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Japan Q & A

Posted on Wednesday, December 10th, 2003

Dave!Just a couple Japan-oriented questions I received:

Is it possible to visit Japan if you don't speak Japanese? Absolutely. It's a little more difficult than visiting non-English-speaking European countries (because they don't use the Roman alphabet in "real" Japan writing), but certainly possible. In major cities any important signage is written in both English and Japanese, so all you really need is a good guidebook and you are good to go. Many locals (especially younger people) in larger cities can speak some English... particularly those working in hotels, restaurants and the like. Just prepare yourself to be patient and very observant (subway and train stations can be very confusing!), and you should be fine. Even so, I always recommend learning some basic conversation phrases, which will make your trip a bit easier (and more fun!).

I like your funny stories about annoying American tourists. Anything happen to you this time?I usually find such stories to be more sad than humorous, but yes. On my very first day I was waiting for the subway when two gai-jin (foreign, and most probably American) guys in their mid-40's came up to me to ask directions... for some reason, I am an absolute magnet for lost and confused anglo-tourists. After helping them out, a Japanese man walked by with a surgical mask on. Almost immediately, while the Japanese man was still within earshot, one of the idiots has to say "WHO WAS THAT MASKED MAN?" to which idiot #2 responds "HEY-HO SILVER AWAY!" Usually, I find it easier to just ignore stupid shit like this but, since I had just helped them out, I felt I could respond. I explained that the gentleman was sick with a flu or a cold, and he is wearing the mask as a courtesy to others so he doesn't infect them with his germs. Unlike in America, where people can barely be bothered to cover their mouths when they cough, the Japanese are much more courteous. As expected, my explanation had no effect, because idiot #1 was compelled to say "ARE YOU SURE? I THINK TONTO MUST BE AROUND HERE SOMEWHERE! HA HA HA!!" Sigh. Why do I even bother. Since Japan is not a very big tourist destination, I'd have to guess that these morons were here on business. With a redneck attitude like that, you aren't going to get very far, assholes.

If you think Americans are so stupid why don't you get the f#@% out! Don't tempt me. It's not that I think all Americans are stupid, I just feel that far too many have extremely narrow world-views that reflect poorly on us in the global community... particularly when I see how badly we can behave when visiting foreign countries. How hard can it be to take a few hours or so to read up on the customs and culture of the place you are visiting so that you don't offend anyone? It's just common courtesy, but you would be absolutely shocked at how few of us actually make the effort when traveling abroad.

And lastly: Is Japan as expensive as everybody says? Uh... yes. Very. The US dollar is pathetically week right now and Tokyo is one of the most expensive cities on earth (probably tied with Stockholm for the most expensive city?). I always end up spending quite a lot more than I planned when visiting Japan.


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