Hello! I’m Erica and I chose to go to Kansai Gaidai University in Hirakata, Osaka (Japan). It’s my third week now and I feel like I’m finally settling in! Although that could be due to the fact that I literally JUST finished unpacking…
I’ve been to Japan before, but I’m still not completely acclimatized to how different things are here, culturally, socially and just physically. I thought I’d make a first impressions list, including some do’s and don’ts you would have never really thought about.
- Summer is hot. As in landing in August-37-degrees-Celsius-hot. It is so humid I feel like I’m swimming sometimes! Arriving at this time means summer clothes are a must!
- Stop signs are inverted triangles and everyone is driving on the left-hand side. Even just a second after leaving the airport I had to do a double-take.
- Everyone is super helpful and friendly! Lost in the airport? Not to worry, even if you have to pull out your phone to Google translate (which I proudly did NOT have to do!) most people are so happy to direct you. I got lost going to city hall once and was just standing looking around and people would come and ask if I needed help.
- Travelling is hard after midnight. Really hard. So if you were planning on arriving at the airport super late and going to residence after… maybe rethink that unless you have accommodations close by lined up. Trains and buses don’t run from midnight until about 5:00 a.m. and taxis are ridiculously expensive. My residence even has a shuttle system to pick you up, but it stops running after a certain time and you have to walk or taxi to a hostel for the night. That being said, you can take a night bus from one area to another, but that’s more like a greyhound and still has certain pick-up hours.
- There are bikes on the road, on the sidewalks, and motorbikes too, so if you’re walking around you have to watch out. Bikes are all considered vehicles and you need a registration certificate.
- When you’re the biker…there are bumps and potholes anywhere and everywhere! However you do need a bike – it just makes life so much easier. Don’t forget to bike on the left side!
- You don’t wear shoes inside. People buy slippers to walk around in but just stepping past the “entry way” area in shoes is considered rude and dirty. You take them off and step to the regular floor in socks on just put on slippers. There are some actual reasons for this – it’s not totally random. One is that many places have tatami mats and shoes can damage them. In other places, it’s now considered a common thing to do and keeps areas clean.
- The summer is typhoon season. My plane had turbulence from one and it rained a lot from the tail end of another typhoon in my second week here. This morning the third typhoon (for me) just got redirected around my area but it rained last night.
- Fun fact! If you have a 5 yen coin, save it for a temple since it’s way luckier to throw those than the other coins!
- Be careful what you wear in Japan, especially during rush hour. There are ‘perverts’ (ちかん) on the train so things like short-shorts aren’t always the best idea… Depending on the train, there are sometimes women only cars.
- If you like, you can carry a small towel or handkerchief, especially going to temples and shrines. There are areas to purify yourself with small fountains but nowhere to dry your hands.
- No tips! You tip taxi drivers, but not waitresses and waiters. It saves money, but it’s hard to get used to.
- The toilets are a mix of Western style (like what we have in Canada) and Japanese style (on the floor). Just also note that with some of the Western style toilets there are things like music, water sounds and so on with an array of buttons on the side.
- Eating with chopsticks? Awesome! Just don’t stick them into your food. Leave them on the side of the bowl when you’re not eating. You only stick the chopsticks in at graves for ancestors, etc.
- Speaking of graves and chopsticks, don’t pass things chopstick to chopstick either when you’re sharing with friends.
- Presents! If have a host family or speaking partner, gifts are an awesome idea. They would typically be something from your home country and you would give them upon your initial meeting.
- The shopping is amazing.
- The food! Just eat all of it.
Hopefully these tips will help you if you ever decide to come to this beautiful country and ease the transition and culture shock.
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