Questions I get asked about Japan

Hi everyone! It’s been a few months now since I moved to Tokyo and life here is great so far. It’s nearly Christmas and I’m a little nervous that living away from family will be at its hardest over the next couple of weeks, but hopefully it’ll be okay. Anyway, I’m regularly asked questions about Japan so I thought I’d share some of usual things that come up as well as the slightly strange stuff I get asked! Of course, if you have any questions, please feel free to drop a comment, email me, Tweet me or DM me on social media!

Why are there two different Yen symbols?

This is like asking why the US uses $ and “dollar” to mean the same thing. The Yen symbol most of us know is ¥, however in Japan they wouldn’t ordinarily write “yen”. Instead, they use kanji, one of their written languages, to express it as 円.

Is it expensive to live there?

This will usually depend on you, but in my experience, it’s no more expensive living in Tokyo than it was living in Bristol, UK. The rent on my 1LDK apartment (less than 10 minutes from Ikebukuro Station) is about £100 more a month than my Bristol flat, but I don’t spend £200 a month on council tax, so actually it’s cheaper here to rent. I spend more on trains getting around the city here of course, but my commuting costs are reimbursed. Oddly my water, electricity and home wifi bills are all much lower than they were in the UK – in some cases, it’s less than half the price. Buying food in supermarkets to cook meals at home can be more expensive than eating in restaurants here, so we often go out for food, but if you are sensible with planning meals, you could eat very cheaply too! In short, it is absolutely not expensive to live here.

Is it expensive to go there on vacation?

No – with enough research and travel savvy, it can be an extremely cheap place to explore! I’ve done a few posts about travelling in Japan – you can find them here.

Why is the Pokemon Centre always busy regardless of which day you go?

Because they’re super popular among tourists and locals. Pick the right day and centre – recently a new centre was opened at Shibuya PARCO and the queue times on a weekday are usually 15-20 minutes but on a Saturday can be 2-3 hours. If there are special events on, the wait will be much longer. Try to get there first thing in the morning or half an hour before close, and definitely try to avoid going on a weekend!

Is it true you can’t eat at any restaurant if you have a tattoo cause they think you might be yakuza?

I don’t have any tattoos but I have never witnessed someone refused entry at a restaurant for having a tattoo. I’m not sure how they would ‘inspect’ you for them?! This seems to be one of those crazy urban legends that circulate on the internet. It’s possible that with extensive tattoos on your neck or face, you may be denied entry (you could be denied entry simply for being foreign at some places!), but given that the yakuza usually only accepts Japanese members, it’s unlikely any rejection would be based on suspected mob activity and rather a superficial assessment of your character based on your face being inked.

When is the best time of year to visit Japan?

This will depend on what you want to see and do while you’re here. I think I would avoid July to September in general just because it’s so hot and humid – it makes doing anything really difficult. That said, if you want to climb Mt Fuji, you can only do so during the summer. October/November is a nice time of year for a couple of reasons – the weather is still pretty warm, you should be past the typhoon season and the leaves will start to turn in some parts of the country. We went to Fujikawaguchiko in November and it was amazing – I posted about it here. When we first came to Japan in 2018 it was late May/early June and that was a really nice time too. You dodge cherry blossom season and Golden Week, which is when Japan (specifically Tokyo) is the most busy. In 2020, from mid-July onwards the Olympics will be taking place, so it’s going to be extremely busy during the summer!

Do you have to speak Japanese to live there?

Nope. It really helps, even basics so you can read menus and greet people, but you could absolutely get by without any Japanese. There are lots of apps like Google Translate which have camera functions too for any signs or notices you can’t read.

Are Japanese people really polite?

Yes and no. In Japan, customer service is second to none – even in the smallest conbini out in the sticks, the staff are very polite, use formal, honorific language when addressing customers and are considerate in how they serve you (always giving you chopsticks and straws for food and drink for your convenience, for example). Famously the Japanese also bow when greeting, thanking, apologising and saying goodbye. So, if you’re a customer or someone’s boss, expect the royal treatment. Outside of these situations, people in Japan are certainly no more or less polite than any other country, and in fact I would say that manners are more lacking in Tokyo than in London! Shoving you on the train (metro behaviour is something else here), pushing past you in a store without saying “excuse me”, staring at you for no reason, not moving aside if you’re walking towards each other, not smiling back if you smile at them, no small talk at all and any other ‘kind’ acts we might associate with politeness. For instance, I always hold the door open for people as I’m going through, and they always look really shocked (and perhaps a little confused) by the gesture. So, walking around Tokyo, don’t expect the same politeness you might be used to at home.

And that wraps it up for this one! Do you have any questions about Japan? Feel free to pop them in the comments or contact me and I can try and answer them!

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