me, when I just came back from the US, I used to shake hands and wave hand, bunch of Japanese bowing at a hallway of a JR station. Older generation they bow many times, too deep, and any place I walked by, I hit with somebody. They were groups of people saying thank you and goodbye but everywhere. They don’t care about other people passing by. So I want to say, be aware if you walk behind older people saying bye bye. (^_^) I mean younger generation bow “that” deep.

    Oh, not a big deal but when many of forigner green to Japanese, they put hands together and bow. Japanese bow only. Putting hand together when greet is more likely Thailand or South East Asian custom.

    My partner misunderstanding. Maybe only him. He thought a castle means Samurai house, like regular old house, so when I took him Osaka castle first time, he was very surprised with the size.

  6. Walter Buffalo permalink
    April 28, 2010 11:12 am

    Mowreen: Your comment about mobile phones reminded me of a sign I saw in a toilet in Kobe. The toilet discussion continues on a new thread…

    In the meantime, advice about Japan…

    Best advice I’ve been given was about the JR railpass. These passes can save some people a lot of money. (See: A one-week JR railpass costs 28,300, which is about the same as a one-way bullet-train fare from Narita airport to Kagoshima. If you are covering these kinds of distances, then a railpass is clearly your best option.

    On the other hand, if you are not traveling as far and plan your trip well, rail-passes can actually be more expensive than buying tickets locally.

    The problem with railpasses is that you pay by the WEEK. If you stay in one place for a long time, your railpass is wasted while you sit idle. JR railpasses work out to about 3-4000yen per day, depending on whether you purchase a 1, 2 or 3 week ticket, so you need to be averaging more than that every day to get your moneys worth.

    Another hiccup is that these passes only work on JR trains. In the larger cities there are numerous train, tram, subway and bus companies that do NOT recognise the railpass. Your JR pass will be “idle” while you use the subway, and you may find yourself having to pay for fares you had not budgeted for and your. Alternatively, some of these other transportation companies have their own day-tickets that will help you get around for a lot less than a 4000yen/day JR pass.

    If you keep your distances short, plan to stay idle for a few days, can get away with traveling on express trains instead of bullet trains, or have a friend in Japan who can organize a domestic tour package (discounted return train/shinkansen fare + accom) then it is worth at least calculating and comparing the cost of locally purchased tickets.

  7. May 1, 2010 2:17 pm

    JR rail pass you buy outside of the country with J agencies.

    There is another kind of rail pass, I mentioned in Japan travel thread, called, “Youthful 18 Ticket”, you can buy in Japan in certain period of seasons, Spring, Summer and Winter time, and within the period, you can use any time you want, for one day trip or 5 days trip does not matter.

    They sell a set of 5 ticket for ¥11,500, one ticket for one day however you want to use JR local trains, but no bullet or express trains. You can split with your friends to spend only for you ¥2300 a ticket or you use for one day trip or a few days trip for a round trip. JR pass is only for people who live outside, but this ticket anybody can buy.

    Tip for getting cheaper ticket on this is you go to the Yahoo or Rakuten auction site and buy from the people who already spent a few ticket, and sell for the price of the left over. Or there is a ticket shop (Kinken shop) (often located around a large stations) that they sell individual ticket cheaper.

    The name, 青春18切符 Youthful 18 Ticket sounds like a ticket for under age of 18, and even Japanese people confuse as a student ticket, but actually it has been used by Japanese older people who like to travel with trains cheap, and stay at hostels. It’s a ticket for everybody.

    More information on Seisyun 18 Kippu.
    Seisyun 18 Kippu

    • Mowreen permalink
      May 2, 2010 8:15 am

      Moooo artistgalicias!

      Thank you for posting your comments! This is valuable information to have about alternatives to the JR Pass for people who live in Japan. As you point out, only people who reside outside of Japan (Japanese citizens as well as non-Japanese) are eligible to buy the JR Pass. But many, if not most, of the people who travel in Japan also happen to live there.

      • May 2, 2010 5:12 pm

        Hi, bhaaa
        not only people who live in Japan take advantage with this ticket, people from outside don’t always buy JR pass, but only airplain ticket and then buy one or two peces of the ticket when they get here, so they don’t always need to think about manage to use it. Some people may want to travel only in Tokyo area or Kansai area or Shikoku or whatever, they may not want spend that much money for the JR pass. Then better to go Kinken shop in Japan.

        There is also a round trip ticket you can buy @ certain region for example Wakayama pass Shikoku, etc, and you pay for the round trip of the certain areas of trains (JR and other local trains) with bus fair to travel around and also free ticket for museums, temples within the region. This regional pass is also valid certain period of the year. I use 18 kippu and also this kinds of ticket to travel within Japan. JR pass seems to me a little expensive, so I would get that kinds of ticket depending of purposes.

        Also, a long distance buses would another choice of cheap travel if you not in a hurry to ride on bullet or express trains.

  8. May 2, 2010 6:32 pm

    I mean the Senshun 18 kippu (Youthful 18 ticket) is available for both Japan residency and people from outside. You don’t need to show a passport to buy it, (or you can buy on the net) so it does not matter if you live here or just traveling though. I used Senshun 18 kippu for me as a residence here and my partner who visit here for a month. We just went to half of Shikoku island for 2 nights 3 days taking ferry, and trains, and buses. (originally it was a 2 days trip.) I got 2 tickets of 18 kippu from Yahoo for me and him, and also bought Muroto bay(室戸岬)shuyu ken (round trip ticket) on the way at Takamatsu station (which is the ticket you can ride trains and buses and allow to get on and off from Kochi between Tokushima station, including the local bus in between. You can go around the bay from Kochi but some part, there is no train so you need to take a bus.)

    The different between JR pass and 18 kippu is rather than who can buy, 18 kippu is only allow to use local train for the purpose of JR company for passengers to experience more local trains. That is the think you need to be careful using it. I made a mistake my 2 day travel plan to take longer with only using local transportations with this tickets and ferry and all, so it is better to combine with express if you have a limit of time.

    Here I found other useful site for discount tickets which I was explaining in another thread.
    JR rail pass
    click for the official JR rail pass site
    in different languages

    Other rail way passes
    click here for Railway Passes in Japan

    click here for syuyu kippu
    This is a Japanese site, and it shows about round trip tickets and prices and maps, that you don’t find in another site. It is kind of similar to regional JR ticket, but we call it zone ticket. As I said, I used Wakayama and Muroto zone tickets before. Difference is that it does not regard train companies, but more like a round trip ticket, including JR, other train companies (including cable and trolly kinds,) and buses in the certain areas, often times, discount (or free) ticket of the tourist spots in the area, so it is worth it. You can also find this info in the Japanese railway book, but even some Japanese reader like me it is hard to figure out this book.


  1. Strange Toilet Sign « Humor-Us Guide to Japan

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