As promised, I’m back with various tips on traveling in Japan! From finding the right toilet flush button to getting great skincare products, I’ve got the inside info 😉
Toilets, Tubs, and Hot Springs
You’ve probably seen articles about the high-tech toilets of Japan. The fancy toilets have heated seats, bidet settings, and automatic sound/flushing water, so people don’t hear you doing your business. The only thing you’ll really need to know is how to flush these toilets. Often, they’ll be automatic, but sometimes you’ll have to push a button. If there’s no English label, make sure you find these characters: 流す (to flush), or 大 (“big” for greater water flow) and 小 (“small” for a smaller flush).
You may also encounter a Japanese style toilet, which are the ones on the ground that you have to squat over. They are not my idea of fun, and I avoid them whenever possible, but you should try it for the experience. Just be careful not to slip into the toilet! Warning: rural areas and small towns will have many more of these Japanese style toilets. Although personal homes might have “Western-style” toilets, you might find the squatting style for smaller, local restaurants and such.
Taking baths (at home and the hot springs) have certain guidelines. First, the shower is often next to the bathtub, so you should take a shower and wash before hopping into the tub. The same is true when you’re going to an onsen (hot spring); you enter the onsen area (without any clothes – that’s right, no bathing suits), take a shower at one of the open seats, and then soak in the water. It takes a little getting used to, but it’s really relaxing!
Nature + Parks
Japan is not just Tokyo and the other big cities. If you have time, make sure to check out the smaller towns and villages, the beaches and mountains. Even if you only have time to visit the bigger cities, consider a visit to the parks and ponds. Cities do their best to maintain them beautifully all year round. Although spring (for the sakura blossoms) and autumn (for the Momiji and fall colors) are most famous, the summer and winter scenery is just as beautiful!
A note on seasons: the summer is incredibly humid (and hot)and full of mosquitos. While the humidity will be good for your skin and you’ll get to witness many summer festivities, be careful about the heat. Especially if you’re traveling with any older folks, make sure everyone stays hydrated.
Japan likes museums. From traditional Japanese crafts to cheese, European masterpieces and even instant ramen noodles, Japanese museums have got you covered on almost any subject. If you want a calm activity where you can just roam through the walls of a museum, you’re definitely visiting the right country.
Europe sure has a great collection of paintings, but if you’re lucky, you might be able to see these paintings in a meticulously curated exhibition while you’re in Japan (especially Tokyo). Many Japanese people like to look at famous paintings, and when they take the time and money to borrow pieces for exhibition, they make sure to do it very well. The Alphonse Mucha exhibition was one of the best I’d seen in years!
Photos + Being a Tourist
Do you always feel a little awkward taking pictures? Afraid of being a tourist? Fear no longer! In Japan, you should feel comfortable taking pictures (although, obviously, don’t take pictures of strangers if they don’t want you to and don’t take pictures where it says no photos). While you’ll definitely still be seen as a tourist, many Japanese people like taking pictures too. Preserving memories seems to be particularly important for many Japanese people, and I think that might be why there’s been a strong picture-taking culture even before the smartphone/Instagram era.
If you’re an avid Instagrammer, make sure to spend your time hashtagging into some of the local photo communities to share shots with the local Instacommunity! 🙂
Shopping is so great in Japan! You will find so many things that you didn’t know you needed.
Obsessed with skin care? The drugstores in Japan are an amazing source for your new face wash/toner/moisturizer/mask etc. While Japan definitely has its share of luxury brands, the everyday drugstore brands work really well and are a fraction of the price! I always stock up on face wash and masks while I’m in Japan. Their shampoos, conditioners and body soaps also work wonders!
Clothes and Shoes
Clothes and shoes, on the other hand, are a bit tricky. Japan doesn’t have a wide range of sizes, so if you’re a size L in the US, you might have a hard time finding things that will fit you comfortably. I wear a small or medium in the States and already have a hard time finding clothes – I mainly stick to flowy designs that accommodate for my size. I wear a size 7.5/8 in the US, and that’s pretty much the upper limit. While this sucks for any of us who need larger sizes, if you’re a smaller size, you’ll have a wonderful time shopping for fashion in Japan!
Japan has a great collection of pretty and funny socks. Tutuanna and Tabio are my favorite shops. During my most recent trip, I bought socks with alpacas, apples, and cats!
Snacks and Gifts
Japan is very big on gift/souvenir giving. Stores make it really easy for you to find a little something for everyone back home! Whether it’s cute little candies, rice crackers in the shape of animals, pretty handkerchiefs, or beautifully printed postcards, you’ll find something.
If you’re looking for an office gift or some fancy snacks (cookies, chocolates, candies, Japanese rice crackers), go to the basement level of a large department store. The “depa-chika” (Department store basement) is basically heaven on Earth for foodies like me. They’ll have tons of gift options, but they’ll also have a lot of ready-made food for your lunch/dinner.
I hope Part I and Part II have been helpful to you! Happy travels!