Traveling in Japan 8- THINGS AMERICANS SHOULD KNOW....

Taxi drivers wear suits, ties and white gloves!

If you're thinking of traveling to Japan there are a few differences I've observed that will help you to be less obnoxious even if, like me, you can not speak the language.  There are also some myths that I'd like to address I've heard over the years.

There is quite a bit of English spoken and written in Tokyo, in fact I was able to get along there just fine by myself with no translator.  I do have an app that gives me the phonetic spelling of words so that I can give a cab driver a location or ask someone which way is the subway.

Outside of Tokyo I've found much less English.  Although many of the signs are written with international symbols and still a lot of wriitten English, much less people speak or understand it here. Something as simple as mispronouncing "coffee" will get you a blank stare.

ENGLISH: cough-ie
JAPANESE: co-hee

So memorize those words that you'll need to use over and you should be fine.

MONEY: you can go to your bank and have them process some Yen for you in America, but I find just hitting the ATM at the airport in Tokyo works just fine.  Make sure you let your bank know you'll be out of the country though, or your ATM won't work here.

They are a cash based society, so if you're used to paying for everything with your ATM card as I am you're in for a shock.  

Bills are slightly larger than US ones, and they start at 1000Y and go up.  Anything under 1000Y will be a coin.

If you think of a yen as a penny it's easy to keep the exchange straight in your head, so something that is 4200Y is $42USD.

Because they are cash based they will not roll their eyes at you when you pay with change.  It's expected.

When you are at the register there is a little tray there, you are supposed to put the money there when you are paying, it's not polite to hand it to them directly.  They will either put your change there after counting it out to you or they will hand it to you.

Don't panic when the cashier greets you with a long batch of words, she is likely saying welcome to the store did you find everything you need? Just like we do in the US.  I always say konichiwa (hello) when I get to the register.  If the cashier asks me something and looks at me, I respond with "hi" (yes) which will get me one of the following;

1. A pair of chopsticks.  Likely if I bought a package of food.
2. A smile and a nod leading to the ringing of my items which means I said I found all I needed.
3. A continued blank stare which means she likely asked me if I have a club card or if I need something else.  Shake your head no if this happens and she'll ring you up.

They will either bag your order or put it back in your basket, if that happens there is a bag station nearby that you should go to once your order is done.  Arrigato means thank you. Say in and nod or bow slightly.

FRIENDLINESS: I've often heard the Japanese are not a friendly people-- I have to argue that nothing is further from the truth.  I am amazed at the warmth and patience extended to me as I visit a place, and when I revisit they remember me and greet me as Mister Fish.  I think the misconception is in their politeness and it's often mistaken for a coldness.

PHONES AND WI FI: you can rent a phone at the airport, since your American phone wil not work here, or you'll get hit with crazy roaming charges, it will cost you about 1500Y a day for a phone.  You can rent a dongle which connects to your laptop or tablet if you want wi if because you are not going to find much public wifi outside of the airport in Japan.

PRICES:  They list the price including tax-- so you know how much it's going to be without having to do some calculations.  Try paying the price at the register at Dunkin Donuts sometime-- it's always off by at least 15%.

TIPPING: NO TIPPING!  It's a cheapskates paradise!  They are honored to do their jobs well and a tip would be insulting.  I did manage to get a taxi driver to accept a tip but only after he went well above and beyond normal service.  And in actuality "normal" here is exceptional in America.

JAPANESE DON'T LIKE AMERICANS, ESPECIALLY OLDER JAPANESE: WRONG here too.  I have had literally dozen's of older folks come up to me and say that they are thankful for America and that they consider Boston a very smart area, so I must be smart too.  Ha!

I asked one man how he knew I was American and he said-- and I quote-- "because you don't smell like perfume like the Europeans do, you weren't loud like the Europeans and you walk like John Wayne."

Now I've seen THE BIRDCAGE so I'll have to re-examine my John Wayne walk, and sorry Europeans-- but he was right at least then, because no sooner than we finished our talk than two Greek or Italian young men walked past us, talking loudly with a cloud of aftershave clinging behind them.

More soon.