Japan Diaries: General Observations

Hi everyone! If you’ve been following my Instagram, you may know that I recently took a trip to Japan. Japan is such a unique country and there is so much to talk about that I’ve decided to write a separate post on general information and observations. I took more photos of the activities we did, so I don’t have too many pictures of these random things, but in the following few weeks, I’ll be posting individual travel posts about each city we visited. I’ll have more photos to share then!

First of all, our trip totally started off on the wrong foot. Originally, our flight was meant to fly into Osaka, but it was cancelled because of the typhoon that hit the city the week before we were due to leave. The Osaka airport wasn’t taking any international flights at the time, so we called Air Canada and asked for our flight to be changed. They switched us onto a direct flight to Tokyo for the same day with no fuss or extra charge, which was great. On the day we were supposed to leave for our trip, we arrived at the airport as per usual, and around the time that we were to begin boarding, they announced that our flight had been delayed for an hour due to mechanical issues. After that hour passed, they made another announcement that they were still looking into the issue, and if they didn’t have the right part to fix the issue, they’d have to fly the part in from Vancouver – which would take at least another hour and a half! By 3:30pm, at which point we’ve been at the airport for five hours, they announce that the flight has been cancelled, and that we will need to come back the next morning for our 7:00am flight. Not only was it annoying to have waited an entire day at the airport and the fact that we lost a day of our vacation, but it meant we had to wake up at 4am the next morning to make it for our 7am flight. It was an inconvenience for sure, but I didn’t want it to be a point of stress or negativity because we were still going on vacation and it was supposed to be fun! Anyways, once we arrive in Japan, all of our flight issues were quickly forgotten anyways.

Japan is a really interesting country with a dichotomy of old and new, tradition and progress. In 2017, Japan had a population of 127 million people in an area of 377 thousand square kilometres. To put this into perspective, Canada has a population of 36 million in an area of almost 10 million square kilometers! That’s a lot of people in very little space. As a result, spaces are very crowded and the city grows upwards. Retail buildings are usually narrow but tall, compared to the sprawling malls we have in North America. Some buildings are dedicated solely to women’s clothing, while some are dedicated solely to food.

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You see the building in the distance that says 109 on it? That’s the Shibuya 109, a 10-level building that sells all girls’ clothes!

COMMUTING

On our trip, we travelled to Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, and Tokyo. Getting from city to city is fairly easy; most people take the shinkansen, or bullet train. They’re extremely fast, they’re clean, and they’re roomy – so much easier and more comfortable than taking the plane!

Within each city, taking the subway is the most common way to get around. To be honest, I found the subway system really confusing. There are two different companies that have a subway line, and they run through the same stations, although the platforms could be in different buildings. You really have to know which system and which line you’re taking.  I found myself mostly following my husband around blindly – luckily, he’s excellent at figuring out train systems no matter what city we’re in, so we never got lost.

Public transit in Japan is always packed no matter where you are. Shinjuku Station in Tokyo is supposed to be the busiest train station in the world, and it was almost scary trying to navigate the station while lugging our suitcases around, trying not to get in the way of other commuters. A lot of the trains in Japan come every 30 seconds during rush hour, yet they were somehow all still packed. You may have heard that Japan subways have employees dedicated to packing people onto the train so that more people can fit onto it. We never saw this happen!

FOOD

Speaking of the trains, all of the train stations have a plethora of stores underground, from clothing stores to convenience stores to department stores selling bento boxes which you can take onto the bullet train. We had friends who recommended that we get to the station extra early when we took the bullet train so that we could pick out some bento boxes to take onto the train with us. The bullet trains have fold-up tables (similar to planes) so that you can eat!

Shinjuku Station.jpg
A store in Shinjuku Train Station selling cake. What do you mean it would be weird to eat a whole cake on the bullet train?

When most people think of Japanese food, they think of sushi, but we only had sushi three times during the trip. Japan has so much more to offer! Noodles such as ramen, udon, and soba are common. We also tried dishes that were new to us, including okinomiyaki (a savoury pancake with a variety of ingredients and sauce on top) omurice (an omelette with fried rice in the middle), and wagyu beef. For snacks, we ate onigiri (rice balls with fish or meat inside) and a ton of street food like takoyaki (grilled octopus balls), dango, taiyaki (a fish shaped waffle filled with sweet ingredients like red bean or custard), and all sorts of fried seafood. Japan also has a lot of pastries and dessert everywhere, so I probably ate dessert three times a day – cheese tarts, crepes, fluffy pancakes, and ice cream galore!

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Our Okonomiyaki meal – the one on the right is traditional okonomiyaki and the one on the left is the okonomiyaki with noodles on top. I’m drooling just looking at the photo!

Food in Japan is reasonably priced; I would say on par with eating out in North America. Tax is 8%, and I noticed that some places even calculate how much the dish will cost before and after tax. On top of that, tipping in Japan is also not necessary, which is nice – what you see is what you’ll pay!

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Here’s some dango that I tried at Nishiki Market – it’s a dumpling ball of sorts made from rice flour. The type I had is called mitarashi dango, which is covered with sweet soy sauce syrup.

Japan has vending machines everywhere, and I really mean everywhere – every few blocks on the streets, at the top of a hill after a hike, . They sell sodas, teas, coffees, and juice, and there’s also vending machines that sell ice cream. I heard that Japan has vending machines that sell hot food, but I think it’s a myth – we never saw any, and most people on Reddit say it isn’t true. My husband and I don’t drink a lot of pop or juice, but we couldn’t resist trying everything out of these vending machines.

Japan Vending Machines.jpg

These were the two beverages that my husband and I enjoyed the most, respectively:

The salty litchi was a sports drink similar to Gatorade, hence the “salty” part. My husband loves everything lychee flavoured, so this one was a no-brainer for him. My favourite was not from the vending machine, but from 7-Eleven, which has a lot of 7-Eleven exclusive beverages like this one. This mango drink was kind of milky and not too sweet; it reminded me of mango milk tea, even though it wasn’t.

LANGUAGE

Like in most places that visit that aren’t English-speaking, I only knew the basic words like thank you (arigato gozaimasu), excuse me (sumimasen), sorry (gomen nasai), and good morning (ohayo gozaimasu). To be honest, I learned most of these phrases from watching Terrace House 🤣 Honestly, I felt like you can survive Japan if you only know “thank you”. Getting around is easy because there are English signs everywhere, especially in touristy places. Some restaurants have English on their menus, but not all of them do. The Google Translate app is fairly helpful – you can run your phone over the menu and it’ll automatically translate it for you! Sometimes the translation is completely haywire, but sometimes it works well. To be honest, I found that most locals knew little English, but just enough that it’s not difficult to communicate. Most of the interaction was with people in the service industry – you can either point to the item, or if you’re ordering food, you can order by number.

People in Japan are so kind and polite. The service in restaurants was wonderful and accommodating. Sales assistants are really good about greeting you and asking if you need help, but will leave you alone if you just want to browse. At the Addiction makeup counter, the sales assistants kept bringing me cotton pads soaked with makeup remover so that I could take off my swatches (it was the soft, fancy cotton pads too, not the scratchy stuff). I felt like a freaking queen!

RANDOM

I found that Japanese girls were very conservative in dress. The weather was 25-30 degrees the whole time we were there, and all the girls wore either long pants and t-shirts with a cardigan/sweater, or dresses that ended mid-calf. I felt like I was exposing too much wearing a tank top and shorts, which is normally what I would wear in Canada at this temperature! I ended up mostly wearing jeans and a T-shirt, which made me sweat my butt off.

While we found food to be pretty reasonably priced in Japan, shopping was expensive. Japanese girls are pretty petite, maybe even moreso than girls in Hong Kong, and I liked a lot of the clothing when it wasn’t frilly and Lolita style. However, every time I picked up an article of clothing I thought was pretty, it always ended up being $150+ Canadian. A funny thing that I noticed is that almost all of the stores had either English or French names – my husband thinks it might be to make the stores sound more high-end.

Okay, let’s talk about the toilets. The toilets are so elaborate, and have a bunch of buttons next it that do all sorts of things. Our friends who visited Japan a few years ago said that between all the buttons, they spent WAY too long figuring out how to flush the toilet! To be honest, I have some sort of phobia of public toilets, so I didn’t look too hard at what all the buttons did, but I never really found it difficult to find the flusher. I do know that there’s always a button that lets out a spray of water to clean the back area, one for the front, buttons that change the water pressure of the sprays, and one that plays music if you want to mask sounds (if you know what I mean). The toilet seats are also heated! My husband said that he read on Reddit that Japanese people miss the heated seats when they visit North America, haha!

At the lot of the more “traditional” tourist spots (such as temples/shrines), tourists can rent kimonos and yukatas for photos. They also loan you the traditional wooden clogs with the socks, and even do your hair in intricate updos! There were SO many girls renting these outfits and taking pictures in touristy areas! It looked pretty, but I didn’t want to do it because it was so hot, and it looked really uncomfortable to walk up and down the shrine in those wooden clogs, haha.

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Look at all of the tourists wearing kimonos!
That is it for my observations about Japan! If you’ve been to Japan, was there something you noticed that I missed talking about? I’m sure there’s lots – there’s SO MUCH! Stay tuned, because next week I will be posting about our travels in Kyoto.

29 thoughts on “Japan Diaries: General Observations

  1. The vending machines that sell hot food are indeed real. I’ve seen photos/video and have friends who have tried them. They sell everything from hot drinks to popcorn to fries to even tiny pizzas!

    I’ve heard Japanese clothes run smaller than North American sizes. Like if you wear a Medium here, you’d need to get a Large in Japan. So that’s a tip if you ever go back.

    Oh and because of you, I stated watching Terrace House. I watched all of Boys & Girls in the City and Aloha State. Taking a break though before jumping into Opening New Doors. It really sucks you in though. 😂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Darn! Sad we missed this. We even tried looking on Reddit for suggestions on where they might have them and all of the comments were more or less saying that they are pretty rare now.

      Yes, the clothes do run smaller – they were just so expensive that I couldn’t really afford to go shopping there! Plus there were such an overwhelming amount of stores that I feel like clothes shopping in Japan is worth a trip itself.

      YESSS glad I finally got one person to become a Terrace House watcher – everyone else is like “that show sounds boring/weird” hahah. How is Boys & Girls in the City? I haven’t decided if I’ll go back and watch that season, but if you think it’s good I might do it. When we were in Japan, we discovered that we lost our access to Netflix Canada but had access to Netflix Japan. I was tempted to watch Season 1, which is called Boys and Girl Next Door and is not available in North America, but it’s not like we spent a lot of time in the hotel room. I didn’t want to start the season and not have time to finish it!

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      • That very first season is 98 episodes. It kept getting extended & extended. Boys & Girls in the City is a long one too, like 50-some episodes. There’s some big time drama at the very end of it though. 😂

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        • I heard about how the first season kept getting extended, that’s why I thought it might not be a good idea to start watching! No way I could’ve done 98 episodes in two weeks hahaha. Hmm interesting, I might have to watch Boys and Girls in the City!

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          • Best part of Boys & Girls in the City was Hansan, who came at the kinda halfway point. I adored him, so did the majority of the panel (especially You). There were a couple “crazy pants” members as well.

            I saw online that Taishi & Chikako from Aloha State are still together. Yay! But Yuya & Avian broke up (I had a feeling that wouldn’t last).

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            • I’ve heard about Hansan! I don’t want to give you any spoilers for Opening New Doors so I’ll try to be vague lol, but there was a guy in the original casting like that too.

              Hahaha Taishi annoyed me so much with all his crying, but apparently he and Chikako just got engaged (they have a YT channel which I don’t watch but apparently they have an engagement video up). I’m glad he found his love worth dying for lol. Yuya and Avian were such a weird and mismatched couple – not surprised they broke up!

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    • I felt the same way – it was a bucket list place for my husband but not for me. After coming back though, I would say it’s been one of my favourite vacations and would highly recommend Japan! Glad this post made you excited to go, haha.

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  2. Such bad timing with the typhoon but I suppose safety first! Glad Air Canada was so accommodating to switch the flight – usually I hear about bad customer service from them. But oh boy… the delay due to the technical issue sounds horrendous. I guess on the bright side, you’ll always have a travel horror story to tell of your own.

    Really loved reading your perspective on Japan. Isn’t it just so insane how dense everything is? I don’t think people truly understand until they are physically there. I guess we’re spoiled here in Canada. But still, even living in Hong Kong didn’t prepare me for Tokyo.

    Ok so I’m not alone in stating that there weren’t employees packing commuters onto the subway trains! 😆

    I loooove omurice and still have yet to find a place in Toronto that offers it! I didn’t see any vending machines selling hot food either.

    I learned a few Japanese phrases on YouTube just before I went! But my SO took Japanese lessons years ago so he’s able to converse a little which was so helpful.

    Aren’t the sales associates so fantastic? I had my makeup done at 2 places (one was at the Addiction counter) and the experience were so great. I drafted a blog post to write about those experiences but never got around to it! 😳

    The Japanese have a romanticized view of France, more specifically of Paris. I don’t know exactly how it developed but there’s a phenomenon:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris_syndrome
    Hence why all the stores with French names, and they also love to recreate French pastries. So oddly specific!

    Liked by 1 person

    • If anything, I feel like we lucked out – sure, we had to change our plans a little, but it could’ve been worse – we could’ve been IN Japan while the typhoon hit. I was so surprised that the transfer onto another flight was not a huge pain…I’ve heard bad things about Air Canada’s customer service too! Honestly, we’ve done so many trips in the last 10 years and the flights/weather have always gone off without a hitch, we figured we were due for something to go wrong with one or the other, or both haha.

      It’s true! I could not have imagined how much busier Japan is than Hong Kong! All of the commuters just walk around like it’s no big deal – I guess you just get used to it. LOL I’m sad I didn’t see the people-pushers!

      We’re currently trying to find places in Calgary that have omurice, too! A few options come up on Google but I’m suspicious as to whether or not they actually have it on their menu…

      That is so handy that your SO was able to converse a little! The people there are so nice that I felt bad just smiling and nodding at them whenever they spoke to me in Japanese, LOL.

      Aww dang, too bad you never got that blog post up! I was too intimidated to get my makeup done at a counter, but I’m sure it’s a lovely experience!

      OMG, this makes so much sense now with all the French names and French pastries! How random that they romanticize Paris…I want to know more about this! But LOL the Paris Syndrome sounds crazy. I told my husband about it and he’s like “oh yeah, I read about it on Reddit (where else?) last year, but I never made that connection when we were in Japan!”

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  3. That sucks that your flight got cancelled on the first day, I hate when that happens. I’m glad you finally made it! That’s so interesting that there are buildings with specific goods for sale, like an all girls clothing or all food building!
    The idea of heated toilet seats freaks me out. That’s so strange to me! I’m glad you still had a good trip despite the rocky start.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Honestly, we’ve travelled so much over the last few years and everything has always gone smoothly, so we figured we were due for something to go wrong eventually!

      So funny that the idea of a heated toilet seat freaks you out – i think it’s the sprays that freak me out!

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      • It happens, my husband always gets sick when we travel to other countries and we end up coming home early. So if a flight delay is all you had to worry about I think you’re okay!

        I think that would freak me out too, I don’t know… toilet seats aren’t supposed to be warm LOL!

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  4. Wow this was so cool to read about! Thank you for sharing so much of your trip with us! I think I would go to Japan mostly for the food! I had heard that you aren’t allowed to eat food on the trains, but maybe that’s just some of them. The name “Salty Litchi” sounds horrible, haha. I think I would far prefer your mango drink.

    That is horrible that your trip started off as such a nightmare, but at least you were going for a good chunk of time! I’m glad that you still really enjoyed yourselves.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, the food was the highlight of the trip! We definitely ate our way through Japan. Hmm, I think maybe riders aren’t allowed to eat on the regular subways – I don’t think we ever saw anyone eating on those. But you are definitely allowed to eat on the bullet trains! LOL you’re right, Salty Litchi does not sound appetizing. It was okay, just tasted like Gatorade to me.

      Thanks for reading, Nova! 😊

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  5. Ugh been there with the delayed flights that end in cancellation. It’s such a mix of frustration and grateful that they caught the problem prior to getting up in the air.

    Japan looks Ike such an interesting place to visit but I don’t know if I could stomach the crowds – I can’t believe how many people live in a that “little” space.

    You made me literally LOL about the toilets – a few times in Vegas we’ve had bidets in our room and my husband was just fascinated by them. I found them to be a weird experience lol.

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