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Closing Reflections on Solo Female Budget Travel in Japan!

Yowza! It has been amazing to see two major cities of Japan for the past ten days! Despite the articles on Japan my cousin kindly handed me before coming, there were still endless elements of Japan that came as a surprise. Here are a few for your perusal.

Looking down at a street in Japan.
Looking down at a street in Japan.

1. Toilet extremes. The majority of toilets in Japan are squat toilets, where you crouch awkwardly over a porcelained hole in the ground. I’m not a fan. On the far other end of the spectrum, however, are insane tricked-out toilets, which have an armrest with buttons for: butt spray, butt shower, puff of “extreme” deodorizer, flush SOUND with no actual flush (perhaps to mask embarrassing sounds?), tiny flush (for number one), big flush (for number two), seat warmer (!), and rocket launcher (just joking) :D

Gordon attests that these toilet extremes symbolize how Japan is still straddling both modern, urban culture, and rural, old-fashioned ways.

A fancy Japanese toilet.
A fancy Japanese toilet.

2. Extreme service and politeness. I was stunned and touched by the eager, attentive, kind service at every restaurant and store we frequented. Everyone seemed to genuinely take pride in their jobs, throwing their soul into service and doing everything possible to assist the customers. People on the street who I asked for directions were also wonderful, doing their absolute best with my Japanese language incompetence.

A certain type of Japanese motel.
A certain type of Japanese hotel.

3. Weird kinky stuff. Yesterday we accidentally passed through a district chock full of cartoon kiddie porn, catalogs of pictures of women to “buy” to meet you at a nearby “love hotel”, and the “love hotels” themselves, which are pay-by-the hour rooms with themes such as “Christmas” (!!!!! see photo for proof!!!!!) that you can apparently reserve by pressing a vending machine button in the lobby, so you don’t have to embarrassingly talk to a human as you lead your “escort” upstairs. Creepy! Christmas?!!

A Japanese flag spotted on my travels.
A Japanese flag spotted on my travels.

4. The desperate feeling of being unable to read.

I have taken my English alphabet for granted! Dear, sweet, intelligible writing… at times in Japan you were nowhere to be found, and I was a lost, helpless puppy!

This is always such an important reminder for us teachers out there: it feels real weird to not understand!

In such situations one needs love and care… and help!

Me on the crowded subway in Tokyo.
Me on the crowded subway in Tokyo.

5. The language + the politeness = 5 different ways to say “Thank You” depending on the amount of formality and respect.

This is just like WHOA! Doesn’t register with my little American brain. System overload.

6. Prices.

I had been warned that Japan is insanely expensive. Happily, thanks to the kindness of my hosts, I was able to rock it out for about $50 a day, including Kyoto and sushi… which is very happy given that I may have just received my last Boston teaching paycheck for the year!!!!

Oy!!!! Gotta make that cash last!

Karaoke with friends in Japan.
Karaoke with friends in Japan.

7. As Gordon gushed, “The trains are SICK on time!!”

When you go anywhere by public transportation with a Tokyo-ite or Osakan, they will suddenly whip out their cell phones, become absorbed for several minutes, then pull you confidently down ten million tunnels of subways and cars.

Turns out the Japanese trains are so INSANELY on time that everyone uses an online program to figure out EXACTLY which train and connection you should hop upon. As I was leaving for the airport train, Gordon hollered: “The airport train will come at 8:06, 8:16, 8:30, and 8:42! Remember that the 8:16 train is a local, and so will be a smaller train.”

Okay then… “sick on time” is right.

Flying out of Japan.
Flying out of Japan.

8. There were hardly any homeless folk on the streets.

When there were one or two, they were politely sitting by a wall, reading the newspaper… never begging. Moreover, why did Jimmy have to rush off on Saturday after hanging out with us? He was off to play in the Homeless World Cup, and train the Japanese Homeless Soccer Team to play in MILAN, ITALY!!!

Could I ever live in Japan? Heck no. I’ve got too much loud inappropriateness, passion for diversity, and poor Asian language skills to cope. Have I had the most delightful first international stop possible, thanks to the kindness of my hosts? Heck ya!

Thanks to Yuki, Mike, Dee, Gordon, Jimmy, and all the others who were so kind and lovely!

Off to Thailand! :D


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Arlene P.

Thursday 8th of January 2015

Wow. I'm a little amazed by this to be honest, but what I liked the most was that there's hardly homeless people. Where I come from there's a lot of people living on the streets. One time my family and I went out and on our way home I saw a family of four sitting there trying to cover themselves with the only blanket they had and they had a tiny bed that only two could fit in. They had no food, no shoes, no nothing. The worst part was that there was cold weather and they were trying to cover themselves with the tiny blanket. I am a little sad that things in Japan are expensive because in other places, some people can't afford that much money. But overall, Japan seems like a really nice and entertaining place to visit. -Arlene

Brian D.

Wednesday 7th of January 2015

Man after reading this article I was really surprised to see that toilets have these unusual button commands to trains that always arrive on time. But the one that surprised me the most is that you barely saw any homeless people. I thought that you would see some or a lot of homeless people in Japan because of its very dense population. Overall I think this article is great and I look forward to reading all of them!

How Buddha Came to Brooklyn | A Traveler's Library

Friday 14th of November 2014

[…] If you want to read more about visiting Japan, I recommend this article from Walking On Travels. For several articles on travel in contemporary Japan, see Around the World “L”. You can find Lillie’s Japan articles here. Her reflections on her own culture shock are in her Closing Thoughts on Japan article. […]

Escape Hunter

Tuesday 2nd of September 2014

When I was in Japan, I was amazed how everything simply looked, felt and functioned perfectly. 110 % perfection! It's a totally other World there. Perfectionism is everything. Loved the extreme politeness :) But those hypermodern toilets... sci-fi.


Tuesday 2nd of September 2014

Hehe :)

Conor Walsh

Tuesday 12th of June 2012

Why is there a Christmas themed love hotel hotel in Japan? There are non of these in Boston, but that was probably a really cool site to see. Just a giant statue of Santa Claus sitting on a hotel in the middle of Japan sounds like it would be hilarious.

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